This weekend I was reminded of something we already knew as parents.

One-on-one time with your kid is amazing.

We learned this first this when Leigh was a baby. I found my sea legs as a parent once Gail returned to work and I had multiple full days a week caring for her on my own. That was when I stopped asking if she needed to eat and just figured it out myself, when I developed my own ways of interacting with her. We started to have our things we did, just her and me. After that, we treated one-on-one time as a sort of all-purpose parent-kid relationship tool.

When Ira was born, we both took care to have time only with Leigh, even if it was just 10 minutes at a time (this time also came with something of an advertising campaign to help her notice that she still had our attention, and to give her words to ask for attention if she needed it). When Gail was NGP, solo-time with Ira again helped to solidify their relationship.

We used one-on-one time every time one of our kids developed one of those strong toddler preferences. We noticed that the “non-preferred” parent is almost always just fine and dandy if they are the only parent available. That positive time could help keep a relationship solid amidst the bruising rejections.

But it’s been a while since we’ve been navigating these dynamics of toddlerhood and infancy. Our kids, now 4 & 7, have different relationships with each of us, but we don’t often have times now where we think “Ah, something is off here, I need some one-on-one time.” So we haven’t been prioritizing it. It happens when it happens, but mostly we’re all trying to get through our week, with whoever happens to be there in the schedule at that time.

But this last weekend, Gail and Ira went off for a grand adventure. At four, Ira is deep in love with public transit. Buses. Subways. Trains. All of it. And we are happy to indulge him. He has much of the Boston transit system, both trains and buses, memorized (and since we rely on transit for much of our transportation, he has plenty of real life time on buses and trains and always wants more). For a while we’ve been wanting to take him to New York for the sole purpose of riding trains and buses (he also has a set of NYC subway and bus maps courtesy of a friend who sent them). He was beyond thrilled with this idea. So we finally got our act together, and Gail, her mom and Ira headed to NYC for the weekend.

We had thought we would all go, but money is tight enough right now that seemed unwise, and while Ira might be absolutely thrilled to ride subways and buses all weekend, that’s not so much Leigh’s cup of tea. So we decided I would stay at home with her, while they went on their adventure. At first she was mildly disappointed, but then she realized it probably was for the best, and she and I planned out lots of fun things to do together, just her and me. We saw a movie. We went to this great indoor pool/playground. We went to a rock climbing gym wtih friends. We worked on rainbow loom. We cooked crepes. If was something she likes to do, we did it. And I did my best not to rush her, to just do what she wanted to do for as long as she wanted to do it.

What I loved about this weekend was it kicked us out of our patterns. We had less that we had to do, and fewer people to manage while doing it, so there was less rushing, and that meant there was less nagging and less being crazy frustrated with her for not getting ready. There was no sibling around, and I noticed I was able to relax into our relationship a bit more when I didn’t feel like I was on alert for the next sibling squabble, or available to respond to the other kid just when we got a good bracelet going on the rainbow loom. She also seemed less frantic to get my attention, she was able to focus on things for longer and be content without my direct attention for longer stretches, I think in part because she knew I’d be there if she needed or wanted, since there was nothing else I was doing and no one else who needed me. Overall, the sibling dynamic in our family is good. Our kids spend much more time getting along than they do squabbling, but it was still nice to have a weekend in which both she and I had only one relationship to focus on, and we weren’t pulled in 3 different directions at once. We also got to do things as long as we/she wanted, and that meant she was able to get completely exhausted by swimming and rock climbing. In our “regular” life someone else is usually ready to be done before she is. Lo and behold, it wasn’t all that hard to get her to leave on time for the bus we needed to catch home once she’d pretty much had her fill.

After 48 hours just us, she seemed older to me, wiser, and far more capable. I got a new glimpse of how much she has grown, and another reminder that I don’t just love her because she’s my kid and she needs me. I really genuinely like her as a person, as someone interesting and fun to spend time with. Times like this make the inevitable bumps easier to handle. I’ll try not to wait so long to do it again.

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