Last Thursday Charlotte came to me in the throes of an anxiety attack. We got through it together, but it took much longer than either of us would like- a few hours. The attack protocol requires both of us to do one thing- be fully present with each other. We breathe together and take the steps outlined by her therapist until her amygdala comes down and she feels almost as good as new. It’s a passing thing, these attacks. They often have a trigger but once they’re done, they’re done. Which is a relief.
Being there in that moment made me realize how much I have depended on my daughter’s independence lately. They are true Montessori children who could practically live on their own- they cook meals, do laundry, walk the dog. They are a marvel to behold. And as their parent, a working parent, I have relied on this independence these past few months. Until Thursday.
After we made our way through the attack, I started looking more closely at both Charlotte and Josephine. Josephine’s emotions were so very close to the surface that day. She was crumbling into tears at the drop of a hat and bravely fighting her way through her day with what looked to me like fatigue. So I sat with her this time while she emptied the dish washer instead of counting on her to be able to do it on her own. I sat with her on the couch as she worked on her “See Saw” assignments from her class. I checked in with her more often in general.
It was as if I was noticing my children all over again. I was present for the first time in what felt like a very- long – time. The rest of the day had its ups and downs but the revelations I’d felt didn’t leave me. I feel closer to them still today, days later.
Presence, mindfulness, “the power of now.” Thoreau told us 166 years ago that most of us were sleepwalking through our existence.
“Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring.Walden, Page 191.
We’ve clearly been struggling with a lack of concentration and connection for millennia. And it certainly can’t have gotten easier. Have you ever had a plan for your day, goals you wanted to accomplish and then looked up hours later and asked what the hell you were doing on Face-insta-snap-tok? Yeah. Me too.
I have found that first thing in the morning can be the worst time for this. I wake up- sometimes way before my alarm and then – an hour later – I am still horizontal and my phone is inches from my face where I just answered three emails and was a slave to any and all notifications on my phone. In this moment, I come out of the cloud of screen life and attempt to snap back and ask myself, “What do I actually want to do with my time right now?”
Most mornings of quarantine, I follow this routine:
- Get Ready while listening to NPR
- Walk the dog and listen to a book.
- Write my morning pages and drink coffee/tea
It’s my only real time alone each day and I cherish it. Anything on that list is what I’d always rather be doing. Each item can be deliciously longer if I accomplish the seemingly small feat of getting out of bed without having my phone glued to my face. I call social media connection time. It serves a very real purposed for my extravert self. But is it what I want to do at 6:17am? No. Maybe 4pm after work or even 8:30-9:00 when my kids go to bed. But not 6am. Not ever.
It feels like distraction judo- the constant reminding and checking in about what I am actually doing. If you’ve ever read a book about lucid dreaming, an important strategy involves checking for “dreaming signs” when dreaming and awake that become so commonplace that you remember to do them in your dream too. Once you remember to check fore dreaming signs in your dream, voila, you are lucid/awake and can therefore take control of your dream. The classic “pinch yourself” is an actual lucid dreaming strategy I’ve used in a dream. When it didn’t hurt, I knew I was dreaming.
In the case of our waking lives, a similar check is necessary to take an active part in our day. Today when procrastinating sitting down to write this, I was on social media and then asked myself my personal check-in question, “What do I want to be doing right now? What do I want from this day?” What I want from this day includes: Reading a good chunk of a fiction book I am enjoying, writing this article, making jam, taking a longer yoga class and posting a video to instagram for mother day. Instead I was buying a cute shirt from Wholesome Culture. $32 later, I looked up and noticed I’d done it again.
It feels a little silly to constantly ask myself what I want or planned to do, but it is starting to help. I have very slowly started to take control of my day, just barely. It is honestly exhausting at times. I get lost and time moves on and I wonder what life would be like if I actually did what I set out to do each day. How I could use those hours for my favorite things or to spend with my favorite people?
You know the famous question, “What would you do if you had an extra hour each day?” Good news! You do have that extra hour. Go do something amazing with it.
*Photo by Andrea Piacquadio