December 24, 2013

Being a Present Parent. ~ Laura Deurmyer

Have you listened to James Taylor’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” lately?

If you’re a parent and you listen to that song, I dare you not to tear up.

Go on, try it; I’ll wait.

As a parent, it’s hard not to think about time going by, about how fast our children grow up. Accepting where my son is in his life is one of my biggest challenges when trying to live mindfully.

A decade ago, I lay frightened in a Corpus Christi, Texas hospital bed trying desperately not to have a baby. I was a late mom—37 about to turn 38—and my body was fighting to expel our son at only 29 weeks.

That time in the hospital is a blur to me now. I mainly recall grinding worry about our child’s future. Given the costs and difficulties inherent in raising an extremely premature child, I wasn’t able to think about much else.

I cheated myself of the ability to enjoy the birth experience. I wish I had been present enough in the moment to recall what it felt like to see our son for the first time. I’m sure there was relief and wonder, but I honestly recall none of it.

I can never relive those moments; I didn’t make the conscious choice to focus on what was happening, right there, right then, as our only child was born.

Instead, my mind catapulted to the problems ahead.

How would we care for such a tiny infant? Would he have cerebral palsy? Would his lungs work?

I found little hopeful to focus on in the fuzzy future. I fretted about how we had ended up about to give birth 11 weeks early.

Was it something I’d done? Something I’d eaten?

I was looking back and looking forward—doing anything but being where I was,. What a terrible mental habit with which to start motherhood!

The fears I cataloged lying in that hospital bed a decade ago turned out to be unfounded.

Currently sitting on our couch in his blue plaid pajamas, all four foot eight inches of his being concentrated intently on a movie, our 2.5 pound infant has morphed into one of the tallest kids in his class. After years of speech therapy, a stint with a pediatric cardiologist and more MRIs before age one than most people will have in a lifetime, our boy is a poster child for modern medicine.

Yet even with such a miraculous boy, I catch myself looking back with nostalgia to his babyhood or looking forward with apprehension to college and beyond.

Mental habits are hard to break.

The other day, I spotted a billboard for car seats. It hit me like a physical blow that my baby no longer uses a car seat or even a booster seat. A vision of him sitting beside me in the front seat of the car, a milestone now a scant year away, flashed into my brain. My gut twisted; first the front seat, then the drivers’ seat, then… gone.

My husband likes to say that whatever age our son is at any given time is his favorite age. I realize he’s right. It’s time to break my habit of holding onto the past or projecting into the future. It’s time to appreciate my child as he is now, whenever now may be.

I want my whole self here with my child, whether he’s telling a joke, inventing some crazy dance move or explaining why he thinks there should be no such thing as money.

The next time I find myself beginning to panic about college prospects during a homework session, I will stop. I will look at him—really see him. The endearing way his hair curls against his neck, his green eyes, even his defiance over having to learn cursive writing.

When we are together and he is telling me about his day, I will listen and make every effort to hear him. I want to know what he thinks about his homework, his teachers, the cute girl who sits at the corner table.

These things are important to him now, and I want to be here, not mentally wandering the halls of the future or the past. I actively listen to others every day—co-workers, spouse and friends. If I don’t do the same for my son, I am cheating both of us.

So, a decade after his scary, early, medically-intensive arrival in the world, 10 will be my new favorite age. I want to enjoy each day of parenting a 10 year old.

I want to hear silly stories and jokes, discover what’s going on in The Hobbit, listen to him whine about push-ups at karate and find out what he thinks about the news. I want to watch him grow ever more into himself, day by day and moment by moment.

It’s not time to worry about high school and college or to be concerned about whether or not he will move as far away from his parents as I did from mine. I will try not to yearn for the kindergarten years or any other time.

My next decade as a parent will be filled with change, adventure, heartache and joy. I want to inhabit every moment of it.

if I can conquer my tendency to look back and forward, I will be rewarded by knowing my child as he is, right now.


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Editor: Michelle Margaret

Photo: Mike DeMicco on Pixoto

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