Quiet Time-January letter to my niece

Dearest Margaret,

Happy New Year! My hopes for you and your beautiful family this year are for many moments of contentment. Winter’s short days, long nights and cold weather slows the hectic pace of life and offers an opportunity for stillness, calm and the ordinary. It offers quiet time. This is where the magic happens. In those ordinary moments, bonds are built, a deeper understanding of each other’s interests, quirks and routines are gained, and occasionally your child shares a glimpse into his or her soul that gives an intimacy for a lifetime.

January’s weather discouraged over-scheduling and on snow days obliterated the schedule entirely. I loved holing up at home doing puzzles, reading aloud and playing in the snow. But it was more than just time together, it was an opportunity for deliberate practice of self-reliance and focusing on your Uncle Dan’s favorite motto-know thyself. Shoveling snow, walking on icy sidewalks and battling the cold taught the kids how to deal with the elements and respect Mother Nature. And learning to slow down and fill their time with a quiet activity rather than external stimuli was an opportunity to examine their personal interests.

Come January, there was time to teach the kids household skills and give them responsibility. I identified areas for growth and had the patience to demonstrate procedures. Whether it was teaching them how to load the dishwasher, set the table, or fold laundry, there were tasks to master. It was during the quiet days of winter that third-grade Patrick began to bake cakes, handling the oven with ease (and giant oven mitts). Meg hit her chocolate chip cookie-baking stride in fourth grade while MK was a competent sous chef by fifth grade begging to wield the chef’s knife to mince garlic. With competency came confidence and the hope for more responsibility, especially the exciting stuff like lighting the charcoal starter or wielding the weed whacker. Participation in household chores helped everyone. Many hands do make the work light.

I seized these cold, short days to direct their time so that the kids might better know themselves. In pre-school after lunch, Meg would have ‘book look’. She was too old for a nap I would say, but never too old for some quiet time with a book. Without a rest, she would not make it to the evening without a meltdown. Those twenty to sixty minutes, depending on if she fell asleep, were her quiet time. Several stuffed animals joined her on her bed along with several of her favorite books. ‘Book look’ allowed her to rest her body, explore her imagination and build the essential skill of learning to be alone. She made up elaborate tales of her bed being a ship or the carpet being hot lava and saving the animals from death and destruction. And she learned the invaluable lesson that a book can be a friend-an old friend that you can count on-that you might reread or in her four-year-old case, look at again and again. Years later on school trips, at camp or while traveling abroad, she always carried a book, one that was an old friend, to transport her away when she was lonely, worried or homesick. Grown-up Meg is indebted to pre-school Meg for learning the value of quiet time.

Winter, with its few scheduled-activities, outdoor recreation and hours for reading aloud had a calming effect on our family life. When we lived in Kalamazoo, we could count on snow. Forts were built and tunnels carved, snowshoes were strapped on for hiking to a nearby lake to test the firmness of the ice, and there was lots of sledding. But it was the hot tub, which had come with the house, that was winter’s game-changer. With the snow eighteen inches or deeper and the thermostat outside the kitchen window reading freezing temperatures, the kids would scamper out the garage door, onto the back patio and into the bubbling water. There they chatted, laughed and dared each other to roll in the snow or do a lap around the house in their bathing suits. It was everyone’s favorite end of the day ritual, a gigantic tub of bubbling warm water, a relaxing place to share their thoughts while letting their worries, like the bubbles, release into the water.

As I reread what I’ve written, I fear I am making winter’s quiet time sound trouble-free, but please know it was not. Like most of parenting, it took resolve and energy to limit the schedule, keep the TV off and initiate reading and games. And I’m still in the doghouse for not letting Patrick and Meg play hockey. My journey to harness winter’s quiet time began with a flurry of illnesses in the winter of 1992. That was the year your grandmother died and for twelve weeks one of the kids or myself was sick. There was strep throat, chicken pox, shingles, pink eye, and a few rounds of the flu. It was an awful time but like many awful times, it was a learning time. I had created a full schedule with play dates, activities, community engagements and lots of volunteering. I soon realized I was doing too much and needed to focus on making a family and home that was healthy and calm. I wanted a no drama or trauma life and I consciously decided to create it. I limited our activities. I embraced the ordinary.

There were still winter illnesses, but I refused to be frustrated by them.  Rather I found the good in caring for my kids when they were under the weather or injured. They felt my love as I cared for them. And sitting with them, developed my patience while giving them a deep understanding of trust; trust that I was there, trust that I would stay and trust that they would recover. It also was a great time for reading aloud. Our first winter in Kalamazoo, Mary Kate was home ill for four days. It was on day two that I sat on the living room floor leaning against the couch where she rested and read Anne of Green Gables aloud. MK and I began a love affair with “Anne with an E” that day and soon learned that we were kindred spirits. Oh, thank goodness for those quiet days, for the patience to sit with her, and for LL Montgomery.

In January, may you have ample time for playing games, taking walks and reading aloud. Enjoy the quiet.

Much love each and every day,

Aunt Aggie


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