When my children were younger I was rarely present. They would chatter on to me and my mind would be a million miles away. I would realize, mid-conversation, that I had no idea what they had just told me. My body was there, but my mind was projected into some imagined future, far away from the mundane, discordant and often painful reality of the present moment.
Today, when my children talk to me, I stop what I am doing and focus on them. If I’m in the middle of something that requires my attention, I ask them to hold on for a moment until I’m done and able to be present with them. I don’t want to miss anything.
The shift was not a sudden one, but happened gradually over the past couple of years. The more I healed from the shock and injury of my ordeal, the easier it became to relax into the present moment.
My son is at a beautiful age where he is gaining his independence, but still loves to spend time talking to me. Sometimes he will accompany me to the grocery store and we will walk down the aisles and chat about everything and nothing. He drinks in my company like a thirsty traveler and I drink in his.
My daughter is now in the tween years and is often lost in her own world. I crave conversation with her where she isn’t distracted by a book or video. I find myself planning what I might say to her that will capture her attention for a while. I wonder if that’s how she felt all those years when I was never fully available.
Sometimes, I am struck by their beauty. A gentle smile, a unique idea, a witticism, the curve of a cheekbone, a spray of freckles over the nose. And in that moment I am overwhelmed with emotion.
Every day I wake up and I am grateful for their presence in my life. I write these words with hesitancy, as I know how they sound. Parenting is hard. It can be relentless, exhausting, thankless. But I also know that for a period of several years, I worried daily that they might be taken from me or, more likely, I from them. It was the stark reality I lived with.
Today, I can’t be in their presence without feeling a keen sense of gratitude. It is an honor to make their meals, battle with them over homework and awaken to comfort them in the middle of the night.
If I was granted one wish, it would be to reel back time so that I could be present, really and truly present, with my kids when they were younger. I would give anything to sit again with my four-year old daughter and play mind-numbing board games, or simply sit in the silence of an afternoon and hold my sleeping son, feeling his breath rise and fall against my chest. I did these things with my kids, of course, but my mind was far away. So focused on a distant world that I missed the bounty before me.
I realize that this was my way of coping. To be fully present, I would have had to experience all that was untenable in my marriage. I would have had to listen to the persistent voice of my intuition, telling me all was not right. I would have had to acknowledge, and then act on, the discomfort and fear. I wasn’t yet ready to do that.
Now, the present moment is not such a scary place. It is calm and unexpectedly beautiful. It is sometimes sad, sometimes lonely, often joyful, but never untenable.
It is a place that feels like home and one I don’t want to ever leave again.