The holidays. A season when there seems to never be enough time to get everything accomplished. Most of us are busying looking for just the right gifts while we try to spend time with the ones we love. I wonder if those two objectives can come together. Maybe this Christmas, the best gift we can give is our time.
As often as you can
When my father was diagnosed with cancer sixteen years ago, my pastor gave me some life changing advice. He said, “Go spend time with him. Go see him as often as you can for as long as you can. You will never regret it.” I followed that advice, and I will forever be thankful.
Now my mother is ninety years old and still lives in another state. Earlier this year, just as the pandemic began, she had major surgery. She returned from the hospital and went into quarantine. Because I couldn’t “go see her”, I began calling her on the phone every evening as an alternative. These daily check-ins have gradually become conversations which last thirty minutes each day.
Our talks are predictable. Same time every night. She sits by the phone waiting for me to call. A creature of discipline, I arrange my schedule and call her as the clock turns to nine-thirty. One ring and she answers.
One might ask, what do you talk about every single night? How do you fill thirty minutes with conversation?
After she has been alone in her apartment all day, I am assured that she is OK, and she hasn’t fallen. Then, I just listen. I hear details of her breakfast and dinner. She tells me about a book she is reading and the guest who appeared on Anderson Cooper. Throughout the summer, we talked about the Presidential election. Frequently, she asks for help with a word so she can complete the newspaper crossword puzzle she works on every day. These are things we might talk about at the dinner table, if we were together.
Time is the gift
One may think sharing this mundane information is a waste of time. However, it is not what we talk about, but that we talk. Susan Scott told us, that, “our relationships and our lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time…” At first, I thought the calls were just for her benefit, but I quickly discovered they were for both of us. These chats still help our relationship grow. Once a week or so, she shares family folklore in a story about my grandmother or another relative. I learn more about where I came from and how my life was shaped by those who went before me. She finds peace in knowing those memories and those people will stay alive. The time is a gift we give each other.
We talk seriously about her aches and pains. Still, almost every day we find a reason to laugh. We agree to take one day at a time – advice that is beneficial for both of us. We confirm our love and say goodnight. Like a serving of warm milk and cookies, we both rest better after our chats.
One more hour
In Be There Dad workshops, we talk about Intentional Dialogue – predictable encounters without specific agendas when children are encouraged to raise issues important to them and parents are encouraged to listen. I have often asked dads if they could find thirty minutes every day in their busy schedules for uninterrupted time with their children. They struggle with the answer. But then, like me with my mother, they look at their calendars and find there is time. Maybe I miss thirty minutes of a football game. I miss thirty minutes of news channel commentary. Afterwards, I often finish thirty minutes of work that got delayed. I trade for time that is more valuable.
Someday, all our children grow up and go off to lives of their own. History tells us that most of us will ask for some of that time back. We will wish for one more hour to spend with them. One more game of catch. One more walk with the dog. One more bedtime conversation.
In due time, my mother will leave me too. I will wish for one more hour, one more conversation. I will feel an emptiness. But knowing that I have had all these hours with her, perhaps the emptiness will not be so great. Perhaps that hole in my heart will be filled with the memories we continued to make.
Time to spare
In paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, “How much time should we spend with our children?” His answer, “More than we can spare.”
My mother has reminded me that I do have time to spare. Do you have time you can spare for your children? Time to understand their dreams. To listen to the songs in their hearts. To place treasures in their back packs. To make memories and solidify relationships that can live forever.
The time is there. It is yours to spend. It is never too late. Go spend time with your children – as often as you can, for as long as you can. Time is the gift we can give each other.