The young father unloads his two kids from the back seat, points them toward the playground and heads straight for a picnic table with his phone. His young daughter swings, but his son circles around the table calling “Daddy, come play with me… Daddy they have a little playhouse…..Daddy, will you push us?” The father replies that he will be right there but has to work on an email. The boy tries pushing his sister on the swing, but she says she doesn’t want HIM to push her she wants her dad and begins calling, “Daddy!” Soon she comes to the table and gently asks him to come. The boy joins her. He tells them to be patient. He tells them he is almost done. They finally give up and mutually agree to try the sandbox.
I am at a nearby bench trying to contain and understand my fury. Who could he POSSIBLY be emailing who is more important at this exact moment than his adorable CHILDREN!?!?!? I imagine his wife bragging to her friends about how he takes the kids to the park every Saturday morning so she can have “me time”. Ha! If she only knew that he actually ignores them while sexting his mistress! Scumbag! But, maybe instead it’s his boss who, since we are now all expected to be available 24/7, wants an answer about the sales projections on a Saturday at 10 a.m. Still, does he have to do it RIGHT NOW? Then I hear him make a deep scary cough and think Oh God, he has lung cancer and is emailing his doctor about test results. I realize this wild imagining, this judgmental, crazy speculating on the lives of others might be what novelists use to fuel their creative fire. All those fictional stories we cook up in our busy little heads.
At last he finishes, puts his phone in his pocket and goes to the sandbox where he calls his son “buddy” and is fully engaged with both kids for a really long time. I think back on the earlier exchanges and realize that they were friendly on both sides. The kids were persistent, but not whiny or desperate. The dad was preoccupied, but never annoyed. There was trust on both sides, likely the result of many such encounters and I decide they are among the lucky ones.
We talk so much about how fast our kids grow, how soon they will be gone, how much we need to treasure, to savor, every fleeting minute and yet in the heat of battle (and let’s face it, parenting does often feel like an unending war with your patience, your energy, your time, the tiny people sent to earth via you) we just want 3 minutes alone in the bathroom or one quiet hour with a friend or a whole Sunday morning in bed with our spouse with nobody yelling “What’s for breakfast?” The park encounter made me want to blame technology which is my go-to cause for all the world’s ills, until I remembered that the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” predated cell phones and iPads and even laptops by several decades. It is about the truly tragic near misses of a father and son throughout their lives. When the son is small and longs for his dad’s attention the dad is too busy and when the dad is old and lonely it’s the son who has no time.
My dad was a minister who was revered by his flock for many reasons including his devoted attention to their collective desire for his time. I do not remember him attending a single event I was ever in. As an adult I would visit him and while I was sitting three feet from him he would ask when I would next be coming for a visit. Maybe such is life? OR maybe we are just not as busy as we think we are, as we need to be. Maybe a perfect day is made up of beautiful moments with our loved ones—even when they are not so beautiful.
Although she was talking about something else entirely, Joni Mitchell’s words still pop into my head—“Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” There is a sweetness in now that is fleeting and will not wait until we finish the email or start the laundry or take a run. Maybe now can’t always be spent playing with the tots who demand it, or listening to the teen who, shockingly, wants to tell us in detail about their day, or the spouse who wants to be close when we don’t. All I know is that the few regrets I have in life are about those times. When I have not seized the day, but slept or texted or netflixed it away. Maybe the watch words are just PAY ATTENTION. That thing zooming by is your life!
I practiced this advice a lot more during my 4-1/2 years knowing Tom. Living in the moment was easy and fun and comfortable and exciting all at once. I was able to put my hamster wheel worrying aside or away or SOMEPLACE and just live for once. It felt great. Even before I met Tom I had found Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now. The message is so simple to understand (and yet so challenging to execute) that it almost doesn’t require a book. Just the title of the one a college boyfriend gave me—BE HERE NOW.
I’m going to try that mantra for a while. Be here now. Listen to the very loud goose flying overhead. Watch the pair of cardinals racing through the brush on the park trail. Drink in the beauty of the male mallard in the tiny pond, the iridescent green on his head. Tom’s eyes were green. He looked great in that color and we are lucky enough to live in a state that is green a lot of the time. I am going to see it all this new moon, as spring comes and the buds emerge and I go back to the lake and to my lovingly rebuilt screen porch. I will try to just be.