Following our road trip to Salt Lake City and back this past week and these past couple days of house-cleaning in preparation for Thanksgiving and guests, etc., we have had a lot of time together as a family. This is a good thing overall, but I know it's important to have one-on-one time with the kids, too. It's not always easy, but with some creativity, we've been able to find some really nice and unique ways to spend time with each of the kids.
It seems that some of our mom-child or dad-child times are kind of repetitive events based on interests (or tolerances) of the kids. I thought I'd write about some of these for the record of this time in our lives and to share with you how it's not impossible to make time for individual children, even in a busy, large-ish family.
S elects to spend individual time with Daddy whenever he goes to the grocery store or runs errands around town. She loves to get out of the house and I think they get a lot of talking time on the drives to and from places. He also drives her 45 minutes to her group therapy sessions on Friday nights (and back) and I think their relationship has really grown because of this time together. S also has a love of cooking that she most definitely gets from her dad. She is a good kitchen helper and has assisted in most of the food ministry events with her dad at our church.
With me, she loves to help in the kitchen as well. I don't like to be there at all and I used to shoo everyone out when I had to prepare meals because it was all I could do to be there myself. Certainly coordinating children made it all more complicated for me. Sometimes though, I'm forced to cook. But now that S is 16, she knows her way around the kitchen and seems to recognize areas she can be helpful to me without annoying me. Outside of the kitchen, our best times together are usually spent playing Scrabble or Boggle. But the most consistent quality time for the two of us has grown from mandatory morning hugs. Neither of us set any verbal agreement about them, but we definitely notice when we get too busy from the start and never really greeted each other properly for the day. We quickly rectify it by seeking one another out for a "morning" hug even if it takes us till noon to do it. It's a concise meeting, but the regularity of it makes it beneficial overall.
H is probably one of our most social kids and prefers being with anyone outside of our family better than anyone in it. His absence brings the energy and noise in the house down several levels. So we, too, enjoy the times he plays elsewhere for an afternoon. However, he still thrives when we can show him some attention apart from his siblings.
With Daddy, H watches Sci-Fi movies and the occasional documentary. They pause the show every so often to discuss what's going on and I hear them finding their way as father and son through these conversations. H recently was asked to rise very early to help his dad with the Men's Breakfast for church and he swelled with pride and excitement to be asked. I think he's done it twice now and I can see this becoming a more regular thing for them. I'm usually sound asleep at the time, but I think there must be something special about working quietly in the kitchen together while it's still dark out and everyone else is tucked in for a few more hours.
H and I don't find we have a lot in common, however, I learn a lot when I take the time to spend with him and get to know him better. We both love the game Yahtzee and I additionally love that it's a math help for him, while also being fun. So we play that together usually at least once a week, sometimes more. We also share a lot of really good talks. He's so verbal that when we can sit and talk (sometimes post-argument) and work through those toughest feelings of ours, I feel so much closer to him. I hope the feeling is mutual, but he's fairly guarded in his lovey-emotions, so I'm not really sure. In the meantime, I'm usually the taxicab who brings him to friends' houses, so we make the most of our drives and chat it up on his way to someone else's house.
Z is always at his best when he's one-on-one, so we make a point to isolate him with one of us as often as we can. He probably gets more individual attention than any of the kids, but he's the middle child, so maybe that's an extra good thing for him.
Z accompanies Daddy to the store quite often, except when S and C are trying to have some time alone together. But the favorite places Z loves to go with his dad are the bike store (for bike repairs, upgrades or just browsing), the mechanic (we've been there more than enough this past year) and the dump. I'm so glad Z loves to go those places with his dad, because those aren't particularly fun for me, so fine, have at it! C has company, Z gets his daddy-time and I'm exempt from having to go to those places (for the most part). Win-win-win.
I call Z my teddy bear, so we get plenty of snuggle time every day. I don't dare call it "cuddle" time, though because J has claimed that term for our snuggle time together. So I cuddle with J and snuggle with everyone else. Z gets plenty of one-on-one time with me during his tantrums when he requires my full attention, but it's not the tantrums I consider quality time. It's the moments following these fits that wear us both down emotionally (and sometimes physically) when he's sweet and apologetic and we can talk quietly and move forward in the day. Someday he'll outgrow his tantrums and though I won't miss them one bit, I'll miss the aftermath times for sure. On a less snuggly note, though, he loves, loves watching old family movies and looking at pictures of our trips and time together and hearing stories I've written down about him. So he frequently pulls me to the computer to pull up the old memories and we reminisce together. Sometimes another kid or two will join us, but often it's just the two of us there, talking and laughing about his developing humor and personality. He's such a cool kid when he has our full attention.
J still mostly sleeps in our room. I think we'll be past this soon when we put S and J in a shared room together, but the delay has been in trying to rearrange all the kids around to spaces that work better for everyone. Now we're about to have guests and so that puts the last moves on hold for another week or so. My point is that J gets a lot of one-on-one time at night when we're getting ready for bed. She usually watches Jeopardy with us each night (it's a show that lulls C to sleep and I feel like I'm getting better at playing the game at home, so it leaves me feeling successful before I fall asleep myself). I think the show is helping with her trivial knowledge because even she's been able to answer some of the questions before the contestants do.
Anyway, for J, Daddy is her best therapist. He has a knack for calming her down when she's hyped up or upset. He knows how to help her with a problem in a way that empowers our very independent-minded girl to believe she's unraveled the mystery on her own. When she starts getting flustered about clothing options available to her, he helps "adjust" things just right till she thinks it's a whole new outfit by the way he folded the socks or whatever. He's really amazing with her. They spend a lot of time in gentle or lively conversations together. But they also love vegging out in front of their zombie movies. She doesn't get scared by spooky movies and though he's always careful not to show her gory films or things that are just wrong for kids; they have spent many hours watching old black-and-white suspense and horror flicks. I don't get their passion on the subject of scary movies, but they love them! And most of all, they love the time shared watching them together.
J and I have our morning Cuddle Club. She climbs into bed with me (if I'm still there when she wakes up) and we rub noses and giggle and hug and she gets all her cuddle-needs met so she can start her day. Sometimes we just lay close together and talk quietly about the dreams we had during the night or what we hope to accomplish during the day. If we've missed the morning Cuddle Club or sometimes if she's just feeling a little needy later in the day, she'll seek me out for some cuddles wherever I am. We both feel rejuvenated after the fact. She and I exchange love notes/cards regularly, too. She usually makes them about ten to my one, but I do try to answer them back and even though this is not especially quality time together, it is something that fills that hole for her, I think. J also really loves school time with me. It can be our regular class time or an impromptu session where she's just gotten curious about something and wants me to help her learn more about it. These are wonderful moments that I wouldn't change.
Last, but not least, there's O. O is a future chef in the making, I think. He's gotten really good at assisting Daddy in the kitchen and waiting patiently for the next instruction. He seems to really like this time with Daddy and I think it's also really beneficial to his development overall. When they're not busy cooking, O is the only son patient enough to sit and watch a fitball game with his dad (it's football, but O calls it fitball no matter how often I correct him). C started watching more football on television in recent years because it's a good background noise for his much-desired and needed, but infrequent naps. Now he's got a football buddy -- if only he could get O to stop talking through the whole game, he could get a little more sleep.
Both O and J love accompanying Daddy to the car wash though -- I like that, too, because sometimes they take my car! A treat for me!
O is an extremely exuberant child and he finds himself in trouble quite often because he's quick to react and slow to really think through his actions first. So slow, in fact, it usually comes second. He needs a close eye on him -- especially in public -- because he is just really excited and fearless to run into traffic or talk to anyone. My reaction to this over the years has been knee-jerk (I guess I don't always think first either) and angry. But recently, I've found that some of my best moments with O are when I surprise him (and me) with a loving response to his energy. If I can stop myself from freaking out first, I find myself kneeling down to his level and just speaking to him softly about how what he's doing won't work. Then he gives me this big toothless grin and leans in for a hug. He's so petite and thin, I can just scoop him up and kiss his whole face. I say he has bird bones because he's so light to just carry and spin him around. He's the baby of the family and I love that I can hold him like my baby even at near seven years old. In order to keep an eye on him better, I often include him in projects I'm doing or have him doing something nearby me. He's usually content to be near me as long as he's not bored. (Bored like a camel.) I love those special times with him.
I love these special times with each of our children. These are the moments when they are not one of five, but one. Unique and special in my life.