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At the pediatrician’s office the other day I saw the following sign:
Children spell love… T-I-M-E. – Dr. Anthony P. Witham.

At first glance, this is a lovely, meaningful quote that makes us want to snuggle up with our children for hours on end. But when the snugglefest is over we have to ask ourselves a serious question. Why can’t our children spell?

One challenge of being with children is that they have a skewed perception of the passing of time. Try having a 3-minute conversation on the phone; they will inform you that you have been talking ‘for the longest time’! Then pick them up from a friend’s house after 3 hours and hear them moan that that was ‘the shortest playdate ever’! If you run out of milk one day you ‘NEVER have milk!’ But try serving chicken two nights in a row and suddenly you ‘ALWAYS have chicken…’ To recap, our children can neither spell nor tell time. They will be living in our basements forever.

Sometimes it feels like my kids and I are traveling in opposite directions of the space/time continuum. Although I am in full control of their schedules, we never seem to have time at the same time. For instance, at dinner in between refilling cups of apple juice (see? We never have milk!) I ask each of my children to tell me something special about their day. Some of my children comply, they tell us what they learned, what they played in gym, which kid ate paste, etc. But one of my sons deems this an unfit time for sharing. He waits until the following morning when we are all thoroughly late for school, one sock on, toothbrush dangling from his mouth, he turns to me and says, ‘want to know a really crazy thing that happened yesterday?’

We recently experienced a death in our family and I was cognizant of making appropriate times to talk to my children about dying. My three year old spent this prescribed time spinning in circles until he fell down (a thrilling activity, I will give him that). But at 3AM I found him crawling into my bed asking me ‘why do we die’?

I think the car is a great opportunity to talk since I cannot be distracted by dishes or online Tetris. But as luck would have it my guys prefer music to talking while driving. You know what does make them chatty though? When I close the bathroom door. That’s when they park themselves outside in the hall and wonder aloud- ‘why do bad things happen to good people’?
The problem is that my children and I spell love differently. They think it’s t-i-m-e, while I spell it t-i-m-e-a-l-o-n-e. You want to express your heartfelt devotion and appreciation? How about less middle of the night snuggling? And if it’s my birthday and I really deserve something special, let me go to the bathroom sans the chaperone!

One might think that our divergent spellings make it impossible for us to feel love at the same time. But I have stumbled upon the equalizer. The other night at bedtime one clown was particularly squirmy, so I started to scratch his back. He suddenly lay perfectly still on the bed and began breathing deeply. I continued scratching and he snuggled up close and sweet. I scratched a bit more and I am sure that I heard him purr. And so was born our new nightly routine. After books and tooth brushing and enough drinks of water to make the desert bloom, we settle in for a good scratching. No talking at all, no squirming, no rushing back to Tetris (judge me and I will flip you on your side and shove you into a tight space!). And when I am rewarded with a purr I become certain that Dr. Witham was a smart man. If only I could get him to teach my children how to spell.