“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” —Simone Weil

 

I am lying on my back on a bath rug. My legs are draped over and into a full tub of water occupied by my two naked babies. Oh, but they are not babies any longer. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to hold on to their sometimes still-round bellies, they continue to grow. Both can submerge their heads under water in this oval, jacuzzi tub now. Whipping their hair back when they come to the surface again, they remind me of their father coming out of the swimming pool. This movement—my older boy Jonah picked it up from observation and has since passed it on to his little brother, Adrian. I am lying on the rug and I am experiencing a feeling inside in great contrast to the way that I have felt throughout the day. I relish my in-breath and experience a deep relaxation come over me as I exhale. My boys are playing “doctor” and caring for my “injured” feet. They’ve created a paste out of the eczema soap mixture I’ve given them to soothe their dry, winter skin and with it they smooth my own dry heals. I breathe deeply letting my day fall away, letting go of the nearly constant monologue of the many should’s and how-to’s and reminders of kindnesses and cleanliness and carefulness that I’ve been administering for nearly twelve hours now. I close my eyes and listen to the musings of the doctors at work—of Jonah, describing the way in which he is healing my broken toes and deciding that he is a water-scientist at work. Adrian stands and peers over  the side of the tub at me, water dripping from his long eyelashes. It is clear that he has recently submerged himself again. He looks at me through his chocolatey brown eyes and assures me that I don’t need to be afraid of being treated by the doctors, that I am safe. “Nana, is right behind you,” he says. He knows that Nana is my Mom and that I will feel safe if my Mom is near. I’m glad for that association.

Lingering in Adrian’s gaze has been an anchor for me in this time of changing routines and greater time apart. I meet him there whenever I can. Sometimes when he is finishing up a meal, sometimes when we are reading a book together and we come to an amusing passage and often when he is luxuriating on the potty as he is known to do. “I don’t need privacy,” he says while he is sitting there on his sky blue potty with the little bear on it. And he can sit for a very long while. Most of the time, I can find the presence to sit in front of him and just take him in in this wholly natural and vulnerable place. I know so well that this time will pass, although, my bigger boy Jonah— now five—would still have me sit with him and take in his dreamy, blue eyes in this very same way every time he uses the bathroom if I would! I sometimes do. This is all that my children long for in life —my attention and the attention of those surrounding them and dear to them. Not in a, “look at me,” kind of way—although there is quite a bit of that, too. Their greatest need, their greatest pleasure is in the single-minded presence of those who love them. They can spy distractedness, multi-tasking and living-in-one’s-head from a mile away, too, like a couple of little detectives. Watch them how they jump wildly from the couch. Watch them how they roar.

Back on the bath rug, Jonah decides that it is time to rinse off my legs. He inadvertently pours water not just down the front of my legs but also over the side of the tub soaking my entire pant legs. I cry out a little and try to jump up but it is difficult with my legs wedged the way they are. I finally raise up enough to swing my feet around and bring my face close to Jonah and we are both laughing and I am sort of breathless from trying to get up and just witnessing his full-body laughter. Looking at him in that free and joyful place of unencumbered laughter—like a wave—wipes away so much of the coarser back-and-forth that we had experienced together throughout the day. It wipes away so much and brings us face to face, heart to heart, once again.

Slow Down With Your Children and They Will Show You the World

I like to joke that when the time comes for my son Jonah to choose a partner in life, I will know the right person for him because they will not be rushing him down the aisle. Jonah, like most children, lives very much in the moment and takes his time, soaking in every experience for all that it has to offer. He luxuriates in life. His baths are long and when he builds a train track we always grant time for cities to be created at every stop. Allowing these moments to unfold organically with my children and living according to their rhythm has exposed me to a wonder and amazement at the world and an attention to detail that our society often does not have time for. It is in these precious pauses that my children and I have experienced surprises and truly seen each other. With this in mind, I almost never utter phrases like, “we need to hurry.” Or, “we’re running out of time.” I might use the gentler, “please put on your Super Fast Superman Shoes so we can finish this task really, really quickly!” But only if there is a plane to catch or we are about to miss an event altogether. So my formerly, highly punctual self has had to acclimate to a fair amount of tardiness. Slowing my pace and committing to truly being present with my children is among the greatest gifts I have offered myself as a mother.

In the late winter Jonah and I were getting ready to go to his school where we attend a parent and toddler class one morning each week. We were running “late.” Our babysitter, Sarah, who was coming to take care of my younger son Adrian, entered our home just about the same time we needed to leave. She had accidentally taken Jonah’s winter hat (with a monkey face on it) home in her coat pocket the day before. She pulled the hat out of her pocket and proceeded to tell us how surprised she had been to find it there when she was out for a walk with her Mom the evening before. An adult might have chuckled at this story and then kept moving – especially if in a hurry. In his response to Sarah’s story, Jonah taught us something that morning and thankfully we had the presence to allow for the moment to unfold and recognize all that it was worth.

First Jonah enjoyed hearing Sarah tell the story, eyes wide with attention. He giggled and laughed when she pulled the hat out of her pocket in surprise. Then he paused, clearly reliving the story in his own mind and then he shared, “that’s funny!” Then he retold the story, complete with putting his own hand in his pocket and pulling an imaginary hat out in surprise. Next he asked Sarah some questions about the story, wondering if she was really surprised when she found the hat and again commenting on how it was a funny thing to have happened. We were standing in the doorway from our house to our garage as this moment unfolded and even after hearing the story, retelling the story and making some comments, Jonah still lingered. Then Sarah and I talked for a few minutes and we headed out to our car. I knew all the while that we would not be arriving at our class exactly when we were supposed to but I also knew the value of listening to Jonah and sharing in his interpretation of the story. I believe taking our time offered him a sense of importance for what his thoughts and feelings contribute to our family and his relationship with others. In my experience I have found that an unhurried approach to the world offers children a sense of peace and comfort. And I know that in particular, not rushing Jonah as much as possible fosters a sense of imagination and the space to develop his own thoughts – thoughts he expresses more and more each day. He has begun to share insightful observations recently, some prompting my husband and I to ask, “who taught you that?” In actuality we have discovered that they are his very own ideas.

We left for school in peace that day instead of in a frenzy. These opportunities present themselves many, many times each day as I interact with both of my children. I was recently nursing my son Adrian and at the same time he raised his arm up in the air, his tiny fingers finding my mouth over and over again. He would touch my mouth with his hand and look up at me with a twinkle in his eye. I saw that he thought it was a bit comical so the next time his fingers met my lips I surprised him by nibbling on them in jest. He began laughing hysterically and then went back to nursing. A minute later he lifted his arm up to my lips, now giggling with his eyes in anticipation. I nibbled, he laughed hysterically. We did this over and over again until he decided he was ready to move on. This is not what a lactation consultant might call a productive feeding! However, these are the moments that I cherish and (excuse the pun) milk, for all that they are worth.

Last night our family went out for a Japanese dinner. On our way out of the restaurant Jonah stopped to admire a very large Maneki Neko, which is a traditional Japanese sculpture of a cat, beckoning with an upright paw. He sat down next to it and I observed him as he petted the cat, gave it a kiss and stroked its’ whiskers. I had never been up close to a sculpture like this one and probably from a distance wouldn’t have noticed that it actually had clear but distinct whiskers. When he was clearly finished exploring the cat I picked Jonah up and chatted with him about our meal as we headed to the car. Some strands of my hair fell across my face and Jonah took them holding them up over my lip and said, “look Mama, you have whiskers too!” I took note yet again of the gems that I am continually presented with when I simply allow the space for them to appear.

What has your child introduced you to recently that you might never have noticed operating at your usual pace?