“Whaddya doing Max?” a father shouted at his son. “We came here to go on the water slides! We’re going on the water slides! C’mon!”
The little boy, who was more interested in climbing on the rock wall, reluctantly followed his father.
I watched them get in line.
From the top of the stairs the view was expansive; the sky blue, the sun hot, the water in the slides the perfect temperature. I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable activity for a Friday afternoon in June.
But the man’s impatient words were disconcertingly familiar.
They reminded me of my father-in-law.
They reminded me of myself.
When we lived in Massachusetts every year a fair would come to the Amherst Commons. It was sleezy and thrilling, with tattooed attendants and rickety rides.
One year James’s dad was visiting the same weekend as the fair.
He strode onto the Commons and bought a packet of tickets.
My girls, ages two and three, clambered onto the carousel. They held onto their horses with white knuckled grips, their mouths open in wide-eyed delight.
After the ride the girls lingered to watch contestants try to make it to the top of the climbing wall on the side of a truck.
“C’mon,” my father-in-law motioned, putting his hands on their backs and herding them away. Then he walked in front of them.
“Hurry up,” he called impatiently over his shoulder. “We’ve got to go on the next ride!”
To the next ride?
Better go as quickly as you to the electric choo choo train! Come on kids! Why are you dawdling?!
James has unhappy memories of being rushed as a child. So do I. When we talked about it later it was easy for James and me to both to feel indignant: When you take your kids somewhere to have kid fun, why badger them to hurry up?
But what’s harder to admit is that I’m guilty too.
I find myself hurrying my kids for no reason, getting impatient when we’re not in a hurry, wanting them to be at the park so they can swing on the swings instead of sitting on a park bench near the playground because that’s what they want to do.
Hurry becomes a habit.
So does scolding.
Even when there’s nothing to be late for, even when no one’s done anything wrong.
Why do we take our children out to do something “fun” and then try to control what they do and make them do it faster?
What harm is there in climbing the rock wall before going on the water slides or lingering at the fair?
It’s so hard for me to turn off the automatic pilot. To stop hurrying. To stop stressing. To slow down. To let my children jump off the stoop 35 times when we really came to go to the museum or let them stop and run their fingers in the sidewalk cracks when we’re supposed to be on our way to the park.
When my oldest daughter was two she received a large, nicely wrapped gift.
“Rainbows!” she cried fascinated by the colorful ribbons taped to the wrapping paper, so absorbed in them that she was uninterested the present inside.
Instead of letting her enjoy what she was interested in the most, I opened the box of hand painted wooden alphabet blocks and tried to draw her attention away from the ribbons (which she loved them so much she brought to bed with her).
I wish that man hadn’t yelled at his son at the water slides.
I wish my father-in-law could have let the girls linger wherever they wanted to at that fair.
And I wish I could go back in time and have Hesperus open that present again. If I could, I would let her enjoy her present in her own way, on her own time.