We sat together in the family room, each occupying a leg of the broad sectional. I was reading a book and checking Facebook; he was watching Youtube videos on his phone.
It was during the time of day that parents describe as the witching hour – that hour or so in late afternoon during dinner preparation when young children fall apart from the stresses of the day, whether their day consisted of napping and playing or riding along in the car all day on errands. Tantrums and full-system meltdowns are common. The witching hour more often than not tests a parent’s mettle. I had failed this test many times before.
The witching hour these days occurs a couple of hours after school lets out, and finds them busy with schoolwork or practice and me waiting to drive them somewhere. Dinner is still prepared during this time, only to be consumed swiftly and in staggered order of hunger level and/or departure or arrival time.
It has become the non-eventful part of the day.
As I sat there immersed in two separate things, I looked over at him, all arms and legs and hair –time for another haircut soon – and I marveled at the rapid growth he’s had recently, the rapid growth yet to come.
He’ll be here four more years – that’s all. The witching hour days are long past. And here I am, reading and checking.
Show me how to do this, I said, reaching for the wooden T-shaped toy – the kendama – he had recently started to play with again to occupy his hands and his mind during downtime. A large wooden ball with a hole drilled into it hung from the crosspiece by a string. The idea is to fling the ball up in the air using the handle and catch it on any of the three cupped ends, or on the spike that stuck out on top. I flicked the ball up and promptly cracked it against my knuckle.
He looked up and smiled at my feeble effort. No, you have to pull it up smoothly. The trick is to bend your knees to cushion the landing.
Like this? I tried again. I barely got the ball in the air.
Well, not exactly… He took the toy from me and did a quick series of tricks, handed it back to me to practice, then disappeared. In seconds he returned with another kendama, the one he bought on vacation a couple of years ago.
You have to get the feel of it. Sort of like this… he showed me again. He’s graceful, this kid.
I studied his technique and tried to imitate it. To my surprise and totally by chance, the ball landed firmly onto the spike.
He grinned, eyebrows slightly raised. Good job. Yep, just like that.
We stood there, each with our own kendama, practicing and attempting to do more advanced tricks. He showed me a difficult trick that he had been working on, and one that he made up. I tried to copy him and told him how impressed I am that he picked it up so quickly.
Half an hour passed, and it was time for me to leave to pick up his sister. Thanks for the lesson, I said.
You’re welcome, he replied.
* * *
We tell ourselves to put down our devices; we read (and write) articles about spending quality offline time with our kids and spouses to really connect. We tell ourselves that we do this, that we take enough time away from our phones and tablets and laptops to love on our families. But we don’t, not really. Not enough. We have trouble taking our own advice.
When we hide behind screens, we teach our kids to do the same. I’m guilty of this. Years experiencing the witching hour have made me selfish with my time, and I have become accustomed to ignoring the people sitting next to me on the couch. They ignore me, too.
At some point I break from the lure of the glowing screens and look at these people. I love them today as much as I ever have. Do I tell them this? Do I show them this?
It’s a basic human need, to want attachment. We find a partner to share life with and couple up; we have children to spread the love and build a legacy. We fulfill our desires by creating a family. And sometimes we forget that we want to be connected to others.
That day I remembered. That day I broke the spell and met my son on his level, and had fun doing it. It wasn’t earth-shattering. It wasn’t much time. It doesn’t have to be. A moment or two, a squeeze, a smile, a silly joke – it’s all we need to do to connect. Do it often enough, and our connection becomes stronger.
Even during the witching hour.