Each morning I drop my older son Elijah off at pre-school and spend the next three hours alone with Benjamin. We eat breakfast together, watch a little TV and goof around until it’s time to pick Elijah up from school.
That’s quality time, right? Not exactly.
For starters, part of the time is lost dealing with diaper changes, food objections and other necessities that rarely allow for father-son bonding. Fighting, tempter tantrums and bruised feelings? Sure.
I also unofficially work during that three-hour span. I contribute to a conference call, write stories and scan the web to keep abreast of breaking news. All part of being an online journalist, and I love it. And every part of that work takes me away from Ben. Now, I still know if Ben is juggling knives, pulling our dog’s tail or drawing on the walls with crayons (his latest infatuation).
That doesn’t mean we’re bonding, or even communicating on a level that counts.
That realization came to me last night when I took Ben to the park for an evening stroll. Elijah stayed home as punishment for naughty behavior, so it was just the two of us. Ben rode his trike with a handle, pedaling furiously as I helped steer him along. When we got to the park he insisted on using the swings, and I dutifully deposited him on one.
I suddenly saw Ben in a new light. He was ebullient, cackling away as he swung higher and higher, his terrible two tantrums banished from our minds. And I teased and tickled him with every swing, making funny faces to make his smile grow wider.
This … was quality time. Just the two of us with nothing on our minds but carefree swinging on a crisp spring night.
Every few weeks one of these lightbulb moments catches me off guard. Let’s face it, being a parent involves hundreds of distractions, and it’s so easy to forget the basics like a swing, a smile and a little boy who needs his daddy.