Monday, March 10, 2014

Being Present

Counselors talk a lot about “being present.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encouraged teens and parents to unplug their cell phones, turn off their computers, and carve out some time to be present with one another. Sometimes I suggest taking a walk together after dinner, spending a weekend afternoon outdoors, or just eating a meal together (without the presence of any electronic devices). Not only is this time important for communication and stress relief, but it allows us to be “present” in our daily lives. In this modern world we live in, we are often more future-oriented than present-oriented - always planning for some infinite event in the near or distant future. For example: soccer tournaments, SAT preparation classes, family vacations, birthday parties, a trip to the grocery store, car repairs, that upcoming insurance payment, taxes…

Personally, my to-do list is about 12-15 items long, and each week, as I check one or two things off, I add at least four or five more items. (Sigh). Every day after leaving work, my cell phone continues to “ding” with notifications, new emails, and reminders, which all distract me from the precious few hours I have at home to be present with my children (who I haven’t seen all day!)

Even the weekends seem hectic, and often I feel compelled to try and power through my endless to-do list - dragging the kids along with me from store to store, just trying to get a few extra things done.

This past Saturday was just this kind of day. I was attending a baby shower in a city an hour away with my 1 year-old daughter. After leaving the house, I realized I was almost out of gas, and that I had forgotten to bring baby wipes (not to mention I only had one spare diaper with me). Instead of turning around and going all the way back home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items. 

I rushed through the aisles, eyes darting, as I looked for the aisle with baby products. I could feel the imaginary clock ticking as I pushed the cart with my daughter, thinking about how late I was probably going to be, and how I still needed to fill up the car with gas.

I approached the self-checkout with my items, tapped quickly and loudly on the screen, swiped my card, bagged the items, and made a beeline for the door. Suddenly, an older woman, about my grandmother’s age, appeared in my line of vision. I looked ahead, thinking she was just passing by, but she got closer, and reached out to touch my shoulder.

“Stop! Oh please stop! You have to let me see that baby!” she exclaimed.

“Oh!” I said, startled, and smiled. “Of course!”

(I was slightly frustrated by the fact that this would throw me even more off schedule, but I certainly did not want to offend such a kind woman.)

She stood quietly for a moment, admiring my daughter, who sat staring back at her from the carseat.

“She’s beautiful,” she whispered.

All this time, as I rushed through the aisles and the self-checkout, I realized I had not once stopped to smile or even look at my daughter. I was so focused on getting to the baby shower, sticking to my schedule, and finding the closest gas station, that I had completely forgotten one of the most important people in my life was sitting right in front of me.

I could feel my shoulders relax and the tension in my face melt away, as I stared at my daughter and thought to myself: Yes, I am so lucky.

“Thank you,” I replied.

To my surprise, she grabbed my cheeks with her hands (just as a grandmother would) and told me to enjoy my little ones, because, “They grow so fast!”

You’re absolutely right. Too fast! My son is going to kindergarten next year. How is that possible? My baby is no longer a baby - she’s a toddler! My oldest will be ten this year.

I thanked her again, and slowly headed for the door.

Walking towards the car, I noticed that I no longer could hear the imaginary clock ticking loudly, and I was no longer rushed to find the next gas station. As I sang a little song to my daughter and smiled at her on my way to the car, I noticed that I felt lighter and happier.

As we drove to find a gas station, I realized the Universe had just reached out, touched me on the shoulder, and given me a very important message:

SLOW DOWN and be present.

For more inspiration and guidance, I would recommend checking out Rachel Macy Safford’s blog: This blog has some wonderful posts related to parenting, letting go, and being present. She also has a brand new book, titled: “Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!”