My teenage son saves a collection of broken wristwatches on his dresser, all with little to no shot of resuscitation. Some simply need a new battery. A tiny metal heart with a spark to get them ticking again. Others have rusted or tangled gears that don’t know how to spin anymore. All of them are, in reality, not going to be fixed any time soon.
“Why do you hang on to those? They’re just taking up space,” I ask him once a week when I deliver laundry to his door.
“I don’t know. They were worth something. Once.”
He is our family’s nostalgia buff. The one who gathers memories and artifacts of the past. Meanwhile my daughter only has eyes for the future.
“When will I be a mommy?” she asks me.
“Not any time soon,” I tell her.
“Before or after I drive?” she persists, dangling my car key from her tiny finger.
“After you drive,” I tell her. “Definitely after.”
My children are growing in opposite directions, and somehow, 10 years apart, they’ve magically decided they want to switch places. My son, 16, flails to grab the last few moments of being called a kid, putting away his action figures with reluctance, and sneaking a head on my shoulder when absolutely no one is looking. His superpower is to know the malaise that comes with crossing that magical border to young adult. I am grateful more days than not that he is a young 16.
My daughter, just six, can only see a decade ahead and smuggles lip gloss and high heels to her room. She uses her mirror as a time machine to imagine what she will look like as a teenager. She juts out her hip and waves her hand in the air, beckoning to her imaginary tribe of future friends. She is a visionary at times, mapping out her entire future in the palm of her hand.
Neither of them, though, has any idea that this moment, this now, is as perfect as it gets. And sometimes I blame myself for that.
Motherhood often tricks us into believing the now isn’t real. We plan ahead for summer vacations, for picture perfect birthday parties, and for graduations and then weddings and even grandchildren decades before they exist. We nest and stockpile. We plant our feet and brace ourselves to shoulder tragedy and shield our loved ones from the unknown with an armor that only motherhood provides.
And far too often we simultaneously mourn the past. The lasts. The last time we see a first step, and the last time we cradle a newborn in the crook of our arms so used to being fleshy swings. We hold knit baby caps to our noses and try to recapture the smell and the feel of bringing our little ones home. We walk through toddler sections of stores with melancholy when our children have raced on to the next size. Often, we let our memories and our anticipation squeeze the joy of the now right out.
By following our examples, our children do it, too. We applaud them when they read beyond their grade or cruise past the doctor’s milestones for where they should be. We nod as they design their futures or carefully compile scrapbooks honoring a special family moment. Because we are older and wiser, we ask them to cherish the past and prepare for the future.
But how often do we ask them to stop and experience the joy of now?
Mindfulness and presence have enjoyed a central spot in many healthy living regiments, but the concepts haven’t permeated advice on parenting quite as much. Perhaps it’s because the now is unpredictable. The best plans, as most parents know, rarely work exactly as we’d like. Editing the past is cathartic—remembering memories in their fondest ways while extracting the uncomfortable moments.
The now is delightful and messy and wild.
I want my children to grow, in the ways and directions they choose. I want them to love the past and shiver with excitement for the inspiring futures waiting for them tomorrow and beyond. But I also want to teach my children how to hold very still and see every detail, every minute, ticking deliciously around them.
Guest post written by Sarah Clayville. Sarah is a writer and high school teacher in central Pennsylvania. Her work can be found in numerous literary journals both online and in print. She spends most of her time figuring out how to write about the incredible people around her without them knowing and getting everyone she meets to read more. Sarah often carries a few extra books in her purse and gladly distributes them to those in literary need. Discover her work and musings on her website, Sarah Says Write, or on Twitter.