“When you offer a moment, you offer a piece of yourself.”
A mischievous smile creeps across her face as I cross through the kitchen. I can see the purple balloon in hands tucked behind her back. Her entire body vibrates as she bounces onto her toes, though I can tell she is trying to stand still. She loves surprises, this one, and more and more she loves the silly, the goofy, and the feeling of a light heart. It’s in these moments when she truly glows. I can see the life in her, her creativity blossoming. I can see a long line of relationships strengthened by her desire to keep those around her smiling.
As I walk closer her excitement tumbles over just before she hurls the balloon at me and dissolves into a peal of uncontrollable giggles.
I have a choice.
Before her smile and the balloon and her giggles, I was on my way to another of the many tasks I cram into these 15 afternoon minutes. Between school and ballet I clean up breakfast dishes, prep afternoon snacks and dinner simultaneously, and try to return some order to the house that has settled into a mess since breakfast. If I’m lucky I can get a jump on lunch packing and tomorrow morning will run that much more smoothly. Being able to productively exploit these minutes was part of the trade-off I struck when I made this part of our routine. I bring her home so that she doesn’t have to change in the ballet studio changing room (which she hated doing) and I don’t loose productive daytime minutes (which I hate doing). Presto: efficiency.
But I didn’t account for her needing help pulling on her tights.
Or for her bringing home a new book and being unable to breathe another minute until she cracked its spine.
Or for her asking me to sit next to her while she snacks.
I certainly didn’t account for the balloons.
Life with small kids requires so much Doing. It’s Doing that puts lunches in lunch boxes and turns dirty clothes into clean ones. It’s Doing that fills backpacks with homework, library books and permission slips and it’s Doing that makes it possible for her to go to these ballet classes. It’s Doing that makes this home comfortable and cozy and comforting when we all return to it at night.
And Doing feels really good. I swear sometimes I can feel a satisfying click when I cross off a to-do item and man do I love that click. And when I reach the end of these 15 afternoon minutes and see an empty sink and a clean kitchen counter and a living room ready to welcome my people, it just feels so darned good.
Doing feels so good, in fact, that it beckons us. Just one more thing, it promises. Just five more minutes. Think of how many things you can cross off in five minutes! Just keep going. Doing knows its physics. It knows an object in motion stays in motion and it doesn’t want us to stop.
But then there is Being. Being is far more subtle. Doing likes to call Being unproductive and dress it up as a waste of time. Doing likes to needle us with how empty Being looks on a page. Being doesn’t show up on a line on our agenda.
But Being knows that none of that matters. Because Being shows up in more important places. It treads ground that Doing never could. Being shows up in the way that afternoons spent side by side on the couch with heads bent over the same book and legs entwined beneath blankets, adds another thread to this lifelong relationship. Being shows up when I curl up next to them at the end of the day and ask about their favorite moments and they tick off several that include me.
The choice between Doing and Being is rarely easy in the moment. And that afternoon was no exception. Standing in my kitchen with a balloon at my feet, a sink still full of dirty dishes, a little girl whose mess of hair needed to be organized into a bun, and just five minutes left, the choice was real.
I bend down and pick up the balloon from the floor, still deciding. And then I hurl that thing back at her. Her giggles trail her around the house as I dash into the playroom for more ammo.
“I swear I could read her mind – not her present mind, but her future mind. I could practically hear the words she would say to herself one Sunday afternoon as she drove home from the grocery store or while she walked her child to school or while she stared at the ceiling counting useless sheep.” ~Rachel Macy Stafford
My girl won’t remember the sink or the breakfast dishes or how often boxes of toys littered our playroom floor. But she will remember those balloons and the story of this afternoon is the story she’ll tell herself.
Almost two years ago, I read Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama and it forever changed the way I think about moments with my kids. This Fall, Rachel released her next book, Hands Free Life and her words continue to shape how I think about time with the people I love. Thanks to these books, I think much more about the tug of war between Being and Doing. Thanks to these books, I think I make the right decision far more often. And thanks to these books, my relationships are far stronger than I dreamed they could be.