Back when Kai-Kai was born, my pediatrician told me I needed to have “special time” with 2 year old Ling-Ling—time set aside just for her even if it was only 10 minutes a day. “Then when you can’t give her attention, you can remind her that you will have special time later in the day.”
Well I didn’t do it. And it wasn’t like Ling wanted any time with me—she coped with a new sibling by ignoring me for an entire month—wouldn’t look me in the eye, wouldn’t let me hug her, wouldn’t let me do anything for her at all. “No! Grandma or Daddy!” she’d insist, head down, averting her gaze.
After she started talking with me again, I was so overwhelmed with 2 kids that I didn’t even try to make special time. I never could figure out how to stagger their schedules enough for time alone with a kid—especially when I was doggedly attempting to keep their nap schedules synchronized so I could work my job during each afternoon nap.
My pediatrician’s words haunted me for years to come.
All that changed 6 years ago when I realized the girls were old enough to be left and I could take advantage of the “babysitting” Ren’s tae kwon do classes provided. From then on, once a week, each kid got 50 minutes of “special time.”
99% of the time, I buy them a treat. Occasionally, a kid wants to do “Dance Dance Revolution” or be taken to Staples—but even then, they still want a treat.
Whole Foods has been a favorite haunt because the gelato’s delicious, cheap, and there’s nothing better than free snacks scattered around the store. We scavenge our way through fruits, then cheese, then sidle to the meat case to see if there’s sausage, then around to seafood (where there’s always smoked salmon dip with crackers these days), then to dessert, and finally back to gelato where we sample at least 2 flavors before ordering.
Then I buy gelato for the kid but not myself because soon into our “special time” routine I learned that my waistline can’t take 3 extra desserts a week.
Most of the time the kids just want the treat. They look forward to special time and ask for special time because they want something sweet and delicious. Most of the time the conversation’s pretty superficial, and they’re ready to head out as soon as the treat’s consumed. But every now and then we have a deep conversation, one where I’m able to hear my kid really share. Even rarer, sometimes a kid actually wants some of my input.
Yesterday, Kai called me on her way home from cross-country announcing that she had very little homework and was available for special time. “I don’t know if I can,” I said, “I have to walk 2 miles to the auto shop and pick up Dad’s car before 5:30. You could walk with me and then we could get a treat after.”
To my surprise, she agreed. So we walked and chatted and when I asked, “How’s cross-country going?” a stream of conversation started that lasted for the next 25 minutes.
I think I like “walking” special time better than “treat” special time—there’s not much to do other than talk when you walk. Plus I get more steps on my Fitbit.
And feel less guilty when we have cannoli at the end.