How much time with your kid is enough?, Asha asked, referring readers to a Wall Street Journal blog post on the question.
Two weeks later, and I'm still thinking on it.
How much time do I spend with my kids? All told, the average day, we're all in the house for an hour or so in the morning and two or three at night, except when I have a meeting or they have swim lessons or something. The husband is here somewhat less, by virtue of his travel schedule and commute to West County. We're all together most of the day on weekends--hanging out, doing laundry, and running errands--unless the boy is playing chess, or we have Symphony tickets.
Most of my stay-at-home friends say it's about Quantity, about being there for every first, every sniffly nose, and the child never recognizing anyone else (including the other parent in some cases) as a valid caregiver. Most of my work-outside-the-home friends say it's about Quality time.
Quality time. What the hell is that, anyway?
Having my daughter help put away dishes has some definite qualities .... but does that qualify? Does it count if the boy completes his homework across the table from me while I work? Is doing chores while they play in the room acceptable? How about time in the car? Watching movies?
Or do we have to sit on the same piece of furniture gazing into each other's eyes?
Some of the most precious memories of my childhood consist of sharing space with my parents as they did other things: laying on worn gold carpet at my mother's feet as she composed stories for her journalism classes, the baby blue electric typewriter tapping late into the night; sitting on the slick carport slab a few feet from the jumbled storage closet we called Dad's radio shack, coloring in the stream of light from a bare bulb as I listened to the staccato clatter of Morse code. I sat in their laps, watching as they played Monopoly in Bill and Betty's kitchen on Saturday nights. Other times I became an assistant of sorts: I helped sort nails by size for Mom's swirling sculptures, and handed tools to my father as he worked on the long line of hand-me-down console color TVs that inhabited the living room.
I don't know that any of those things would be considered quality time, but it doesn't make the memories less sweet. And I learned so much from them that way.
Maybe my mother should have waited until we went to bed to write her stories (and thinking about it, she probably did, and pretended not to notice as I slithered in from my room on my belly.), but because of her efforts, I've always accepted the necessity of doing what it takes to get a job done. Maybe my father should have spent more time interacting with us instead of making contacts with people half a globe away .... but my wonder of technology emanates from those early days hanging out in the shack with him, as does my willingness to tinker with things that I shouldn't.
In that way, I want to think that just being there is the most important thing. Being there and allowing the child to be there with you, even if each pursues a separate task, a separate thought, a separate destiny.