You might remember that early this summer, Alex asked for a diary. Coming out of nowhere, as it did, we figured it was a passing whim. After all, I gave him a journal for his first Reconciliation, and he hadn’t written a single word in it.
But he was quite insistent. Patient, but insistent. Every week or two this summer, he asked if we’d ordered his diary yet. (It has to have a lock, you know.) So finally we ordered one.
He has written in this diary once or twice a day ever since it arrived. He’s made it quite clear that it is not for other eyes, but at times he can’t help himself; he has to share a bit, and tell everybody else (repeatedly) how much they’re missing. Like his rules for the spy club.
“And the first sentence I wrote in it is the most secret thing of all,” he told me yesterday.
“Will you stop it?” I said, laughing. “You want it to be secret and you’re making us all really curious!”
He froze for just a moment. Obviously that had never occurred to him. “Okay,” he said, and buried his nose in his diary again.
I took a minute just to look at him, this boy who is all arms and legs and increasing mystery. One of the truisms of parenting is that from the moment they’re born, life is about learning to let go of them. Alex’s desire for a locked diary underscores how great the distance already is between me and the child who barely left my side for the first two years of his life–even to sleep.
Those babymoon months, before Julianna came along, he was my whole world, and having waited so long for him, I embraced the all-encompassing world of attachment parenting. I remember going to see the third Star Wars prequel without him; by the time Luke and Leia were being given to their adoptive families, my entire body was crying out to be home.
None of my other babies have been parented quite so intimately. There’s the requisite splitting of attention, and with Nicholas’ arrival the onset of what Christian calls “zone defense,” although speaking personally, I’d been outnumbered for a couple of years before that. And I’ve changed in that time too, a gradual metamorphosis from stay-at-home mom to write-at-home mom. All of these things mean distance.
The younger ones demand so much more attention and time. A toilet-training toddler is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. Nicholas, for instance, is the kind of child who says and does absolutely everything that passes through his brain. You might wonder why he thought of it, but what is not a question.
Alex has never been that way, but more now than ever I see him growing into a private, deeply thoughtful young man. And naturally, the more he holds inside, the more I long to get in his head and unravel the mystery. Some people institute parent-child dates in order to facilitate closeness. I’ve been thinking about that lately, but I’ve hesitated because I felt like it would be preferential. I know I could do it with any of them, but Alex is the one I feel a need to nurture a bit. I think it may be an idea whose time has come. After all, he is nearly a mirror image of me at that age: sensitive, intensely creative (with all the good and the bad that goes along with it), and not entirely comfortable in his own skin. I know what’s coming for him with the onset of adolescence, and it ain’t pretty. I want to be his safe haven. But I have to build that relationship now.
So here’s my question for all of you today: How do/did you manage to juggle all the responsibilities in order to make it possible to interact individually, distraction-free, with your older kids when you still have demanding littles?
I love that he writes in a diary! He sounds so much like my 7yo son it’s uncanny. I have no advice for you because the few times I’ve tried to do one-on-one “dates” with each kid, they complained it was boring and they missed their brother. 🙂
Ha! That’s hilarious, Abby. The only one I’ve tried with him was to climb rocks. I was thinking of the retro diner, but maybe the rock climbing is better. 🙂
One friend takes the oldest or second of four boys for coffee now and then. One-on-one. Their oldest is starting 5th grade. The one who goes with their Dad has a later bedtime that night. His wife will put the demanding littles to bed while he takes his son out. Just the 45-60 minutes that it takes to get to the coffee shop, get drinks (the son gets hot cocoa or apple cider), to sit for a bit, and to get home, is a good check-in time and creates a space for some conversation. I think his wife will do the same now and then, as well.
That’s a good idea.
I only had 2 children but I did school skip days (I worked full time and they went to Catholic School. I told the teacher ahead of time and chose a day that had no testing etc. The first year it was a surprise but then after that I scheduled it with them until they felt too “old” for such a thing. For the few years I did it, they loved it. That one-on-one thing – my undivided attention.
Go for it.
Is Alex 10? I keep putting him in line with my #2 (Dani turns 10 on Saturday) but maybe he’s a year behind that…not sure.
anyway, I have often felt guilty about not making pointed dates with my kids on a *regular* basis. However, as I look back, I realize that I’ve had special one-on-one time with each of them when it was unintentional. My oldest is now 12 and in the 7th grade. We made time after the other kids were in bed this summer. Sometimes we talked, other times we watched TV together not saying a word. and…I find that time alone in the car with a child is PRICELESS. I never have the radio on in the car when I have only one child in the car. Sometimes after a discussion, they might ask to turn it on…but it’s never on initially. We have some of the best talks — even though they are short and they are never intentional — just whatever comes up. I have gotten to know my older kids in short drives to practices and games. This isn’t to say making an intentional time to bond with children isn’t necessary. We do that…just nowhere near as often as I had been led to believe was necessary.
I was just thinking about the radio this morning. I’d rather listen to news than answer Nicholas’ incessant questions, which go along the lines of “Is blue a color? Is orange a color?” until I want to shake him and say, “STOP ASKING RIDICULOUS QUESTIONS!!!” But I turned off the radio today, thinking that I was squandering time to talk to him…and I took a deep breath and said, “What do YOU think? Is blue a color?”
(Alex is 8 1/2 btw….)
Okay, that helps me. All my kids are so different. My oldest is ahead of her peers maturity-wise, but is the youngest in her class (mid-July birthday). Dani is ahead one of the oldest in her class (August birthday) and is behind her peers maturity-wise (likes being a little kid). Helen seems right in the middle on both.
I’m sure there’s something in that difference about boys vs. girls, too…growing up I always thought I’d be a mom of girls, because my whole family was girls. Now I can’t imagine dealing with all that girly stuff. 🙂
I haven’t read all the other comments, but this hits so close to home for me. My 1st-born (also an Alex!) is 9 and has writerly tendencies, like his mother. No diary yet. I was, much like you, kind-of forced to start letting him go 5 years ago when his very attached-to-me sister was born. She hasn’t let go yet and besides that, he started Cub Scouts and therefore a lot of his extra-curricular time is with Dad (which is wonderful, too). I miss him. We’re having our first “date-nights,” Mother-son, father-daughter, next weekend. Don’t know what we’ll do but I’m hoping for an evening at Barnes & Noble. 😉
🙂 You know, until I actually wrote this post I wasn’t really planning on the “date” thing, just thinking of it as a “sigh-if-only”. It always helps to know that we’re all in the same boat!
I only had two children so I don’t feel qualified to offer advice, but.. for a long time, after dinner, Jim spent time with one while I spent time with the other. We did whatever they wanted for about 45 minutes. They usually wanted to play games. The next night, we switched children. they seemed to love it and look forward to it.
Oh, that’s a good idea. If only we had both of us available after dinner. (Throws hands in the air.)
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