I lay my dish towel on the kitchen counter, and peek around the corner into the living room.
My 3-year old son is lying on the oval rug, playing with little cars and trucks.
“Rrrr,” Matthew says. He is making automobile noises as he lines up all his vehicles, single-file, around the outer edge of the carpet.
It isn’t very often that I find myself alone in the house with my son. Typically his two bossy, older sisters are here to direct his playtime. But today it’s just Matthew and me.
An article I read recently touted the fact that parents need to spend one-on-one time with their children. The writer emphasized that the best gift we can give our kids is our time.
I’ve been working to get chores done before the girls and my husband get home, but instead I decide to ignore the dishes and give Matthew that gift of time with me.
Of my three children, Matthew is the quiet, undemanding one. He’s the daydreamer of my bunch. If I’m upset with the kids about the house being messy, his older sisters will be stoic, but it’s Matthew who will cry.
If Matthew has an idea, the girls’ idea is better. When they play hide-and-seek, one of the girls will tell him where he should hide—before she runs off and chooses a better spot for herself. I worry about this sensitive little guy.
I walk into the living room, where Matthew is busy sorting and lining up his cars.
“Hi, sweetie,” I say, approaching my parking attendant on the oval rug.
“Errrk,” is his only response.
Kneeling down, I take a blue four-door sedan and make it speed across the rug. I park it beside Matthew, under the table.
He doesn’t acknowledge that I’m here, so I increase the intensity of my play. Plucking a vehicle from the bin, I say, “Sorry, Buster. My yellow car wants to be parked right here.” I push the toy automobile along the rug. “Zooom! Errrk!” I park it at the front of his line.
Matthew stops his play, head down, and watches me move other vehicles around. Without looking at me, he carefully takes the blue sedan from under the table and places it at the end of the trail of cars. Then he gently sets his hand on my yellow convertible, and freezes.
I cock my head and look down at the top of his little blond mop of hair. Matthew stays absolutely still, his arm extended, hand on my car. I can see the trunk of the yellow automobile peeking out from his grasp.
What’s he doing?
“You don’t want my car to be the leader?” I ask him.
“No,” he says quietly, and hesitates for a second. “It belongs back here.” With that, Matthew places my car at the end of the line. Then he chooses an orange truck and slowly drives it forward to head up his parade of cars. He parks it where I’d had the convertible.
It feels like a challenge.
I slide backwards and lower myself onto my stomach to be at his eye level.
“Is it okay if I play cars with you?” I ask, reaching for a lime-green tow truck.
Again, Matthew comes to a stop. He gives a huge sigh. His head remains bowed and he doesn’t look my way.
“Mattie?” I ask. I wait for him to say something.
“Momma,” he says, with another sigh.
“I just want to play by myself, and play my way.”
Startled, I find I’m a little hurt. I did exactly what the article said to do, but my own child doesn’t want individual time with me. Despite my surprise at his reaction, I find that with a moment’s reflection, my hurt is quickly replaced with understanding.
Of course! Matthew usually has the girls interfering with his play. And today he ended up with a mom who took over. Not only does he rarely have time away from the girls, he rarely has time alone.
I tousle his hair and give him a quick kiss. Then I get to my feet. There are beds to be stripped and sheets to be washed. I walk away from my quiet child with his cars, the child who now has time to do what he wants to do.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the best gift a parent can give is taking cues from her child about what he wants. And sometimes, just sometimes, that is simply just time alone.
Freelance writer Janny J. Johnson was at one time the mom in a household filled with: a husband, four children, five cats, two goldfish, a dog, a bird, and a bunny. Now she sits in a recliner writing about those days on her laptop.