How can we be more present in our lives? How can we get better at being Here?
In April, I kicked off the Here Year, a yearlong tackling of these important (I think) questions. First, I studied presence through the lens of Home. This month, I chose to tackle Parenthood & Presence and decided this venture had a missing piece and invited the wonderful Lindsey Mead to join me in my thinking. And now May is fading. So here I am, messily wrapping things up with few things I've learned this month. Not sure whether they are rules or reminders, tools or tips or tricks or merely half-formed thoughts, but they are something and something I'm happy to share. Maybe one of these bits will strike you or make you think? That's the hope.
Take things that happen at home and in the world and turn them into teachable moments. Our kids go to school, but we are their most important teachers. It's up to us to teach them that sometimes murky line between right and wrong, to explain why things are as they are. It is nearly impossible to be absent in these moments because they demand all of us.
Tell your kids bits about your life they might not know or bits about your life before they were born. Recently, I went into Big Girl's classroom and talked about life as an author. This prompted discussions afterwards with my girl where I really felt truly engaged with her. Sometimes when my littlest cries, I will tell her a story (sometimes fictional!) about how I used to get sad when I was a little girl to0, but then XYZ... It's amazing how well this works. My favorite telling recently? Somehow, Big Girl and I got into a conversation about college. What is college? she wanted to know. And oh my explanation: It's sleepaway school, I said. Like Hogwarts? Sure. You get to study what you want and stay up late and you make lots of friends and have great conversations, but you have to work hard to get there! Oh, and a huge one: Tell your kids when you are proud of them. Not necessarily in the obvious moments after a soccer game or a gymnastics demonstration, but in the in-between times when you notice kindness or effort.
Talk to your kids, really talk to them. They are people, albeit on the small side. They crave our eye contact and our attention and our questions and our thoughts on the world. They thrive on this interaction. Ask them about their days and about their dreams. Listen to their stories and their ideas and their fears. When we are really talking with our kids, we are present with them and they can tell.
One of my favorites. I tickle my girls. All. The. Time. What a surefire way to lighten life, to elicit those infections giggles. I think there is something profoundly important about physical affection and mix it with silliness and you've got gold. I've even been tickling at bedtime recently which I know is a big no-no. Husband sometimes gives me that don't rile 'em up look, but I keep going. We can't be lost on our phones and tickling them at the same time, right?
Treasure moments and experiences with them. Make them realize how special things are. Look at that pigeon! Look how many colors he has. Look at how he's nibbling the crumbs. Isn't that the most beautiful blue sky? Aren't the clouds so perfectly puffy? Do you realize how lucky you are to live in this city? That Swedish Fish you're having before 9am? Appreciate it. It's up to us to teach our kids to see the world with gratitude and awe and appreciation. While we are working on being present, we can teach them what we learn.
Tuck your kids into bed. Establish rituals. Make it a fun, predictable time. Husband and I are not home for bedtime every night. We've been going on twice-weekly date nights since Big Girl was born (a huge luxury, I know), but when we are there, we are there. Bedtime is often utter mayhem, but it's also deep family time. And there is nothing better, I'm willing to wager, than pulling those covers up over your child and giving that goodnight kiss. For me, these are moments when I feel most here. Those moments in their darkened bedrooms when day is slipping swiftly to night.
We must think about how we are parenting and how present we really are. It's a continued effort, isn't it? We must tinker with things, edit our ways, embrace the fact that no one of us is, or ever will be, a perfect mom or dad. Perfection is not the goal. We must not just think about our kids and our parenting, but with them. I'm not sure there is anything more engaging than sitting with a child and thinking about a problem or project together or imagining a world.
Take your kids to new places and experience these places with them. It doesn't need to be a fancy trip. Maybe it's to a new street or corner of the playground. Also, and a biggie: Take away the thing that threatens presence most. Maybe it's your phone and you need rules around it. Maybe it's your job and you need rules around it. Maybe it's a habit? For me, hands down, removing alcohol from my life has been it. I can rattle off list after list of tips and tools, but taking away my numbing agent has bolstered my presence like nothing else. What is the thing you need to take out of the equation? You are the only one who knows the answer to this question.
Let them see you fail. Let them fail. Tripping and stumbling and fumbling are part of life, of what it means to be human and I would wager to say that these moments of failure and fallibility are perhaps the biggest opportunities to connect with our kids. It is up to us to model grit and perseverance and forgiveness and to teach them that no one expects them to be perfect, that perfect isn't all that interesting anyway.
The biggest of all. We must try. Try to be good people and good parents and good citizens of this big world. We can attempt to be more present in our lives, but we will invariably fall short. What matters, what matters most, is that we are working, that we are trying, to improve ourselves and our lives, that we are expending effort. Our kids pick up on things. They know when we are enthusiastic and when we are apathetic, when we have our head in the game and when we are on another planet. And we will be on another planet sometimes - that's life - but what we must do is snap ourselves back, back to the world, back to these precious creatures that are ours, and try.
June beckons. The kids are almost out of school. Time marches on at its ruthless clip. Next Monday, Lindsey and I will announce our next topic. It's a good one. A challenging one, as you will see. Thanks so much to all of you for being here, for following along.