Here’s a universal truth about parenting, which I was reminded of last night: when you have young children and you’re in a rush, your kids will nearly always choose that moment to ask you seemingly inane questions, complain that they need the toilet, or find some other way of making you late for whatever you were planning to do. But the other thing that was also brought home to me yesterday is this: the experience of being delayed by young children should be cherished, even if it drives you completely mad at the time.
Last night, I arrived home with rather a lot on my mind. This weekend is my busiest time of the year at work (if one more person asks me what I’m doing for the “Easter break”, I think I might hit them) and although I was really pleased to see my three kids before they went to bed, I was also tired, hungry and, let’s be honest, a little bit irritable. As I walked through the door, my eldest two greeted me like I’d just returned from fighting a war, which immediately improved my mood; but still, I was quite keen to crack on with their bedtime routine and get them off to sleep quickly.
While my wife was settling our youngest, I set about reading a story to the other two. I rattled through it fairly quickly, even missing out some of the pages without the kids noticing. After all, I figured, we’d read Fireman Sam’s Christmas Adventure hundreds of times before – and I’m so bored of it now. Then came the time to tuck them both in. As far as I was concerned, I’d be downstairs within a few minutes, cracking open a beer and munching my way through the half-eaten packet of Wotsits I’d spied when I arrived home. The reality, however, was rather different.
In recent months, my five-year-old son has developed an evermore complex bedtime routine. At the tender age of three, the only teddy he ever wanted to take to bed with him was Rabs (our rather ‘street’ name for Peter Rabbit). Now, however, there’s a whole extended family of fluffy toys that have to be individually put in his bed, tucked in, and kissed goodnight. As he placed each teddy in a very exacting and meticulous way, so I became increasingly infuriated about how long it was taking.
I internalised my frustration as best I could – but when, after 10 minutes of this charade, it then transpired that Rabs was missing, I felt a completely disproportionate sense of annoyance. Thankfully, I still managed to keep this mainly hidden from view, all the time reminding myself that it really wasn’t a big issue to wait another 10 minutes for my bottle of Peroni and slightly stale crisps.
Eventually, it was time to give my son and daughter a kiss goodnight, and turn out the light. As I leant over his bunk bed, my little boy gave me a huge hug, looked me in the eyes and asked with absolute sincerity: “Dad, will you still love me – even when I’m a grown up?”
At that moment, I was very powerfully reminded of the fact that our kids’ childhoods really are very precious. I should treasure the innocence of my five-year-old – a boy who is only content at bedtime when he knows his teddies are happy, and who quizzically wonders whether his dad will stop loving him the minute he turns 18 (I’m sure there’ll be moments in his teenage years when I’ll want to momentarily imprison him, but my love for him will always remain constant). In a few short years, the teddies will be discarded, the goodnight kiss will be replaced by a mumbled “night”, and Fireman Sam’s Christmas Adventure won’t even make it off the bookshelf in December. So, for now, I need to remember to take life at my children’s pace, and not wish away their early years.
The only thing I am going to insist on, though, is that no one ever buys any of my children another teddy or cuddly toy. From my perspective, Rabs and his mates are more than enough to contend with already – and in future, I really don’t want to have to wait any longer for my Wotsits.