It’s our middle child Toby who always seems to be the one who ends up disappointed. But not this Sunday morning.
In our three-child household, Toby receives the least one-on-one parenting time. Why? A combination of nature and (lack of) nurture.
Some of this is due to his quieter and more independent nature. Like me, he’s introverted and comfortable in his own little world. By contrast, Isaac is vocal and adept at getting what he wants while Kara, as the youngest, is the least self-sufficient and therefore needs more of our time – and isn’t afraid to demand attention at a volume that would drown out most fire bells.
Consequently Toby is often left to potter about on his own. When the other two are clamouring for attention and he is quite happy drawing or pushing cars around, it’s just what happens.
He actually quite likes it a lot of the time. As an introvert, sometimes he just needs his own space to recharge his batteries and process his thoughts. Not often, just sometimes.
But every now and then he will specifically ask for some one-to-one time. And occasionally an opportunity just falls into our laps that is too good to pass up.
So when the vagaries of our family calendar decreed that Toby and I were left alone by ourselves for a couple of hours yesterday morning, we both leapt at the chance to spend some quality time together.
I put everything else to one side and just focussed on making the most of this small window. We had a couple of goes at his favourite game (the Underground-based London Board Game). We giggled at an old episode of Top Gear. We snuck out to Costa for a quick babyccino and a chocolaty treat. It wasn’t much but it was more than enough.
It’s not often that Toby leaps at the chance to leave the house at weekends – he does like his pyjama days and ordinarily has to be cajoled into putting proper clothes on – but I knew he was ready for some proper one-on-one time from the way he jumped at the offer of a trip out.
And do you know what? It was lovely. We had that rarest of rare things: a good natter without one of his siblings interrupting us. He’s still fascinated by how my new car works, so we had a good chat about that. We planned some new activities for him to do – he’s currently extending his love of the London Underground into discovering more about the Paris Metro. And we had the kind of idle, inconsequential chit-chat that we rarely have time for, because we’re too busy doing stuff that’s related to school or play-dates or family visits or any of the million-and-one other things that encroach on everyday life.
And Toby lapped it up. He was so pleased just to have a little time alone with me. It doesn’t take much – he’s quite low-maintenance, really. But the effect it has is huge. He was happy and smiley for the rest of the day and at bedtime he specifically asked for me to read to him – something that rarely happens, as 90% of the time he doesn’t mind too much either way.
I totally get this because I’m exactly the same. At work I have a solitary job – I work across various teams but I don’t have a team of my own and a large proportion of what I do requires only a PC, an internet connection and the ability to occasionally touch base with other people. I’ve never been one to require the affirmation of constant praise either. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate human interaction or occasional recognition – I just don’t need it very much.
In that respect, Toby and I are very much alike. Maybe that’s why he seems to like opening up to me. Whatever the reason, it’s something I need to remember to keep creating the space for him to do. Not often, just sometimes.