I spent yesterday afternoon planting bulbs. While taking a short break from the planting, my three year old son emerged and asked if he could blow bubbles. Normally I’d get the bubbles out and hand them to the children, letting them play while I get on with my own adult-world jobs. But I was tired. My knees were sore and I was running out of places to plant. The spade had broken under pressure from the immovable clay earth. In short, now seemed the perfect time to blow bubbles.
I sat beside Aidan while he chose which bubble wand he wanted. “You blow bubbles with me?” he asked rather incredulously. It felt good to say yes. I picked up the bubble wand, dipped it in the solution and blew: bubbles everywhere. Aidan ran after them, popped them, and marvelled when I blew tiny bubbles and then massive ones. He popped a particularly big one, looked up at me with his blonde hair hanging in his bright blue-green eyes and laughed a hugely infectious belly laugh.
When I plant those crocus, tulips and daffodils I am spending time now in the hope that there will be a pay off later. Little bulbs sleep in dark soil all winter, til the springtime when they burst forth with fresh colours of green, then red, purple and yellow.
In choosing to play with Aidan yesterday on his terms, when he was ready, I believe I am planting little bulbs of love in his heart. In putting him first, even for a brief but poignant encounter, I am saying to him, “I love being with you.” “You’re more important than my adult-world chores.” “You’re special.” “I like what you like.” Like planting bulbs, the result in Aidan may not be immediate, but at some time hence I believe those little messages will make a big difference to him.
Some people use the word ‘investment’ when they talk about spending time with children, i.e., if you invest time and love in them now, it will pay dividends later. I feel uncomfortable with this phrasing mainly because it takes away the essential ‘ingredient’ at the heart of why responsive parenting is so beneficial to our children. That ingredient is pleasure.
Queuing up at the bank is not pleasurable. Phoning a financial advisor isn’t all that fun either. Investing is about getting the job done with a view to reaping a later reward. It’s transactional.
I feel uncomfortable with the idea that parenting is about an if/then proposal. Are meaningful relationships really transactional?
Planting bulbs is intrinsically enjoyable. Selecting each rounded bulb between thumb and finger, feeling its firmness beneath its brown papery skin. Pushing back sweet-smelling soil to find earthworms and grubs, pressing the bulb into the earth and crumbling the clods over the top, firming down the spongy earth. The sensation of sun on my back, the sounds of the breeze through the willow trees and the neighbours’ old Oaks. Birds singing, a wood pigeon flapping loudly overhead. It’s wonderful.
When I look at those flowers swaying in the springtime breeze, I will recall the enjoyment I had in planting them all those months ago.
Similarly, when I look into Aidan’s round face, when I share a laugh with him while we blow bubbles together, I’m not thinking about whether this will help him to be a happier adult. It’s just nice. But when he’s older I may look back and remember that day when he was just a carefree three-year old with fresh creamy skin, all little toes and freckles, and I will remember that it wasn’t about investment. It was about him and me and some bubbles.
Photocredit: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, Wikimedia Commons.