FOLLOW DA WEEDER

One of my most cherished moments was the day my daughter graduated from pre-school (apparently she had passed all her pre-school classes and had enough credits)! I was home for a few days from my work travels, able to plan and attend the events of that momentous occasion. My wife informed me of the timeframe: pick my daughter up at 12 noon accompanied by my one-year old son and we could do whatever we wanted until 5:15 pm, when we would rendezvous for supper at Chuck E. Cheese. Got it!

First on the agenda was lunch — MCDONALDS! (as if there was any question back then). The one down the road had just installed an indoor playground, a fairly new idea in 1992. Of course, trying to get her to eat her Happy Meal was a chore since, what would really make her happy was to take her shoes off and scramble through the “gerbil tunnels”, stopping for a moment to peek out each porthole and waive to daddy. Back in the early days of McDonalds Play Place, a parent could spend an easy hour or so of little-to-no difficult babysitting time there. We both got what we wanted; she, the thrill of entertaining discovery and socialization, and me, a moment to take it all in (and finish my apple pie and Dr. Pepper).

After I had squeezed all the time out of the first stop, it was on to the city park — bigger playground equipment that required my supervision and participation. We swung the swings, played around on the monkey bars, teetered and tottered, played tag (not near as much fun with two participants and one in a baby seat/carrier), played Wiffle ball and tossed a Frisbee. The weather was gorgeous, the activity was intense and we tired within 90 minutes. No problem, Toys-R-Us, here we come!

While going into a local toy store with ANY child can be risky, our daughter had learned very early that whenever we visited Toys-R-Us there was usually one, very specific, well-stated, non-negotiable purpose. In this instance, she would get to pick ONE toy for a graduation present. Of course, the concept of ONE was still a bit much to ask of a 4 year-old who NEEDED everything. I don’t remember what she settled on but I’m pretty sure it made us BOTH happy.

How Lowes Home Improvement became the next attraction was puzzling to me but welcomed (ok…I probably told her we needed to pick up something and it wouldn’t take long). Actually for a time, Lowes sold vintage cartoons, 5 on a VHS tape. It was easy to get her to, not only agree with the visit, but also be uncharacteristically patient as we walked through the outdoor grills inside. Pretty sure it had something to do with me saving the VHS cartoons visit for last. Like I said, I had an agenda.

We pulled into the parking lot of Chuck E. Cheese at approximately 4:45, leaving us with 30 minutes to waste until the 5:15 supper plans. Because I have always been a stickler for arriving early, this worked fine. Be that as it was, sitting on the wooded-planked benches out front got tiresome and uncomfortable fast. Let’s see…what to do? Then it came to me. Why not ask my daughter. Besides, it was HER celebration. There was no hesitation on her part. In her tiny little, learning-how-to-pronunciate-multi-syllable-words voice she said, “Let’s play follow da weeder”.

Being creative as the leader while balancing my son (who was still in the seat) was easy. Watching out for cars coming and going in the parking lot required much more careful consideration. Somehow as with many things that involve our children, it worked. And then my daughter gaily took her turn as the leader and came up with some original moves for me to mimic. All said and done, we were overrun with walking, jumping, dancing, jiggling and moves I have no idea how to describe up until the time mommy arrived. It was then that my daughter ran up to her mother and I handed the baby seat/carrier with my son over to her and said, “They’re yours”.

I had successfully planned and procured my daughter’s “graduation from pre-school” celebration, at least my part. The rest of the evening would be “child’s play”, which by the way is EXACTLY what it was…pizza, the robotics show (actually scared more kids), tokens for games, the Chuck E. Cheese claw machine and of course, cashing in the bucket of coupons at the store for even more prizes took us right up to her bedtime. Alas. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I remember driving our compact car, hearing my son scream because his sister had locked his fingers in the “Chinese Finger Cuffs and her ignoring our reprimand with “I was just showing him how they really work!” and me being startled by occasional “Sticky Hands” to the side of my face. I’m not sure WHO made the suggestion but once it was out there, there was no turning back — Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We could see it from a distance…the signature “Hot Doughnuts” sign was on. Ok, call mommy and daddy irresponsible for taking two young children to a doughnut shop and ordering fresh, deep-fried doughnuts traveling down a conveyor only to be COVERED with sugar (to be fair, they call it “glaze”) but again, let me remind you; this was my daughter’s “graduation from pre-school” celebration. The sugar buzz would subside in time and everyone would eventually get to bed (and later, get to sleep)!

In no time at all we were all four huddled around and on my daughter’s bed, ready for prayers. While I was holding back a yawn, I remember my wife asking our daughter, “You certainly had a fun-filled day. What did you like most of all?” Now, being an educator and a father who had a pretty good idea of my daughter’s likes and dislikes, I would have guessed that she would say, in order; Chuck E. Cheese, McDonalds, Krispy Kreme, the playground, Lowes (honestly, she likes it) and whatever. I never would have guessed her answer…“Follow Da Weeder”.

“Follow the Leader”? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? All that stuff I had to PAY for and you liked the one FREE thing we did? Wow, I could have saved a lot of money! Of course, this was an entertaining afterthought, not something I would ever say out loud or feel.

While I SO miss those cute-little Kristin days, and missed so many more, I am still very moved by the reminder of the meaning behind her choice. Her favorite moment didn’t require the lure of favorite foods, creatively derived entertainment or commonplace activities. Her favorite moment was just being with daddy as we made up our own fun, performing and parroting every move. The daddy and the educator speak…”What is learned”? “What’s the Chuck E. Cheese coupon cash-out, so to speak”? It was the struggle between QUALITY and QUANTITY.

Every parent wants to spend quantity time with their children, but the pace and press of our lives often leaves us with little time. So, in order to justify our dilemma, we convince ourselves that, while we don’t have a fair amount of “quantity” time, we can offset this deficiency with “quality” time. I know — I’ve made those same self-assured determinations. Fact is though; they weren’t even a fair compromise. And how/why do I know that NOW and didn’t THEN? While parents mean well, when it comes to “quantity versus quality” WE don’t decide WHAT quality is for our children; THEY do. We might get it predictably right every once and a while but conclusively our children take away whatever made a connection with them personally, what quality is at that point in time, in that moment. No way to determine or predict what is prancing through and behind the eyes of a child. It is all very creatively and genuinely and wonderfully personal.

Ok…there are enough coupons for one more prize. While you have little control over what your child considers qualitative, you have very much control over the quantitative perspective. Don’t sell yourself a bill of goods that make you feel better about NOT spending quantity time, so to compensate, you’ll carve out small thumbnails of time — IT’S A MYTH. As they get older the enduring effects could be disjointedness; because you feel like your relationship with them isn’t working like it should, detachment; because you find yourself often alone and disappointment; because the fact is they really don’t want to spend much time with YOU; quantity or quality.

In my 37 years of travel throughout 45 states not only have I been an ignorant subscriber to the myth but also I’ve heard the somber stories, mostly dads whose children have all grown and gone and are too busy to visit or call (they’d feel fortunate to receive a “Happy Birthday TEXT”, that is if they had a cell phone). In those moments, I hear the same agonizing reflection; regret how they spent so much time working FOR their family that they had no time WITH them. And every time I hear it, I not only feel bad for the lamenting father, but I am again reminded of my own shortcomings as a parent. And if you don’t hear anything else, hear this: THE PAIN OF REMORSE IS A SUSTAINING AND PERVADING MISERY THAT CAN HARDLY BE DULLED BY COUNTLESS HOURS OF RERUNS IN FRONT OF THE TV!

Show your children the way they should go, and then YOU go that same way. Show them how to play “Follow Da Weeder”. You’re old man, old woman will thank you one day!

Dr. Jay Banks, educator, entertainer and author Facebooks, Tweets, YouTubes, and Googles.

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