The Best 30 Minutes of the Day

Over the past five months, I have spent more time with my kids than usual. This has not entirely been by choice. As we found ourselves unexpectedly schooling from home, working from home, and generally being stuck at home, our rhythms and routines naturally shifted. We stayed up later, watched movies after dinner, occasionally watched movies before breakfast. (On the weekends, people! Don’t judge me!)

There was extra time this summer, in the absence of sports teams, music lessons, drama camps, nature camps, art camps, vacations, and choreographed playdates with friends across town. We’re preparing to shift again, into virtual school mode, and as I reflect on the spring and summer, there were two thirty-minute windows of time each day that I loved most.

The first was the thirty minutes after lunch when, during our springtime crisis schooling, I read aloud to the kids. My parents (blessed be their names) were managing the majority of the homework help, but I would take over for an hour at lunch so they could take a break, grab a bite to eat, and quietly bang their heads against the wall if the math lesson had been particularly frustrating. After we ate, we read.

I loftily called this exercise Literature Circle and initially planned discussion questions and creative writing assignments, but over time our standards slipped – of course – and it was just reading. The kids piled onto the couch or jostled for position in the hammock on the porch and I read aloud. We worked our way through the entire fifth book in the Harry Potter series this spring, all 766 pages of it.

It was a tradition that spanned our two households. My co-parent read to them when the kids were at his house, picking up where we left off, then we continued when the kids returned to me. When we finished the book, the five of us all watched the movie together. My ex-husband and I had plenty of areas of disharmony in our relationship, but our abiding love for Harry Potter will never be extinguished. We’re working hard to raise our children with a proper reverence for that sacred text. This summer, we read book six and now we’re chugging through the Deathly Hallows.

Sometimes the kids fussed and whined about the forced literary adventure, but I think we will all look back on it with fondness.

This summer, I discovered thirty minutes before dinner, thanks to the daily schedule with our babysitter. She watched the kids from 8:30am to 4:30pm, which brought me home a good thirty minutes earlier than had been our schedule pre-COVID. That extra thirty minutes from 4:30 to 5 o’clock felt like magical, borrowed time.

It was time to walk the dog with the whole family, passing by the splash pad for a quick romp through the water jets, or picking a fresh tomato from the community garden at the neighborhood church. It was time to play a hand of cards on the porch or harvest beans from our own garden. It was time to admire a chalk drawing on the driveway or watch my kids spin each other around on the front yard swing dubbed The Pukenator by my youngest offspring. No one actually pukes when riding it (yet) but I sure get nauseous watching them whirl around in circles.

Sometimes we ate popsicles before dinner. Because it’s summer and the world is crazy and broken – and yet here we are, healthy and loved, with extra time to be together. I do not take lightly the wisdom shared by older parents that childhood is fleeting and the moments pass with astonishing speed. This summer, I am grateful for the extra time with my family.

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