That’s a really tall order. To live in the NOW. Right now. How on earth do you manage that? But to live in the present makes sense, and it seems to be advice given from all quarters – from Emerson, Dickinson, and Abraham Lincoln, to Oprah, who just recently hosted a webinar with Eckhardt Tolle, author of The Power of Now. It’s almost a ubiquitous command – don’t keep living in the past; don’t waste your time worrying about the future – live now.
I got to thinking that for all their faults and missteps, my teens (or my kids at any age, really) are altogether very good at that. At any given moment, they are not thinking about what they did yesterday, or what they need to accomplish tomorrow, they are thinking about how to best take care of themselves at that very moment. Does my son care about how his calculus teacher confused him yesterday? No. Does he put much thought into planning his study schedule for tomorrow? Again, no. He’s focused on just getting through his classes, his extracurriculars, his studying for today. Actually, like any teenage boy, he’s probably just more concerned with getting enough food and sleep… Likewise, does my almost 14 year old care that I was upset with him for not making his bed and putting away his laundry yesterday? Um, big fat NO! Does he even give an ounce of thought as to getting it done tomorrow? Nope. When I ask for certain chores to be completed – and in this instance, I’m thinking now – my kids are thinking about chatting with their cousins on Skype. The Skype thing is so much more important at that moment. And my high school senior really doesn’t seem to have a clue that it takes time and preparation to apply for college. For that matter, he also doesn’t think that past grades will probably have as much affect on those applications as they likely will. So for countless instances like this, it seems to me that kids are really quite adept at being present in the moment.
As a parents though, we seem to keep hammering away to our kids about all the experience we’ve accrued. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because experience is extremely valuable. Just get into a car with a kid who has recently obtained his learner’s permit and watch them make mistake after mistake. They learn something and get better each time they get behind the wheel of a car. And we tend to tout our more savvy abilities as drivers when they blunder. But I know I often trumpet the experience card a little too much. I mean, I only obtained that knowledge because I made the mistakes. And it’s those very mistakes from the past that inhibit my future. I am much more cautious now than I used to be. True, I have many more responsibilities than I used to have. With so much at stake, I spend more time worrying about the consequences of my actions and behavior. In other words, I spend so much time looking backwards that I spend almost an equal amount of time concerned about the future. Where does that leave the present?
I’m not saying that I think drawing from experience is a bad thing. But it is counterproductive to spend too much time looking backward that we can’t focus on planning and preparing for the future. And likewise, it’s fruitless to waste what precious time we do have being anxious about what we can’t control. Yes, we can control things – our actions and our behavior. That’s what I tell my kids, at any rate. I just forget to listen to myself and heed my own advice sometimes. It’s good to teach our kids to learn from past actions, and it’s good to lay the groundwork so that they’ll have foresight. But it’s wonderful when I can learn from them once in a while too. I doubt I’ll shrug off the laundry tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure I’ll fall back on all my behind-the-wheel “war stories” when my other children start driving, but maybe I can learn to enjoy those times when my presence is all that they truly desire. Maybe I can grab a cup of hot chocolate and really listen to what they’re saying. Maybe I won’t think about how badly I handled my time with them yesterday, or worry about what hormonally-driven challenges we’ll face tomorrow. Maybe… I’ll just let that moment be whatever it turns out to be.