Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lenton Lessons: Presence

I am pretty good at multi-tasking. I used to knit during meetings at conferences (until it became the cool thing to do, then I had to stop), I can walk & chew gum, and even (don't judge me) talk on the phone & drive at the same time. Several times a week, I help lead staff meetings or coach a staff member while watching a curious, crawling baby. I know, you're impressed.

The last several weeks have felt so jam-packed that doing twelve things at once was the only way to keep my head above water. I felt a little like a Warner Brothers cartoon, moving in fast-motion as I ran from the kitchen doing dishes to catch my little guy as he fell, all the while talking on the phone & typing on the computer... or maybe like the goddess
Durga, with six arms, who is said to be an indestructible Mother who can redeem us in moments of utmost distress. Too bad I'm not Hindu.

I do have little built-in moments of rest several times during my day, though, when I am forced to sit down & be still while nursing Nolan. You w
ould think that being handed quiet, reflective time on a platter would be a welcomed gift, but I admit that most of those times, I am trying to answer emails one-handed, scrolling through Facebook, or watching the latest episode of Glee in increments over a few days.

I decided that during Lent, I would take those times to sit and be still, to be present with my little man and focus on him, rather than trying to find an escape from stress in mindless television or squeezing in a few more tasks while he ate. It was much harder than it seemed, and I realized how much I seek distractions through sources that just aren't life-giving.

Slowly, though, I began to enjoy the silence, to settle into the moments of stillness, and to be grateful for them. I began using that time to think through my day-- and the minutes of "doing nothing" actually helped me to be more thoughtful & productive throughout the rest of the day. I realized that I have a very limited amount of time where I could simply sit with my son on my lap in quiet stillness, and that there would actually come a time where I missed the intimacy & connection with him.

Last night, as Chris was on campus working late, I was at home in our disaster of an apartment, feeling overwhelmed by the mess, the lack of time to get our lives in order, and the lack of sleep from a teething baby. I was racing around, trying to tidy up, while dragging Nolan out of every dark corner of our home that he could find with electrical cords, outlets, glass bottles & expensive electronics. Every time I went into the kitchen to try to tackle the mountain of dishes, he followed me in there, getting himself into trouble (and the dog bowl), until I finally realized that what he needed was simply for his mom to sit and spend time with him.

I remembered some of the lessons I had learned over Lent of simply being present and putting
off the important things for the Most Important thing. Turning on the radio, I sat on the floor & played with my little guy, watching him learn, seeing his eyebrows raise as his index finger moved up and down a fuzzy book. Occasionally, he would reach out his hand and touch my leg next to him, just to make sure I was still there.

At first, I kept my eyes on the clock: two more hours until I can put him to bed and finish the dishes & clean up. But, for a brief space, something changed. Have you ever been struck by a certain moment-- the kind that would be in a flash-back sequence of a movie; the kind that you knew you would want to re-live someday; the kind that was worth bottling up & keeping? No photograph or video could quite capture it, but for some reason, something about it is just is mysteriously sacred.

A song came on the radio, and it was as though God cleared my vision & focused my mind for a moment. I picked up my little guy and danced around the living room with him singing at the top of my lungs, throwing him in the air, holding him upside down by his legs, listening to him squeal & giggle. I was exhausted, and had a million other things that I wanted to be doing, but I felt that if I let that moment slide by, I would be missing something almost Holy. The sweetness of it stayed with me all evening-- and even into a long night of teething tears & sleeplessness.

I hope it will stay with me through rough patches of adolescence and other hairy times of motherhood. If it took forty days of Lent to prepare myself to simply be present in that one moment, it was definitely worth it.

I hope I can have the sensitivity to recognize more of those moments as they come.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Better Than All Those Others

Despite the steady buzz of conversation in the room, my group sat in an awkward silence, looking at the floor. I wondered what I was doing there, then I wondered if the other women in the group were wondering the same thing.

It was one of those Meet & Greet things for new moms to help form playgroups & life-long friendships & arranged marriages & that sort of thing. There were probably about one hundred women in the room, but it seemed like the only ones who weren't talking were surrounding me. We had just heard the ground rules: pick a time & place to meet, exchange info, become best friends, etc. But my group wasn't doing any of that. I tried asking questions, suggesting times & places, but they all seemed really reluctant to commit to anything. Finally, one of them said she had to go, and within a matter of moments, I was sitting alone in a crowded room. No times, no places, no life-long friendships... just me, Nolan, and a piece of paper with pointers on how to get your group started.

Now, even the most secure & confident person is going to start wondering "What did I say?" in a moment like that. I realized that shortly before the mass exodus, I had sheepishly confessed (after being asked) that my little guy sleeps for twelve hours most nights. Coincidence? Okay, I'm sure that wasn't actually it, but I did notice how strange it is that when mothers get together, they compare their babies: how much do they weigh, how long to they sleep, will they take a bottle, are they crawling, walking, teething, and on & on. Why this is interesting, I really don't know, but I confess that I do it too.

And of course, every mom feels a little twinge of pride if their wee one seems brighter than the average rug rat-- or stronger, or more agile, or whatever the case may me. But why is that, I wonder? What advantage does one human have over another because they can walk, talk, read or ride a bike sooner than the rest? Will it make them happier? Will they live a more meaningful life?

Because really, in the end, I think that's what most mothers want for their babies. The hope is that this little bundle that you are investing so much in will one day live a rich life of meaning, have deep relationships, and great joy.

Which makes me wonder: What does that even look like? How many people do I know that are living that way? Am I living that way?

All of those hopes, dreams & aspirations that were placed on me as a baby-- how am I living them out? And how will my little man ever know what it looks like to live a life of meaning & depth if he doesn't get to see it modeled to him?

Now, I promise, I did not ask these questions at my Meet & Greet time tonight (that would give an easy answer to the "What did I say?" question), but stuck with the polite small talk. I do wonder, though, what it is we all want for our children-- and for ourselves.

Maybe that can be the topic of conversation at our next Mom's time... which is yet to be scheduled ;)