Mia missed the bus the other morning because she was being a bit dramatic about which shoes to wear, so I might have slightly overreacted by not-so-subtly huffing and puffing as we clambered into the car and drove to school. She was teary because she knew I was upset. And honestly, the problem wasn’t that I had to drive her to school. I love the quiet few minutes in the car with her.
The problem was that I had a deadline that afternoon, and due to a tag-team nap boycott the day before and a certain boy who refused to sleep the previous night, causing me to sleep through my alarm the next morning, I was no closer to meeting that deadline than I was 24 hours prior. This was just the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.
The problem, clearly, was me.
Cars snaked around the parking lot as we pulled in and fell in line. I reached back, ready to apologize for my behavior, and she grabbed my hand. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said. “I already miss you.”
I put the car in park (the line wasn’t moving) and turned to look at her. We counted the days until summer break, and I told her that she’d be sick of me soon enough. But she shook just her head. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. I apologized and she said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Sometimes I get grumpy too.” It was a good moment. One that I was fully immersed in and one that I likely won’t forget soon.
And then the line started moving and Mia began recounting her beanie boo collection and my eyes kind of glazed over as my mind drifted…to the project I needed to conquer by day’s end…to a character who’s imploring me to write her story. My mind was no longer in the car with my daughter who was happily yapping away in the backseat.
Should we strive for authentic presence during the big moments of life? Of course. The magic-in-the-mundane moments? You betcha. The moments when our children need/want/beg for our attention? Absolutely. The moments that zip and sing and soar whether we catch them or not? Only if we’re quick and nimble enough. And that’s part of the trouble with being present in parenthood – these moments are so swift, traveling as they do at the speed of life.
I think, for me, I have had this false notion that if I can just be here and now and in the thick of it without distraction; if I can just pay attention and honor these moments fully, then I will somehow have the power to slow time. I’m beginning to learn that this simply just isn’t possible. Likewise, I used to misinterpret presence for happiness and joyfulness, subscribing to this misaligned belief that if we aren’t seeking joy in the mundane then we’re failing at being fully immersed in the moment. But sometimes life (and parenthood) is just mundane. There isn’t a lot of joy to be found in sitting in rush hour traffic as your gas meter hovers just barely over empty, or in realizing that your toddler unfastened his pull-up and dumped its contents onto the floor of your closet. Or meeting a deadline on very little sleep as you navigate the schedules and personalities/needs/wants of three little lives.
I recently read a post by Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities in which she presented 13 Ways to be (More) Here & (More) Happy. Aidan (along with Lindsey from A Design so Vast) has embarked upon a year of exploring what it means to be present in life, and has been generous enough to bring her readers along, so far offering up seemingly universal themes and discoveries. Number 2 in Aidan’s post, “Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfectly There” struck a chord with me as I often perceive myself as failing more than succeeding in terms of relinquishing my conscious mind to the here and now. Aidan wrote:
I recently went on a wonderful field trip with Middle Girl and her class to the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was perfect and we had such a good time and I loved being with my girl and her friends and her teachers and fellow parents. BUT. I went in and out of being really quite present. There were powerful moments when I looked around me and felt her hand in my hand and the bridge under my feet. But then there were lost moments when I was on my phone or wondering if I will ever finish my novel. This is life. And this is huge. We must forgive ourselves for not being 100% tuned to each moment. We are busy creatures with full plates and we must work with reality. I strongly believe that if we are so hard on ourselves for being present at every moment, we will have difficulty being present in any moment.
But maybe the “lost” moments of which Aidan speaks (and which I’m sure we’ve all felt) aren’t lost at all. Sure, there are times when we can (and should) put the phone down and look our children in the eyes and get on the floor to play with them and engage in conversation when conversation presents itself. There are times when we need to put the car in park and turn to our children and offer an apology. But on the other hand, maybe some moments are meant for surrendering to our thoughts. Maybe some moments are the equivalent of white noise, in which case checking our phones (or pondering a work in progress) is perfectly permissible. Maybe our lives are better enriched by honoring these moments too.
I think the trick is in determining which area of our life has the right to claim ownership of the greatest portion of each moment – a feat, I realize, that’s sometimes best accomplished in hindsight.
My favorite line(s) of Aidan’s post is this:
Life is tricky, but there are gorgeous moments where we feel happy. We must not ignore these moments because they have the power to sustain us through less gorgeous times.
Happy Friday, friends. (It’s good to be back.)