parents

When 'family time' is a nightmare.

I’m such an optimist when it comes to family time. I always imagine it will be saturated with meaningful exchanges and memorable moments. Joyful togetherness stored in the heart and the camera.  Instead it is invariably a debacle stored in nightmares. Like last week when I took my two and five year olds ice-skating. See, just by reading that last sentence any sane person could identify my rookie error. And I’m not even a rookie. I’ve been a parent for 13 years so you’d think by now I’d have some match fitness. But no, it seems I’m either an optimist or a goldfish.

My modus operandi for these big outings starts with spruiking them weeks in advance. While it’s true that small children have small concentration spans, the build-up often beats the outing itself because you don’t have to leave the house or spend any money. Ever two hours for a week I asked them, “Are you excited about going ice-skating?”  and a few days prior to The Outing, we even swung past the rink to watch the other skaters. Any fool might have noticed there were no children as young as mine on the ice but I’m not any fool. I’m a particular type of fool: the blindly optimistic goldfish one.

On the afternoon itself, shoe-horned into our skates and rugged up like Michelin Men, I quickly drilled them in the only ice-skating instruction I could remember: when you fall down, quickly make your hands into fists so nobody runs over your fingers and severs them. And also?  When you fall over and your bum gets wet and cold, do not freak out. It’s part of the fun! Hahahaha! Fun, guys! Fun!

They nodded seriously and demonstrated how fast they could make fists until I was satisfied their digits had a fairly good chance of making it back to the car attached to their hands.

Ironic then, wasn’t it, that at one point I skated over my daughter’s thumb. Happily, it didn’t come off. Nor did her arm break when I fell on her after she ploughed into me as I picked up her brother who was losing his shit. Triple decker stack. Many tears. Are we having fun yet? YES WE ARE, KIDS, YES WE ARE.

Whenever we do something ‘big’ like this, I find myself asking them “Isn’t this FUN!” like a demented hyena except it’s not a question, it’s a command. Or possibly I’m trying to convince myself. Similarly, for days after a ‘quality time’ adventure I will remind my kids, “Didn’t we have a great time!”. It’s like I’m determined to imprint a positive memory into their head and steamroll any negative recall of how things actually went down. This time though, it was a struggle. “I am never going ice-skating ever AGAIN,” insisted my daughter all the way home. The next day when I woke up with a black eye, a sprained wrist and giant bruises on my legs, I was inclined to agree.

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In hindsight, yes, I should have just hired the ice skates and let the kids wobble around on the padded plastic floor stuff that surrounded the ice. They liked those orange boots very much. Their fingers were pretty safe. Falling was straightforward and its consequences limited. Next time I’ll try that except there won’t be a next time.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I don’t remember big outings. What I do remember is going to the supermarket every Saturday morning with my dad to do the weekly shop and the fun I’d have trying to sneak Coco Pops into the trolley. Or catching the train with my mum on a school day to see a specialist about my asthma and having lunch together in a cafe. And making French toast as a family on Sunday nights.

We didn’t do much flashy stuff when I was growing up but we did go skiing once and another time we went on a road-trip around Australia. Neither of those experiences is among the happiest or even most vivid memories of my childhood. The mundane stuff is what I recall most warmly.

So why don’t I have faith in the enduring power of these smaller moments when it comes to my own kids?

A few days after we went ice-skating, we had tickets to see the professionals do it at Disney On Ice. Another Big Outing with more Disney characters than you could shake a magic wand at. We all adored the show but it was a good seven-hour exercise, door to door. An investment. “What was your favorite part?” I asked them hopefully in the car on the way home. “The fairy floss,” they chorused.

Of course.

I am reminded of the way little minds work every time we play ‘best and worst’ around the dinner table where everyone shares their high and low points of the day. Their ‘bests’ always surprise me – in a good way. “Doing fixing jobs with Daddy” or “Finding shapes in the clouds with Mum”. And the cheesy but true moral of this story is that it’s the little things that count. Torvill and Dean, your legacy is safe.

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How do you spend family time? What childhood memories mean the most to you?

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