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Why You Should Spend an Hour a Week Alone with Your Toddler

Photograph by Serge Bielanko Private

In this swiftly moving age of chaotic lives and busy schedules, toddlers are often the innocent victims of major identity theft. And no, I don't mean they have their names and Social Security numbers stolen from them by cyber hackers. What I'm talking about is arguably worse. See, little kids need one-on-one time with their moms and dads. That's no revelation to you, I'm sure. Yet ask yourself, how often do you get that? How common is it for you to find yourself at the park or the library or on the living room floor with a pile of Legos, or wherever—just you and your little person?

No distractions. No other kids or adults competing for your attention. No phones dinging, no scrolling social media, no wasting time on other stuff when the two most critical eyeballs in this world are staring up at you, ready to be the center of your attention.

Divorced three years now, I've been spinning in a daze trying to find the one-on-one time I crave with each of my three kids. Violet is 8, Henry is 6 and Charlie, who was born into the raging storm of his parents separating, is 3. Three nights a week, I have all three of them. Three nights, they spend with their mom and Tuesday nights we take turns having either one or two of them. That means twice a month, I have just one of my kids for the afternoon and evening.

I'll be frank: It sucks.

But somehow, we've made it work. And I've noticed that my solo time with Charlie, albeit not nearly as often as I'd like, is pretty awesome.

We don't do much, me and Charlie. We go to the local park, ride the swings, chase each other around until Dad is standing on the corner of Coronary and Grim Reaper, panting to survive.

We eat dinner. We play some Legos. Sometimes he dresses up in his tattered hand-me-down Spiderman costume and chases me around the house with his foam Thor hammer whacking my ass.

It doesn't really matter what we get up to. The thing is, we're together, just the two of us.

And that means we laugh together and get silly together and if he cries (which is inevitable, because, toddler) or he gets up on the coffee table and suicide swan-dives onto the couch face-first and I holler at him, "Stop that, Charlie!"—it 's still something cool and unique for us. There's no one else distracting him or me. No big brother or sister standing there, needing a drink or wanting me to help them get the crayons out of the drawer or whatever.

It's Charlie, 3.

And Dad, 45.

There are a lot of years between us, but when we hang out together, no one else around, we are able to meet each other out there in the rarified ageless air. I feel young again. It's stranger than hell and it's pretty spectacular, too.

Something as simple as reserving an hour of time just to play with our toddler is shockingly easy for us to erase as we hide behind the Wall of Busy.

Kids need their moms and dads all to themselves sometimes. It's just the way it is. Our lives, by design, have become runaway trains. We're hyper-focused on work and surviving in a world where everything you do means paying one piper or another. We justify long stretches of time without one-on one sessions with our kids by telling ourselves that we're doing the best that we can. Which is true, I suppose. Except that it's also total bullsh*t.

Something as simple as reserving an hour of time just to play with our toddler is shockingly easy for us to erase as we hide behind the Wall of Busy.

I'm guilty. You're guilty. Most of us are pretty guilty. Some aren't, I'll give you that. Lots of moms and dads spend a ton of time with their pre-schoolers and to them, I tip my hat. They have it the opposite—they need a freakin' break. Nothing will chew up your brain and leave you in a deeply drunken state of stone-cold sobriety like hours and days on end with a toddler.

The rest of us, though, we ought to be making it happen. The look in a 2- or 3-year-old's eyes when they have your full attention is worth more than the sky or all the stars. Or all the money in the world.

Kids at that age are needing us maybe as much as they will ever need us. Our touch, our breath, our arms hoisting them up, our voices muttering, "Holy crap, you're getting big, kid"—it will all stick with them.

Plus, they're only this age for a hot second.

Charlie is 3. He runs at me with his foam hammer and smacks me in the balls because that's what brings him strange and unique joy. I squeal with mock pain (sometimes real pain) and he looks up at me making my squinty hurt face and he laughs so hard.

Right then, his scatter-toothed smile comes blowing through my skull with the blast of a thousand searchlights. It's the two of us caught up in the comedic moment. I can feel time sliding out of my fat fingers. I don't want it to go, but there she goes, moving on, taking off, and she ain't coming back.

Time doesn't care if I missed any of this or not. Time couldn't care less.

But I do. Oh man, do I care.

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