The meaning of quality time

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If things people write on the internet are a good barometer for the collective consciousness, absolutely no one was disappointed to see January come to an end. While the latter portion of winter is always rough for me, I don’t remember past Januarys feeling quite this gloomy. For much of the month I found it challenging to create magic or even come up with ways to spend time together that don’t involve folding laundry or yelling at the kids to stop vaulting onto the couch.

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I always feel a strong pull to make the most of the most of our weekends because I feel like we get so little family time. Every weekday morning and evening is a scramble (although that doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful for the additional time I have without a 1.25 hour commute from NYC) so those precious weekend hours feel far too few and carry tremendous emotional weight for me. I’m constantly thinking about how quickly they’re growing up and how important this time is. The twins will be three in a few short weeks, and the other day Jude refused to hold my hand as we walked out of the fabric store because we weren’t technically in the parking lot yet, and he’s a “big boy” now (because he’s very recently potty trained – the last baby to do so).

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The constant cold temperatures make spending time outside less appealing even though every part of me is craving nature. And the short winter daylight (even though Jonah reminded me today, as I wiped tears of frustration, that the days are getting longer) feel like family time hours are being stolen from me and I want to demand them back. Some of my frustration is about light for photography. Our house isn’t great for indoor photos; the windows face the wrong way (save for the full bath which gets nice afternoon light, but that’s not useful) we’re pretty heavily shaded, and I have a tendency to connect moments that photograph well with time well spent (which I know is silly).

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As I cried again this weekend, angry at myself for not taking the right steps to cue up magical quality family time, Kristin asked what makes time “quality” for me. The question stopped me because I’m not sure that I know exactly. On the spot, I told her that I think it usually involves us all being engaged in the same activity with enough time and space and focus to really be present in whatever we’re doing. I prefer activities in which the kids don’t all scatter in different directions (which often happens in museums and indoor play places) but somehow it bothers me less when we’re outdoors. If we’re all enjoying nature together I’m fine with a little bit of curious wandering.

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Filling her pockets with treasures. This might have been the trip that resulted in this haul.

I’m pretty self-aware and I tend to be good at anticipating how a particular decision will make me feel, and I’m also a bit of a control freak when it comes to those feelings. One of the challenges is that while I’m all about going on adventures, and setting up craft or baking projects, Kristin would love nothing more than to stay in her PJs all weekend; that’s what makes her feel best. And if I’m being honest, I value slow mornings on the weekends (because my weekday mornings are such a mess of hurry and yelling and tension), so I make pancakes and we don’t shower till 10 or 11 and the kids play in whatever way they see fit, but when the days are so short if we don’t manage to get out of the house until 1:00 p.m. we’ve lost a significant chunk of the day. To Kristin’s credit, she understands (at least in some sense) what feels magical to me, and she’s always game for an excursion when I need one.

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January weekends have also been complicated by the first real extracurricular we’ve had. Jonah started gymnastics on Saturdays, and to our surprise he’s absolutely loving it. We were concerned because a week before it began the kids attended a birthday party at a different gymnastics gym. Despite knowing all of the kids at the party, Jonah cried and clung to me and didn’t want to join the group for any of the activities. It didn’t bode well for how he might handle a class with total strangers. But amazingly he has loved it from moment one; he tries each and every activity with gusto and always emerges from class completely thrilled with his experience. We’re so proud of him and it’s fun to watch, but it also means that we end up splitting up right in the middle of the day. Since we don’t get home until just before 1:00 and then the kids need lunch, we don’t often feel like we have sufficient time to plan something big for the afternoon.

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I’ve been trying to temper my expectations without letting myself off the hook because I do believe that I’m in charge of how I choose to spend time. But I also know that when I try too hard to control how quality our time is I almost always end up feeling stressed and defeated. I think of this article all the time (not the first time I’ve linked to it), and just the other day I read an Instagram post that was also a good reminder that especially when our children are this young, we have to have reasonable expectations.

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When I was about to fall apart today after Jonah’s sleepover friend went home (his first sleepover! It wasn’t a raging success, but I think they had some fun and at least we tried) and I had no good plans for the afternoon, Kristin reminded me that hey, isn’t Valentine’s day in ten days and don’t the kids need to make valentines for school anyway? Why don’t you run to the store and pick up craft stuff to do art with the kids. It was brilliant and so full of love. So we did, and they made a few, I fretted over the glitter markers that Jonah begged for that I didn’t realize were permanent until they were open, they used too many stickers on too few paper hearts, Vivi unrolled almost the whole roll of washi tape, and they lost interest before we had nearly enough for their friends, but hey there’s always next weekend.

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I’m going to keep trying to identify the themes and currents that run through all of the moments that feel like quality time to me because it feels important to know what on earth I’m even striving for. If it’s possible to be even more intentional while lowering my expectations a bit (or maybe just shifting my idea of what’s meaningful), that’s where I’d like to land. I know that sometimes it’s just about being present and mindful in a passing moment. Maybe a whole afternoon is simply too high of a bar.

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One thought on “The meaning of quality time

  1. Pingback: The thrill of a new sled | Sushi Grass & Fireflies

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