How To Be Busy Doing Nothing

I’m not sure how long we’d been crawling across the floor but it seemed like forever and no time at all.

Little B was being a “bebbey” again. I say again, he’s not even two, but lately he’s reverted to crawling, and I can tell he’s pretending because he laughs and says baby in this funny accent.

(We have no idea where his odd pronunciation comes from. It’s either a quirk of development or he was French in a past life.)

Anyway, so there I was crawling backwards and forwards in our brilliant new attic bedroom. The carpets went down this week and LittleB is in love with them.

“Carpet!” he declares each morning as his feet touch the floor, like it’s the first time he’s ever seen a 50% wool mix fabric in ash grey. I confess I am also still a bit excited by it so I’m happy to crawl around breathing in that new carpet smell. You know the one? It’s like a new edition of the Next Directory times a thousand. Probably highly toxic.

There were probably lots of things I should have been doing. I say probably, there definitely were.

But I was happy doing nothing, and being in the moment with my boy.

After fourteen weeks living in chaos during the loft conversion there is a LOT of cleaning, tidying and sorting to be done, not to mention all the final painting of shelves and the wardrobe in the new nursery. 

Ah, the nursery. The room awaiting Little B’s new friend. In, oh, about four weeks time. DONT PANIC! So crawling about on the floor probably wasn’t the best use of my time.

But then in the year I’ve been looking after my little boy every Friday I think 80% of what we’ve done wasn’t ‘useful’ in the adult sense of ‘getting things done’. And this was my last Friday ever when it would be just the two of us.

My Year Of Daddy Daycare

It’s such a cliche – where did the time go? But there it went. And I would never go back and swap those days spent looking intently at a leaf, or chasing bubbles in the garden, or moving a small toy train backwards and forwards along a track while Little B clapped and gave me his firm directions; “NO DADDA! TRAIN STOP!”

I’ve spent a quarter of a century working in an office five days a week. So when I finally got around to having children I knew that if it were at all possible I didn’t want to be a dad who only saw his baby at the weekends.

Some people don’t have a choice, I’m not judging. But I was lucky to have an employer who let me take a pay cut in exchange for time with my boy.

If I hadn’t had these precious 52 extra days I would of course have been hands on and we’d have done things together as a family at the weekends. But having that one on one time has I hope taught us both a lot.

For any dad (or mum) who hasn’t taken on their baby/toddler/child for a whole day I think it’s very important to do it, even just once.

Appreciating the effort that goes into getting them through the day; clean and fed and happy(ish) and in one piece, from 6am till 7pm(ish) will give you a healthy perspective on the demands facing your partner or anyone else who looks after your children.

But better than that is the way being with a young child reprograms your brain.

Everyone seems to be obsessed with ‘mindfulness’ at the moment. Being aware of where you are and what you’re doing, feeling, experiencing, without being distracted by the buzz of your busy life. Well don’t do a mindfulness course. Simply borrow a toddler for a day.

At first I felt frustrated. I had my list, my timetable of what to do, left pinned to the wall by Mrs B when she returned to work. We were doing a day of the week each and he was with a brilliant childminder three days. So actually on a Friday our little man was pretty tired and didn’t want to do much at all.

As time went by I got to know his moods, his cues for snack and naps and nappy changes. And more importantly I got to know him, as a person and not just this odd little pet we’d taken on.

Watching My Baby Grow Up

The year from one to two has been incredible, he changed from week to week and there would have been so much I’d have missed without these days together. I learned to relax into it, to go with the flow, to let him lead sometimes, to resist saying no when he wasn’t doing any harm (but making a wonderful mess), and to sit back and watch him as well as join in.

I learned to stop feeling like an idiot in public when he had a meltdown in a cafe and hurled his cake on the floor. Or when he changed his mind about which seat on the bus to sit in for the tenth time.

You might ask how can you be mindful when you’re racing around after a toddler all day. But if you stop trying to get everything done and get into their groove, even for fifteen minutes, those minutes will seem like an eternity. Sometimes in a good way.

So for those fifty-two Fridays were we actually doing nothing? Not really; we were busy learning about the world. Him for the first time and me seeing it all again through his eyes.

I hasten to add that I was of course doing a lot of washing, tidying, cooking, and hoovering. Often with Little B’s ‘help’. But I’m glad that I stopped to join in his world at regular intervals and didn’t see him as being in the way.

As the poet WH Davies wrote:

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Best of all by being idle together we fell in step with each other. We had time to listen to the things that don’t need to be said, when two people stand toe to toe in a puddle and giggle.

And I hope as he grows up something of those days will have taken root and will help us get through the tricky times ahead when we we’ll lock horns over schoolwork or going out late or money.

I hope when he’s 16 and I’m 60 we’ll still want to lie together on a grassy bank and say nothing while we watch the clouds dance in the sky.

My Favourite Ways To Be Busy Doing Nothing

Stare at a plant.This could be indoors but preferably in your garden or a park on a lovely sunny day in spring or summer. That way you won’t start shivering. Let your toddler find the plant they like the best. Watch as they get VERY NEAR and stop blinking. Get alongside them. Marvel at the way the light shines through the leaves. Say “wooooow” together. Gently touch the flower. GENTLY! Yes. G-e-n-t-l-y. Keep this up long enough and you’ll feel like you’ve eaten some funny mushrooms.

Splash in a puddle. Has it been raining? Get those wellies on. You don’t even have to wait for it to stop! You could find one really big puddle or a series of small ones in a row. Walk veeerrry slowly through the puddle. Now run very fast back again. Stop halfway through. Jump up and down. Bend down and try to pick up the puddle. Laugh at your face in the puddle laughing at you. Keep doing it until you need to get dry. (Do bring some spare pants.)

Chase pigeons. Until they fly away. Then watch them land again nearby. Chase. Fly. Land. Repeat.

Play cars. Or whatever toy your toddler is obsessed with. But take time to play with them. It takes a bit of patience. Especially if all they can say is “Car coming”. But push through the frustration your adult brain is experiencing and give in to the pleasures of moving an object tiny increments at a time. Just don’t touch the car. “NO DADDA!”

Scribble. Buy some cheap paper, preferably recycled to assuage your first world guilt; you’ll be using A LOT. And some washable markers or crayons or paints. WASHABLE. Don’t cock that up. Tempt your toddler to the table, perhaps using a favourite snack. Pick up a pen and go nuts. Unleash your inner Jackson Pollock. Your toddler will soon get the idea. Don’t even attempt to draw actual things for now. It’s about maximum colour and speed. “NOT ON THE WALL!”

Roll around on the ground. That’s it. Hills can add a bit of extra excitement provided they aren’t too steep; toddlers shouldn’t reach their terminal velocity while rolling. Doing this on mud or newly cut grass is ace but will result in some QUESTIONS the next time the washing basket is emptied. Well, that’s what Vanish is for, right?

Blow bubbles. Remember how much fun you had blowing bubbles when you were little? Right. Off you go then. For extra points buy a bubble machine. To essentially look like a god to your toddler buy a kit that makes MASSIVE BUBBLES INSIDE BUBBLES. Awesome.

Pull faces. Enough to make your toddler shit themselves laughing but not enough to make them shit themselves with fright.

Tickle. Feet, hands, tummies, chunky thighs; babies are made to be tickled but be careful not to turn it into an obsession. “Twickull twickull twickull!” Little B now shouts at any soft toy, car, shoe, escaping cat or visiting human who dares come within tickling distance.

Nap. You’ll both be needing one. Sweet dreams. 🙂

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