I took a trip down memory lane this weekend and nearly did myself in during the process!

I agreed to care for my two young nephews for five days while my sister was away. The boys are four and seven... big eyed, enthusiastic little fellows with whom I love to visit.

And for five days I took a trip back into the reality of parenting small children. Now that my sister’s back I need a day or two to rejuvenate, catch up on sleep, rub lotion into my elbows and knees (rug burn from crawling), and wipe off the furniture.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget.

So, to those who are spending their days, all day, every day, weekdays and weekends, nights too, with small children... give yourself a pat on the back and accolades for your soul. It’s the most important work you’ll ever do. And the hardest. And if it was the easiest job around, there’d be a much longer lineup of people wanting it.

It was an amazing experience to receive these two fellows, their knapsacks stuffed with activities. A large basket of Brio train parts. Videos. Nintendo (how do I hook that up, I wonder?). Books. Art supplies. Paper. Homework assignments that must be done. Letters from the teacher.

I’d forgotten.

I’d also forgotten how good it feels to have a little voice yelling Aunty Donna, can I have a banana? Aunty Donna, can you put in this video. Aunty Donna, why did the dog just throw up on the rug?

Friday night was special... we made drawings, watched a Thomas the Tank Engine video, read books, did spelling homework, enjoyed dinner, loaded the dishwasher, washed up the pots, put them away... all the while answering at least a thousand questions. And then, we rifled through my teenage daughter’s stuffed animals to find two snuggle bunnies for sleep time. I snapped off the lights and went immediately to my home office to clean up some income tax work that my accountant has been begging for. I went to bed around 1 am.

The little, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed nephews were up with the dawn... about 6. And we were off to plan a picnic and a trip to Springwater Park... with the dog. This was extremely ambitious of me, but we had breakfast and dishes done, picnic packed, kids in boots and coats, and the car seat loaded into my van, buckled in, dog in back, back into the house for a poop sack, back into the car, and off to see the wildlife at Springwater Park.

The kids played on every piece of playground equipment, visited the deer, the foxes, the bear, the owls’ cages, the beaver, raccoon, porcupine, swans, wood ducks, mallards, eagles, turkeys with each animal raising at least a dozen questions. Their eager thoughts, their ability to process, the challenge of keeping answers simple, my growing enjoyment of their ideas and energy... the day just flew by. Or so I thought. We’d had our picnic. We’d played on everything. We’d found a huge tree to climb. We’d taken pictures. As we walked around the swan’s pond, the boys were blowing bubbles from their little bubble bottles I’d picked up and I thought to myself, “boy, this day has sure sped past! It must be nearly 4 o’clock!”

I looked at my watch.

It was 12:20. Noon. I felt I’d lived a lifetime.

Do you know how many times a day, on average, that you buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt for a child? Do you know how many questions get answered? How many behaviours are commented on? How often you re-direct? Do you know how long it takes to buy a stamp when you unbuckle two kids, get them out of the car, watch as they comb the aisles of Mike’s Milk, wanting this treat or that, keep an eye on them while you line up for your stamp, buy your stamp, mail your letter, and put everybody back into the car? Each little thing takes a long time. I’d forgotten that.

It was a wonderful five days for me. For lots of reasons. It’s given me time with two little people who have just moved back to Canada, who until now I’ve spent very little time with. It taught me the importance of slowing down. It reminded me that children see the world through the best eyes... eyes of unconditional acceptance, without judgement, without anger. Their approach is unconditional, unpretentious, unaffected. Their delight is in everything... whether it’s the call of a turkey that they can imitate, or their wonder in being able to actually touch a wild thing like a deer. Children make you slow down. Children make you experience their wonder in being able to fill a bag with sand with a found cup, lug it home and create their own Jurassic Park in an aluminum roasting pan. Children remind you that money isn’t what brings experience; it’s time and questions, and answers, and hugs and loving.

For my teenage daughter, our youngest child, who’s long been able to attend to herself, the weekend was a solid look-see about how much work it is to care for young children. And as I watched her and her friend with their incredible emotional generosity with these kids, I felt very happy.

This experience reminded me that the energy put into raising teenagers is emotional energy, emotional commitment, intellectually stimulating and argumentative.

The energy put into raising little kids is physical. And emotional. Two little fellows, curled up watching a movie about geese and a little girl, content to be with each other, relying on each other in mom’s absence... what a wonderful gift to share.

Thanks, Josh. Thanks, Jesse. And thanks, Pam, for sharing them with me.

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