“Can you imagine what this will be like when they’re older?”
I heard it in my voice before I had a minute to say more. There we were, my husband and I, watching our kids play, carefree, on our last night of vacation and I was already living in the future. I was dreaming of something better than this, whatever that might be. We had planned and dreamt of this trip, our first time introducing our children to the beach, and still I was struggling to stay there, in the moment, with the people I loved the most.
It’s probably one of my biggest frustrations about the way I see the world. I’m a bit of dreamer, I’m always searching for the best in everything. I often find myself so overcome by the possibilities of the future that I can’t enjoy the moment I am living in without thoughts of how I could get more from that moment.
Always distracted by what could be
Although this has been a struggle for some time, I think that becoming a mom shone a light on this fault of mine. Everyday, my children are growing up in front of me. They are always changing and I can never get that time back. Yet, I find myself so regularly distracted by what could be, with a few changes, a better plan, or a little time for them to grow older.
For instance, it’s easy to be overcome by how different life will be when all of my children sleep through the night. It’s tempting to think about just how much I’ll get done, how much more rested I’ll feel, in a few short years. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get more sleep, but when the daydreaming of the future consumes me, that is when I know I’m off track.
At times, it moves past daydreaming to restlessness and anxiety. So idealistic am I, as an INFP, I let my thoughts run away with me. I find myself wondering, could our life be better? If we moved here, or changed this, or pursued that, would we have a more fulfilled family life? All the while, I miss out on the moments right in front of me. So obsessed I become with visions of the perfect future, or creating a magical childhood for my children, I miss what is beautiful about what I am doing right here and right now.
I’m learning. When I find myself captured in the whirlwind of dreams of the future, I’m teaching myself to slow down. Like so many things, when I find myself parenting in my head too much, too caught up in my thoughts, it helps me to slow down, to experience the flesh and bones of everyday life.
Falling in love with the moment
So, this is where I’ve experienced the most success. It’s just a little practice of mindfulness to bring me back to earth. I’m not good with stillness or quieting my brain, but a body scan has helped me immensely. Beginning by focusing on a few deep breaths, and how the air feels travelling in and out of my lungs. Next, I direct my thoughts to each part of my body, starting with the very top of my head and moving downward. It’s not problem solving or diagnostic, it’s just me, breathing, and noticing how I feel in my body.
This practice of mindfulness, taught to me by a therapist, is grounding enough to remind me that this moment is the life I’m living. I have no promise of tomorrow, and while there’s no shame in making plans, relentless daydreaming robs me of my time.
Once I’ve done a body scan or two, I turn my attention from how my body feels in the moment, to my surroundings. I pull a child in close and fill my nostrils with the smell of their hair after a bath. I pretend to take a big bite out of my baby’s round belly and soak in the sound of his giggles. I notice the difficult, too. I know it isn’t all beautiful, I know motherhood can’t be represented well by the filtered squares of social media. Trying to convince myself otherwise only sends me back to the anxiety spiral of dreaming of a magical life.
I see the dishes piled in the sink. I sit with a preschooler while she tantrums. I pour another cup of coffee and just sit on the couch, in my exhaustion, while toddlers climb me to the highest point, their chance for a daring leap from couch to pillows scattered on the floor.
For me, more than anything, as an INFP, as a dreamer and idealist, living in the moment is about living in acceptance of the moment. It isn’t about twisting or manipulating an experience to fit with my rosy ideas of the future, it’s taking them as they are and accepting them as mine. Of course, there is always a chance for improving. But, for me, it has to come from a place of contentment first. I have to see my life for what it is, accept that my children do not sleep or that vacations are all-consuming. Then and only then, can I dream a little about how I could change things, just so, to get a little more rest, or to plan a vacation that is just a bit simpler, or make room for a little more magic in our life.