During this (almost!) first year of staying at home with Frances and George, I’ve had several of my working mother friends ask me in various forms, “So, what do you do with them all day?” One in particular followed that question with, “I would love to stay at home with my two girls, but I am waiting until they are both in school. I can’t imagine having them with me all of the time.”
I knew exactly what these women were asking. When Will and I first discussed this possible new career move several months before I made the final decision to stay at home, I asked the same thing (except I am fairly certain tears were streaming down my face):
“But what will I DOOOOOOOOOO with them all day long???”
And truthfully, those first few months at home were challenging. I felt the constant need to entertain Frances and George almost as much as they needed to be entertained. F&G had come from a daycare (an excellent daycare, I must quantify) where there was very little downtime—9am circle time was followed by 9:30 am snack followed by 10:00 am exploration leading into 10:30 am freeze dance, etc., etc. They were never bored and always learning—and I loved it. Isn’t that why we paid them the big bucks - to stimulate our child’s mind and learning potential? But transferring that schedule—and its constant stimulation—to our home life was not working for any of us; particularly Frances and George. And I was exhausted, constantly guilt-ridden for not ‘teaching’ them something every 15-30 minutes, and unable to do anything else but try to child-rear the best I could.
Fast forward to six months ago and I started noticing something about our ordinary days at home—the three of us were relaxing into our new lifestyle. Frances and George were able to play--sometimes together, sometimes separately--for hours and often all morning long. Yes, squabbles arose over toys and sometimes they would come to me with a, “Mommy, I don’t know what to do?” But for some reason (very likely necessity) I started answering the grumbles with, “I’m sorry sweetie, but it’s not up to me to entertain you. You can play outside or play in here; but you must play on your own so I can finish dinner/laundry/cleaning (or whatever the task at hand was at that moment).” And guess what? They figured it out. I started noticing them really playing with their toys; inventing games that I never would have thought of; giggling, running, playing with the dogs, digging in the dirt, watching the birds, sitting on the grass—all things I remember from my childhood.
About a week ago, I finished an excellent book called Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.
I highly recommend it to parents of children of all ages, but particularly the youngest sect—babies through grade school. I tried to write a quick summary of what I took away from the book, but I didn’t like the way it sounded – stilted, stiff and preachy (pretty much the antithesis of the author's message). I will say that since reading the book, I’ve made some more changes and have noticed an even more relaxing environment for all of us. Fewer toys and books in the house, more downtime, less fear (on my part) when Frances and George are “bored,” and much more unscheduled, unrestricted playtime have made for a more simple and happy household.
One of my favorite commentaries on childhood is the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes (sadly retired almost twenty years ago now). As an older child/young adult reading it, I identified almost exclusively with Calvin (the little boy) and Hobbes (his stuffed tiger who is most definitely real in Calvin’s eyes). I looked back through those old strips just today and discovered something new in them—Calvin’s parents. Calvin is notoriously rambunctious, but undeniably inventive, active, happy and imaginative; and his parents are simple and hardworking but rarely ever entertaining him. They guide him, rein him in at times, and most definitely punish him when necessary; but they let him be a boy.
And while I could do without some of Calvin’s most egregious “boy moments” (flooding the bathtub comes to mind), I realized that the feel of his childhood—carefree moments, learning through exploration, an active imagination, independence, self-care—is exactly what I loved most of my young days. And exactly how I want Frances and George to evolve. Not through toys, not through computers or television, not through more, more, and more things; but through experiences, boredom, imagination, independence, and carefreeness.
And isn’t that the way childhood is supposed to feel?
Happy, happy Sunday everyone! And if you’re reading this in Virginia, enjoy the snow!