“Bye bye daddy.”
“I love you Liam. Have a good day. I’ll be thinking about you.”
5 minutes later…
“Have a great day Max. Learn some stuff, have some fun. Love you.”
“Love you daddy. Bye bye.”
Then they turn and walk away, into the double doors and down the corridors of their schools. Sometimes they turn around and wave goodbye. Some days they turn and wave five times before disappearing into the crowd of oversized backpacks. Those days melt my heart. And they’re becoming fewer and farther between as the days, then years, pass. Eventually, these goodbyes will stop.
For some people, taking kids to school (or anywhere) is a chore. A necessary trip before heading off to work. For me, these are the most cherished moments of my day. Moments that have added up to over 600 hours of time well spent with my kids.
Today was, once again, the last day of school—a particularly proud and painful goodbye. I’ll explain why.
But first, let me tell you about our walks.
Routines add up: how do you invest your 600 hours?
My kids’ school is about 0.5 miles from our house, just below Barcelona’s famous Parc Güell. That gives us about 20 minutes to walk, talk, look, play games, and imagine. Five days a week.
Take a moment to realize how this adds up over time. Over a 180-day school year, that’s 3,600 minutes—or 60 hours—of time walking with kids to school. During this time, there is nothing more important in the world than simply being with my boys. There’s just one rule: keep moving fast enough to arrive at school on time.
In my case I’ve been walking my kids to school for 10 full years now. That’s 600 hours, a total of 25 days of my life. Routines add up.
Now consider two ways of living this time. You can treat it like a commute or an errand or a chore. Kids need to be at school, you need to get to work, and the trip is the thing in between. Or instead you can see these short trips as part of the journey. 60 hours a year to invest with your kids, aware that these experiences compound over time.
Moments well spent add up to a life worth living.
How do we make these moments meaningful?
We talk about things going on at school, plans for the weekend, the new Pokemon characters they’re drawing. We observe the buildings, people, plants, and clouds we spot along the way. I ask them what’s on their mind, they ask me about gravity, pigeons, and that strange lady that’s always sitting on the corner. We play games like “I spy” and “would you rather.” We build stories and rhymes on top of each other, and create raps about life. We mentally transform everyday things into their imaginary counterparts, like these balcony plants, which are clearly a gorilla and an octopus:
It’s like the game where you spot figures in big puffy clouds, but without being limited to a marshmallow sky.
A superpower tip for making this time meaningful for your kids: ask them what they want to do. “What should we play on the way to school today?” If your kids are little, it can be helpful to prompt them with a couple of options: “Do you want to play the alphabet game, or find the color game?”
Think about the moments in transition that you have with your kids.
How do you use your in-between time?
You may not take your kids to school in the morning, but you can apply this awareness to nearly any journey: the ride to sports practice, on your way to church, running errands, walking to the park.
Do you treat routine commutes as a chore, something you have to do before moving on to the really important things?
If so, stop for a minute and realized how much time is buried in those transitions. 15 minutes a day turns into nearly 50 hours a year, nearly 500 hours over a decade. Seriously, is there any better way to spend this than fully engaged with your kids?
Of course not all days can we muster the presence of mind we need to be present. I’ve definitely bombed my share of morning opportunities. And in the earlier years, there are plenty of days when you’re hating life, trying to convince a two-and-half-year-old that arriving to school on time is more important than those stuffed animals in the window.
Some days you’ve got to rush. But if you’re constantly running late, see what you can adjust to leave earlier. Some days you’re tired, but try not to take it out of the kids. Some days you’ve got too much in your mind, like that presentation you need to prepare, or that message you regret sending. But you can’t do anything about it right now. Put your phone away, clear your mind, and give those 15 minutes to your kids. The way you shape those experiences will be the way you remember your life.
As the time goes by, the moments add up. But eventually they will stop.
There will be a last time you see your kids off to school
Everything has a last time. There will bea last time you wear those shoes, a last time you see your dad,a last time you hug your child before they walk out of the door.
Yes, there will come a time when my boys no longer need—or want—me to walk them to school. They’ll want to go with friends, or at least not want to be seen with their not-so-cool dad.
The thing is, I don’t know when that day will arrive. It might come with a warning: “Dad maybe we can walk on our own, and you can walk a little behind us.” Or I might just wake up one day and discover I’m no longer needed on these 20-minute morning ventures.
But that’s how it’s supposed to go. So while they still think I’m at least a little cool, I’ll do what I can to be awake, pleasant, and fully present with them on our walks.
Thinking about the last time you’ll do something can be a cripplingly sad feeling. But becoming aware that there will be a last time can also smack you in the face with the importance of cherishing every chance you get with your kids.
I find this four-minute last-time reflection from the Waking Up app an exceptionally poignant wake up call. I highly recommend listening to it at least once a month:
Take care of transitions
Another school year just went by. That’s another 180 days, 90 miles, 60 hours of dad-and-boys time before wewave goodbye. Conversations, stories, and laughs to remember. We’ll forget a lot of the details, but we’ll always remember the routine.
It’s bittersweet watching them grow up so fast. But that’s how they’re supposed to grow. And it’s amazing that they do it so well, despite all of our parenting blunders.
This year is particularly bittersweet. Next week we’re moving our whole family to a new country for a school year. The means a different school for the kids, but we’ve managed to arrange a similarhome-to-school distance, so our morning walks will continue. New environment, familiar routine.
And now another day.Be presentin the transitions. Be conscious of your goodbyes. Look that parting person in the eye, and let them know care. You never know which time might be the last.
Days fly by, but there’s a lot of time hidden in transitions. Take care of those moments.