The other day I was at a stop light on the way to the grocery store, and an elderly person pushed the crosswalk button at the nearby intersection. Apparently I was in a hurry and those bananas I needed to buy just couldn’t wait another minute because I noticed myself getting annoyed that we had to wait for this person to cross the street. And then suddenly my mind flashed forward about 80 years and I thought of M being that person in the crosswalk, long after I am gone, and I was hoping that the drivers around her wouldn’t get all irritated with her because, hey, that’s my baby you’re talking about. A quick reality check of my own attitude made me realize that the very person in front of me was someone else’s baby at some point long ago, and I should offer the same deference. Not everyone–young or old–moves through life, literally or figuratively, at the same speed and I need to remember that more often and just submit to the paces and strides over which I have no control.
One thing that I am not very good at is slowing down and just living in the moment. This character flaw came into clearer focus not too long after becoming a parent three years ago. Being essentially forced to submit to someone else’s schedule and whims (with an upbeat attitude no less) and put aside all of my own preconceived expectations is challenging at best. And I don’t just mean with my child–it’s with everyone.
I am sure at its base, a lot of it is from feeling stretched in a thousand different directions, often all at one time, often after very little quality sleep or downtime (which I admit is due to some lingering bad habits that have formed since M was born, but I digress). I think it’s also a result of me always trying to get to the next thing, like a checklist of things that “need” to get done. It’s no surprise really, considering that is how so much of our lives are designed from a very young age. You go to school and participate in extracurricular things so you can go to college. You go to college so you can get a decent job. You get a decent job so you can buy a home, pay off your loans and/or start a family. You put money under the mattress so you can retire some day. You retire so you can eek out some enjoyment in your golden years. Then you wait to die. Maybe that last part is a bit harsh, but it isn’t far from the bigger picture.
But the spaces in between is where I now struggle. How to just stop and linger and really savor the moment of eating summer’s last garden tomatoes rather than thinking about the dishes that must be done next, and then the nightly bathtime routine, and on and on. Or how to really just see that when M is a bit more clingy than usual after we get home, that maybe she just needs an extra 10 minutes of hanging out on the couch with me, rather than worry so much that dinner might not start at exactly 6:30 sharp–how easily I forget that she just spent the last 8 hours with someone else that wasn’t me. Or how it’s actually quite funny when she does something like throw an extra handful of flour into the bread machine because it means that she’s learning how to contribute in the kitchen and that I should be at least happy that she didn’t throw it on the floor.
Trying to slow down is something that I am actively working on. For me, it will be a lifelong work in progress. Some people seemingly have an innate ability to just let go and an endless supply of patience and positive attitude. I am not that person or that parent by nature. Lately, more days are better than not, but I often feel like I am still selling myself and my family short because of it. I really do need to loosen up a bit and just enjoy these fleeting moments because before long, I, and then she, will be alone shuffling in that crosswalk, with only the memories of the past as motivation to keep going. I don’t want the bulk of those memories to be of “hurry up’s” or impatient sighs or “it’s time to go” or “it’s too close to dinner”. I want them to be of the secret tastes of sweets before dinner, or an extra lap around the block or a fourth read of this month’s favorite book.
Patience and taking stock of what’s happening in the now will allow me to recognize that while it might be slowing us down if I let M put on her own shoes, I get an extra moment to notice how small her toes still are and she gets a boost of confidence. By allowing us to take one more spin around the block during our nightly stroll, we might get to see that silly squirrel that secretly pokes in and out of the neighbor’s eaves and makes M smile. By letting her read just one more book once in a while before bed, maybe I will help pass along my love of books to her. By letting her linger in her PJs a little longer every now and then, maybe I’ll get another glimpse of her being so absorbed in her play and witness some really fascinating dialogue between her and her dolls.
There are too many schedules in our lives, many of them dictated by forces beyond our control, looming over us like an overcast sky. By trying to slow down the time between those deadlines, I can make my family’s life and therefore my life all the richer. And I am not giving myself a deadline for the task ahead. Time to just go with the flow.