Draw the White Space

Notes from my 2-month paternity leave

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Skipping rocks in the late afternoon

Ms. Rosen, my high school art teacher and then arch-nemesis, was obsessed with negative or white space. Ms. Rosen’s classroom was set up in a horseshoe formation, enabling each of us to have a clear view of the houseplant situated in the middle of the room. The houseplant was our muse, and our mission was to sketch the space in-between the leaves, the white space. I was terrible at this assignment.

When done properly, capturing white space can actually produce a provocative and compelling design — I wasn’t doing it properly and my work certainly wasn’t compelling. My adolescent mind mistook what I thought was a ‘stupid assignment’ for what was, in truth, weak fine motor skills.

Though she likely didn’t intend it, Ms. Rosen’s 10th-grade art class is a great metaphor for parenting young kids.

I am nearing the end of my 2-month paternity leave (grateful to Facebook for such a generous policy), and I’ve learned that so much of parenting happens in the rote activity of everyday life: meals, bath, commuting, and getting dressed. I used to think that all my parenting happened then because I wasn’t around for all of the other stuff. It turns out, however, that the most engaged time I have with both our infant and our toddler is in that white space, in between activities (or naps in the case of our infant).

So I guess one take away from paternity leave (so far) is to make the most of that white space.

I often find that I rush bath time when I get home from work so that I can have more time afterward. The same is true about getting them in the car for errands or changing them. It seems, though, that those moments are the ones for which I should slow down.

Ways I’ve slowed down with our Toddler:

  • Loading up the car — we now head out to the car 5–7 minutes before we need to in order to play in the car and learn about all the different buttons.
  • Fewer toys at bath time — I find that bath time is a great time to talk, our 2-year-old is less distracted then and more open to engaging (It also means that I no longer have to clean up all of her bath toys).
  • Chores — My kid is still young enough to think it’s fun to help me around the house, so I got her a matching watering can and now it’s something we do together (I know this one is short lived).

Paternity leave has afforded me the opportunity to slow down, and I’ve learned that I want to try to maintain that same pace for certain moments. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss the white space.

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