This week is my birthday week, but honestly I feel like my gift came early. In fact, since receiving this gift 43 days ago, I’ve used it every single night. I share this gift with anyone striving to keep track of life. Because as we all know, life is so easily lost in the excess, the hurry, the agenda, the beeps, buzzes, and dings. But here’s one way to grasp what really matters …
When I first began speaking about my “Hands Free” journey in public, it wasn’t unusual for me to become emotional while describing painful details of my formerly distracted life. But now things are different. I’ve let go of past regrets and see each sharing of my story as an opportunity to help someone else grasp the moments that matter.
On this particular night, the room was filled with opportunity. It was by far my largest audience yet, and the people who filled the seats awaited my words with welcoming smiles.
The woman who invited me to speak stepped up to microphone to introduce me. She began by mentioning a “Hands Free” strategy that had greatly impacted her relationship with her child.
She told of “The Heartbeat Check.”
As the woman tenderly described the nighttime ritual I wrote about in 2011, I experienced two completely inappropriate reactions.
I couldn’t believe someone outside of my parents and their retired friends at the exercise club were reading my blog back then. And not only did this woman just acknowledge she’d been reading my words since 2011, but she had used them to create a family ritual that was still alive today.
I was shocked.
Then I was sad.
“The Heartbeat Check” that had once been a great source of connection with my own children was no longer in existence.
Where had it gone?
Why did we stop?
What have I missed?
As the clapping ensued, I realized that while I was quietly falling apart, my introduction had concluded. I quickly got a hold of myself—after all, I was about to take the stage and tell a very large group of people to let go of distraction, perfection, and regret. This was hardly the time to beat myself up over lost opportunities!
I managed to compose myself and make it through the 60-minute presentation with no other thoughts about the forgotten ritual. But afterwards, I made a point to tell the woman how much it meant to me to know she and her child did “The Heartbeat Check” each night.
The woman teared up as she disclosed a few more details about this sacred bonding time with her daughter. Then she covered my hand with her own and thanked me for bringing her closer to her child.
As I looked into her glistening eyes, I realized this was not a time to feel shame or regret; this was a time to be grateful for the powerful reminder I’d just been given. And by choosing to look forward rather than back, I could seize this gift—I just hoped it wasn’t too late.
The very next evening, I was on a mission to bring “The Heartbeat Check” back into play.
I started with the most likely candidate.
I crawled up next to my 6-year-old child who was cozily nestled in her lime green comforter awaiting my nightly tuck in.
To my child and her gaggle of stuffed animals, I immediately fessed up.
“Do you remember when we used to do ‘The Heartbeat Check’ at bedtime?”
This child, who remembers exactly where she placed her glasses in a sea of overgrown grass and the precise location of three long-gone bruises from a tricycle mishap in ‘09, nodded eagerly.
“Well, last night I realized we stopped doing ‘The Heartbeat Check,’ so I was wondering if we could start again,” I explained with hopeful anticipation.
Instantly I was reminded why being six is so awesome. When you’re six, you can always pick up where you left off. With no reprimand, no lecture, and absolutely no discussion whatsoever, my child abruptly peeled back her comforter to expose the panda on the front of her hot pink pajamas. She pointed straight to the fuzzy target and said, “Here ya go.”
I laid my head on her flannel-clad chest. Her heart sounded just as I remembered— calm, steady, strong.
Fearing I may have suffered hearing loss over the past two years, my child clamped her arm around my head and pushed it closer to her beating heart.
“What’s it sound like?” she inquired.
I mimicked the sound I heard with a “lub-lub, lub-lub” and then added, “Your heart sounds really happy tonight.”
Suddenly my daughter sat up and announced, “My turn!”
How could I have forgotten? With this particular child, listening to my heartbeat was just as important as listening to her heartbeat.
Suddenly a mop of unruly curls fanned my face. My affectionate child wiggled around until she got a clear sound.
“Your heart sounds like this: Boom, badoom, boom … Boom, badoom, boom.”
Hmmm … my heartbeat sounded eerily similar to the chorus of “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj. And when I told her so, we both exploded with laughter.
I had forgotten how entertaining it was to have a ukulele-playing rock star check your heart palpitations.
“Let’s do this every night,” she declared.
With relief, I smiled a whole-hearted YES. It was not too late to seize the gift.
Next, it was my 9-year-old daughter’s turn. With her, I was a little nervous. What if she had gotten too old for this? What if she thought I was weird? Oh well, I decided—this wouldn’t be the first time I embarrassed myself in the name of parenting.
After we read a chapter of her mystery book, I took the direct approach.
“Would you mind if I listen to your heartbeat like I used to?”
She gave me an exasperated look as if to say, “Are you serious, Mom?” But I noticed she didn’t say no. Her eyes rolled upward—she was considering.
Finally, this child who adamantly chooses her own clothes, walks by herself to her friend’s house, and wears deodorant four out of seven days a week informed me that it would be okay.
Then she did exactly what she did when she was seven. As I listened to the beat of her heart, she inhaled the scent of my disheveled hair and said, “Your hair smells good, Mama.”
It was comforting to know that although my child had grown in height and years, she had not outgrown this special ritual. It was not too late to seize the gift.
So every night for the past 42 days, this special ritual has occurred. While one girl’s heartbeat check brings laughter so intense that hiccups result, the other child’s heartbeat check inspires solemn talks of surgery, death, and heaven.
Yet, there is one commonality.
“The Heartbeat Check” offers refuge.
No matter how crazy the day … no matter how discouraged I feel … no matter how dismal the state of our nation, the heartbeat check offers refuge.
It brings peace when I am conflicted …
It brings calm when I am in chaos …
It brings opportunity when I feel like I’ve failed …
It brings direction when I am lost …
There is nothing more hopeful than the sound of the human heart. And every night, I am grateful to be reminded of this. Because truth be told, I have been thinking a lot about what the world will be like when my children have children—and to be honest, it scares me.
But then I walk by my daughter’s room and I see this:
Maybe “The Heartbeat Check” is an even greater gift than I thought.
Perhaps one day when my children are parents and life just looks too bleak … or the news is too disturbing to hear … or the day has just been too damn hard, they will remember something they thought was lost is not lost at all.
And when they draw their loved one close, they will be reminded that the sound of hope is only a heartbeat away.
It’s never too late to lay aside past regrets or future worries and listen for it.
This week as my age goes up by one number, I feel especially inspired to let go of the internal and external distraction that holds me back from initiating meaningful connection with the people I love. What meaningful connection rituals do you have or want to have? There is much peace to be found in the special moments of closeness and human connection. What a powerful way to impact your child’s life now and in the future.
Thank you for reading, commenting, and sending me personal messages about your own “Hands Free” endeavors. Each exchange with a member of “The Hands Free Revolution” is a GIFT that fuels my writing. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.
The At the End of the Day What Really Matters by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.