How did the weekend go?
A bust, she said.
My friend noted that one of the parents who visited with their new baby and toddler was anxious and on edge the entire time.
Her words: “(He was) fidgety and not in the moment at all.”
She wondered if the parent — a dad in this case — had any fun on the beach getaway with his young children and wife.
I WAS that parent
I tsked. What a shame, I said.
But then I recalled that I was once that parent. My kids are older now, but I remember the baby and toddler years.
I imagined the dad at the beach, policing kids not yet able to swim for getting too close to the ocean or plucking cigarette butts from the sand.
Everything the family owned likely was stuffed into the minivan for the trip and yet something important was forgotten, like a hat to keep their little bald heads for burning.
Maybe that stressed out look in dad’s eyes was because he was thinking about whether to cut the beach excursion short now or tie his own T-shirt around one of their heads.
So much can go wrong
I know this dad. He’s a hands-on father. It’s his responsibility as much as the mother’s to care in every single way for the children.
Of course, that dad wasn’t being fully present. Parents of little ones rarely are.
It’s difficult to feel the sand in your toes when so much can go so wrong at any moment.
Parents must constantly be thinking ahead.
And that’s OK, maybe even lifesaving. How are you going to stop a child’s inevitable bone-breaking fall unless you’re already there and can see — and then stop it — before it happens?
Parents aren’t “fully present” because sometimes they need to be in four places at once and two different time zones — for the well-being of their children or for their own sanity.
I was called out for being checked out
Given how much time and energy we all, as parents, invest in our kids well-being, it’s OK to step back and take a moment for yourself once in while – even if someone else gives you a hard time about it.
I was visiting a friend one Sunday afternoon and she marveled at how diligent my husband was about tending to my kids’ every need while I, she noticed, relaxed with my eyes closed in the backyard lounge chair.
It was a comment meant to sting.
And it did.
I can barely recall vacations when my three girls were babies and toddlers, but I remember that.
The comment was designed to shame, me for my straying attention.
But the truth is, I needed five minutes to just shut my eyes and regroup. Most parents do.
With an extra set of adult eyes on my kids, including hers, I took it.
It doesn’t make me a bad mom. And it doesn’t make you one either.
They still need me to be present
It has been seven years since my youngest was in diapers.
They don’t depend on me every waking moment to stay alive, to keep from being burned on the stove, or being swept into the ocean by the undercurrent.
They still need me, though. They still need me to be present.
To stay off my phone and watch my little gymnast nail her round off.
To listen as my junior high daughter tells a never-ending story about what happened at school lunch.
To ask questions about the video games they play that my aging eyes can’t quite make out on their tiny smartphone screens.
And I try very, very hard to be in the moment. I don’t always succeed. But I succeed more than I used to since my children are older and I get more moments to myself to just shut my eyes.
My guess is that this “fidgety” dad will too.
Writer/curator for AlltheMoms.com. Mom to three girls. Married to a sports writer who travels a lot. This will be a good thing when I hit menopause at the same time his girls enter puberty. Weird fact: I’ve watched “The Young & the Restless” for 38 years and I feel no shame. Known to ramble about latest teen sci-fi/fantasy read.