This thought process actually began about a week ago when I took a little mental break from work to get a cup of coffee and take in my surroundings.
A woman sitting with a stroller caught my attention. It was a fancy stroller, the child sitting in it was probably under 2 years old. Both mom and daughter were extremely well dressed and everything was perfect. What I noticed most of all was that the mom had her attention focused entirely on her cell phone and the child was playing an iPad. Every so often, the child would hold up the iPad to show her mom something and the mom’s attention never diverted from the cell phone, she would just hold up her hand and say “yes, yes, I see.”
Now, we are all working on our judgment-free observation of people, especially other moms, so I totally understand if maybe this mom had just spent 3 days straight home alone with her child and had given her OODLES of attention before this moment.
But this observation had me thinking not so much about this woman and her child, but really about myself and my own responses. I was thinking about how many times I’d given ½ or no attention to my boys when they were begging for it.
Then, in the days that followed that little observation, I had a few moments that really tugged at me emotionally.
Friday marked the anniversary of an old friend’s death along with the 6 month anniversary of Sandy Hook. Saturday we ended up at the pediatrician’s office for an emergency visit with my 3 year old and the doc was using words like “cellulitis,” “potential meningitis” and “aggressive treatment”. Dylan had periorbital cellulitis and while there was some anxiety about what was going to happen if he didn’t respond to the aggressive treatment, to our great relief he ended up turning it around very quickly.
Then Tuesday, I was sitting in the breast center waiting for my ultrasound results (I reluctantly went after having swollen lymph nodes for almost 2 weeks but they were getting better by the time I went in). My frustration about having to go in the first place started to subside as I began to let my brain wander.
As I was sitting there, for the first time I really started thinking maybe something was going on with me, I didn’t really want to think too much about it before that moment, but it hit me hard. Then my thoughts turned to my wife’s impending heart surgery less than 18 hours away. It was tearing at me in those moments, thinking about my boys, how fragile their health could be at any moment, then thinking about Lo and I and how fragile our lives were as well.
To distract me from over-thinking, I looked at my phone. As I jumped on twitter, I immediately saw news that a body was found near Lovers’ Leap State Park, potentially the missing photographer, husband and father of 2 (with a third child on the way) that I remember fondly from high school. I visualized the picture of him with his family that I’d seen the day before.
I got this flood of emotion. My brain just took it all in, I breathed deep and just was left with the thought “our lives are so temporary.” That was it, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how “temporary” all of this was.
For some reason, I sat there asking myself “how many times have I ignored my child or my spouse because I was distracted? Or my brain was just somewhere else?” I thought about how I’d regret not really giving in to those moments while they were happening.
All of these rambling thoughts came together as I made a new promise to myself.
To really, truly listen.
As parents, we know that we cannot spend every second catering to everyone else, especially children who would love full attention 100% of the time. I think we absolutely need to have some guidelines on the “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?” interruptions. But I am going to find the proper balance.
My promise is this:
I promise to think it through and really weigh the need when I choose to tell my child to “wait”
I promise to turn my full attention to my child (or spouse/friend, etc.) when they are asking me for it.
I promise to hear the words being said and really engage.
I promise to keep my mouth shut and really, truly listen.
I promise to keep my mind open and hear their words without judgment.
I promise to embrace the interruptions as much as I can.
– – – – – –
In the end, my ultrasound seemed to all be “unremarkable” and while we had a few emotional, reflective days before my wife’s heart surgery, that seems to be a complete success so far. Dylan has recovered completely from the cellulitis (still on antibiotics) and seems to be friends with the doctor again after the traumatic shot process.