This year I've taken a new tact when my kids are arguing with each other or whining to me. I say to them in my most serious voice, "That's enough. It's 2019. No one has time for this!"
Yes, it's mostly a joke and a weird statement meant to amuse myself, catch them off guard, and maybe shift the balance of power back in my favor momentarily, but it actually gets at some of my deepest and most nagging doubts about my parenting and the way I live my life.
I often still think of myself as a young adult, not too far removed from college, but in reality, I'm in my late thirties and married with three children ranging in age from two to seven. Time passes so quickly. If often feels like we don't have time for this. Whatever THIS is!
As a stay-at-home and work-from-home parent, I have lots of time to think about things that people who get out more might take for granted. I'm sitting on the hardwood floor in our playroom. There are toys strewn around me. New ones from Christmas, old ones from five years ago, a mess of clutter and childhood. My two-year-old is playing with her new Peppa Pig Playhouse and she has instructed me to participate. I'm holding a Rebecca Rabbit figurine, making it hop around the floor. Or is it Richard Rabbit? It's impossible to say, really. These toys can be maddeningly ambiguous. My daughter arranges the other characters in and around the house.
I typically let her take the lead, because her artistic vision of how the scene should play out is stronger than mine. I fancy myself a writer, sometimes I even flirt with the idea of writing a novel or a screenplay, but when it comes to developing story-lines for toys, I'm worthless. I can never think of fun things for them to do or say and I quickly lose interest. When my mind starts to wander, I fall back on the classics. I say something about jumping in muddy puddles and start banging the figures together, creating a massive battle. My daughter always laughs uproariously. For whatever reason, this is always entertaining for everyone. Well, except the toys, probably. Do we have time for this?
With that business out of the way, I check my phone surreptitiously to see if any of my tweets or Facebook posts are performing well. Or if the website I do copywriting for has posted any new projects. It gives my brain something to think about other than bloodthirsty toys. Should I be doing this? I've read the studies about smartphones and distraction. I've seen the memes and those creepy images of zombie-like people trudging around with their faces being sucked into their ever-present screens.
The kids got a trampoline for Christmas. A truly amazing gift. Every morning since we set it up, I climb inside the enclosure and sweep up the leaves that appear there every morning as reliably as the stray cat that skulks around our front door. While school was out for the holidays, the kids jumped on the trampoline several times per day, starting in the morning, usually while wearing pajamas. Sometimes they force me to watch them or interact with them by tossing balls onto the trampoline for them to dodge, but I usually sit on the porch and drink coffee while they play. I even sneak in a page or two of a book I'm reading every now and then. Is this a good use of time?
Trying to figure out what is important and what isn't is an activity most people are familiar with. For parents, these questions can seem particularly pressing because it's not just you you're deciding for, it's the small humans in your charge. And when you have an endless supply of opinions and information just a click or swipe away, it can feel particularly overwhelming. Outside play is better than screens, right? Always or just sometimes? I want to make money, even if my work doesn't pay well or reliably, and I genuinely enjoy checking in on my job-related happenings, but should I be checking my phone while my kids are around? Should I collect all the stray toys and pieces of plastic littering my house and launch them into the sun?
The questions are endless. They can take up a lot of time and mental energy if you let them. A lot of time that is probably better spent doing something else. Or then again, is it time better spent? What a vicious circle. What's the solution? While there probably isn't one, or at least not a one-size-fits-all answer that is right for everyone, one thought experiment I stumbled upon has helped me quiet the noise.
When I get particularly agitated or worried about how I'm spending my time or how my kids are spending theirs, I try to remember what we were doing two weeks ago. I can never remember with any level of detail, of course. I'm guessing that not many people can without the help of a diary, calendar, or, the horror, their smartphones and social media. So, how much can I expect to remember two years from now or two decades? Not much. It seems highly unlikely that I'll look back one day and lament how we wasted the time we were given if I don't even remember what it is we did most of the time.
I mean, talk about things no one has time for. Vague regret might be at the top of the list.
Oh, and perhaps you're wondering how my kids have responded to my new mantra about seizing the day in 2019. Every time I say it, my four-year-old responds, "No! It's 3019!"
Time really does fly.