Every year, around this time of year, the newspaper my dad took, the now defunct Primeiro de Janeiro, printed a supplement called “O calendario dos….” And now I’m at a loss as to the “the” what. I vaguely remember something like does Matutinhos, but the google search only brings up matosinhos which is a town by the sea, and at any rate, I have no clue what Matutinhos means except it might have some connection to Matitudinal, ie. of the morning or awake. (Yep, that’s right, I was woke before it was trendy, only we had real grammar.)
Actually it meant the “Calendar of the children” basically. Every year, shortly after new years, dad and I would take a couple of days, cut out thin cardboard, paste the pages on it, then assemble it, so I had a wall calendar.
The calendar itself was of those things that are the most wholesome and educational, filled with rhymes that taught you stuff about months that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, good months to plant this and that, and how many days and what holidays the day had.
I’m fairly sure in most households, even households with children, the thing just went into the trash (or to the outhouse) unread. But for us it was a precious thing, which allowed me hours spent with dad, his telling me stories about each month and things that had happened in that month. (You know, of the “twenty years ago, it snowed in May” variety, only it didn’t snow in Portugal — in our area — between the day I was born and the day I turned 19. Yep, I’m that hot. (rolls eyes.))
As such things do, it persisted, so that I think I still had one of those hanging in my room when I got married.
I’m sure dad didn’t give it that much importance. I’m sure he didn’t give that much importance to our Saturdays when we went to feed the anthills, (I figured out years later, he took me out of the house so mom could clean in peace.) Or to the day before Christmas when he’d take me to Porto to see the men put up the lights and we stayed over to see the lights lit at night.
It’s different from the adult point of view. For a year, after I picked the kids up, we stopped at a bakery to have tea before I took them home. We did this because I’d just sold, and the time they were at school was a mad sprint to write books on time, which means that I usually had forgotten to have lunch. To this day they remember those teas, and think that’s what adults should do when they pick the kids from school.
You can’t control the things that stay, or even the ones that will have a great influence over your kids (or kids you mentor.)
There were books I received at just the right time to get me interested in this or that. There is the fact that brother took engineering and had a classmate reading science fiction (and who owned a large library.) Those books, and more importantly the fact that my brother told me on no account to read the books he’d borrowed (well, it was the seventies. Some were…. weird.) meant that I fell to science fiction in my early teens and never looked back. I’d almost certainly be writing anyway, but I might only have written historical novels or heaven knows what without that chain of fortuitous circumstances. (Weirdly, while I was in Portugal, my brother had me sign a book for this friend. Sigh. I wish he’d told me, as I think the friend would like Darkship Thieves. Instead he got Gentleman Takes a Chance. Ah, well.)
You can’t control everything your kids see or do. I later met a family like that. Their 14 yo homeschooled boy had no idea MURDER existed. He didn’t know people could kill other people. It was thought too upsetting for him. I kept wondering (still do) what would happen to that kid when he entered college which his parents definitely aimed for. Or even found something NOT a children’s Bible and read the panoply of bad human behavior.
Sure, we’re not the left, so we shouldn’t wallow in mud and claim everyone is a bad person, because only we are good (and should therefore control others) but there are limits how much you can raise children in a sheltered little world. In the end, they’ll experience human foibles, failings and, yes, sins. If they don’t know these exist, they’re going to make the perfect the enemy of the good, because they believe it can be perfect.
At the same time there are all the career parents wishing to give their kid quality time while farming him/her out to perfect strangers most of the day. In daycare they can’t establish the same priorities. Most daycares are run on the principle of the squeaky wheel. Which means, you know, that we’re prepping future snowflakes, ready to scream and get attention at ANYTHING.
We couldn’t do the quality time thing. We were with them a lot, or at least I was, though in the first ten years of their lives Dan worked really long hours. But I was with them all the time, so we settled for quantity time. Most of it was them coming to us from the room next to the office only when there was a problem. If I finished a book and decided to play with them for a day, it scared them a little.
But there was enough time for the little wild graces, like taking them to Walmart for back to school shopping, finding cap pistols, buying one for each of us, and then spending the rest of the day in wild shoot outs up and down stairs. Going to restaurants, getting little swords in our drinks, and having sword duels across the table. Taking them to zoos and museums, because WE needed a day off, and ending up having deep conversations about animals or art trends.
These things just happened, but I understand that the kids feel they were the best thing ever, now they’re grownup.
I realize many parents have to work, both of them, outside the house. But take as much QUANTITY time as you can. Even if all you’re doing is sitting on the same sofa, each reading something (some of my best times with my dad, now I think about it.) Include them in your shopping trips, your coffee shop trips. They’re a lot less obtrusive than you think, particularly if they are being included in adult activities. It makes them feel special.
I’m not a parenting expert. All I did is raise two of them.
But it’s the wild unexpected graces that stay. It’s the days you dropped by the coffee shop and got them a hot chocolate while you had coffee, and you talked of nothing much. They’ll remember that forever. And then, when they’re adults and have pocket money, sometimes they’ll take you to the zoo, or introduce you to the restaurant they just found, or even take you to the coffee shop. And you enjoy it, even though you talk of nothing much.
I don’t know of course, I’m still not sure I’ll amount to anything, or that I’ve done or written anything worth being remembered, but I think even should I become a well known writer and influential, there’s a good chance my real influence in the future will come through those bakery visits after elementary school pick up, and the rambling talks we had over tea.
And if I do amount to something, eventually, how much was it those hours spent with dad, cutting out the stupid little calendars?
Love grows. The influence you have on the future might not be what you expect. Make time to love and be loved, and to experience the small wild mercies. (And yes, dad is AFAIK fine, but I do miss him.)
Don’t fret that every minute with your kids or someone’s kids you love isn’t highly educational. Don’t worry that you didn’t send the kids the Most Educational Toy Ever. Just make time. Just time. And let love grow.