Not Every Moment of Being a Parent is Worth Savoring

Picture it: grocery store checkout line, two weeks postpartum.

A mother stands bouncing and shushing her crying daughter. Her nose twitches as she smells the distinctly sweet aroma of newborn poop. She takes a deep breath and says a silent prayer, “I promise to put the cart neatly back in its corral if this poop will just stay contained inside the diaper. Amen.”

She feels the warm wetness on her arm, and knows she’ll put the cart back anyhow because she’s not a monster. She lets out a tired and heavy sigh. As she’s about to abandon her place in line to find the sketchy grocery store bathroom, an older woman gives her a knowing smile and says, “They grow up so fast. Savor every second.”

And that, readers, is the story of how I ended up being arrested for punching a stranger, knocking her back into the rows of candy bars and chewing gum.

Okay, not really. But it could have been me. It could have been any of us.

The sideline input by the armchair guidance counselors is meant to be helpful, but in the moment, it feels like a kick in the poop-filled diaper of life with small children. Let’s add a big dose of guilt to our shopping list as we fail to completely embrace the milk stains on our shirts, the mesh underwear (actually, I fully embraced the mesh underwear), or even the array of nice moments that do occasionally shift into focus.

I’m sure I’ll look back longingly from my place on the nursing home couch, waiting for my ungrateful children to call me. I’ll probably miss the days of smelling their delicious heads and snuggling with them, even at three in the morning. But I can almost guarantee that I’ll never regret not embracing the moments that just fucking sucked.

Recently, I came across some advice both for empty-nester shopping alone in the store, and the cynical mother who just wishes her kid would scream at someone else for a little while:

Savor a moment today.

Reading that simple sentence felt like giving myself permission. Permission to see individual snippets of the day for how they feel as they’re happening, not as advance penance for a wistful loneliness that may never come to pass. I’ll let my future self hash it out, should she one day find herself with a deep yearning for cluster-feeding and colic.

There is no delight in many of the finer details of parenting. But there are moments of contentment – of beauty, of bliss – that make it worth it. Look for those. Cherry pick them out of the lineup of puke, tantrums, and thrown food. Savor one. Savor two, or three. But don’t – not for a second – feel as though you are obligated to savor them all. 

Can Technology Help Us to Both Live in the Moment and Capture It?

With a camera rarely ever out of arm’s reach, it’s tempting to capture every memorable moment. But is capturing it worth more than simply living it?

Last year, my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

I can’t explain to you how difficult this was for my family. Death’s knock had never sounded so hard and loud. Living with the knowledge that my dad had cancer was living with death’s shadow constantly by my side, darkening my every emotion and thought. Would the cancer take my dad’s life? How much longer would I be able to hear his voice or look at the stars with him? How much more time was there to enjoy great meals together, talk about our newest books together, and laugh together? 

And yet, my own suffering paled in comparison to the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony that my 50-something dad had to endure. He experienced excruciating pain as the cancerous tumor grew to the size of a small football, smashing the main nerve running down his left arm, and spewing toxins into his body, wreaking havoc.

Even the radiation used to kill the tumor reacted with the otherwise healthy parts of my dad’s body. Four terrible months after his initial diagnosis, my family converged in Nashville where we sat in the hospital waiting room as the doctor attempted to remove the tumor from my dad’s arm.

As we sat in that room, the minutes feeling like hours, a belief that had slowly been growing within me finally took hold: Life is short. The raging fire that roared to life when my dad faced death too soon burned away my old child-like understanding of the world. We don’t all live long, healthy lives. And even if we do, it doesn’t matter. Life is short. This changes everything. 

From the moment that this belief came alive within me, I began filtering every decision through it. If life is short, I didn’t want to work anymore than I needed to; and so, I stopped working as much and spent more time with my family. If life is short, I didn’t want to miss out on enjoyable moments because I was busy deriding myself for some personality shortfall; and so, I became more accepting of myself.

Of course, this new “life is short” filter had a dark side. 

I found myself fearing that my loved ones would die soon. It became clear that I wanted to, no, I needed to soak in and fully enjoy every single moment with those around me while I still had them.

But as hard as I tried to cherish every moment with my loved ones, I simply wasn’t able to do it. I experienced wonderful moments, like taking my three year old son to go look up close at a fire truck (his favorite), and in the moment, it felt wonderful and like I was fully taking advantage of this short life. 

But then, the moment would pass and the emotions and memory of it would soon fade away only to be replaced by a lesser quality copy of the original experience; a copy that was never good enough by my own standards.

And as these special moments came and went, leaving me with sub-par replicas in my memory, I began feeling as though life’s meaningful moments were slipping right by me and that soon, I would blink and one of my loved-one’s short lives, or even my own, would come to an end. And this was unacceptable.

I was trying to dam up the rushing waters of meaningful experiences, so I could cherish them forever, but I only had my bare hands to use. That is, until I discovered a different way to hold onto and relive all those wonderful moments in life.

The smartphone gave parents an advantage that no parent has ever had in history. We all have a little recorder in our pockets that, in a matter of about 4 seconds, we can use to capture the sights and sounds of any moment we want in high definition quality. If my own memory wasn’t good enough at capturing special moments, then the smartphone was my answer. 

I started to record not only the special events and moments of my children’s lives, like Halloween, birthdays, and “first-time” moments, but the mundane parts as well, like a video of them playing with their toys, so that I could watch and relive them over and over again. When I watch these videos, I feel like life isn’t slipping through my fingers, like I am able to reach down and grab moments in time that are otherwise doomed to a blurred, faded, and possibly forgotten existence.

Because I have these videos, I’ll always be able to watch and remember what each of my kids was like at every stage in their lives. Because I have these videos, I’ll always be able to watch and remember so many of the silly and wonderful things they did. I am deeply grateful for this technology. 

And yet, I sometimes wonder. I wonder if there is a cost associated with taking all these pictures and videos of our children. I’m hit the hardest by this thought every time I go to a children’s event, like my son’s recent preschool concert, where, as I looked across the room full of parents, I’m overwhelmed by a sea of phones and tablets held up to record the event. I don’t know exactly why, but this sight bothers me every time. It feels like the pendulum has swung so far away that we prioritize our need to record every moment of our children’s live over actually witnessing the events through the lens of our own eyes, present and watching.

What, for example, does the five year old boy at his preschool concert see when he’s on stage, looking out at the audience hoping to see his proud, beaming parents? Will he see two parents whose primary focus is on recording the event by some digital means? Will he still find reassurance in seeing them there, behind the smart phone?

My concern doesn’t end there. If we’re only recording our children’s best, funniest, and cutest moments, are we sending a message that their so-so, not-that-funny, and un-cute moments aren’t good enough to receive our praise and attention? And are we teaching them to opt for their performer-selves rather their true selves, even if their true-selves aren’t camera worthy? And when they see us share only the best videos and pictures of them with our friends, are we unwittingly teaching them the rule that governs social media, that the “projected me” is the real me? 

What can we do?

Before teetering over the edge into full blown alarmism, I want to make clear that my goal isn’t to add more worries to the heavy burden that parents already have to shoulder. No, I simply think that the pendulum of our desire to capture life’s special moments may have swung too far towards being us-focused and needs to swing back ever so gently towards being more child-focused.

What I mean is this: while it feels so wonderful to capture all those incredible moments of our children’s lives, perhaps we should remember to communicate to our children, through words and action, that they are always more important than our recordings of them.

In talking to some friends about this, I heard a great suggestion for doing this for all those special events, like concerts and baseball games: record enough of the event that you’ll be able to look back and remember the experience but not so much that you end up getting fully sucked into the recording, and entirely miss being present for the actual experience.

And for all those everyday moments at home, something my wife and I like to do is to “catalog” things our kids do that we love. For example, my daughter went through a phase of saying, “Hi Dada.” in an adorable way, and we just made sure to capture her doing it once, so we’d remember it going forward.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to that hospital room where the full weight of how short life truly is hit me between the eyes. We waited for what felt like days for news about my dad’s surgery. After ten hours – two hours longer than the surgery was originally scheduled to last – we received a call from the surgeon. The surgery was a success, they’d removed the tumor, and my dad was doing well.

My dad is here with us now, almost a year after his surgery, and I thank God every day for him. As anyone with cancer survivor and family member knows, there’s always a lingering fear that the cancer will return. But for now, we’re blessed to be able to continue talking, laughing, and connecting with my dad.

Yes, life is short.

But don’t let the fear of losing loved ones, of losing these precious moments, of time slipping away, drive you to a life focused on recording events, over being present for lifeFind the balance between living in the moment and capturing just enough of the moment to keep the memory sharp.

And, most importantly, take advantage of the time you have with those around you. Tell your loved ones, today, now, how very much they mean to you.

About That Day I Forgot My Cell Phone

Once you get past the panicky sweats, there’s a freedom in leaving the phone behind.

For such a substantial error, I can only blame my frazzled mind. Leaving the house in this condition had always been one of my biggest fears.

No, I didn’t forget to get dressed. Both my keys and wallet were tucked safely in my diaper bag. I was without something even more important: my cell phone.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t had such a great day planned. The sky was picturesque and the winds were calm. It was one of those days when you are grateful to be alive.

Oh, and did I mention it was a Saturday? Weekends are what we yearn for. They are our reward after a long week. Weekends are for family.

Almost immediately, I realized the severity of my mistake. Our friends were supposed to meet us here. We were at our local park and it was family day. Without my trusty communication device, how were they going to find us? Would I need to send smoke signals?

Unfortunately, I had an even bigger issue on my hands: photos. It was a beautiful day and we were at an amazing event. How was I going to capture that? Furthermore, how were grandma and that chick I went to high school with going to admire my pictures on Facebook? Sadly, there would be no posting frenzy on my end tonight.

Speaking of grandparents, how the hell did they live without constantly recording the memories? How did our parents do it?

Will I remember this gorgeous day? Will my kids?

I sighed and looked at the two moms in front of me. They were taking pics of their kids in the bouncy house. I couldn’t, so instead I looked up at the sky. It was breathtaking. The air was fresh. I was taking it all in. I was starting to feel a bit different. I was starting to feel freer. I was starting to feel calmer. The twitching and shaking associated with the absence of my lifeline completely ceased. My eyes went to my daughter enjoying the bouncy house. Her smile said it all. Maybe this day wouldn’t be so bad after all.

It was also a great day back in June of 1981. On my last day of school, my dad came to pick me up. We went to see “Superman 2.” Since it was opening day, the line of people wrapped around the block. The movie theater was packed. Later, we went to our local coffee shop for an early dinner. I got to order a hamburger, fries, and a Sprite. Afterwards, I got to pick out a toy at the store. There was no camera that day. Still, I remember. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world.

There was also no camera that summer when I was at my cousin’s house. Yet, we had a blast hanging in the basement during a terrible thunderstorm. We listened for the rumblings and screeched at the sight of lightning. Afterwards, we went out and splashed around in the puddles until we passed out from laughter.

Those events took place more than 30 years ago, but they are still forever captured in my heart.

I have many great memories. I also have some sad ones. Thus is life. However, on this day, nothing mattered but my own little family and that unbelievable sky.

They were offering free massages for adults at Family Day. Yes, massages at no cost. I had no excuse not to partake in the festivities. Who knows? I might have missed it completely if I was too busy staring at Instagram while I walked by the tent.

I had no excuses not to laugh at my daughter’s silly moves on the trampoline. I also could not miss the balloon my son almost let fly away.

I was able to capture the balloon myself. On this day, sans the cell phone, my hands were completely free.

Without my cell phone, I felt a little bit lighter.

There would be no pictures captured on this day, but that was okay.

A few years ago, during Hurricane Sandy, a bunch of my family’s videocassettes were destroyed due to a flood in the basement. I was devastated. Most of my sadness was due to the wonderful woman I always enjoying watching in those videos – my mom. She passed away from cancer 17 years ago.

No, I wouldn’t be able to see her or hear her again. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember. Those days that she took me to the beach and slathered my freckled skin with sun block. The long talks. The endless laughs. Mom was always up for an adventure, and I must say, I treasure them all.

Today, at my daughter’s “stepping up” ceremony at school, I realized I forgot my iPad. Anxiety ensued. How was I going to take video of my daughter singing and dancing on her special day?

Instead, I took a deep breath. I held my son tightly in my lap. I watched the sea of cell phones in the air. I lived in the moment. I smiled. I cried.

I made a mental note to always remember this day and the joy that went along with it.

And I always will.

What My Son Won’t Remember But I Always Will

It was weekend that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. My son though? The one who made it so memorable for me? He won’t remember a thing.

A few weeks ago, as the super storm dumped ice and snow and sleet on our city, my little family stocked up on groceries and got ready for a long, locked-in weekend.

Conventional wisdom (and all the parents ever) says that parenting through a blizzard can painful and –true- our house is a little worse for wear than it was before the storm hit but, much to our surprise, our weekend was fantastic.

We made a snowman, and we went sledding. We read books for hours in the blanket fort we made in the living room. We lay on our backs and caught snowflakes on our tongues. We stirred homemade hot chocolate and, with a hearty helping of rainbow sprinkles, a batch of milky ice-cream made from snow. There were no tears, no fits, no tantrums.

Exhausted from play, and from endless mommy and daddy time, naps and bedtimes were simple and pleasant. The weekend that was supposed to be madness was, instead, a weekend of parental fantasy.

My boy turned two the weekend before the storm, and, in the past month his vocabulary has become broader and his words clearer. As we snuggled after his bath on the snowy Saturday night, he asked to look out the window.

As he peered out at the falling snow, he pressed one hand to the window glass and one on my check, he turned his eyes towards mine and, with earnestness I’ve not before seen in him, he said, simply, “I love you, mommy, thank you for snow.”

The weekend, our snowy, locked in blizzard was beautiful. It’s a weekend that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. My son, though? The one who made it so memorable for me? He won’t remember a thing.

Though he’ll probably recall the snow for a little while, and beg for snow ice-cream for a little while longer, by the time he’s a boy, the memories will have faded away. He won’t recall the cuddles in our blanket fort or the snowman he patted into being. He won’t remember staying up for extra books or cracking the eggs for our brunch. He won’t remember his first sled ride or the wetness of the snow or the way his hands turned pink before he was ready to come inside.

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Though my boy won’t remember our beautiful weekend, I’m confident that time that we spent and the love that we shared made quite an impact.

My son won’t remember how he stretched and reached to tie the blanket above our couch or how her placed pillow carefully on the floor, but I hope moments like these will stack upon one another until he knows, fully and without question, that ours is the kind of home it’s okay to make a mess in as long as were making it together.

He won’t remember staying up late for extra books or how mommy and daddy fought sleep as hard as him to enjoy a few more minutes. He won’t remember which books we read over and over or the way hi curled his body into mine when his eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. In the years to come, however, I hope he feels the same sense of comfort and calm as he craws into the big bed for stories. I hope he associates words with warmth and books with love and the sound of my reading voice with happiness.

My boy won’t remember helping make our family brunch or stirring the hot chocolate and the snow ice cream, we’ve started traditions that I hope we’ll continue for years to come. As he grow and changes, I hope that he’ll look forward to each year’s first snow and the special treats that will come along with it. I hope as the air cools he’ll smile at the thought of hot chocolate and check the pantry and the refrigerator for ingredients and that, as he cracks and mixes and stirs, he feels connected to years past and years to come.

My beautiful son won’t remember the wetness of the snow or the cool of the air, the pink of his hands or the aches that come along with coming into the warm again. He won’t remember the thrill of his first sled ride or the way the wind blew through his hair as he tumbled down the little hill. I hope, though that the fun he had during the snow will spark a love of the outdoors and an association between joy and open air.

My boy is too little to remember tomorrow the things that we did last month. In time, the little bits of recall from our wonderland weekend will slip away from him forever.

But I’ll remember. I’ll remember it all. And through my memories, and the experiences my husband and I create for him in the years to come, the weekend will live on within him.