One of my greatest challenges is staying present in the moment. My mind wanders often to the past, dredging up mistakes I’ve made, stupid comments I’ve said, and times when I was a complete asshole. If I’m not stuck thinking about the past, I’m looking at the future trying to figure out what comes next. So often I can’t just sit in the moment and enjoy what is right in front of me right now.
I’m not one of those parents who tries to soak up every moment, take every picture, and work too hard to be happy and fulfilled as parent. Parenting is hard and sometimes not even a little bit fulfilling. It’s poop everywhere with a side of spit up (or vomit if they’re older) plus whining, complaining, challenging boundaries, and telling you how stupid they think you are. It blows my mind how many people want to lecture new parents, parents-to-be, or even newlyweds on how AMAZING and REWARDING parenthood is and when is the baby due or when are you going to start trying for a baby?
Once you have your baby, the “just you wait” stage starts with all these warnings about how to sleep train your baby because you will be so tired with all the nightly waking. Or just wait until teething starts. And then it’s wait until they’re crawling, walking, running, arguing with you, going to school, trying to get a tattoo at 14, running off on the back of a motorcycle with a guy named Fred instead of graduating from high school.
The crazy part is when you are expecting your baby or trying for a baby, or just getting home from the hospital, you have all those notions of what your baby will and won’t do. My oldest was going to be a great soccer player, wear the best clothes and like looking nice, and he was going to be a great student. He would never run around a restaurant, and he would always be well-behaved wherever we want.
He wasn’t much of that at all. He hated soccer so much that he begged his coach to take him off the field, never volunteered to start, and threw himself on the ground in “pain” when no one was around him. He had sensory issues and hated jeans, long sleeve shirts with tight cuffs on the wrists, sweaters, and preferred to wear only athletic pants. He didn’t care if he was clean or filthy and he hated having his nose wiped. He had allergies, so his nose was always running and his face was a snotty mess. He was extremely smart, loved to read, and was naturally good at math. But he has ADHD and being in a classroom of 28 students provided way too much stimulation. He was always distracted. He had trouble staying focused. He was always marked down for behavior and excessive talking. We got calls from the principal all the time. He just couldn’t help it. He also had OCD so if anyone touched him or put their hands on his desk or near his artwork, he lashed out because everything had to be just so or he would get agitated. He loved to order his own food at restaurants and was never intimidated to politely request his own refills. But that took years. From 18 months to about 4 years old, he threw crayons, screamed, ripped up coloring sheets, and wanted to get down and run around. We stopped eating out and only tried every few months until he could handle it. He tried hard to behave but it could only last a few minutes at most before he was overwhelmed by lighting, noise, excitement at seeing relative, whatever was going on at the moment. So he wasn’t the child I thought I could create.
What he did was teach me more about myself that I could ever learn on my own. I used to be rigid and needed to be in control. I let myself be dominated by fear and anxiety. I projected those fears onto others. I wasn’t adaptable. I wasn’t the kind, patient, understanding person I thought I was. And most of all, I needed to work more on myself than making a carbon copy of what I wanted to be.
He taught me how to be present and how to trust others. How to just let a moment play out. How to calm myself from the inside out to see who I was without the interference of others. He taught me that I can take control of fears and anxiety but let go of control in a way that was holding me back from the good things in life. He showed me that control was just an illusion. And right now he is showing me that parenting a 19 year old is less about parenting and more about holding space for his growth by experimentation. That he needs to forge his own path forward and make his own mistakes, even if I have already learned from that mistake. The wisdom that comes from your own mistakes is so much sweeter and hard earned that the wisdom you didn’t have to work for. Sure he could listen to what I tell him when he asks for advice, but then he doesn’t remember the lesson like he does when he tries, fails, and then finds his own answer.
It’s easy to be present for him now. I am excited to see where he takes himself in life, but for now I am enjoying the ride, the phone calls where he thanks me for loving him and holding him accountable, for letting him make his own choices that aren’t like mine were at his age, and for helping him understand that there’s always time for a do-over as long as he’s still alive. He’s so grateful for the opportunity to search in his heart and soul for what comes next instead of just jumping into the rat-race with no idea what is truly fulfilling for him.
I think back often to the little guy who really just wanted to eat the orange slices on the soccer bench and didn’t care much for the game. I suppose if I had been living in the moment back then, I would’ve seen that he was telling me loudly and clearly that my future hopes for him as a soccer standout were a waste of my time. But I was busy daydreaming about his last high school game, where they called his name as a soccer captain after he scored yet another goal. I was not looking at the little boy who would grow up to be kind, loving, a little too generous with his money, and looks at friendships and love as his currency. I missed the part between gobbling up orange slices, where he jumped up and down excitedly for his team as they scored the goals.
It’s never too late to learn how to be present for those you love, including yourself, in the moment when they (you) need you to show up more than they (you) ever did. The past is long gone, you don’t get to have those conversations again. The future is coming up, but not as pressing as right now. And these are the things I keep telling myself. Maybe one day it won’t be as challenging.