I could blame a fast metabolism, or a personality quirk, but those aren’t the heart reasons I have a hard time stopping.
The fear that underlies my quick moving attention is deep and difficult to approach. Like many parts of ourselves that we’d rather not examine, it’s easier to blame it on other things than it is to look square-on at my constantly flickering attention and ask myself –
Why don’t you ever stop? What are you running from?
A stop in the dark
In the middle of the night my three year old cries out – she has been coughing and wants Mama. I go to her and kneel by her bed. Thankfully, she calms quickly as I sit holding her hand. I watch as she stares dreamily at the fish tank glowing nearby. Her face is so peaceful that it stills the other thoughts flitting around my tired brain and I just see her – three years old, lying there in her cozy bed, watching the fish as she falls back asleep.
In that small ‘stop’ I remember my grandmother and the way she would look at me with my kids. “Just enjoy them.” she would say.
Easier said than done, I would think.
But tonight I look at my daughter I think again about my grandmother saying, “Just enjoy them. It only comes once.”
It only comes once.
This is what I run from. I feel the immense pressure of those words. I don’t want to stop…because I’m afraid.
No, I’m terrified, that if I stop and look around I will find out I’m ruining this “only comes once” time.
If I stop, I will have to face the fact that not only do I make mistakes, but that many of my parenting mistakes come from the most loving of intentions gone all wrong.
The perfectionist in me decided years ago, before I ever had kids, that mothering was the task that I would do perfectly.
Well, I can tell you THAT isn’t happening. (You’re all laughing with me now, right?)
But here I am with my daughter in the bedroom she will know the way we know places as children – viscerally and with emotion filled detail. I would bet that years from now she will have a memory of watching those fish the way I can remember the knots in the wood ceiling I used to stare up at as I fell asleep when I was a child.
And all I have to do to be part of those cozy memories is to stop.
Just for a moment I can take a breath and let go of:
What will happen next?
What else should I be doing?
What have I forgotten to do?
Taking a breath, I can stop, and for a few seconds be present, look at my daughter and be here with her.
In that moment when I stop, the world does not come crashing down. Instead something beautiful and timeless happens. In the stopping moment I get the privilege of being aware that I am part of this safety and care as she holds my hand and watches the glowing fish tank.
In those few seconds I look at my daughter and find the tiny balance point before once more rushing along with the fast moving days of life with young children. This night I recall my grandmother saying “It only comes once.” and I realized something.
I have been so afraid of messing up this time period – I run hellbent towards the mythical time that I will finally be the put-together mom I envision who enjoys her children and makes the most of their childhood because it only comes once.
But this is it. I won’t ever be the perfect mom.
And I don’t have to be.
I think about the love my grandmother had in her eyes when she talked about this time in her life and I realize maybe it isn’t about being on all the time, enjoying every moment!
We all have our messy lives to live with the loud and frustrating details, but sprinkled through those days, are the stopping moments.
These are the kind of moments my grandmother hoped I would notice. They are the memories she carried into her nineties. They are the gems she revisited when she looked at her great grand children. The stopping moments aren’t locked away, only given to the perfect. They are there in the cracks of an otherwise unremarkable day and I can collect them too.
All I have to do is stop.