Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Living now and taking stock

I suppose it's human nature that we want everything, and that we want it as soon as possible. Not that living for the future is all bad. Anticipation can be a wonderful thing. I remember last December when we were preparing for a trip to Florida how the planning and the anticipation was almost as exciting as the actual trip - and the trip was wonderful. And for a guy that's not fond of winter, spending half of it thinking about Florida (when I was there and when I wasn't) sure was great.

But the danger with living for the future is that you can do it at the expense of the present. We often don't even take the time to enjoy what we've been coveting before we're coveting something else. And in the age of quick information and free flowing credit, we often don't have to wait very long for that next exciting thing or experience. In actual fact, as a society, we don't do a lot of real anticipating anymore - just for as long as it takes to get to the nearest Best Buy or to download the latest song. Everything we want is at our fingertips and we greedily grab for it like a child grabs for the chocolate bar in front of her at the checkout line.

Parenting is different... and not so different. There is no rushing anticipation here, that's for sure. And believe me, there are days when I'd love to say, "o.k., that was fun for a while, now let's put these kids up on Used Ottawa and then go catch a couple of movies." But we can't. It doesn't work that way. In the 21st century, parenting may just be the one last aspect of our lives where most of us still feel compelled to make a long term commitment.

As much as Julie and I have loved experiencing the day-to-day wonders of raising small children, we have also hungered for the day when our responsibilities will diminish in intensity, if not in importance.  We can't wait until we can sleep in on a Saturday, see a play again at our leisure, or enjoy a wine trip to Niagara.

So as parents we continue the pattern of always looking forward - to the next step, the next stage, the next reward in life's journey (as though life is about being rewarded) - except, that's not the whole picture this time. This time, we're being constantly reminded of the present, and of the past. Kids will do that to you. They change so quickly that you find yourself always mourning what's already passed and what you know will soon pass. Every beautiful moment, every sweet spot you find yourselves in with a child is tinged slightly with the knowledge that this moment, this stage will pass and that you won't get it back again.

Emily's not waking as often during the night, and that makes Julie happy, of course, but it also makes her sad. She knows that pretty soon she won't have the night time feedings, the intimacy that she's enjoyed with her baby. And every time Chloe gives me one of her big hugs or says "Daaady" in that way she does, I know that it won't last forever, and that I had better appreciate it. I know too that I won't always be perfect, won't always be her hero (it may end next year since she's taken a keen interest in hockey and I can't skate).

If we're doing our jobs right as parents, we're spending every day guiding and teaching our kids how to survive and thrive on their own. They arrive fully dependent on us and become less so everyday until they really don't need us anymore. Talk about weaning! And we parents are being weaned the whole time too. No wonder parents of adult children long to feel needed again. It's the flip side of longing to feel cared for and protected.

With most things in life, phases and stages slip by without our noticing, and we can only long to have them back and wish we had appreciated them more in the moment (university and my early twenties come to mind). With parenting, you can see all the little moments slipping by right in front of you, and you're a damn fool if you don't take the time to appreciate them. You won't get them back.

Living in the present... it's hard, and always has been hard for me. But at least kids help to make it a conscious choice. Every day now I try to live now and to observe what's going on around me. It's easy to miss a lot when you're not paying attention. But it's the hardest thing in the world to live for now and not worry about tomorrow or yesterday.

It's also great to anticipate the future, of course.  That's one of the joys of life. But to simply live for the next great distraction, it's just pathetic really - like a dog salivating for his next treat. Spending our whole lives waiting for the next great thing is just a form of escape, where we don't have to evaluate our lives, appreciate where we are right now, or deal with our own mortality. We can just keep sitting for treats until we die, "hopefully of a heart attack, not cancer. Nobody wants to die of cancer, man" and we won't have to think about any deeper purpose, meaning or appreciation.  Isn't it strange that none of us want to die, yet instead of trying to come to terms with our lives and our deaths, we stick our head in the sand and go out and buy something.

Childhood development generally follows a pretty predictable path, and can't be rushed or slowed. Sometimes it seems to take so long - and other times it seems like it's happening way too fast. The best thing we can do is appreciate the whole ride, and then what comes after. Life will run it's course, whether we like it or not. Constantly looking forward will only lead us to one place, ultimately - the end of the story, the conclusion, and everybody knows that the end of the story is rarely the best part.


  1. Great post Sean--ha, usedottawa. I'd buy them if they were cheap!

    I saw this quote the other day and it seemed to hit home on what you discuss in this post Sean, so I thought I'd share it:

    "Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
    "Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.
    "Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
    "One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return."--Mary Jean Iron

  2. It's true. We don't appreciate often enough how wonderful a perfectly normal day can be... mind you, I'm not sure I know what a normal day is around here right now. It's all excitement all the time in this household. I guess that's normal for us. There are times when I'd kill for one of my old normal days. There I go again, living for some other time and place. As if I'd really like to be back there. Thanks Colleen