Special time is one of those Parenting by Connection “listening tools” that I both love and dread. It’s a time that you designate to be with just one child, from anywhere from five minutes to an hour, doing whatever they want to do. You refrain from texting or answering the phone, you try not to pick up the dust bunnies that have settled in the corner of the room, or sip that cup of black tea you just made. You pour in the love and appreciation as your child plays. You might get her to laugh, or just follow her lead. But you let him do whatever he wants to do whether it’s playing video games for the fourth time that day or jumping through mud puddles in the rain. It’s a time when children can be in charge, in a world where they are told what to do so much of the time.

So one evening when my son was two, I geared up for thirty minutes of special time with him before bed. That felt like a lot, but I knew how much it would mean to him. He decided that he wanted to have a snack for special time, so I set the timer in the kitchen and we sat down at the table together as he ate peanut butter crackers.   At one point he decided it would be fun to throw one on the floor and he looked at me to get my approval. I gave him the go ahead and as he threw the cracker up in the air, I put a cloth napkin over my head and shrieked, “Yikes! It’s raining peanut butter crackers!” This got him to laugh and he proceeded to take another cracker out of the bowl and throw it in the air. Again, I put a cloth napkin up—a pretend umbrella—and said, “Oh no! It’s raining peanut butter crackers!”

I kept looking at the timer I had set on the stove and the crackers that had broken into a million pieces on the floor. He continued to throw his crackers one-by-one, slowly and methodically. I continued to put up the pretend umbrella and we had a big laugh after each toss.

Then, as special time was ending, he looked across the table and saw a bowl of pot stickers that had been left on the table from dinner. He looked at me, his eyes grew big, and with pure excitement he said, “Raining pot stickers!?” I imagined greasy pot stickers smeared across the kitchen floor and I hoped more than anything that the timer would sound. I waited an extra long minute (or two) to answer that question and the timer went off. I looked at him and said, “Sorry, we can’t throw pot stickers now, but I loved doing special time with you.” Surprisingly he didn’t seem bothered by this.

At the end of special time I gave him a big hug and started to sweep up the peanut butter crackers before we got ready for bed. He wanted to help. We had a lovely time sweeping together and finally headed off to bed. He put on his pajamas happily and brushed his teeth with no complaints. The next morning he woke up and said with a big smile on his face, “Mommy, remember when it was raining peanut butter crackers?” And when we went to my mother’s house the next evening, he told her all about the night it rained crackers.

He chose this activity during a time in his life that he would occasionally throw food at the table when he was frustrated or angry. Although we set limits around food throwing, up until that evening of special time, throwing food at the table was full of tension for everyone. But after allowing him to throw crackers and find the humor in it, he actually stopped throwing food at the table. After that incident I thought, “Maybe next time I’ll be able to endure greasy pot stickers sliding across linoleum.”