I desperately tried to “live in the moment” when my kids were little. Standing in line at the grocery store with my child crying in the stroller, inevitably some well-meaning person behind me would lean over and say: “appreciate this time because it goes too fast.” I was always tempted to respond: “God I hope it goes fast, because I am exhausted.” Or sometimes I fantasized about saying: “Which part do you want me to appreciate? The sound of my child’s screech or the dull ache in my lower back?” But I bit my tongue because I always knew what the good samaritan meant, even though I was rarely able to heed the kind advice. I could at least understand, if not act, on the reality that amidst the day to day mundane tasks of parenting small children, there were magical moments that would never come again.
The early years of parenting passed as quickly as those kind strangers warned me they would. And for the most part, I failed to appreciate the deliciousness of my son’s chubby hand pressed against my cheek. On the whole, I forgot to drink in the milk and honey morning breath of my toddlers. But what’s done is done, there is no going back, and I still have four growing children living in my house. The opportunity to “live in the moment” has not entirely gone for me as a parent, it just looks, sounds and smells differently.
I’ve been working on a new phrase that more accurately reflects the intention of living in the moment, a term without the tinge of my past failures to do so. As opposed to “living in the moment,” I want a phrase that will look awful on a t-shirt and will garner no likes on Instagram. I want a term that will never be put on an apron with a glass of rosé next to it. I just want a few word that will zap me to pay attention when I start to drift. For now, I think I’ll just call it being THERE, and not in the Peter Sellers kind of way. I want to be THERE, wherever THERE is, in the way Lisa Damour described a couple of years ago, as a “potted plant parent.” Damour talks about how being a parent to older kids often just means being around, not even necessarily saying a lot, much like a potted plant.
When my kids were younger, I felt like I had a constant verbal patter going – asking them questions, pointing out things out for them to notice, making observations about the world around us. But these days, I’ve realized that being THERE, doesn’t actually mean saying much at all. It might mean sitting with my kids while they do their homework, but it doesn’t mean explaining a difficult math problem to them. It might mean nodding sympathetically when my daughter complains about being separated from her close friends, but it doesn’t mean promising her that she will make new friends who will be just as close. It might mean listening to my son unload about a test score he sees as unjust, but it doesn’t mean offering to step in with his teacher.
Particularly in times like the beginning of the school year, in moments of transitions and new beginnings, I am often so eager to show my kids that I support them, that I fill the blank spaces by asking lots of questions or rambling on. But in the spirit of being THERE, I’m thinking I should just shut up and sit down and see what my children say in times of quiet. While I may have missed the boat on living in the moment while the moment involved mashed bananas and rickety lego towers, I have not missed the opportunity to be THERE in a new way. Being THERE for my bigger kids is almost the opposite of what being present might have meant when my kids were little. Parenting small kids is physically exhausting and intellectually mind-numbing. Parenting older kids is rather sedentary, but mentally intense. There are nights when my husband and I literally just sit on the couch, pausing and un-pausing Netflix as our children cycle in and out of the living room with needs, questions and complaints. Our kids bring us topics ranging from the philosophical to the sexual, from the religious to the interpersonal. On a nearly nightly basis we are required to address issues we have never before faced as parents, and just like when our children were small, sometimes parenting is thrilling and sometimes quite mundane.
The ship has sailed on living in the moment but there is still time to be THERE. And if I ever get bored being THERE, I can just go pee or make a phone call, because as every mother can attest, that’s always the minute your kids come looking for you.