My little boy (or big boy, I suppose I must say these days) graduated from Pre-K last week. This means our days of half-day, play-based school is about to shift into full-day, five days a week, real-deal school.
This means he enters the world of truly big kids.
I’m not ready. I’ll put it out there. I’m just not ready. These past five years have flown by.
Everyone says it, but it’s an experience that each family must feel for itself before it becomes real—the time thing. How fast it moves. How one day your little boy adores Thomas the Train and the next, he’s creating elaborate fight scenes from Star Wars and needing to redecorate his room because it’s “too much baby.”
I can’t even explain how quickly these days have passed.
I have been there for each one, and yet, I can’t figure out how the days could have become years. I measure our time by his stages. From his stage of kissing every Melissa & Doug tool goodnight (then sleeping with them in his crib), to the stage of acting out every page of Hop on Pop (night after night), to his stage of memorizing every Thomas Train’s unique whistle sound, to this current stage of knowing what number, color, and driver every Indy racing car has. His stages mark our days together, the challenging ones, as well as the exciting ones.
And now we are on to a new one. A big one—and beyond.
These years have flown by in a flash. I knew they would, and I tried to stay in them best as I could, but it still went too quickly.
I won’t sit here and tell you to enjoy every moment. Honestly, some moments just aren’t that great. I really can’t say it any other way. Some moments are incredibly tough—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It used to make me irate when well meaning people would tell me to enjoy every minute, that I wouldn’t get them back. The well intentioned comment made me overly tired and overly critical. I felt guilty—that I wasn’t enjoying my children enough, that I wasn’t a good enough mom. That I should be more.
I’m here, with my heart in complete disbelief that these first years are over, to tell you my only words of wisdom. And they are enjoy every minute.
That’s all I know to say.
Be present during the joy, be present during the frustration. Be present. Be present without expectation.
Nowadays, I find myself watching specific moments, as they are happening, as snapshots in an album of our life. I try to save them in my head as photographs, so that I can catalogue them as memories in this quick thing we call life. I want to remember the details. The way his eyes looked the first time he saw a real race car, his ridiculous laughter over the word ‘nostril,’ the exact way in which my daughter announced one day, “Mom? I love you, because you are my mom. But also? I like you. We have fun together. I’m gonna keep you forever.”
Be present. When I’m not paying attention to the now, I miss these snap shots. If I am not present, my mind is too cluttered to recall the nuances of the moment. It all becomes entangled in an indistinguishable mess of memories and time-lapses. And then I feel like the time passed without me.
As mamas, we inevitably have to multitask. We can’t help but answer questions about dinosaur extinction, while stirring the veggies, contemplating details for school the next day and returning the vet’s phone call because your dog needs a new hip. Multi-tasking is a must for moms, and as women, we are wired for it.
But as much as we can—soften the mind. Tone the multitasking down a wee bit. Let it go. Do one thing at a time. Although we must multitask, often, to make daily lifework (I’m pretty sure the only way out of this is to hire a complete staff), we must also take the time to move slowly. To focus on one aspect of our life at a time. Life gets so much juicier when we come from that place.
We mothers need to realize we can only be in the place where we are.
It sounds stupid—to realize we can only be where we are. But it’s true. We can only be in one place at one time. Yet, we attempt to solve problems all over the place. We think ahead and around and behind us constantly. We try so hard to be so many things at once. We run ourselves ragged, and then we are left picking up the pieces of our frazzled selves. Instead of responding to our children from a place of presence and wholeness, we are detached, hurried, and tired.
The antidote? Be present.
The Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, says, ‘When you are washing the dishes, wash the dishes.”
It’s a profound practice.
When we take each moment for what it is, do it with intention and heart and grace, all that extra stuff that seems to get in the way fades away. I find that the tension in my neck and head subsides. I feel laughter bubbling up more often. I try to come back to “washing dishes” as much as possible.
When I am working, I am working. When I am listening to a story about which friend he sat by at lunch, I listen.
Lovely sentiments, I know. But how? Trust me—I’m not naturally a carefree, no-worries-in-the-world kind of gal. I’m the grown up version of the child, who at age eight, created a chart on a giant piece of paper that listed all my stuffed animals down one side and the days of the week across the top. This chart lived inside my closet door and was to ensure that I was spending equal amounts of time having each stuffed animal sleep in my bed, lest one have his/her feelings hurt.
That’s who I am.
So being present and calm and working from the heart and not the mind—that’s not something that has come easily. I’ve worked at this skill. And I’m not being dramatic when I tell you that learning to be present has saved my sanity, my joy, my confidence, truthfully—my life.
Here are a few of my go-to techniques—
As often as you can, breathe fully and completely. Pay attention to your breath. Notice what is happening when you are having one of those Mama-anxiety moments. Breathe. Slow down. Breathe into your belly, breathe all the way into your feet. Breathe, breathe, breathe. I work with a yogic breath, pranayama called Alternate Nostril Breath. This breath is essential for my ability to stay present. (Instructions at the end of this essay.)
Find words for your mind that take the place of the noise, the chatter, the daily grind that weighs you down. Find any word or phrase that works for you—Peace. Love. Om Shanti. Lokah. Somastah. Sukhino. Bhavantu. Joy. Breathing in I feel peace. Breathing out I feel love—anything that stops your mind from wandering here, there, and everywhere.
Stop and stretch. Do yoga. Go for a walk. If you can get out alone, great. If not, take the brood and walk. Search for new colors, flowers, birds, anything that reopens your heart to the beauty around us.
I would be a very, very, very cranky Mama without taking care of my body. Massage, reiki, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments—whatever. When my body is off, I am way off.
For me, this is a constant and challenging practice. These days, I am trying to make it a priority to cut my list in half. And then maybe into half again. To breathe in the now and no place else. To trust that what needs to happen will happen. To stop rewinding the tape of yesterday and projecting the worries of tomorrow, but to trust that the now is the only place I need be.
Every single day I find myself cycling through these techniques in order to stay heart centered, trusting, joyful, ready to face whatever my babies throw at me. When we Mamas are rooted in the present with our children, we invite magical moments. We create album after album of photographs, memories placed securely in our hearts, and the experiences that build the foundation for their futures.
As my yoga teacher’s teacher has said, “If the present is passing in peace, it will make a peaceful past and sow a seed of peace to grow in the future.” It’s true. All we can do is to be present in our now.
As a mom in this busied, frenzied world, I can’t think of a better gift to give our children than to be with them, to show them that as adults, they can, in fact, remain present.
Just as they are now. Just as they were born into this world. Present, joyful, and attentive. What more should we be here for? In my opinion—absolutely nothing.
There is no way to pause time. Even though Zach used to do it on Saved by the Bell, I’ve learned it is not a real thing. We can’t make our children grow up slower, we can’t click on ‘slow-mo’ while we watch them become big people. The only thing we can have control over is our state of mind. Our state of heart. Our presence. Our trust in the moment. Our movement from one breath to the next.