Almost everyone has those moments of being “in the flow,” when one is fully immersed in an activity and it feels natural, energizing, and enjoyable. Time is lost as minutes become hours. The experience feels easy. In my pre-baby days, I used to feel that way when I painted, oblivious to the commotion around me as I focused on creating my masterpiece…um, sorta decent piece of art. When I worked outside of the home, these moments would creep up too, like while presenting a high profile case or writing a psychological evaluation on an especially intriguing client.
That’s me and MFP, two winters ago at Myrtle Beach in November, enjoying a moment of flow. Yes, I do have the Whitest.Calves.Ever. No, we did not catch pneumonia.
Admittedly, these moments of flow are few and far between now. My world has become one of multitasking, checking off to-do lists in my head as I attend to the needs of my family. As much as I attempt to stay present in the moment, I often find my mind drifting to the next task (I’ve got to make dinner before there is a low blood sugar meltdown in the house!); or analyzing MFP’s behavior (Is that age-appropriate? Normal? Does she need more omega-3’s in her diet?); or replaying an awkward interaction with another parent (I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize your daughter at church despite the fact that I see her at pre-k drop-off twice a week!), or one of the other bajillion thoughts that run through my head at any given moment. And sometimes the only thing I’m thinking is, “I really need a nap.” But there are those instances, although fewer than I care to admit, that I am fully present and thoroughly enjoying a tender moment with my child. Last night it was while reading the same “Fancy Nancy” book for the upteenth time as MFP snuggled her lavender scented head on my shoulder. I think she felt the power of that moment too because mid-story she looked up at me with wide, warm brown eyes, smiled a dreamy grin, and said, “I love you Mommy,” which made the huge tantrum she had thrown fifteen minutes earlier totally worth it. Last week, it was during one of our late afternoon strolls as we discussed a seemingly deranged squirrel, picked dandelions, and debated about when birds lay their eggs. MFP insisted it was during the summer, not spring and wouldn’t let it go until I “asked” my phone (turns out most do in spring, some will lay eggs multiple times a year, and some, like chickens, lay eggs year-round).
Because I’m analytical by nature (I know, how nerdy), I wanted to examine the factors that contribute to these experiences, what I’ve deemed “Mommy Flow”, with my child. I came to the conclusion that in order for me to really pay attention and be present in the moment, a few factors seemed key. Here is my very unscientific summary of those findings.
Time It is important that I have adequate time for the activity. If I’m rushing to get MFP to bed or dinner on the table, flow is much less likely since my focus turns to beating the clock rather than what I’m doing in the moment.
Energy The more adequately rested and less overworked I am, the more involved I tend to become in the activity. This made me chuckle. It’s hard to imagine a mom ever really being well rested. My measure of having had adequate rest is when I don’t feel like I need to chug three espresso shots prior to engaging in an activity.
Having a goal My goal might be as simple as helping to make MFP feel relaxed and loved before bedtime or teaching her how to observe and enjoy nature.
Liking the activity It’s easier for me to be in the flow when we’re sharing an activity that is mutually enjoyable. Sitting on her stepstool waiting for her to go potty…not so much. Family day at the museum. Much more likely.
I know flow isn’t going to happen all the time or even every day necessarily. Motherhood is rewarding but challenging and sometimes, plain old exhausting. There are days when merely keeping the kids supervised and fed seems like a lofty goal. I recently lamented to an acquaintance that I felt guilty because MFP told me, “Mommy, I love watching you cook and clean…not really. I wish you could just play with me.” Ugh. That was a knife to the heart, even though intellectually I know that I spend plenty of time “playing” with her. The acquaintance, a lovely mother of four children under the age of ten, graciously responded, “That’s good for her to see you cooking and cleaning. She has to see the reality is that there is time for work and time for play. You can’t play with her all day long. And the reason she plays so well independently and can use her imagination is because you have given her that time.” What wonderful words of wisdom. Which makes me feel slightly better about telling MFP to “Go find something to do,” when I’m in the midst of completing a project. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
However, in those times when we are “playing,” I can improve the quality of our interactions (for the both of us) by recognizing what factors contribute to flow and helping to ensure that, whenever possible, conditions are ripe for those blessed moments to happen. Did you ever notice how flow comes naturally to children? How absorbed toddlers and preschoolers can become in an activity, even if it’s only for the length of their abbreviated attention spans? How great it is to remember to be “childlike,” not only for our children’s sake but for our own. It makes me want to pick up my palette and brushes again. Someday I will, but in the meantime, I’m going to focus on how I can embrace the current moment and find those small opportunities for joy where I can. Wanna join me at Starbucks for a triple espresso shot cappuccino?