Let me tell you about my son.
My son who wouldn’t put his coat on outside even though it was minus 3 celsius this morning. (Eventually I managed to persuade him to be carried so that I could keep him vaguely warm with my body heat.)
My son who had to be carried from the car to school even though we normally walk because, well, we were late.
My son, for whom I was asked to tap the screen when we arrived at school (shivering) to select the reason why he was late.
I cast my eyes over the options: Doctors Appointment; Unwell; Transportation Delays. ‘He’s just . . . late,’ I said incredulously to the receptionist. Eventually we hit the ‘Slept In’ option, as that was sort of true.
Really, I wanted an option on the screen that read something like this:
‘Slept in, because Mum had to put them to bed herself last night because Dad was out working, because it’s Christmas, his busiest time of year; so she put them to bed herself which meant it took longer, and she’s exhausted too, also because it’s Christmas, and the last day of term now; and so they didn’t get to bed until about 8pm, which meant that Son wanted to sleep in a bit, which he did, and Parents didn’t wake him. When he did wake up, he was grumpy, and took forever to comply with Mum’s instructions to take off his nappy and get dressed – because he is still, well, only four, and still in nursery, and still in nappies at night time. And because he doesn’t like being rushed. Fights were had, things were said, apologies and hugs had to happen later when everything cooled down, but by this point it was time to leave and Mum had to leave with older Daughter to get to school on time while Son (4) was still standing (at this point naked) in the kitchen. Somehow he turned it around with his Dad and they got most of the way dressed, but some negotiation still had to happen about his trousers; consequently Dad had to relent on letting him have breakfast even though school had already started. (Dad had already let him have a piece of bread; hunger might have been one reason for antics. It was sitting-down breakfast that Son really wanted.) Enticement to get out of the door was successful when it was promised he could watch Dad de-ice the car (and consequently be taken on the 10-minute walk to school . . . in the car), but would he put his coat on in the freezing weather? No, that was too much, which is why he arrived at school shivering and almost blue. But he doesn’t like to be rushed, or to comply, if it doesn’t suit him. So that’s why we’re late.’
They didn’t have that option on the screen.
Poor lad. It’s the last day of term. Just one day (or maybe a few days) too many for his 4-year-old brain with its undeveloped prefrontal cortex to cope with. He’s a kid. He just wants to get up and play.
The funny thing is, looking at him now, me with my big fully-developed prefrontal cortex (i.e. that part of the brain that understands reason and logic), I remember what it was like being more like him. Maybe I wasn’t quite as tardy (you’d have to ask my Mum), but I was constantly called a daydreamer. And I never liked deadlines, especially when I was younger. I didn’t know what to do with them. If I had to write a treatise on the struggles and tensions of life, I would entitle it ‘Daydreams and Deadlines.’
The thing is, we are nearly always late for school; we just happen to make it to the gate in time most days due to a lot of cajoling and stress on our part. But my son is the most fantastic dawdler. He can dawdle all day. ‘Daydreams and Deadlines; dawdling or dashing?’ He finds a leaf; he finds a stick; he finds several leaves on a stick. He uses that stick to make percussion out of the fence he’s dawdling past. He sees a bird perched on the ice of the canal that has frozen over. He throws snow onto the ice. And there I am yelling like a loon in the background that we’re going to be late. It blends into the noise of birdsong and bin lorries trundling by.
My son appreciates the world around him. He wants to take time to explore it, understand it, engage with it, live in it. Consequently, he doesn’t like being rushed. He won’t be rushed.
How did I get so sucked into the rush of punctuality and lose the ability to wonder at what was flying past me? I used to be that boy.
The thing is, I have been finding ways to not rush, the last few years. I read The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan (twice). I read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. For ejecting myself a little bit from ‘living’ in the rush of the online world, I read The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember by Nicholas Carr. I also read Deep Work by Cal Newport, and have basically decided to follow his advice to quit social media entirely; I just haven’t gone the whole way of actually deleting my accounts. I just removed the apps from my phone, and haven’t logged in for a while anywhere else. I’ve also started reading J.R.R. Tolkien again, my favourite author to read when I was a daydreaming teenager; he has a lot to say about fantasy in his essay ‘On Fairy Stories’ (in this book), including in particular why escapism is not only not bad but is in fact necessary in order to be able to imagine a world other than the one in which we live – which might be the only right way towards a better future for the world in which we live.
So in general I’ve been reading more, which has helped me feel like I’m slowing down a bit after the rush of my twenties and early thirties. I’m a Dad now, and heading towards 40. It’s time to settle down a bit. I’ve been trying to tame my to-do lists and appointments, to put in more buffer time, to strike things off my lists which realistically will never get done anyway. I’m enjoying notebooks again, even if I’m not always sure whether I want to officially Bullet Journal or not.
My son, all of four years old, with no developed reason or logic yet, has taught me what may be one of the most valuable lessons I will ever learn:
Don’t rush me.