“Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” — Dr. Seuss
Like so many moments over the course of the last four months, I was sitting in my daughter’s nursery the other evening, nursing her in her rocking chair. I was stroking her hair and marveling at her cute little feet that have already grown so much since she was born. The way her sweet little body was folded into my lap and chest quite literally brought a smile to my face.
I created a human.
It’s so freakin’ cool!
Before Madison was born, one of my biggest struggles was figuring out how to be present. Not just for the big moments, but arguably more importantly, for the little ones too: the beautiful silence of the morning sun, the sweet moments sitting in the living room while reading a book, heck, even the sound of my brush as I cleaned my teeth in the morning.
And perhaps one of the greatest lessons my daughter has taught me (of which I know there will be many more, and of which I will be an eager student), is how to be present. It’s one of the most valuable gifts she has given me. For when you are taking care of a newborn, there is no distraction. There can’t be. Whether you like it or not, you’re in it. Fully.
There is only now.
In the beginning, I resented this forced presence. I often found myself bouncing, rocking and shushing Madison to sleep, feeling frustrated because A) she wouldn’t go to sleep B) I couldn’t take the crying anymore and I was pissed off because I had no idea what I was doing and C) I had work to do and I needed to pee and I was starving and I really wanted something to eat, and, and, and…
…and for gosh sake, I just wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do in that moment.
But as I keep learning in different ways every single day, when you’re parenting an infant, nothing else stands a chance of mattering except for what you’re doing in that moment. You can try to fight it, but it will only serve to frustrate you, because like it or not, there you are, and there you will stay until baby’s needs are met.
It’s an interesting dichotomy: you’re both trying to figure each other – and the world – out. And though you may not even have yourself figured out just yet (will you ever?), you are her leader, her keeper, her guide. You – and your partner – are all she has. So whether you think you’re good enough or not – and whether you want to be or not – you are good enough for her. You have to be. And oh by the way: she doesn’t care how badly you have to pee, how much work you have to do, or how badly you’d like to eat dinner right now, because dammit, she wants to be cuddled and she’ll cry til’ kingdom come until she’s good and ready to stop.
In the first few months of nursing Madison, I would often bring my phone into the session to “keep myself occupied.” While she ate her meal, I would peruse the walls of Facebook, check out the latest Instagram feeds, make myself hungry with recipes I feared I would now never be able to make on Pinterest, and get frustrated because I wanted to return emails but couldn’t type fast enough with one hand.
Without fail, every time, I would find myself feeling frustrated. Frustrated because of some photo that set me off on Facebook (how is she out at a bar already? She just had a baby the same day that I did? Why can’t I do that yet?). That recipe I couldn’t make on Pinterest or that email I couldn’t return only served to remind me of this new prison I was now in, one where it felt like I couldn’t make my own choices anymore, at least, not until some seemingly mythical time in the very distant future.
It’s terribly selfish to admit that. But I’m nothing if not honest, and that was how I felt. I’m happy to say that I’ve worked through it. Becoming a mother has represented both a birth and a death for me: the death of my old life as I knew it, and the birth of my new life, one that – I now truly believe – is and will continue to be better than the one I lived before.
But I didn’t know that then, and every time I distracted myself with the shenanigans on my phone while I was feeding Madison, all that aimless meandering only served to create one terrible reality:
I was missing those precious moments with my daughter. And I would never get them back. I was missing her sweet sounds, the way her hand brushed against my chest, the way her eyes opened and closed here and there as she ate. I was missing the opportunity to stroke her hair, to look up at the nursery as I rocked and fed her, marveling at the fact that not long ago, she was in my belly while my father and I worked tirelessly to put the nursery together before she was born. And now, here she is. And I’m missing the tender moments because, why, I want to respond to an email that probably doesn’t matter? Because I can’t make a few recipes I think are good because I don’t have time?
Who cares? Nothing matters more in the moments that I’m with Madison then, well, Madison!
And the truth is, before Madison, nothing mattered in my moments except for what was right in front of me at the time. But I wasn’t aware of that. Madison has served as a reminder to enjoy each moment, no matter how big or small.
How many little nuances did I miss because I had my head down looking at my phone while my friends went to the bathroom at a restaurant and I tried to keep myself “occupied” while they were gone? How many opportunities to connect with my husband did I miss in all of those times we sat in the living room while we both checked our phones, funnily enough, “connecting” to people online while we sat right next to each other, paying each other no mind?
During our bedtime ritual the other night, I rocking and nursing Madison and Ted reading her a bedtime story, I found myself thinking about the first two days of my labor.
Though I was scared, frustrated, and in a lot of pain, I remember those days fondly. Because it was during those days where my husband was more present for me than he had ever been in our entire relationship. Don’t get me wrong, Ted is a great husband and a great father. But our lives tend to dictate how much time and focused attention we give to each other. We are constantly pulled by phone calls and texts, emails that must be responded to before a certain time, and work that must get done because of strict deadlines. It’s understandable. But all those things often serve to pull us away from the present moment – and each other.
When I was in labor, going through a contraction every three minutes for four days, Ted was there. Nothing else mattered but me. He ran baths for me in an effort to soothe my pain. He lay in bed with me – forehead to forehead – coaching me through my contractions, and then stroking my hair and helping me try to sleep between them. He drove me to my doctor’s appointments, took me to see my acupuncturist and asked specific questions about what was going on for me. There were no phones. There were no emails. There were no texts. There was only us. And her. And until I actually reflected back on it, I didn’t realize that I had never felt so seen, heard, cared for and paid attention to ever before in our relationship.
I shared my thoughts with Ted, and asked if we could make it a point to have more moments like that (preferably ones where I wasn’t about to push a human out of my body). I said that I understood the pull to work – and fully respected it, because I have it too (and, to be clear, we should be present in those moments too, giving our work the focused attention that it deserves). But that perhaps we could both be better at giving each other focused attention – if only for a few moments – throughout the day.
I understand that we live in a connected world. We have to answer calls, texts, and emails. We have to work to live. We can’t ignore our lives. But I truly believe that all of us can do a better job at putting our phones away more often throughout – or at least at the end of – the day. We can close our computers a little sooner. We can make time not only to be more present for our partners, our children, and our friends, but also, for ourselves.
We can spend more time in nature, resisting the urge to listen to music or a podcast and just listen to the sounds of the birds chirping, the leaves rustling in the wind, and even the sound of our feet as we take another step forward during a run or walk.
That kind of presence is what I want to teach Madison. For that reason, I don’t often let her see me on my phone or computer (unless it’s an emergency). I don’t do any of my writing while she is awake because I don’t want to teach her that a screen is more important than she is. Yes, I want to teach her that mommy does have to work sometimes, but she will learn that lesson in time. Right now, she doesn’t have the vocabulary to understand “mommy is working.” But she does have the eyes to see me absorbed in a screen that – because I’m focused on it and not her – is more important that she is.
And that will never be true.
Maybe it doesn’t make a difference because she’s so young (she’s four months old). But on the off chance that it does, I want to teach her that she is seen, she is heard, she is important. And she will always be more important than a screen.
That said, I do other things while she is awake. I put her in a swing in the kitchen while she plays with her reflection in the mirror above it, and I cook dinner, explaining everything I’m doing as I go so she can be apart of the experience. I do my workouts with her cooing on a blanket on the floor of the garage while I P90X my way to a new fit. I put her in the baby carrier and we go for hikes in the trails while I explain what she’s seeing as we go.
But the difference between doing that versus working or looking at a screen is simple: we’re interacting with each other. She is apart of my experience, and I am apart of hers. We are including each other in our present moments.
I know Madison is going to grow up in a connected world, one that is more connected than mine ever was, but she’s going to learn that no matter what. I can’t shelter her from that. So as far I’m concerned, my job is to teach her presence, how to live in the moment, how to appreciate nature, how to make eye contact and pay attention to the people in the room with her as she tries to navigate her way through this connected and yet incredibly disconnected world.
I know I’m not always going to be perfect. There is always going to be a phone call I have to take, an email I have to send, or a text I need to respond to right away. Yet if I can make those occasions the exception and not the norm, maybe – just maybe – I can help my daughter to do the same. And though I’m always going to struggle with living in the moment, awareness is the first step. So I will continue striving to live in the moment, every moment of my days.
How about you? Does any of this resonate with you? Can you identify a place in your life where you can be more present? Will you start today?
Here are 4 steps to help get you in the moment right now:
Step 1: Stop what you’re doing. Yes. Right now.
Step 2: Take in your surroundings: Where are you? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? What are you touching?
Step 3: Breathe into all of the sensations.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 through 3 at least 3 times throughout your day today.
Whether you do this or not, of course is your choice. Just remember Dr. Seuss’ wise words, that you may never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Love, love, love,
Your friend and new parent who is trying to figure it all out,