While You’re Busy Making Other Plans
Whenever I stop to contemplate whether or not I am doing a decent job of raising my two blessed little ones in an often chaotic world full of parental obstacles and missteps, I take a moment to remember that my son’s two favorite bands are The Beatles and The Who. One of my favorite photos I have of my daughter is her thumbing through vinyl at a local record store with her tiny hands caught somewhere between Iron Maiden and Leonard Cohen. Yes, I think to myself, I must be doing something right, if only spending enough quality time engaging with my kids to assure that they have an enlightened musical taste. Because that is, after all the essence of good parenting. No, not making sure they don’t listen to crappy music. I’m talking about spending real time with them.
At night before I tuck each of them into bed for the evening, I play them each a song I picked out years ago just for them. For my daughter, it is “I Will Take you Home” by the Grateful Dead, a lovely ode to the father/daughter relationship in which he promises to protect her from the sometimes scary world around her and the dreams that may come her way. My son’s song is John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”, which Lennon wrote for his son Sean just a few years before Lennon was untimely taken from us. I rub my son’s back as he drifts off into slumber, and we both listen to one of the most beautiful celebrations of parenthood ever created. No matter how sleepy he is, though, we both chime in together when Lennon gets to the line near the middle of the song where he sings, “Before you cross the street, take my hand/ Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Even my ten year old knows there is something profound in those words.
In this modern age of parenting, we have all seen the helicopter parents hovering so closely over their kids’ activities and academic pursuits that they are likely to decapitate their unsuspecting progeny if they were to lean in any closer. Filled with nothing but good intentions and lofty ambitions, they enroll their kids in every possible sport or club and then supervise them like a Tiger Mom on Red Bull, angling to make each and every moment a productive, constructive experience. But just what do they really want for their kids in the end of all this anyways? What exactly is the endgame of quality parenting when it comes right down to it?
The first response any of these parents might give is that they want their kids to be “successful”, but what the hell does that even mean? Making tons of money? Yeah, because that has always worked out for constructing a well-lived life. Does it mean having a job with fame and prestige? Again, I can see their fine intentions here, but do you know what Steve Jobs, who most would deem wildly successful because he changed the world through computers and smartphones, wished for on his death bed? More time with his family and friends. You can buy almost anything in this world today except for more time and happiness. Happiness doesn’t come in a box but rather comes from within. And the last time I checked, the Grim Reaper doesn’t take credit cards.
What I want for my kids is to help them learn for themselves how to be happy. I know that’s an ambiguous phrase that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but in the end, I think it comes down to an appreciation of the moments of joy and universal beneficence we are fortunate enough to experience. It emanates not from what we are doing but whom we are doing it with. We need not schedule ourselves and our children into packed moments of productive learning experiences or adventure, trying so darn hard to be sure that we are making the most out of each and every day while screaming at the top of our lungs, “I said ‘Carpe Diem’, dammit. Now get out there and enjoy life.” Just breathe. Relish even the mundane moments for appreciating those moments is what actually makes for a “successful” life.
Just the other day, my daughter wasn’t feeling particularly well, so we sat around the house playing SkipBo, a card game my daughter loves after being introduced to it by her Grandma Patty (unfortunately they are not sponsoring this column). With the warm Colorado sunshine pouring through the kitchen windows onto the table where we sat playing cards, my mind drifted momentarily to being out on my mountain bike, careening down smooth, undulating singletrack as I swept through a panoramic vista filled with rocky outcroppings and statuesque pine trees. But then I realized I had everything I had ever wanted right there in front of me: a daughter still sufficiently young to think that I was cool and fun enough to want to spend her time with me. I placed my ten on top of her nine and told her it was her turn, only to have her angle towards me and say, “Thank you for playing cards with me, Daddy.”
Even at eight years old, she knew what I had momentarily forgotten: to appreciate the time we have with the ones we love and cherish. Forget about the great plans of nothingness. Seize the day, but seize it with the people that make it come to life. Stop making plans and dwell with purpose in the moments in between, for it is in them that true happiness and satisfaction reside.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com