Why is it important to have a ‘date’ with your child? Well, I guess it’s not really. Maybe it’s not important to you because you are busy. Maybe not important because work takes a priority or getting that last load of laundry in the machine has reached the top of your to-do list. Maybe you need to you have your ‘me-time’ and go out and see your friends so this ‘optional activity’ is just that – optional. But, for a child, this could become the make or break of a relationship – in whatever phase that parental relationship is in (tense, happy, stressed, overworked, whatever).
I realized this a couple of years ago with my 6 year old. This was before the youngest came along and I was, as usual, the school drop / school pickup baba (only mums in sight and non-tactfully giving way every time I came in), it was just my daughter and I hanging out in the afternoons. In the heat of Doha, there was absolutely nothing to do (come to think of it, there is very little to do when there is no heat). So, I posed the question to my little ‘just-turned-4’ year old.
“What do you think if we go on a date, just you and me and no one else?”
She immediately jumped up and her big brown eyes smiled all on their own, “Yes Yes Yes”. Then, she thought for a minute and said “Baba, what is a date?” (clearly just the idea of she and I doing something all on our own and officially was the best thing even if she didn’t know what it was).
“You and I are going for lunch together. Just us. No one else. We won’t even tell momma – just between us – our own secret.” Now, this was in vain because we ALL know that there isn’t a kid in the world that is capable of keeping any secret – they are the origin of the idea of “Breaking News” for any tabloid out there (because every ‘secret’ becomes much more grand when they tell it!).
Now she is beside herself until Momma comes home and within milliseconds of walking in the door, she lets out a huge screech to her mother explaining that we were going on a date and we would have ice cream and she would get a treat (I don’t remember those last two points – again, tabloid).
Wife looks at me very confused and after some explaining and Ms. Monkey jumping around we settle on a plan.
The next day, Thursday, the end of the school week for her, she and I headed out for lunch. She talked to entire way. She explained about using napkins on your lap and drinking water and the kind of juice she would choose. She talked about the cars on the road, the bread she would eat and the importance of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (yes, her mom has had some hand in all of this).
She ofcourse, desperately wants ice cream in the process and we did agree on atleast eating lunch and then discussing the idea of ice cream.
In we went to the restaurant (fancy little hotel restaurant and we show up in our shorts – again, it was hot) and sat down. She properly puts her napkin on her lap and can’t stop smiling at everything and everyone.
The waiters come up and before he can even speak, she informs him “My Baba and I are having a date and it’s a secret and you can’t tell anybody about it.” The waiter was rolling and agreed she felt so proud.
We talked about everything. This girl can talk. We talked about a boy at school that wasn’t being nice to her. She told me about what the teacher told her that morning. I talked to her about a trip her momma had for work the following week (this kid is highly organized and needs preparation before momma travels so she understands the ins and outs and how many sleeps are involved in that time frame). We even talked about why the sun was always so hot in Doha.
We finished our little lunch and ordered an ice cream cone to take with us and go sit out by the pool. She was tickled. And, we were even able to get the same amused waiter to take a pic of us dipping our toes in the water J.
Holding hands (waiting for the meadows to show up in front of us, music to play overhead and us to start skipping through the flowers like in some MBC movie), we walked out to the car. I buckle her in and she hugs me really hard. She tells me she can’t wait to tell everyone at school on Sunday.
That Sunday at school pickup, sure enough, her teacher briefed me about her ‘stories of adventure’ to everyone about her ‘date’ with her Baba.
It didn’t quite realize how much this story meant to me until she talked about it a couple of weeks ago and remembered it. She and I have gone on many dates since then because it’s a minimum 1 time monthly routine. But apparently, that first one is still the one that sticks out for her 2 ½ years later.
There are times where we really do forget about how important such small acts can be to a child. We are their entire world encompassed in this little bubble. There is nothing else except us. And many times we dismiss their little ideas, tantrums, fears and dreams as childhood fairy dust. I really learned that day, that I had an opportunity to change her life. Even if it was a small date – it was she and I and no one else. Even if she can’t keep secrets really well, I’m ok with that. I’d be more than happy for her to shout out to the world that her Baba takes her on a date. Maybe, just maybe, this might start another Baba putting aside his work, or his shisha or his time with friends for just an hour for his child. Our part of the world needs that one one time. We are putting our future and the future of everywhere on this side of the pond in their hands. If we can’t show them compassion and understanding and acceptance, how can we expect them to find their own way on that path? Are we leaving this up to their educators? The tutors that we hire for them because we can’t even bother to sit down with them and work on their maths? Their friends? Their nannies?
You have an opportunity right now. I write this to make a parent (especially Babas) put themselves in their childs place for a bit and imagine how you would have thought if your Baba had asked you to go on a date and spend time together. I know that I didn’t really have that specific element in my childhood and the fact that I can grow from that and do something differently with my girls, means the world to me.
I’m not saying that simply having one date is going to stop your child from being a serial killer (please see the sarcasm in that remark), but I am saying that they have a much better chance than they would have before.
So put on your date shoes, setup a nice restaurant (or even those little dingy places you might like to go) and just sit and enjoy. Let the kids talk. They will.
11 November, 2015