Being present

Often, when I’m hanging out at the park with my son we’re with other parents and their children. Inevitably, as the kids play, we comment on their natures and, invariably, based on the characteristics displayed in that particular moment, someone starts to make predictions about what each one will be when they grow up.

Watching my son play in the sandbox at the park, I marvel at the fact that he can spend hours moving sand from pail to pail, enthralled with the possibilities that each grain presents, as if each movement were truly a depiction of the sands of time. And it strikes me that this is not the only activity in which he is capable of completely immersing himself, wholly absorbed as if nothing else exists in the world. For him, unlike us grownups, there is no past and future, only the here and now.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of a poster that I had on my wall as a child that stated “Happiness is as a butterfly, which if pursued is just beyond your grasp but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Although I must have read this particular poem countless times each night for numerous years, and could recite it off the top of my head, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to absorb its message.

Now, on quiet spring evenings when I sit on my back patio sipping wine while watching my plants enjoy each stage of their growth, I marvel at how in their stillness they’re actually morphing into the shape they’re destined to be. And I think about how, for myself, it’s now the moment that’s precious instead of the end destination. Be it moments of pure happiness, utter dejection, wild abandon and elation, or mere indifference, I’ve finally come to the realization that it’s only by experiencing the process of life in all its incarnations that I’ll be able to grow and evolve. And with this realization has come the freedom from trying to capture the future by trying to take care of every eventually through preemptively forcing things into nice little boxes that can be neatly categorized. By being in the moment, I now find myself more open to doors in the present that I would not have noticed at an earlier time, bypassing them as a result of assumptions that they are irrelevant to future that I’m supposed to have.

This change has been in large part as a result of being a parent, and I know that I’m forever indebted to my son for teaching me this valuable lesson. I also know that as a parent, one of the ways that I can repay my son is by helping him to hold on to this gift of being in the moment so that as he grows into adulthood, not only does he evolve into who he is destined to be but he enjoys all of the individual moments that make up the journey, treasuring the magic of each unreplicable experience while exploring the possibility that each brings.

Time vs. money

As a single mom solely responsible for my son, it seems as if the demands are constant. The bills for food, clothing, activities, and basic living expenses are unrelenting, creating an unending pressure that requires me to be innovative, flexible, and not too picky in terms of what I am willing to do to make ends meet.

As a result of this tangible and ever-present requirement imposed on me from the outside, I find myself constantly in conflict with my desire for the good life and the desire to simply pack up, retrench our lifestyle, and devote myself full-time to spending time with and raising my son. It is in these moments that a childhood memory comes to mind.

In grade school, I had a close friend named Christy. She lived in the best part of town, in a fantastic house that was always immaculate and stocked with the coolest goodies around. She was also always kitted out in the latest fashions, in possession of the hottest new items, and in the ‘best’ school.

What slowly became apparent throughout our high school years, however, was that she was missing one crucial thing: her parents’ love and attention. Both high-earning lawyers, they were away most of the week from dawn to midnight, leaving her in the care of the housekeeper who came in daily but left in the evening to take care of her own family.

Throughout the years, Christy became embroiled in many escapades. These ranged from being kicked out of both grade school and high school for sexual misconduct, kicked out of university for unsatisfactory grades, and a series of failed relationships and careers.

Over the course of our friendship, I reflected on the differences in our upbringing. Unlike her, my brother and I were rarely given ‘the best’. Instead, we were taught how to enjoy hitting a garage sale, delight in finding a bargain, revel in being different by possessing the unique, and to be creative in figuring out how to get and work towards obtaining the items that we really wanted. Most importantly, though, we had our parents by our side: guiding us towards our goals, cheering us on when we felt like we lacked the ability or strength to accomplish what we had set out to do, providing us with the scaffolding that we needed in a hundred invisible ways while consistently showering us with love and a belief that we could do whatever it was that we set out to.

And so, as I scrub my floor for what feels like the thousandth time this month and feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, I remind myself that more important than providing my son with the ‘right’ material goods is the importance of giving him a strong and unyielding current of love composed of my presence and the values that I inculcate in him as it is these that will weave for him an invisible tapestry that he can don at will, providing him with the strength and resources required to believe in himself and accomplish whatever he dares to envision.

Everyone’s got an opinion

When I was pregnant with my first child, aside from the ‘Big Love’ everyone guaranteed me was coming my way, parents, family, friends, and even complete strangers started giving me unsolicited advice and tips from the parenting trenches. It quickly became clear how much I didn’t know and needed to learn in order to create a healthy baby and then raise a well-adjusted, intelligent, happy, and contributing member of society.

So, I started to read. I read about what I needed to eat during my pregnancy. I read about the ideal delivery method for minimizing birthing trauma to the baby. And I read about what to do once the baby came home and parenting officially began.

By then, I was eight months pregnant and almost insane with a craving to engage in gluttony with anything deep-fried or composed of pure refined sugar. I refrained, of course, because all the books promised that as long as I followed their listed recommendations, I would be the perfect mother raising the perfect child.

Then, I gave birth and reality set in. It first appeared in the delivery room when the doctor pulled out the forceps and all I could hear were fourteen scandalized voices whispering ‘She won’t push anymore, she just won’t! And she took the epidural!’.

Reality then followed me home. And it was there, subject to randomly unsolicited proclamations about how ‘This baby needs an undershirt’ and dictates about the unequivocal superiority of specific feeding and sleeping schedules, that I realized something. Everyone’s got an opinion. And when it comes to babies and parenting, everyone feels entitled to air it.

When I asked my cousin, a veteran mom of three kids, if she had ever noticed this trend during her mothering career, she started to laugh. Oh, do you mean when people from older generations let you know how much better their way is (In my day, we had babies eating solids and toilet-trained by the age of three months, sniff)? Or, do you mean when people talk to you through your baby (Poor you. Your little hands are soooooooooo cold. Your mommy didn’t dress you warmly enough this morning.)? Or, do you mean other parents who don’t tell you what to do directly, but let you know what they think anyway (Oh, are you doing that? or Oh, I wouldn’t do that!).

Listening to her, I laughed and the tension that had enveloped me in my endeavor to be the perfect mom that never made a mistake started to dissipate. In that instant, I realized that parenting is a process. There are no last chances for success. As long as you love your child fiercely, do the best that you can do at any given moment, and forgive yourself for the moments that you don’t, things will turn out more than ok.