A week ago Friday, I was sitting in my car in a high school parking lot waiting for my son to get out of soccer practice. There were probably 20-30 other parents sitting in their cars; a few were standing around talking. Most were on their phones. Some were reading or looked like they were listening to the radio. It was approximately 4:20 in the afternoon.
Suddenly, an ambulance followed by a fire truck came racing around the corner and into the parking lot, sirens blaring, horns bleating. I felt like I was watching a slow motion video as the vehicles came to a stop near the theatre at the edge of the tennis courts, where the stairs led down to the pool, soccer and football fields.
Some students came running to meet the paramedics, who got out of the ambulance……..casually. When I saw that, I took a breath and realized I hadn’t taken one for a little while. Then I saw that the tee shirts the students were wearing had the name of the school play on them, and I took another breath. When my son got to the car about 8 minutes later, he said a young woman in the play had suffered a seizure but was going to be okay.
Before driving away, I took another look around the parking lot. I wondered if my face looked like the faces of the other parents I saw. No longer were they distracted, peaceful, even bored. Now I saw attention, emotion, concern. Who knows what they were all waiting for; I’m sure there were multiple practices and meetings and events happening on campus at that time of the day.
But for a moment, we were all doing the same thing. We were all thinking about those that we are responsible for. Those we care for. Those we love.
For the rest of the weekend, I was more present with my son than I have been in a while. I cheered just a little bit louder and longer at his soccer games. I looked into his eyes when we spoke. I made sure he saw me laugh at his jokes, instead of chuckling to myself, and I chose to do my random house stuff in the same room he was in, when possible. It was challenging, but I tried to not make the content of my communication be chores or tasks, but his opinions and experiences. My goal was to demonstrate my unconditional positive regard for my son as clearly as possible.
(Brief clarification: My husband and younger son were away for the weekend, so it was just myself and the teenager. We had the gift of time.)
“In 5 minutes, this survivor of the plane that landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009 called out every lazy parenting choice or barely acceptable rationalization that I’ve ever had. He shared three realizations that he gained from his near-death experience on Flight 1549, and then encouraged the audience to consider what would change in their life if they left his talk and got on a plane that met the same fate his flight had. …… it was when he talked about his biggest lesson; that “Above all, I want to be a great dad”, that I really felt the impact of what it means to be a present parent.
Think about it. If you are a parent, when have been your best moments as a parent? I’m confident your first thought was of a time when you were completely present with your child(ren). Whatever you were doing or not doing, whatever was being said, eaten, or played with, you were present. You were there, not distracted or annoyed or self-conscious.
If you have a parent, I’m equally sure that your best moments with them were when they were 100% with you. It didn’t even matter what you were doing, where you were, or even who else was around, because you didn’t notice or care. You had the undivided attention of the person who was most important in the world.”
The weekend ended perfectly. A leisurely dinner with a dear friend chronicling the joys and challenges of watching our children grow into adulthood. Sunday was the perfect counterpoint to Friday; the wailing sirens transformed into wine and laughter.
Things won’t always be this way. Which makes this way, right now, so very sweet.
There is much to be thankful — and present– for.
What can you be present for this week?