When I was little, my mom instituted during the summer what came to be known as “quiet time” in our house. For one hour after lunch, we all did something alone. We weren’t allowed to play with or talk to each other unless absolutely necessary. We couldn’t watch a movie or make noise. It was a time for reading, for writing, for drawing, for paper dolls…and probably for maintaining my mom’s sanity. I can close my eyes and still feel exactly what it was like…a hot July day, the smell of the swamp cooler, the fuzzy pink rug in my bedroom and the beautiful ladies that I had cut out of old pattern catalogs laid out in a dramatic presentation. Or maybe it was a book (I specifically remember The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and I was scrunched up between my bed and the wall with my knees under my chin. Regardless, it felt cozy. And happy. And safe.
This summer, my own children are 1, 3, 5, 7 and 10, and I revived the quiet time tradition.
Summer is for laid-back days, for late nights on the trampoline and even later bedtimes, for outdoor activities, for gardening, for water fights and sidewalk chalk, for trips to the zoo and the library, for popsicles and iced tea. There is time to relax and to do fun things, but it is rarely quiet. And at some point, one child or another will tire of the lack of routine and will complain of boredom. I find that a daily quiet time recalibrates all of us. It separates the cooler, active mornings from the hot, sluggish afternoons. It gives the day a cohesiveness and a predictability that children need and crave. And it doesn’t hurt that it gives me a few moments to breathe as well.
For the first few days, there was a lot of complaining. An hour was too long. They wanted to watch a movie. And for the three and five year olds, not being able to talk was a fate worse than death. I was a little puzzled as to how to make this time a positive experience, something that they would look forward to (as I did when I was young) instead of dread. Then it hit me: I would make a quiet time box.
The next time I went to town, I put together a little box of things for them to do. Stickers, coloring books, a drawing kit with stencils, nothing fancy, but new things. Then I put them into a little box and I announced that this was only for quiet time. At the beginning of our hour, they could each pick one thing from the box. At the end of quiet time, it had to go back in the box. The rule was that there could be no squabbling over who got what, or the box would be put away. And if someone else wanted today what you had yesterday, you had to let them have it…you couldn’t use the same thing two days in a row unless no one else wanted it.
Instant success. We went from “Oh no, not quiet time!” to “How many minutes until we get to start?”
Occasionally the younger ones will forget and I have to remind them not to talk. But it’s an easy fix. As I sit here, Owen is drawing at the kitchen table. Every few minutes he will bring me a picture that he has finished and I smile and acknowledge it without words. Ethan is outside. Philip plays with legos in the boys’ bedroom and Anwyn colors in hers. The baby is sleeping. And I can write.
In twenty minutes, the house will be the normal fun, crazy, loud, wonderful place that it usually is. But for now, a hush has descended and we soak in the peace like sponges absorbing water, peace that will seep out and greatly affect the rest of the day. I hope that in doing this, I am not only improving our days but I am teaching my children the value of being still and unplugged, the joy of reflection and time alone and of real, simple activities.