I spent a Monday attempting to catch up from the events of an extremely busy weekend, plus the myriad routine tasks that fill up a regular day. After putting my toddler down for his afternoon nap, I unashamedly put my preschooler in front of the television with a small bowl of candy to guarantee me at least a few minutes of uninterrupted time.
It didn't last long. His typical non-interest in television was no different, even with the candy. So then I brought him a bowl of crackers to tempt him for a few more minutes. He wasn't really interested in the show but he was interested in the crackers.
At this point, I was hoping Joshua would just fall asleep before I depleted the pantry in a vain attempt to complete one more task. Instead, as I passed by my bedroom with a pile of laundry in my hand, it wasn't a sleepy face I saw. It was a forlorn face of a child who needed some attention.
Knowing full well the temperatures outside were hovering right around my favorite numbers on a thermometer, I realized some things could wait and I announced, "Let's go play outside on the swings."
Joshua has an infectious smile. There is something about it that spreads from ear to ear and lights up his eyes, and almost always a small sound escapes his lips. His reaction to my swing suggestion was all of that and more.
After several minutes playing on the swings, Joshua opted to ride his bike and suggested, "You sit and watch me and read your book."
My mind wandered to the novel on the side of my bed that I'd started the previous week and hadn't picked up since. The usual guilt-free thoughts of "I'm spending one-on-one-time even if I'm reading a book" were dispelled in a second as I was slapped in the face with one simple thought.
How many more times will I push Joshua on a swing? How many more times will it just be me and him on a sunny, fall day with nothing to do but just be together?
You know all those "firsts" we celebrate — yet the "lasts" gradually fade into the routines and progressions of life with barely a notice. (Which really is just as well, most "lasts" would be far too heartbreaking to acknowledge.)
I couldn't help but think back to pushing my now fourth-grader on a swing, or once watching my now seventh-grader ride her bike, or the last time I spent a quiet afternoon alone with my now second-grader while the others were napping or at school. Did I know when I was doing those things that they were the last time?
Before I could change my mind, I told Joshua that today I wouldn't be reading my book. I was just going to watch him. And watch him I did. So many times I started to stand up and go inside and grab a camera. I wanted to capture everything about the way Joshua was acting, the way he looked and the way he played. Anna Quindlen's oft-used quote kept going through my mind:
But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough.
This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.
I was doing. I wasn't getting anything done, but I was basking in the simple act of doing — watching Joshua play. Even the temptation of a permanent photo memory wasn't enough to pull me away.
I watched Joshua practice his bike skids. I watched him talk to himself as his imagination went full speed. I watched him turn at the sounds of a nearby lawn mower. I watched him be an active, 4-year-old boy, and my heart felt full.
After awhile, the outside toys no longer held his interest, and after disappearing briefly, Joshua returned outside with a notebook and three crayons. Pulling a chair into the shade, he sat, quietly focused. All the while I just stared at him, wishing I would be able to remember the perfection of this moment later during Joshua's not so perfect moments.
Shocked that this moment could get any more perfect, I heard Joshua ask in a somewhat dazed, quiet voice, "Can I draw you a brue fower?"
"Of course," I replied.
Once in a while, I get something right. Once in a while, I remember to prioritize what truly matters. Laundry and dinner preparations waited while I lived in the moment. I treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. It was just me, my little boy, and a blue flower.
A perfect afternoon.
Tiffany Sowby is frequently found vacillating between wanting her children to grow up and wanting them to stay small forever. She blogs about finding joy in the little things at www.ourmostofthetimehappyfamily.blogspot.com