By Will Odom, Contributing Writer
For a long time they bothered me a little. Those desolate brown spots in the middle of the yard. You know the ones I’m talking about. The bare spots under the swing. The ones that turn to a muddy mess when it rains. The ones that swirl into a dust bowl when it’s hot and dry. The ones that never grow grass. Yes, it is ridiculous, I know, but it did bother me.
One small moment changed all that.
My oldest daughter ran outside and jumped on the swing set. My 2-year-old ran down the hall with her shoes to join the fun. “Swing, Daddy. Push me,” she begged.
My reply, “Okay, honey, hold on just a second. Daddy needs to load the dishwasher and clean up lunch.”
“Please, Daddy,” she continued.
“Hold on a second, baby,” I answered. “I’ll be right out.” Out the door she crawled and bounced off to the swing.
A few minutes passed, and I had forgotten the innocent request.
I was reminded of my promise when the screen door slid opened. A little head popped back in the door, and she crawled back up into the kitchen and shut the screen door. I could still hear the squeaking chains as my oldest daughter was swinging outside.
My heart sank. I had missed an opportunity to spend time with and invest in my children. I quickly placed the dirty dishes back in the sink and stepped over the open dishwasher to scoop up my daughter before she was able to take off her shoes.
We raced outside, and I plopped her into the swing. She wrapped her little fingers around the chains. She had foregone the baby swing long ago since she wanted to do everything that her big sisters do.
I began to push her gently, and she squealed with delight. “Higher,” she squeaked in her little voice as a big smile spread across her face.
“Watch me, Daddy. Look how high I can go, and I can do it all by myself,” chimed my 6-year-old in the swing next to us.
I watched as she pumped her legs back and forth proudly to carry herself into the sky. She brushed her feet on the ground, and a dust cloud rose up.
I looked down at the dry patch of ground, and it hit me. She didn’t need my help anymore. I had outgrown my usefulness, at least where the swing is concerned…unless she wants a little extra boost. I lost sight of my toddler as my eyes squinted and a wide smile spread across my face. I was glad that she was learning and growing and becoming independent, but it also sparked another thought path that I wandered down.
I wasn’t trying to beat myself up, but I did stop and think about those two patches of dirt under the swings.
One patch was being kicked up because she had grown enough to do some things on her own. She did still need me for some things, but her legs were long enough for her feet to create the spot under the swing.
The other patch was still untouched by other little feet. Her legs weren’t long enough to enlarge the spot. Her feet couldn’t reach the ground. My toddler, on the other hand, still needed me. She couldn’t do it herself. She was enjoying herself, and I was enjoying her. I smiled and reveled in the moment.
Then I asked myself, “How many opportunities had I missed with my oldest or middle daughter because I was too busy doing some other mundane task? What could I have put aside for later in order to spend time with my children? How many tea parties had I been invited to but never made it?”
I only have so much time with them. Only so many opportunities to spend time with them before they will no longer need me (for certain things anyway). Before they move on to the next stage.
I determined that the dirty dishes could wait. The computer work could be set aside until later. The floor could be vacuumed after bedtime.
“Daddy, would you like a cookie and tea?” Yes, please. “Daddy, can we dance?” Absolutely. “Daddy, will you push me?” Of course.
I want to enjoy every moment and each stage. I need to refocus. Sure, those mundane things still need to be done, and I will get them done. But dirty dishes won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. However, taking a few minutes to play with my girls could help shape who they are and what they become. The laundry will still be there tomorrow, but that specific moment to sit and read with my daughter will not.
I know the effects that lack of quality time can have on a parent/child relationship. I have lived it and have only recently overcome some of those issues.
Am I perfect about it and never make mistakes? Absolutely not. I still mess up. I am definitely not writing this because I have it all figured out. Are there times when I do have to say “wait just a minute”? Yes, there are times when I need to finish something or can’t stop what I’m doing right at that moment. But I do realize the importance of quality time with my children and am taking steps to ensure they get what they need from their daddy.