There is a mausoleum of minor achievements in my mother’s apartment dating back to my grade six math award. She used to claim that she was keeping them for the Museum of Kyo, but then at some point in my mid-twenties she decided that there wasn’t going to be a museum so out went the old photos, school assignments and report cards. The chintzy plaques and certificates were saved and if you’ve seen or read The Joy Luck Club you’ll know why—it has something to do with plumage and immigrant currency, i.e. proving one’s worth. (Looking at my grade six math award still instills a sense that I’m washed up.)
Perhaps because my own childhood was chock-full of expectations, I have tried to allow my children more breathing room. For instance, our weekends tend to be sprawling and non-eventful. There are no piano recitals, soccer league tournaments, or early morning hockey practices. At noon, there’s a good chance that the table will still be strewn with dirty pancake plates and rogue blueberries. My children will often be draped on the couch like boneless humans listening to the radio or reading comics. I’m aware that this can look like laziness from the outside. But this “down time” has been a revelation to me.
I have discovered that there is a quality of boringness that comes with being a parent and I don’t mean this disparagingly. In fact, ‘boringness’ isn’t the right word at all but I don’t know what is—maybe “dreaminess” mixed with “repetitiveness” combined with “unproductiveness.” In any case, it’s a terrifying and existentially-threatening state to be in for most “normal” adults.
Which is precisely why we should spend time with children (and/or animals and/or among plants or rocks): because it is a healthy antidote to our normal ways. We have our stoneage brains that are so focused on short term goals (“a bird in the hand…”) that we often lose sight of how to move towards long-term goals (happiness, equanimity, attentiveness).
This past Sunday, I took the kids to Kensington market for lunch. The sun was out and it felt like a mid-summer afternoon. There was a vintage bubble “blaster” on the street pumping out hundreds of bubbles. I don’t know if early hominid children had the same reaction to bubbles as my children, but Y&M have an atavistic need to greet every bubble they see. Yesterday, they simply would not be tempted away. The park? No. Swimming? No. Ice cream? Maybe—No. Eventually, I just gave in and watched. And watched. Who knew bubbles could be so maverick? One floated into a passing cab and tickled the nose of the driver. Another escaped across the street and snuck in an open door. A gang of a dozen made headway down an otherwise cheerless alley.
I looked up again at the sky full of bubbles and remembered that it was 9/11… And that was our Sunday.