updated 3 Mar 2013, 15:25
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In rush hour, slow down for Junior
by Clara Chow


IN THE pre-dawn light, I can make out two figures hugging each other next to a parked station wagon.

As I walk nearer, I realise with a little ping of the heart that it is a pre-teen son and his mum.

It is 7am, 10 minutes before the ringing of the school bell, and he is giving her a goodbye hug.

Already taller than her, leg hair starting to sprout below the hem of his shorts, he still has the un-self-conscious air of an innocent man-boy, as he chats with her in the chilly morning air.

His petite, well-groomed mum looks office-ready in a floral shift dress. I imagine that the delicate perfume she is wearing will rub off a little on the crisp white shirt of his uniform.

A girl, his sister, is asleep in the back seat, the next package to be dropped off from the mother's waiting taxi.

I get into my own car, which I had parked a few minutes ago to accompany my elder son a little way on the walk to his classroom.

"I can go alone," he said, a note of frustration creeping into his tone.

So, I tried to hide behind the bushes as I watched him - keen to assert his independence - disappear down the hill, along with other boys.

The mother and son are still talking softly to each other. He is telling her about something or other about primary-school life and she is listening intently, her chin tilted up a little to look at him. I start my engine, and they move a little to the side - still deep in conversation.

Since he started Primary 1, my son has been so busy with school and other activities that we've hardly had time to talk. I like it that he sometimes tells me things on our drives to school, a trip that involves only the two of us. He talks about his new friends and his favourite subjects.

In the dark, punctuated by the orange glow of passing street lamps, he may confess to paltry schoolboy crimes that he finds hard to reveal to his father, whom he relates better to, in the cold light of day.

Sometimes, however, he simply takes a nap until our car pulls up at his school gate.

I'd known that life would get more hectic with primary school, and welcomed having more peace and quiet with one boy out of the house for much of each weekday.

I hadn't counted on the fact that, in contrast to the wide open hours we had together when he was a tot, we would be stealing moments together on the fly.

The concept of "slow parenting" is not new - advocating a better quality of life by letting kids explore the world at their own pace. But what brought it home to me was a recent interview with Susan Sachs Lipman, author of Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting In A Fast-Moving World.

In it, she tells of a sign in front of her daughter's school instructing parents: "Drop: Don't Stop".

Lipman told the Portland Star Tribune: "That message just felt out of balance to me. Here (my daughter) was in the back seat, just in first grade, and expected to hurry up and get out of the car."

Lipman started parking the car a few blocks away and walking her daughter to school.

She said: "We would hold hands and talk about the day - it was a much better transition.

"It started me thinking about other small changes we could make that would add richness to our lives."

In a way, slow parenting is already in me (the Supportive Spouse is always complaining about the snail's pace at which I walk). But it is not just the speed at which parents operate, but the attitude they take when it comes to "down time".

You can spend the minutes stuck in a jam during the morning commute cursing and swearing under your breath, or you can simply pay attention to the child strapped in beside you and feel glad that he still wants to prattle on and open up.

I drive off. In my rear-view mirror, the mum-and-son pair recede from view. I make a mental note to try and hug my son more, even if he tries to squirm away. And I wonder, years from now, if he still has time for sunrise conversations with me.

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