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Susan Stiffelman

Mindful with J

I'm sitting in my friend W's backyard, making a choo-choo train out of rocks with her 28-month old son while Mama rests inside. I've known W since she was a little more than a year old; now, at thirty-seven, I savor the times I get to stop the train of my own busy life to hang out with her two year old for an afternoon. Today is one of those days, and I'm in my own little slice of heaven.

As I reflect on the day while driving home, the first thing I notice is how present I am. I'm not in a hurry; feeling no particular push to make the stoplight, or pass the car in front of me that's going a little slower than the speed limit.

Driving closer to the coast, I become aware of the slightly fishy smell in the air; the ocean looks shimmery and sparkly in the moonlight. I feel a relaxation in my body, and a happy hum in my heart.

When my son was small (he's now 21), I remember days like this—wandering from one moment to the next without an agenda, letting moments, even hours, unfold with curiosity and openness. We didn't call it mindfulness; it was just the result of being present with a little child—mindfulness isn't a practice when you're just starting out in life; it's where you live.

These days, my life is largely governed by appointments and tasks, big projects, “important” meetings. I enjoy most of it; I like the stimulation and creativity of what I do, and the value I believe it brings to others.

And lest I come of as romanticizing the whole parenting thing, don't get me wrong: I remember well the countless impatient moments when I didn't feel like singing Baa Baa Black Sheep for the 20th time, or endure one more round of Knock Knock jokes.

Still, our children offer us an opportunity to walk through life in a state of joy and awareness of the gifts in the present in a way that almost nothing else can. At each moment we're offered a choice: Do I fixate on where I'd rather be as I go through the motions of studying ants wandering in the grass at my feet, or do I fully engage with watching the ants at my feet?

There will always be a pull away from the present; our challenge is to keep returning to it, to savor the sweetness and embrace the possibility of stepping further into the love and joy it offers.

Naturally, it's easier for me to say this from my current vantage point. I'm not with a young child 24/7; I get to drop in, enjoy the experience for a little while, and then return to a more stimulating life. But as I sat there with J in the grass, I couldn't help but remember longingly the days I did give myself over to the experience of parenting, when I released myself—and my son—from the invasion of “things to do, places to go and people to see” and opened my heart to the simple sweetness inherent in my child's presence and the heightened awareness of the miracle of all that was new, through his eyes.

May your parenting journey offer you the chance to slow down, see more, and receive the treasures your child has to bring. And may you find yourself able to receive them.