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?
Today was my daughter’s first day back to preschool. Like, the day she was actually supposed to be there, unlike the prior Tuesday when I took her to school only to be informed by last year’s teacher that I had the wrong week. Yeah, that’s right, the wrong week. I should have known something was up since it was the first morning in recorded toddlerdom history that went down without a hitch. Miss Fancy Pants awoke bright and cheery that morning, giddy with excitement about her first day of school. She ate all of her breakfast, got dressed by herself, used the potty without insisting I tell her twenty stories first, and we were out the door in record time. I even managed to take a fancy pants picture of her on her to document the occasion. Ok, so I had forgotten to purchase the necessary classroom supplies; but no worries, I’d just drop them off at the end of the day. As you can imagine, we were both disappointed to discover my error. MFP cried when we got back into the car, and I mourned the To Do List that would remain undone. Fortunately, a spontaneous trip to Starbucks and Old Navy managed to brighten both our moods considerably.
But my tale of blondeness doesn’t end there. I totally blew off the open house this past Friday. Not on purpose, of course, but several of her weekly activities had gotten switched to different days this school year, throwing off the internal calendar I seem to function by, somewhat poorly. When I was working outside of the home, Microsoft Outlook, colleagues, and that little thing called a work ethic helped keep me on track. “Claudia, are you almost done with Little Johnny’s psychological evaluation for today’s meeting?” “Why yes,” I’d beam, as I proudly held up my eight page report that I had slaved and obsessed over for days, “I just put the finishing touches on it!” I may have been pushing the boundaries of punctuality, mostly because I usually held the record for most psych evals done in one school year and had a ridiculous amount of report writing to do, but I always made my deadlines.
Don’t get me wrong. 95% of the time, unless MFP throws a toddler tantrum right before leaving, I manage to remember and get her to all her activities on time (and on the correct day). My new babysitter (I totally love her!) comments on how organized I am and how well thought out MFP’s schedule is. People might even occasionally think that I’m too “by the book”, trying to ensure that every detail of her rearing is done “correctly”, whatever that means. Organic, scratch-made meals? You betcha. Well, um, most of the time, except on “once in awhile days” when I sheepishly sneak through a Wendy’s drive-thru, toss a hamburger into the back seat, and speed away before there are too many witnesses. Sleep schedule that allows for adequate rest? Uh huh. I mean, if she’s not sleeping for long stretches of time, then when else will I goof-off on Facebook, right? Win-win. A balance of intellectually and physically stimulating activities, with plenty of time left over for creative, independent play and relaxation? Yup, I try. And by “relaxation”, I mean turning on “The Cat in the Hat” for MFP as I relax with a glass of Chardonnay after dinner. But I am fallible, so I do mess up from time to time.
How did this morning go, her actual first day of school, you might be wondering? Let me tell you. I forgot that I had eaten all the prosciutto two nights ago and wasn’t able to pack MFP’s favorite sandwich like I had promised, sending her to school with an oddball lunch of kielbasa, guacamole, gluten-free crackers, and carrots. She didn’t eat her breakfast, freaked because there was “still a little bit of poop” in the toilet when she went to use it, and forgot to brush her teeth. Since we were rushing, I didn’t get to snap her “First Day of School” picture before we left, we got there late, and I forgot my camera phone in the car, only remembering when I went to take a picture of her in the classroom. Oh yeah, and MFP’s classroom supplies? Sitting unpurchased at Walmart (but I’m on my way now!). Why am I admitting all of this? Wouldn’t I prefer to present you with the image of the perfectly polished and poised mother that I sometimes fool others into thinking that I am?
Nope. Here’s the thing. We do other mothers a disservice when we pretend to be perfect. Yes, there are some rock star mothers that come really close, but most of us are just trying to keep our kids alive, fed, and reasonably happy. We’re balancing work (be it at home or outside of the home), marriage (or coparenting with an ex), friendships, household duties, and finances. We’re lucky if can squeeze in a workout, shave our legs, and get a haircut. We have a lot on our plates, and society expects that we can do it all perfectly. We can’t. And if we think we can, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and an addiction to methamphetamine (at least according to Dr. Phil). I appreciate when my mom friends are willing to admit their flaws because A) I don’t feel like a total screw up B) their vulnerability endears them to me C) I don’t feel like a total screw up
I know some moms don’t want to come across as complainers. I can appreciate that. No one wants to hear someone bitch and moan ALL.DAY.LONG. There’s a difference between honesty and kvetching, one that I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing. I’m not suggesting being a Debbie Downer. “Hey Claudia, how have you been?” “My hair is falling out, I’m exhausted, my husband’s always working, my family’s so far away, and I think I just found a patch of skin cancer on my abdomen.” “Um, yeah, ok, see you around! Enjoy your latte!” That is not the kind of honesty I’m talking about, except for with your close friends and your primary care physician. I’m referring to sharing both the joyous moments of your life and the ones that aren’t so neat and tidy. You might not want to blog about it (how gauche!), but do remember that keeping it real is much preferred to being all Pinterest-y. Not that there’s anything wrong with being all Pinterest-y, as long as you share your chocolate ganache, salted caramel, fondant covered cupcakes with me. Just sayin’.