The Ten Minutes that Changed My Distracted Life

“By offering to give love, you are offering yourself a chance to be loved.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford

“By offering to GIVE love, you are offering yourself a chance to BE loved.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

Something happened over the holidays that I wasn’t planning to share, but I’ve decided it must not be kept to myself. You see, lately I am getting a lot of messages from readers that say, “I am who you once were, but I don’t know if there is hope for me; I don’t know if I can change; I think it’s too late for me.”

Three and a half years ago, I said those same words to myself. In fact, when I began taking steps to let go of my distracted, perfectionistic, hurried ways I didn’t tell anyone for three months. Why? Because I thought change was not possible for me. I once believed I was too far gone to ever come back. But this past December 24th, I was powerfully reminded what I once believed was so wrong. Here is my story. May it reach someone who longs to believe change is possible. Believing is the first step.

 ______________

We were supposed to leave the house in nineteen minutes. In my hand, I held my child’s holiday dress and her pretty tights.

“Honey, it’s time to wake up and get dressed for the Christmas Eve service,” I said gently to my seven-year-old daughter who was barely visible under a mound of blankets.

“I’m too tired,” she moaned without opening her eyes.

Two hours earlier I’d suggested she take a nap since we’d be up late, but now I was regretting it. My lethargic child looked as if she could sleep for several more hours.

“Come on, I’ll help you get dressed,” I offered.

She didn’t move a muscle.

This was not like her, but yet I was starting to feel agitated. “You can have two more minutes to rest, then it will be time to get up,” I firmly stated using a tactic that worked well with my former special education students.

After tidying up a few things around her room and glancing at my unusually put-together appearance in her mirror, I told my daughter it was time to get up now.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried.

I expelled a long, hot breath before speaking. “Mommy is trying to be patient with you, but I am starting to feel impatient,” I said honestly. “I’ll take you to the bathroom and then I bet you’ll feel better.”

At the pace of an elderly person with bad arthritis, she gingerly crawled out of bed and plopped down on the toilet.

“I will put on your tights right here,” I said knowing we needed to leave the house very shortly if we were going to get seats in the service.

“I don’t feel good,” she repeated once again—but this time the word “good” turned into one long wail. Her face crumpled in pain.

Three and a half years ago, this is when I would have lost it.  This is when I would have gruffly shoved her feet into those tights and barked that we were going to be late. This is when thoughts of my own agenda, my own appearance, my own timetable, and my own demands would have overruled all else. This is when things would have gotten ugly.

But things are different now.

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A Reason for the Listening Face

listening face #hands free mama

In the past week, the same question arose during a magazine interview and also while serving on a mindful parenting panel. This leads me to believe that the topic is important; it’s relevant; and it’s on our minds. While I feel the question and my response are both worthy of sharing, it goes much further than that. This particular question has led me to reflect on how I want to live out this one precious life. It’s brought me one step closer to grasping what really matters. This is my story … 

Why is it important to remember to be hands free in front of our children?” I was asked twice in one week.

And this was my response:

Our children are learning how to navigate life in a digital world by watching us. Through mindful technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, they will learn that the device takes priority over human beings and real life experiences. Their tech use is likely to resemble our tech use – so what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurant is likely what they will do.

One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:

If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.

If I want my children to appreciate the joy of a screen-free Saturday afternoon in the future, I must take time to show them the joys of screen-free Saturday now.

If I want my children to look directly into the eyes of those who speak to them when they are adults, I must look into their eyes and listen to their words now.

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can now to be a hands free parent as they grow.

—————

After I submitted my response to the magazine editor and relayed this perspective to a room full of conference attendees, I found myself going back to the “ultimate hope” line again and again:

It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes.

Keeping in mind how I want to be remembered by my loved ones when I am gone motivates me far more than any other tactic I use to grasp what really matters each day.

But let’s be real. It’s hard to be present, patient, and purposeful in this fast-paced, achievement-oriented, digitally-saturated world we live in. We often feel pressured to be available in the most remote places, during the most sacred times. We often have a multitude of requests coming at us with flashing lights and intrusive dings. We live in a world that wants to know how much we accomplished … a world where daily achievements are publically displayed … a world that values instantaneous electronic responses over leisurely face-to-face connection.

It’s hard to LET GO and LIVE when the world is constantly tapping us on the shoulder reminding us there is so much to be done.

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Choosing What Matters When Life Overwhelms

choosing what matters #handsfreemama

“Name twenty things you love about me,” my younger daughter requested just as I was shutting the door to her bedroom.

Because I immediately thought about the dirty dishes in the sink, the work I had yet to do before I could go to bed, and the ache in my back, I almost said, “Not tonight.”

But I didn’t.

Instead I slowly made my way back to her bed and rattled off things like, “I love your smile … I love the way you sing … I love how you help your friends … I love the way you make me laugh … I love the way you take your time … I love your strong hugs …”

I made it to twenty quite quickly, and I watched the smile on her face get a little bigger with each one.

“Thank you, Mama. I love how you love me,” she offered back as she rolled over preparing to sleep.

It took less than one minute, this little request of hers—but there is a good chance she will remember this list, this very important list.

I don’t always get it right. I don’t.

But over the past three and a half years on this Hands Free journey, my eyes have been opened. I can now see clearly that my days are made up of a million little choices—choices to grasp what really matters or let them slip through my multi-tasking little fingers.

That night I got it right.

I chose the girl who still stands on her tiptoes to reach the sink.

I chose the girl who still likes me to read her bedtime stories and hold her hand in the parking lot.

I chose the girl who sings made-up while offering me dandelion bouquets.

I chose the girl that has wiggly teeth and a contagious laugh.

With the kitchen in disarray and deadlines looming, I chose my child. Because I still can. Today my child stands before me wanting, needing, and hoping to be chosen. Tomorrow might be different.

Choice

Whether I grasped what really mattered or let it slip through my fingers came down to one choice—a choice took less than sixty seconds, but yet the memory may very well last a lifetime.  

This powerful fact has been giving me a lot of hope lately.

Because honestly, things have been really different around here.

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Vow to Breathe

vow to breathe #hands free mama

My favorite beach activity when I was girl was to rescue live starfish that had washed up on shore. I couldn’t bear to see helpless five-pointed creatures withering in the sun. Regardless of how long it took or how many times I had to bend over, I’d put every washed up starfish back into the water.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped saving starfish.

Actually, I can pinpoint exactly when it happened: My highly distracted years—when to-do lists took over … when the pace of my life was a constant mad dash to a finish line that couldn’t be reached … … when I gripped my devices tighter than the hands of my loved ones … when I said yes to everything requested of me outside the home and said no to the most important tasks inside the home, like playing, laughing, and making memories.

Family beach vacations during those years were no different. If I’d go out for a walk or a run on the beach, I was solely focused on logging miles, a revolving to-do list in my head, or getting back to the hotel to corral the troops for the next thing on the agenda.

I’d become so driven in my daily life that even on vacation I ceased to savor the journey along the way. And this meant walking right by washed up starfish.

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If I Live to Be 100

"May you live all the days of your life." –Jonathan Swift

“May you live all the days of your life.”
–Jonathan Swift

On the day our family and several dear friends visited a retirement home as part of a citywide volunteer effort, I kept wishing I had one of my pocket-sized writing notebooks that I typically carry. I repeatedly found myself saying, “I hope I remember that look,” and “I hope I remember those words.”

But I didn’t forget.

In fact, every little exchange I witnessed that day seems to be permanently engrained in my mind. And because I can remember the day’s events so vividly, I feel these things are meant to be shared. As small, unlined hands grasped hands adorned with protruding veins and age spots, here are a few thing I won’t forget:

I won’t forget that on the way to the retirement center my older daughter told her younger sister that she Googled what to say to old people. From the backseat I heard, “A safe question is: ‘What is your favorite childhood memory?’ But don’t ask, ‘How old are you?’”

I won’t forget how my daughters stared out the car window clutching their bags of handmade cards. Their hopeful faces indicated they were anxious to distribute messages of love. “Breathe in blue sky, breathe out gray sky,” said one card in beautiful kid penmanship.

I won’t forget how neither an ominous security system nor a strong medicinal odor deterred the children from eagerly walking through the double doors to meet those anxiously waiting on the other side.

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Taking Off the Ticking Clock

 

taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

You may remember the epiphany I experienced while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone during a summer trip to the beach.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (These were not your average sno-cones.) This time, my daughter got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted. You see, my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t rush her.

Because I allowed her to take her time.

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those dark truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like:  “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

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Before Today Ends

before today ends handsfreemama.com

Today I hear …

Whining about her sister having a bigger scoop.
Slamming doors.
The relentless buzz of the dryer–a load needs folded … again.

But I also hear …

“This dinner ‘tasteses’ good, Mama.”
The C-chord sounding a bit like heaven on a tiny ukulele.
Tender, loving words in her sleepy bedtime voice.

This is what my life sounds like today.
And if I close my eyes and listen very carefully, that which sounds heavenly can overpower the noise.

Today I see …

Wet towels carelessly abandoned upon the bathroom floor.
Toothpaste blobs inhabiting the sink.
Weeds where flowers used to be.

But I also see …

Gentle hands putting dolls tenderly in their place.
A hole where a tooth used to be—her last baby tooth to go.
A love note written in kid penmanship resting on my pillow.

This is what my life looks like today.
And if I open my eyes and look very carefully, that which appears divinely perfect can outshine the mess.

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The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’

 

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

When you’re living a distracted life, every minute must be accounted for. You feel like you must be checking something off the list, staring at a screen, or rushing off to the next destination. And no matter how many ways you divide your time and attention, no matter how many duties you try and multi-task, there’s never enough time in a day to ever catch up.

That was my life for two frantic years. My thoughts and actions were controlled by electronic notifications, ring tones, and jam-packed agendas. And although every fiber of my inner drill sergeant wanted to be on time to every activity on my overcommitted schedule, I wasn’t.

You see, six years ago I was blessed with a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child.

When I needed to be out the door, she was taking her sweet time picking out a purse and a glittery crown.

When I needed to be somewhere five minutes ago, she insisted on buckling her stuffed animal into a car seat.

When I needed to grab a quick lunch at Subway, she’d stop to speak to the elderly woman who looked like her grandma.

When I had thirty minutes to get in a run, she wanted me to stop the stroller and pet every dog we passed.

When I had a full agenda that started at 6 a.m., she asked to crack the eggs and stir them ever so gently.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

My carefree child was a gift to my Type A, task-driven nature—but I didn’t see it. Oh no, when you live life distracted, you have tunnel vision—only looking ahead to what’s next on the agenda. And anything that cannot be checked off the list is a waste of time.

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From a Kid Who Isn’t Known

the doll show by handsfreemama.com

Before I started my Hands Free journey, I put off living. I banked on vacations and holidays to make up for the lack of time spent connecting with the people I love. The other 349 days of the year I was too busy, too distracted, and too productive to slow down, enjoy life, and simply be with the people I love.

That’s sad, isn’t it? It’s painful to write honest sentences like that, but I know I am not alone. I’m learning that this notion of being “too busy” to spend time with the people we love is not so rare. Unfortunately when we place our moments of togetherness in far off future occasions, the opportunities of today are lost in that delay of truly living.

I’m incredibly thankful that is not the way it is for me anymore.

Now I don’t wait for holidays to slow down, laugh, and play.

Now I don’t bank on family vacations to create my children’s fondest memory recollections.

I’ve discovered that the most meaningful experiences in life happen when I take pause in the ordinary, mundane moments of a busy day.

I am thankful I know that now. In fact, when I find myself in such a moment of peace and connection, gratitude spills out in the form of warm, happy tears.

Just like it did the other night.

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