A Confession: In the Present Tense

Intro by Cilla, Post by Mary Ann Miranda

Now, I don’t play favorites lightly. I truly love all of my clients for one reason or another. I know that’s hard to believe, but each and every client has something special that I love. I especially love the many clients that have become close friends. I knew from the beginning that I would love Mary Ann. I loved the way she wrote about her family in the pre-session questionnaire. I loved her vision for the session. At the session, I loved how open the entire family was. They truly want their every day lives captured and I am a million times happy to do so. That’s what I want. I commonly call Mary Ann my guru. I know if I have a parenting question, she will answer with what works for her and without judgment in what we choose (or will shortly choose). She has actually greatly influenced a lot of the choices we have already made. Bret commonly hears “Mary Ann says”, almost as much as he hears “Andrea says”. When I first read this blog post, I couldn’t make it through the beginning without crying. Each time I read it, I would cry. It’s beautiful. I know that after you read this, you will see the glow and warmth that Mary Ann gives off with every single interaction. Enjoy!

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A newborn’s eyes are like nothing else that I have ever seen.  They are every color at once, unblinking, and fathomless.  If you are not careful, you can drown in them.

So, when my daughter was born a little over six years ago, I was in terrible peril.  Elsa was born with her eyes wide open.  She breathed steadily and tasted the air with her tiny tongue and – to my amazement – locked her gaze with mine in those first seconds as I balanced, crouching on my heels, over her perfect little body where it lay on the bed.  In that moment of utter relief, after the pushing and the surge of energy when her body slipped from mine, I was not prepared for her eyes.  I could not look away and breathed a question that I had not anticipated:  “Who are you?”

My mind reeled, and — surely it was my hormones snapping back and forth like a rubber band – I momentarily considered fleeing from this precious little person.  How I loved her, but how could my husband and I possibly be brave (dare I say brazen?) enough to be her parents?   My thoughts went everywhere, from a sudden concern about how she would do in daycare some three months down the road to (strangely, in my mind) the petition I had been drafting the night before.  My mind was anywhere but there in that room.

Then, I was back.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

It lasted the space of a few breaths, but there was a stark realization for me in those horrible, wonderful moments.  I had never known but then knew all too well that, in moments of doubt or stress or fear (of which there are so many moments as a parent), everyone feels the need to flee.  We do not necessarily desire physical flight, but our minds go anywhere but where we are, even when we are with these little ones we call our own and even when they crave nothing more than our presence.

As I have learned who my daughter is (a funny, empathetic, old soul) and even since my son. Will, entered our lives, I still struggle to remain in the present.  Instead of being engaged as a parent, given the chance to do so, I can find myself flipping through the mail, planning how to rearrange the pantry, or fretting over the brief left on my desk at work.  Worse yet, I find myself parenting in the past, trapped by moments that I wish had never happened or that I wish had ended differently.  Other times, I parent in the future – thinking about my next twenty moves and the obstacles between me and a month of bedtimes.  I have also fallen prey, at times, to the fallacy that I will be a perfect or, at least, better parent someday – when I change my job, when I buy a house in a different neighborhood, when I lose 20 pounds, or whatever future benchmark my mind settles upon.    Sometimes my job distracts me.  Sometimes it is concern over other family members or an excruciating bout of self-pity (too little sleep, too much to do, too little time – you know that refrain, right?).

I know that I am not alone because I have seen other parents at the playground, in the car line at school, and sitting at the local ice cream shop.  Our hands zip jackets, wipe faces, and shuffle children through doors, but our eyes sometimes show that our minds are a million miles away.  We wear whatever stressor is distracting us in that crease between our eyes and you can see it pressing down on our shoulders.  Some of us can admit to it, too, in whispers over coffee.  We know that our children have searched for us in those moments, tugging at our sleeves and voicing their search with the eternal “Mommy?  Mommy!  Mommmmmyyyyyyyy!”

So, knowing that we are all prey to it, I find myself asking the same five questions over and over.  I have learned that, if I can answer “yes” to each of these, I will likely find my children content and fulfilled at the end of the day and my own sense of presence intact – no matter what distractions have surrounded me (and, trust me, they do).

(1)  Have I found myself at eye level with my children in the course of the day?  Over time I have learned that, if I have not sat on the floor or crouched down regularly to greet or engage in play with my young children, then I am usually too distracted by other worries or concerns to be truly present with them.  In these moments, I can refocus myself into the present by simply sinking to the floor.  There I find my lap full of little ones who want to read books or my face covered with sticky kisses from my sweet boy who has so recently learned to kiss.   There will be shoes that need to be retied and old boo-boos to be examined, but, whatever they bring to me, I will have no choice but to be in that moment.  When I am at their height, they have my full attention.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

(2)  Have I invited my children into my “grown up” world in the course of the day?  This is so much harder to do than it is to write because it takes the most valuable commodity that we have – time.  It is a successful day, full of my presence as a parent, if I can say that my little ones have been beside me, folding the washcloths, stirring a bowl of batter, or digging in the soil as I work in my flower garden over the course of the day.  Their joy is overwhelming when their father invites them to build a picnic table sized just right for them – and hands the tools to them to try their hand at building it themselves under his watchful eyes.  It is worth the dirt that needs to be cleaned out from under their nails, the extra laundry created, and the spills mopped up, not to mention the extra time it takes to guide little hands, to know that we have experienced meaningful work (and the time it took to do it) together.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

(3)  Have I provided my children with “authentic” experiences over the course of the day?  This can be as simple as making sure that my eighteen-month-old drinks his morning milk out of a real glass so that he knows the weight of it in his hand and the smoothness of the glass under his fingers.  In the rush to start the day, I must build in the time for his tiny hand to grasp mine and his tiny legs to take the stairs that lead to our front walk.  My daughter is fascinated by umbrellas, and so we must keep umbrellas by the door and watch for opportunities to walk in the rain.  This is, as my husband and I like to say, real life.  These moments are not synthesized for them – these are not carpeted “practice” steps at the daycare center or unbreakable plastic cups meant to resemble a glass.  We get wet, we occasionally fall down or break things, but we all live in and learn about the world in these moments.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

(4)  Have I accepted my children’s invitation to enter their world?  Elsa wants me to play soccer with her (not just watch).  She would like me to sit and reorganize her sewing box with her and stitch a tiny towel for her dolls.  Will wants to build towers, however clumsily, from wooden blocks with me as part of his construction crew.  He wants me to examine the bark on our trees with him, and all of us will chase the fireflies under the same trees in the evening.  If I am mindful, I will know when they ask me to do these things.  Sometimes they take my hand and guide me.  Other times, they simply make room for me to sit near them.  If I have not received such an invitation over the course of a certain amount of time, I know that I have not been as present as I would like to be.  If I refocus, I will usually find the invitation right in front of me.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

(5)  Have I created space for my children?  In the midst of daycare and school and ballet lessons and soccer camp, it is part of my errand as a parent in the present to ensure that there exists a peaceful, unhurried time.  I must – mindfully — set aside the time (turn off the phone, stay out of the car, and make the only item on the schedule to be unscheduled), and curate the space (make sure that there is an open floor space, that everyone can step onto the front porch, that there are small shovels available, and that rainboots are at the ready by the door).  If I create the space and guard the time, the opportunity to be in the present is there, and sometimes the opportunity can be the most elusive thing.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Baierlein Photography

Of course, having written all of this, you must know, gentle readers, that I am a work in progress as a parent.  We all are.  I have only been the mother of two young children and quite often find myself having to revisit where I am as a parent today.  I also find myself worrying (and being distracted by) the prospect of parenting older children.   I hope that you, OCRO readers, will offer as a comment your own experiences and ideas for parenting in the present children of all ages.

Mary Ann Miranda is a full-time mother of two (ages 6 years and 18 months), wife, daughter, sister, friend, and attorney who likes to read, write (mercifully still unpublished) novels, cook, renovate her 1925 colonial revival with her intrepid husband, and think about becoming a runner in her spare time.  Clearly, she has at least seven hours more than everyone else in her days (or wishes that she did).  She likes to leave beds unmade on the theory that someone is just going to mess them up again in about twelve to sixteen hours —  if everything goes according to plan, which itrarely does.  She also has plans to get rid of her family’s television.bSomeday.  When she has the energy to figure out what to do with it.

 

Debbie G. - July 31, 2011 - 10:40 pm

Thanks for sharing, and for the reminder of what it means to try to be a good parent. I’d print out the list of questions, but I’m afraid that it would just be another to-do list for me to check off. But I must find a way to remember these every day. Thank you!

Kristi - July 28, 2011 - 2:30 pm

Beautiful post! And Thanks Cilla for the warning…I had to wait until I was officially “off the air” and free to smear my mascara with watery eyes to read this in its entirety!

I love your 5 questions and never have put those moments into categories like that but it’s so reassuring to know we all face these same challenges and that you can focus on those special moments during the day you share with the children and they do make a difference to them. I was pleasantly surprised I could say yes to many of them on most days! THANK YOU for the perspective.

In the spirit of your post and encouraging of feedback I’ll share a quote applicable to so many moms like ourselves that I ripped out of a magazine & posted on my desk at work…I’m often drawn to it when I have mommy guilt about not being with my kids or being too preoccupied at work…and work guilt that I have too much going on at home to be fully present at work it goes:

“I am not a woman whose hair looks perfect all the time, makes a home cooked meal every night and knows exactly how to answer my children’s’ questions but I am strong, I am invincible, I AM MOM.”

From one mom to another stay strong and know we’re invincible! Really appreciated your words of wisdom.

Kristi R (Mom of 3.5 year old twin boys!)

P.S. Beautiful photos too Cilla!

Kristie - July 28, 2011 - 1:03 pm

Beautifully written reminder of what we all strive to be each day. Thank you for sharing… and reminding. – Kristie

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