It had been one of those days that felt like I was on the verge of drowning, struggling to keep my head above the mounting pile of tasks that threatened to overwhelm me.
This is despite the fact that I lay in bed until the wee hours the night before, painstakingly extracting each task from the whirring Cuisinart in my brain and tidying up the next day’s to-do list.
Drop Emme at preschool. Meet crew at the job site. Drop Elle at play date. Remember swim suit! Respond to emails. Call this client. Pick Elle up. Meet delivery truck. The list went on and on. Running a business while being the Chief Planning Officer for my family of four humans and one dog means I have mastered the art of organizing schedules. Rushing from one pick-up to the next drop-off. Getting the kids from here to there; sun-screened, fed, teeth and hair brushed and wearing the appropriate shoes – all while responding to emails on my smartphone, coordinating work meetings, and texting instructions to employees.
I’m the epitome of today’s working parent: Master Multi-Tasker.
But in the process of mastering the art of multi-tasking, I’m afraid I’ve lost something important. My mind, perhaps; but more importantly, I no longer know how to be present in the moments that make up my life.
This realization became all too apparent on this particular day. Despite the fact that I had so meticulously mapped out every last half-hour of this day, my schedule didn’t unfold with the crisp exactness I’d anticipated. I left the lunch box at home. I didn’t write down that address. I couldn’t find my debit card. The dog took off.
My Type A personality just doesn’t do well with things not going as planned, so when, late in the afternoon I got word that the delivery truck would be late, I nearly threw a temper tantrum.
Quick note: When you are attempting to raise level-headed, thoughtful and well-behaved citizens of the world, it’s best to exhibit those qualities yourself. Just as I was madly punching yet another series of numbers into the phone gripped tightly in my hand, attempting to find a remedy to this truck-not-arriving-on-time predicament, I thought to look up for a moment to make sure Elle and the dog hadn’t wandered away.
Elle was standing in the grass adjacent to my office, looking toward the sky. A puff of wind had lifted the downy tufts of cottonwood fluff from an overhanging tree, and they swirled around her like a gentle blizzard. Leisurely, they floated around her, not without direction or purpose, but with a measured momentum that made it seem as though this little daughter of mine had stepped into a different space; a space that wasn’t frantic and hurried, a place where you stopped what you were doing to simply watch what was happening all around you.
I looked at the phone in my sweaty palm. I thought of the book I had been forcing myself to read at night, when my mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep, called Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race, Ph.D.
In it, Race talks about how our increasingly over-scheduled lives are actually detrimental to our children’s development, making the case that yes, it is OK if your preschooler isn’t learning two languages while taking violin lessons and attending soccer practice three times a week.
These hectic schedules become a significant hindrance to our ability to create mindful lives. We enter a constant mode of planning and spend little to no time just being, she writes. We’re planning the kids’ schedules, organizing carpools, racing to make it to our destination on time. When we arrive our minds shift directly to thinking about the next event, rarely enjoying exactly where we are. Kids naturally live in the present moment, but we are increasingly denying them this opportunity, at younger and younger ages. To truly enjoy the present moment we have to allow ourselves and our kids time to just be.
I set the phone on my desk and I went outside to join Elle. Standing motionless as the world swirled around us, I emerged from my haze for the first time that day. The simple beauty of standing with my daughter in a gentle tornado of cottonwood fluff brought tears to my eyes. Or perhaps it was the realization that I had spent hours with my child that day, but I hadn’t actually spent any time truly with her.
The wind disappeared like a yawn, taking the cottonwood with it. I looked at my child, then went back to my desk and turned off my phone.
“Let’s go home,” I said, taking her hand, “and you can tell me about what else you’ve seen today.”
The rest of it, I thought, can just wait.