What a disability theologian taught me about not feeling rushed

There’s nothing as long as toddler afternoons. They stretch. They yawn. They mosey. They refuse to be rushed by my constant refreshing of my husband’s location on the “Find your Friends” app on my iPhone. They force me to sit with my son as he carries out lengthy and highly repetitive conversations between his Hotwheels cars.

“Doing okay, Cruz? Need some help?”

“Okay.”

“Okay, coming!”

Adorable, yes? Exhausting after the 17th iteration? Also, yes.

If I really question myself during these moments, I realize that it’s not the time with my son that I so resent spending. In fact, later tonight, like clockwork, I will open my Tinybeans app and have the maternal wind knocked out of me by how quickly time has passed. How was he a baby just two years ago?

It’s just that I want to control to be in control of my own time. I believe that there’s something better I should be doing. Something more productive. I believe that after I’ve maxed out my capacity to delight in my son (it varies depending on the day), I should be able to move on to something else. 

Recently while I was wishing away a long hour on the playground, when I wanted to be doing chores around the house or writing, I turned on a podcast called Everything Happens with Kate Bowler. She was interviewing disability theologian John Swinton, a man who worked as a mental health nurse for 16 years before becoming a professor.

In the podcast, Swinton says that when you spend time with people with severe dementia or an intellectual disability, the present is all you have. They don’t have a past and a future to refer to, so you have to find a way to exist in that space with them. Without checking the clock or fast-forwarding to the future. Without accomplishing anything. I think that being with children is similar. It forces you into a slowness outside of our own productivity schemes.

Swinton says, “God’s time is slow, patient, and kind and welcomes friendship; it is a way of being in the fullness of time that is not determined by productivity, success, or linear movements toward personal goals. It is a way of love, a way of the heart.”

I’ve been trying to put his advice into practice.

Because I think there’s a relationship between rushing the afternoons — pushing forward into the future like walking against the wind — and then allowing myself to dip into a warm bath of nostalgia at night when my son’s in bed, regretting the harsh swiftness of time.

Maybe if I can find a way to live in the fullness of the present, I won’t have to feel so out of place in time. Maybe next time my son enacts a car rescue, I’ll join in the conversation.

What are your best tips for living in the present with your kids, even when it’s tiring or boring?

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