Six children sitting around my kitchen table colouring in. How did this happen?
I’m on a break from full-time work.I haven’t written anything for weeks. I have hundreds of unread emails. My friends are being neglected. There’s gardening to be done, boxes to be sorted and emptied, an entire house waiting to be painted, my “to do” list is endless… and six children colouring in. Yes, I’m babysitting one of them, but six! In my living room? How did this happen?
The day began with no commitments. Hours stretched before me, waiting to be filled. My co-houser would be away for several hours. Space. Solitude. Quiet. I could sit, I could write, I could ponder and dream, let my thoughts meander.
Knock on the door:
Could I babysit for a couple of hours?
Of course, after all one of my priorities is creating community, building networks and providing support. I am committed to putting the ideal into practice. As my father would say “putting my money where my mouth is.” I’m good at the mouth bit. So, babysit? One child? Couple of hours? Sure. No problem.
However, it is school holidays and there are other children who live close. One child became three, became four… five… six. A mention of colouring in to the youngest and soon all six had joined in. I mentioned find-a words, mental arithmetic exercises, spelling … as long as I provided sheets, they would do them.
These children wanted school! They were bored, they had nothing to do,their mothers were either at work, or recovering from late shifts. This little gang were wandering around the street, looking for entertainment or something to occupy them and an adult to supervise. I sympathise and remember my own childhood with much gratitude.
I grew up in a village. Our house was on a hill sloping steeply down to a river. Other houses were scattered between paddocks. I climbed trees, built cubbies, fished in one of the creeks and wandered about. There was a house with space under it’s verandah post where we left pieces of moss and flowers for the fairies. And I read books, any book I could lay my hands on. I had a favourite spot in the pepper tree where I could lie back and read- soft breeze, birds, the smell of the pepper tree and endless time. Adults were not part of it. No one supervised us. We never complained of being bored.
There were jobs. I had younger brothers and a sister to keep an eye on; there was washing up and clothes to be hung out and brought in, chooks, ducks and geese to be fed, sometimes a cow and a calf, but in my memory it’s one long sunny day that went on forever.
These children in my street have nothing like I had. There are paddocks to roam in and trees they can climb, but they aren’t accessible. Most are in someone’s backyard and children aren’t welcome. Ride your bike up and down? Gets boring after a while. Read a book??? Reading is becoming a lost art and the little one can’t read.
I send my co-houser to the shops as soon as she drives in – bread rolls and sausages, let’s feed the mob.
My neighbour returns home and I feed her. The children leave, reluctantly and slowly. I feel torn. I would like to continue to entertain them, but I don’t have endless time to give them. We’ve gardened earlier, searched for grubs and I have things I must do.
The day ends. I haven’t crossed much off my list. I had no time to sit and dream but I have given. I have chosen to give my time, my attention and my compassion. Perhaps this counts for more than time for myself. Perhaps I am learning about priorities of lasting value. And perhaps this is an opportunity to practise acceptance, acceptance of what is.