The Present

Monday, Jul 28, 2014

We've been a little short on sleep lately. 

Four days at the cottage have made a mess of naptimes and bedtimes- campfires, early sunrises, shared rooms. Our little boy is covered with mosquito bites. Every piece of clothing we own seems to need washing. The emails have accumulated. The garden needs work.

Very young children are a joy to be around- they see the world differently. We adults balance the past, present, and the future all at once. Toddlers are not preoccupied, they're just occupied. Their mostly-undeveloped prefrontal cortexes can only live in the present. They are uninhibited, unselfconscious. They are a delight to watch- running in circles, stooping to admire every pebble and twig, making silly faces, meticulously arranging cheerios.

It's a paradox, though, that what is delightful about very young children is also frustrating. Toddlers don't seem to grasp urgency, or any reason not to wake their sleeping siblings, or why their parents might not want to read the same book twelve times in a row. They protest our explanations and consolations; to them, "after lunch" might as well be next year.

One of the trickiest parts of being a parent is the clash between the demands and desires of our own lives and the ever-present needs/wants/impossible desires of our kids. We can't fully put aside our planning, preparations and concerns for the future; nor should we, as responsible adults entrusted with the care of our families. But our kids remind us to be mindful; that if we can't live in the present, really, we can't live at all.

It's evening; the kids are finally asleep, the toys put away, the dishes done. The possibilities beckon. Uninterrupted conversation! Curling up with a new book! Do we maybe have time for a movie?

A sound from upstairs. Our boy is crying.

My husband and I look at each other and sigh. "I'll go up," he tells me. He goes upstairs. The sobs gets louder, piteous. "Mommy!" I go upstairs. Eventually, he seems mostly soothed by a glass of water. I stroke his arms and chest and cross the movie off my list.

I think he's asleep, but when I start to get up, he whispers a groggy "more tickle." He turns over and I stroke his back. I watch my son fall asleep, one arm flung out, the other holding his bunny close. His breathing slows, a deep sigh. I hold his hand and breathe him in.

Earlier in the evening I walked past my tiny girl, tummy-down on her playmat. I'm grateful that she's entertained herself pretty well today. I'm bringing in some basil from the garden for tonight's meal, hauling a grubby boy ("don't touch the walls!") in from the sandbox. I notice her toys are out of reach for the moment; she's backed herself into the corner. As I scan the floor for a toy to nudge back to her with my foot, I see her face: she's looking up at me, beaming.

I don't need to be there beside my kids every moment. But when I'm there, I want to be there.

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