It's Rahul, their neighbor. He needs help getting his lawn tractor started. "Hate to bother you, Jeff, but you think you might have a second to look at it?"
"Of course," Jeff replies, his thoughts registering the day last week when Rahul was there at 6:00 AM to jump-start Jeff's car. "That's what good neighbors are for."
After letting his wife know where he's bound, he reaches down to plant kisses on his daughter's soft cheeks. "Be right back, punkin'," he says. And he leaves too quickly to notice the silent tears that have begun to run down those same cheeks so hastily kissed, soft cheeks that are soon buried in pillows. When Jeff returns, she is asleep, dreaming of moving out and becoming a neighbor who could ring the doorbell, call Daddy on the phone, and send E-mails to him.
The Hidden Message
"You are not as important to me as the mail, the messages, the dinner, the phone call or the neighbor. I love you, but I'm too busy for you—and there's always later, there's always tomorrow."
Think About It
Children perceive time, and what we do with it, differently from the way adults do. By about age 30, we adults barely notice the precious seconds. In the currency of time, they're merely pennies, hardly able to buy anything of value. For little ones, however, every moment is weighty with possibility and so passes heavily and slowly. Consider, for instance, the evening that we just witnessed. It passed particularly slowly for the little girl but it blew past the man who is her father.
Seconds become minutes, of course, and minutes become hours. And imperceptibly, hours become decades. One day, Jeff may turn around to play with his little girl, only to find a young woman too busy tending her own life to notice; after all, she has learned by his example. Ask any parent of grown children, and he or she invariably will attest to how fast it all goes. As the popular maxim forewarns: One comment you'll never hear on a person's deathbed is "I wish I'd have put in more overtime." Instead, we all know the final plea is much more likely to be for more time with those whose love fills and sustains us. The hard truth is that we have only a relatively small sliver of time in which to give our children the gifts of our experience, patience, wisdom, and heart.
Naturally, obligations intrude on our every day. We perceive these obligations from an adult point of view, sorting through them, prioritizing as we go. But however we triage the callings in our lives, time marches on. Things work out. Of necessity, we allot time for the chores that keep us fed, clothed, and clean; these things push themselves into our plans by their very nature. Other items seize our attention with their urgency—a flashing message machine, a ringing phone, a buzzing doorbell. Certain activities, however, don't call to us so loudly. Yet, these can have an impact more profound than all the others combined: activities such as walking in a park, visiting relatives, tossing a baseball … or building a Lego city. These are the experiences that build up a soul.
What would happen if, today, all parents made their children their top priority? People often complain about teenagers and their lack of respect for adults, and we worry about the anger and lack of direction that seems to plague them to the point of violence. Yet I meet many parents who tell me that their teenagers are wonderful young people, and that they enjoy their children now, just as they always have. Therein lies an important lesson: We need to begin, right now, at this very moment, to see each second as a gift, as an opportunity to savor where we all are now—whether we do this by playing, chatting, or simply being together with our children. In so doing, we may weave a lifeline that continues to hold throughout the years. When that Lego city gets built, so does the foundation to a future. And a minute of time for a child will someday be worth its equivalent in hours to the adult she becomes. The time we spend with our children at this very moment—nuturing, teaching and loving them—is the substance that helps mold them into the people that they will become.