With the eruption of toys, food, dare I say…bodily fluids, all around me I catch myself glancing over at the wall clock for the third time in an hour, and counting down the hours until bedtime. At that moment, it feels like all I can do is make it through the day. It is times like this that the days seem to stretch out before us and blur together in a rhythm of routine. The present moment getting lost as we rush from one thing to the next, all the while feeling as if we are in a haze of monotony. At some point, some, if not all of us, might find ourselves in a state of autopilot–absentmindedly running through those many functions we know we must complete to avoid certain chaos, but “barely there.”
Even our conversations with our chatty toddlers or teenagers can seem to have automatic responses programmed in to interject at perfectly timed intervals. I’ve caught myself replying to my toddler with, “you sure can,” to which he replied with utter amazement, “really?!” At that exact moment, I seemed to have been shaken from my haze of dishes and suds by his elevated excitement.
“Wait, what?!” I asked him, eager to see what uncertain fate I had already agreed to.
It isn’t that we don’t love–live for–those beautiful, priceless interactions with our cherished children; it simply is that there are times when we feel as though we have entered a conscious state that feels almost robotic with routine and responsibilities. Everyday preparing food at approximately 2.5 to 3-hour intervals, only to follow with cleaning up a growing percentage of that food that soiled the floor. To be followed by the mountain of dishes that cascades onto the counter from the overflowing sink. From cleaning up the umpteenth accident on the floor while potty training, to racing from the school pickup line to another after-school activity, our presence in the very moment unfolding before us seems to wane.
It’s understandable. We aren’t robots. Our energy, strength, stamina and mental capacity do have a limit. Aside from our daily demands, it can become second nature to be distracted by the unwavering influx of emails, texts, phone calls we feel we need to respond to in that moment. Or calming to simply “tag out” and check-in throughout the day with social media in our attempt to stay connected with others and relieve some of the loneliness that creeps in. That, too, is understandable. But, how often does our screen time become routine in that we automatically check our devices without giving it any thought at all. If we calculate the time we spend scrolling, clicking, and responding a day, we might be pleasantly surprised and wonder what it is that we missed out on.
There is something absolutely vital that is being stripped from us in those moments spent “barely there.” To be completely raw, there have been days where I have felt as though I have done nothing but rush from one thing to the next, only to be halted with the simple, yet painful thought, “when’s the last time I purposefully went up to my kid and did something…anything to make them laugh or smile.” I’m talking about those contagious, belly laughs that leave them red in the face and gasping for air–you know, the ones we live for as parents. The ones that make us think, “this is the exact reason why I do this. All of the madness that ensues, it is all worth it if I could just see this smile and hear this laugh echo all around me.”
When we live on autopilot, racing from one thing to the next, or with our thoughts drifting to anywhere else but what exists in the present before us, we are unknowingly missing out on those precious, ever-fleeting opportunities to embrace the essence of this very moment with our children. Whether it is rolling around on the floor tickling them, kicking a ball around, or having an irrational conversation about cereal boxes transforming into runaway trains, those brief moments fill our lives with love and refill our emotional tanks as parents. We need them just as much as our children, if not more.
A day will come when a complete 180° shift happens when our children are older with a life of their own. We are present in it, but no longer the ringleaders or main entertainment, merely spectators enjoying their dance upon the stage. A day will come when we will be the ones eager to engage them in conversation and their minds or focus may be elsewhere. A day will come when we are asking to “play” with them, and they are the ones rushing off to tend to their growing responsibilities. (The song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” just popped into my head and I had to laugh at the irony.)
It is so easy to become distracted by the surmounting chores, the relentless messages we must reply to, or the racing thoughts in our minds, but I want to encourage all of us to reevaluate how we interact in the present. How do we organize our day so that we do leave more pockets of time for those brief, yet unforgettable moments of earning contagious laughter. One idea is to start the routine of leaving pockets of time free of chores, errands, and screens; where we gather around and talk about our day, sit and play with them, or spontaneously tickle them to the floor.