The other night I was at a birthday party for my three-year-old goddaughter and over dessert I was treated to a few old family stories told by her great uncle visiting from out-of-town.
My goddaughter’s mom is one of my very dearest friends and I’ve known her family for forever. It was fun to meet the brother and sister of the man I’ve always called “Uncle Pat,” to hear a few funny tales about a person I’ve always just known as my friend’s dad.
It turns out Uncle Pat is from a family very similar to me and Paul’s: four boys in five years, nice long break after that, and then two more babies to round out the bunch. Just like us. The only difference that I could tell is that his stories of wild and crazy life with boys happened sixty years ago, while mine are still very fresh and thus still a little raw.
The highlight of the evening was hearing Uncle Pat’s sister tell a story of her four older brothers, those imps, who played a trick on the local parish priest way back when. It was a funny story and it sounds like their mother probably took it in stride. Some days I think I’m the kind of woman who might need a good forty or fifty years before I can exhale deeply, before I’ll be able to tell the tales without counting the cost.
Of course I try to laugh about some of these things, but parenting is terribly tricky because you have to take yourself quite seriously while not taking yourself too seriously at all. Some of the things Paul and I deal with as parents of our children are totally hysterical. Some I don’t find all that funny. I wonder if maybe I will, and I hope that will one day be the case.
I sat there over cake and ice cream and I listened to a few stories of these Irish boys from forever ago, these older gentlemen who now fill their days with golf and leisure and it struck me that it’s all so fleeting. The boys I raise in this moment will one day, years from now, be husbands and fathers and grandfathers who will look back on their youth as if it were forever ago and also just yesterday.
Oh my goodness I don’t want it to go too fast.
This year on New Year’s Eve, we were at a party at my sister’s house and she had us all do a little craft. She had everyone pick a word for the new year, which we then artfully painted onto a small wooden plaque. Some turned out cuter than others.
The point was to hang these plaques in our home to remind us of our goal for the coming months, our hopes and vision for what we wanted in the coming year.
I chose a phrase, something that had been on my heart for a while, a desire I’ve had deep within that I want to train myself to achieve. Two words: Be Present.
I want to be present to my children, to enjoy this moment right now. These days are hard but they won’t be here forever. I don’t want to be so fixated on just making it to the other side that I forget to enjoy it all, to really see the face of the child standing before me. I want to be in tune enough that I don’t miss what’s there before me, the hopes and dreams and needs and wants — that I’m able to be present to this child before he is grown and gone and no longer in my care.
For my children, I want their memories, fifty years from now, to include a mother who loved them wholeheartedly, who was there for them — really there.
It goes so fast; I pray for the grace to savor each moment the best that I can.
This originally appeared as my weekly column in The Southern Cross. Also, Uncle Pat’s family had an oldest girl, which I’m sure tempered at least a little of the crazy.