Just call this dad appointment secretary

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Nov. 7, 2013

How can we help our kids learn to enjoy the moment?

It’s a weekend morning and my kids are waking up. My weekend is over. The first words out of my daughter’s mouth: “What are we doing today?”

She needs her itinerary dictated to her as though she were a head of state. In some ways she is, though more dictator than elected official.

I tell her that we’re going to eat breakfast and drink coffee, read for a while, have some lunch and maybe lie around some more after that. It’s been a long week full of work, appointments, after-school activities and going, going, going. A bit of rest is well-deserved.

This isn’t going to fly. Things need to happen, playdates are to be arranged, a trip to the zoo, perhaps a little money spent on a movie. You could clean your room, I offer. Or the living room or kitchen. The conversation is momentarily halted due to laughter.

It wouldn’t be so bad, I don’t mind activity, it’s just that these kids need their out-of-school days mapped out for them. I punched “Saturday” into the Google Maps app on my phone for a little technological advice and one of the first options the search returned was “Saturday Night Live, 30 Rockefeller Center.”

I suppose that will work. “We’ll have breakfast, then watch SNL in 14 hours,” I tell her. She is not amused. Not even a 7-year-old finds “Saturday Night Live” amusing any more.

My other suggestion, that she run outside on a beautiful fall morning and see where the day leads, is met with just as much skepticism. When I was a kid (my daughter may spend the rest of the day rolling her eyes), we made up games, explored the neighborhood, rode our bikes and knocked on friends’ doors.

Nobody knocks on doors these days. We text or Facebook or make a phone call. All to plan a specific amount of play at an appointed time in a predetermined location for our children.

The other problem — I’ve planned my own day around complaining about this, so bear with me — is that as soon as they’re involved in an activity, they want to know what we’re doing next. It’s a lose-lose situation for parents. Just enjoy what we’re doing now, I implore them. “But you’re just drinking coffee and reading a book,” they say. Let’s just enjoy that.

Living in the moment is what it’s all about. It’s something to be taught at an early age. But how? It’s an idea more than a lesson plan. It’s something you learn by doing rather than as a classroom course. There is no textbook, but scattershot notes left in the margins of favorite books.

What are we going to do today? We’re going to seize the day. We’ll explore, we’ll wander, we’ll end up wherever the wind takes us and do whatever it is the natives there do.

“But what are we going to do next?”

They never appreciate that answer. That answer will always involve cleaning their rooms, washing dishes, picking up the living room or putting away laundry. Me? I’m going to seize a cup of coffee and a good book.

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