The last six weeks for me have been a whirlwind of busy. Mostly good things, some not so good. A wonderful vacation complete with a full week of jet lag upon return, several holiday dinners at my house where my dining room table had to be EMPTY, out of town visitors and a chance for me to play tourist and tour director in my own fabulous city. I am exhausted.
One thing I noticed during this busy time, was that I was not always able to….well, to notice. (At least I noticed that……). It was sometimes hard to be present in the moment, to observe what was going on around me, to notice my emotions, to be fully present with a conversation with others in a social setting. Sometimes I was busy with the mental to-do list in my head, thinking about the next thing. That is unfortunate, though it happens sometimes to all of us.
This morning I woke up with next-to-nothing on my to-do list. And as I stood at my kitchen sink and looked outside, there was a cardinal on a bush, staying quite still. So I watched him for a few minutes and then I took a picture, which I am sharing with you today. Seeing cardinals in my yard has always been a reminder to me to stop and watch, and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of nature.
The point of my back story is to say…..I certainly do not always practice what I preach. Even when I know the better answer, I keep going. It’s a long-time pattern of mine that I am trying to break. The truth is, I would be better off with half the activities and to experience them twice as deeply. That is a goal. And I achieve it sometimes, and other times I do not.
In my practice I see a lot of kids and their parents. Living on the north shore, parents are able to provide many great activities for their children, in order to help them find their interests and to develop skills and friendships. The nice thing about trying lots of activities is that children might figure out one or two that they enjoy and can do pretty well. Maybe something they will do in high school or college, or even into adulthood. Having an interest or hobby, setting a goal and making improvements is very important to children’s sense of self. Not all kids find school to be a tremendous source of self-esteem – school is hard for lots of kids for lots of reasons – so these outside activities and hobbies are important.
Kids move from one thing to the next in their busy weeks, and you have to wonder if they are able to be “in the moment” with what they are doing. Or whether they are subconsciously thinking….”I have a lot of homework after soccer tonight” or “when can I have a day after school that I don’t have to be anywhere?” On to the next thing on their to-do list. And parents, therefore, are running at that speed….times whatever number of kids they have. No wonder everyone feels a little stressed out.
One thing I notice while talking to kids and to their parents is the feeling I get that there is little time for the very slow, calm, together moments like reading a book together, playing a game, laughing at the dinner table, doing a puzzle, or walking to the ice cream store and talking along the way. And in fact, there is NOTHING BETTER for kids’ development of their self-esteem and confidence than those very real, quiet, uninterrupted moments. That is when kids are more likely to talk and tell us their inner thoughts. And that is not just the 9 year-olds, but even our adult children who might sit with us over a cup a tea and talk about a relationship, job or how to juggle a new baby, spouse and going back to work. These moments are what makes for solid relationships, in the present and in the future. And when we help our kids learn how to have solid, authentic relationships, we teach them to do that with others too, either now or in the future.
There really is no gift we can give our children that is bigger and better than our quiet, calm and interested presence.
I’m not saying to forgo the activities that children do to help them figure out their interests, passions and strengths. I’m just talking about balancing it with these quiet times.
So take your children to pick some apples. Then bake an apple pie together. Draw some pumpkins to put on the windows. Listen to a rainstorm. Ask a question at dinner that everyone gets to answer. Have your child read a story to you. Even if they can’t read, they know it by heart!
For me, I am not entertaining again until Thanksgiving. And if my dining room table piles up with stuff again, I am not going to sweat it. I will gather my family together in the kitchen for dinner, and ask them each how their day was. And listen. And enjoy the moment. And I hope they will enjoy it too.