How I Started Having Weekly Special Time With My Kids

Oct 26, 2018

I've written before about the lightning bolt of habit change. It's where a new idea sparks an instantaneous habit without any real effort. You just think it, do it once, and the habit is there, "without preparation, without small steps, without wavering," as Gretchen Rubin puts it.

Lightning bolts are rare, but one of them happened to me last December. 

I was gearing up for the start of 2018 and trying to decide what my focus should be. I hadn't yet stumbled upon the quote that would be my guiding light for the year, but I knew one thing: I wanted to make sure I was putting my time and energy into the Most Important Things, and my kids were sitting right at the top of the list.

A couple of weeks before that, Ralphie of Simply on Purpose had talked about doing special time with her daughters--essentially, fifteen minutes of one-on-one time every day. 

I was intrigued. Of course, the idea of spending individual time with my kids wasn't new, but somehow this sounded more doable. It wouldn't require going out for ice cream or spending a couple of hours at the zoo on an official Mommy-Son date. Ralphie talked about setting a timer for fifteen minutes and then fully engaging with that one child in whatever activity he wanted to do. 

That same December, our family was participating in the Light the World campaign, which consisted of 25 service-oriented activities over 25 days that helped (in small ways) increase the light and hope and goodness in the world. One of the daily scripture prompts was "suffer the little children to come unto me," and I knew that this was my chance to try out special time.

And so that morning, I told the boys, "Today I'm going to have special time with each of you. For fifteen minutes, I am yours. You choose the activity, and I'll do it with you."

And just like that, the Lightning Bolt struck. 

Thereafter, special time became a regular part of our weekly schedule. 

I think it stuck so easily for two reasons. First, my kids fell in love with it immediately. They understood what it was, how it worked, and thought it was so fun (except Maxwell, who, as usual, took a little more convincing). They propelled it forward because they were quick to ask me, "When are we going to do special time again?" It was obvious that we craved and needed that one-on-one time together. 

And second, it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. It doesn't require any preparation, or even any thought, from me. My kids are the ones who decide what to do, and, for the most part, I always agree to it. That's part of what has made special time such a success: they know that this is their chance to get me to jump on the trampoline or play chess or do any number of activities I would normally avoid. (There have been some really bizarre ones, too, like the time Maxwell had me watch him slide down the stairs on his knees, and every time he came back up to the top, I had to read him a Shel Silverstein poem. What??????)

Ralphie advocates doing special time every day, but I knew if I did that, it would become a burden rather than a joy. I would constantly feel like I was falling short because, let's be honest, even fifteen minutes can be difficult to find on some days, and when you multiply that by several times, it becomes close to impossible. And I don't think it would just feel that way for me. I think my kids would get burned out if we attempted to squeeze it into every day. It also would lose some of its intrigue and specialness if it was happening so often.

The other thing is, even though we're only having that dedicated one-on-one time once a week, we spend time together in many other ways: reading aloud at night, working on piano pieces, having conversations in the car, working on homework, running, watching a movie, or going on adventures as a family. We might only do special time once during the week, but that doesn't mean we aren't spending other quality time together.

So this is how it works for us: Sometime during the week, when I have an open chunk of time, I ask one of my kids if he wants to do special time. Nine times out of ten, we seem to do it on Sunday because we're just less scheduled and busy on that day. I ask him what he wants to do and almost always agree to his request. There really are only two rules when it comes to the chosen activities: it can't involve any kind of screen, and it has to fit into the fifteen-minute time frame (so, no climbing Mt. Olympus). I then set a timer for fifteen minutes, and we begin. (The timer, I discovered, is a very important component of special time. One time I didn't set it with Clark because I had a lot of free time and didn't think there was any reason to cut us off at fifteen minutes. He got very upset and said it couldn't be special time if I didn't set the timer. I guess having it timed actually makes it feel more special, not less. It's one more way I'm showing them that this is their time. I'm carving it out just for them and setting a timer so the whole world (or at least the whole family) will know that this time is off limits for anyone else.)

The two most popular choices for special time are playing a game or reading a book, but we have done all of the following:

1. Go on a walk
2. Jump on the trampoline
3. Color a picture
4. Cut out snowflakes
5. Fold origami
6. Get a back rub
7. Play duets on the piano
8. Have a dance party
9. Play a game (Yahtzee, Labyrinth, Tenzies, Skip Bo, and Hoot Owl Hoot are favorites)
10. Put together a puzzle
11. Read: a picture book, poetry, one chapter, or a magazine
12. Make slime
13. Sculpt play dough or silly putty
14. Bake a treat
15. Make a free-form craft (see photo below)
16. Pretend play with playmobil or other little figures
17. Relax in the hammock
18. Build Legos
19. Play laser tag
20. Go on a bike ride
21. Play basketball
22. Listen to music
23. Draw a picture
24. Swing
25. Do perler beads

Special time has produced moments I never would have had with my kids otherwise. One time, Maxwell got out a stack of paper and explained that we would give each other drawing prompts, and then we would both have to draw it. I can't even draw a decent stick figure, so I was immediately out of my comfort zone, but I did it. I think Max might have come up with it specifically to test me: was I willing to do something I didn't like to do? For him?

Another time, special time came a day after a big argument with Aaron. He requested a back rub, and that provided a quiet moment where I could apologize and we could discuss the situation that had initiated the argument, but this time in a calm and safe way. We ended our fifteen minutes with good feelings restored and better communication in place.

One afternoon, Clark asked to jump on the trampoline. This is not my favorite activity (read: I've had five babies). But as we jumped around, I saw his little creative spirit in full light and I just basked in it. He is so fun-loving, and we laughed and laughed while showing off our cool moves. It was one time where I distinctly remember thinking, I would have missed this if not for special time.

The quote that has most impacted my 2018 and been a guiding force in all of my decisions has been this one by Elder Richard G. Scott: "In quiet moments when you think about it, you recognize what is critically important and what isn't. Be wise and don't let good things crowd out those that are essential." I have had many inward conflicts about how to best use my time and how to know which things are the most essential, but my dedication to special time has been a clear choice: those fifteen minutes are precious, even sacred, to me, and I won't let anything else take their place. 

What I Read in September

Oct 5, 2018

September reading consisted of starting multiple audiobooks and finishing almost none of them. The hold lists at the library are killing me right now. My books all come in at the same time. Most of them I've been waiting on for weeks, if not months, and feel compelled to listen to them so I don't have to go back in the hold line. But some of them are particularly time sensitive because I need to finish them before a specific date (i.e., when book club meets). Anyway, it's a difficult shuffle of prioritizing and choosing what to abandon (for now) in order to finish what is most pressing. Also, unrelated, the boys and I started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and that thing is massive. And I also decided to screen four parenting books to decide which one I actually wanted to read for my parenting book goal. So what this all comes down to was that I started a lot of books in September but finished only three of them.

1. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
You've probably seen the cover of this book floating around on the Costco table or being displayed in a bookstore's front window. It's a popular one right now (a fact that is attested by both of my book clubs, who happened to choose it for September and November).

I jumped in knowing almost nothing about the book (except that many called it a "hard" read), and I liked it that way. It's one of those stories, not unlike a Kate Morton novel, that begins with a lot of questions and moves back and forth between two time periods, slowly answering them and filling in the details. Oh, and there's a twist (not to the level of The Secret Keeper, but startling nonetheless).

I'll keep the particulars brief so you can enjoy fitting the pieces of the puzzle together for yourself. The two key players are Rill Foss in 1939 and Avery Stafford in the present day, and both of them are intimately affected by Georgia Tann, a real woman who stole children, hid them away in the Tennessee Children's Home Society, and then marketed them to wealthy people who adopted them. And this is where you say, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Because it is.

This is just the kind of book I love getting lost in. And overall, in spite of the heavy content, it's a clean book, too.

I felt like the ending wrapped up things a little too neatly and happily to match the rest of the story. Don't get me wrong: I love a happy ending. But at one point, Rill said, "I want a pain I understand instead of the one I don't. I want a pain that has a beginning and an end, not one that goes on forever and cuts all the way to the bone. This pain is changing me into a girl I don't even know. It's changing me into them. I see it in my sister's face. That hurts worst of all." And I kind of felt like there was a certain point in the story where that pain kind of disappeared, and I just didn't quite believe it.

But, taking the other side,  I also loved this bit of wisdom, and I think it makes a case for how one can move on past hard things: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music, and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn't suit the moment." So good, right?

2. A Stash of One's Own: Knitters on Loving, Living With, and Letting Go of Yarn by Clara Parkes
For me, knitting has been kind of a lonely hobby. I have very few friends who know how to knit, and of those who do, none of them love it the way I do. Most of the time, I don't mind. I can be, after all, a rather solitary creature and so knitting suits my need for quiet time alone.

But there are times when I would really love to talk to a friend about a new pattern or a favorite yarn or a cool technique. And not just a friend who will nod politely and say, "That's nice" but someone who will actually match my enthusiasm with some of their own.

But since that's not currently possible, this book was an acceptable substitute. It's a collection of essays from knitters, and I felt a little like I'd found my people (granted, on just one level, but a level where none of my real friends reside). The essays spoke specifically to the topic of a yarn stash, a collection that all knitters have, although the size of said stash can be wildly different.

It was rather fascinating to read about all of the emotions and feelings and turmoil that can be tied up in yarn--and to relate to a good deal of it.

Of course, I didn't relate to every single knitter, but I thought each essay was interesting nonetheless. My favorites were "Triptych" (about the careful balance between a stash that feeds creative energy and one that burdens it), "Without a Stash" (which most closely aligned to my personal philosophy), "Yarn: a Love Story" (the sweetest story about turning yarn into a career), and "The Comfort Yarn" (about how knitting navigated the dark waters of grief).

I debated sharing the very last paragraph from this book because I thought it was so hilarious, but I decided it probably wouldn't improve the general population's opinion of knitters, so you'll just have to wonder about it . . .

3. Heartwood Hotel: A True Home by Kallie George
At the beginning of the school year, I thought it might be a good time to try out a chapter book with Clark. Up until then, he hadn't really listened in on any of our readalouds, usually opting to go off with Mike and read a picture book or two instead.

I was pretty sure he was ready to handle a longer, more complex story though because he loved listening to slightly longer picture books/early chapter books, such as Mercy Watson or The Princess in Black.

In retrospect, I probably should have chosen a tried and true favorite of ours, one that I'd already tested out with my older kids. But instead, I went with a recommendation from Janssen for the Heartwood Hotel series because she and her five-year-old daughter had loved the first book. It looked so cute, but I knew my older kids were well past it, so it seemed like the perfect book for Clark and me to read together in the afternoons.

Except . . . we just didn't love it. It wasn't so much that there was anything wrong with it as that it just didn't hold our interests. The protagonist, Mona (a mouse), loses her home in a storm and gets carried away down the river. When she finally scrambles out, she finds herself at a large, beautiful tree, which turns out to be the Heartwood Hotel, where the motto is, "We live by 'Protect and Respect,' not by 'Tooth and Claw.'" She doesn't have any money, but Mr. Heartwood hires her as a temporary maid. But Mona quickly falls in love with the other members of the staff (except for standoffish Tilly) and the guests, and she longs to have a real home of her own.

I think part of the problem, for Clark at least, was that there were just a lot of characters to keep track of. Even with reviewing them before we started reading each day, he still was always asking, "Who's Ms. Prickles? Which one is Lord Sudsbury?" And then, the story was just a little too gentle and quiet to keep him engaged. Luckily, in the last half, Mona stands up to a bear and a pack of wolves, and that helped perk up his interest considerably.

All in all, it was a cute story, but not the right one for us. We still finished it, but I don't think we'll read any of the others, and now I feel like I need to redeem myself a little with our next choice so he actually likes longer readalouds. Recommendations?

Have you read any of theses (I'm guessing not the knitting book . . . )? What did you read in September?
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground