I want to learn more to live in the moment. Little guys seem to know how to do that intuitively, like they have no sense of what’s down the road. Just the joy of the “right now” – a dinosaur pancake on a Saturday morning is splendid enough.
I’ll never forget the time that I walked up on our first-born Christie, when she was not even 2, and happily coloring on the hallway wall. As soon as I appeared, her reverie stopped abruptly, causing her to even startle and catch herself, with the guilty crayon held still in mid-air.
She knew she was in trouble. Her eyes went wide and her little mouth froze open. Of course, I didn’t discipline her, but I didn’t take a picture of her crayon drawing either. We grownups too often are bound to the future, and the proper raising of children, rather than focusing in on what we have right in front of us. A beautiful little girl who had lost herself in a white wall with a crayon in her hand.
That little girl is all grown up now, a teacher of little ones herself.When I hear her talk about her childhood, there’s so much lovely detail. She has a great memory, and I thoroughly enjoy her recaps of times gone by. I have lost too many of these details that are so vivid to her, and I’m thinking there are at least two reasons why. One reason, of course, is that the memories are hers. Those things happened to her. I was a bystander, usually an interested one, but too often, a distracted one. Then there’s a second reason – life itself bombards us with so much to notice. It’s like the experience of a baseball fan whose attention is drawn from the game by what’s happening on the big screen, or by the antics of some crazy person down the row from you, or by a hawker with just the snack you were watching for. There’s so much going on, you miss huge chunks of the baseball game…if you’re like me.
Life happens at many levels all the time. We choose where we focus our minds…our attention.
As a parent with small children, attending to their needs was an in-and-out mental work. I could hone in when I needed to be fully there to meet their needs. Learning to quickly discern if they were wet, hungry, tired, hurt, mad. And I would, at times, just be fully involved from the sheer joy of having them in my life. Their babytalk, their discoveries, their accomplishments, their wonder at the world around them, their work and play, their sleeping times. Then there were other moments, however, when they were content with their cereal, or toys, or Daddy, and I would focus out – to a radio program, a phone call, or an idea or problem I was working on silently in my head.
This being my reality, there are details I don’t remember, or don’t remember well, because, in a way, I really wasn’t there. Not that there is a moral issue necessarily at work here. It’s a reality of having the capacity of both attending to the needs before us, and thinking of other needs, or desires, not yet before us. It’s one of the dichotomies that come to mind when I hear women who want to be stay-at-home moms because they don’t want to miss their children. We can still miss our children, even when they’re hanging on our hips, or taking ballet right in front of us, or reading their first books to us, or playing those soccer games. We can be talking to other moms, thinking about what’s on the schedule tomorrow, or sorting out how to deal with a conflicted relationship. We can mentally be very absent from our children.
I don’t want to miss the people right in front of me anymore. I want to learn to be in the moment…the moments ahead will take care of themselves.
A Bit of Instructions on How to Live a Good Life – Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.
One Thing Well (the multi-tasking trap)
How to Miss a Childhood
How to Miss a Moment
P.S. My children were little, a couple of decades ago, before the internet or cell phones were our constant companions. Our lives were quiet compared to today’s assault on the senses. This is the culture in which they will raise their children. I write this for them…not to encourage them to focus on their children in an unhealthy, child-centered way, but to be all there with them. And when they must attend to other responsibilities or relationships, to teach their children that others matter, too. We can, joyfully, live in the moment – focused, intentional, generous, and aware.