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.
My six-year-old was instructed to put her snowflake pajamas on and then hop into bed. When I entered her bedroom, I saw that after putting on her pajamas, she got sidetracked by her dolls.
(Dolls do that kind of thing when you’re six.)
I overheard her mentioning unusual names like “Ajett” and “Marleeze” as the dolls conversed about heading off to school. I had to chuckle. My cousin and I used to come up with exotic names when we played Barbies back in the day. In fact, I am pretty sure Marleeze, or someone eerily similar, visited the Barbie Dream House on a few occasions.
I continued listening and realized my child’s storyline was just too good to interrupt. The words “it’s past your bed time” that were sitting on the tip of my tongue quickly dissolved. Without a peep, I sat down in my child’s oversized pink chair that was generously proportioned for adult-size posteriors.
My daughter glanced up, visibly pleased that I had plopped down and made no mention of bedtime. She continued playing.
The teacher doll was telling her students to place their phones in their desks. (I told you this was getting interesting.) As if reading my mind, my daughter looked up and explained that the students kept phones in their desk in case they got sick and needed to call their moms.
It only took her about ten seconds to decide this would not be a good idea because according to my child, “The kids would call their moms for things they didn’t need to call about—like if they ‘runned' out of hand sanitizer or they couldn’t find their brown crayon or if they felt like going out to lunch.”
(Oh, yes. I could see it now; requests for The Cheesecake Factory would arise at least once a week.)
The teacher doll quickly confiscated the phones and told the students they could call home only if they really needed their moms.
As the playing continued, I closed my eyes so I could soak up the sound of my child’s voice minus her two front teeth. With a tinge of sadness, I knew that her inability to pronounce the “th” sound would only be temporary. She would never again be without those two front teeth. I did my best to savor it.
Suddenly a little gray paw stretched out from underneath her bed. It belonged to our rescue cat, Banjo, who often retreated to the sanctity of my 6-year-old’s light green room to sleep. The sound of my daughter’s chatter seemed to be a comforting sound to him, just as it was to me.
That’s when it hit me—the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that brought me to tears. Encountering little unexpected gems hidden among the long hours of a mundane days are the times I feel most thankful that I no longer live distracted.
I don’t have to wonder what it would’ve been like if I had continued my frantic, fast paced, multi-tasking, media-saturated existence.
I would not have been sitting there in that pink chair.
I would not know this feeling of peace … or how to slow down … or how to just BE.
I would not know my child like I know her today.
I do not have to wonder what it would be like if I had not freed myself from the grip of daily distraction, but I am offered glimpses. These glimpses come from young people who stumble upon my blog and read my messages and share their hearts. That very next day, a brave teenager left an unforgettable comment on a post I wrote about knowing, really knowing, your child.
Here is a portion of her comment that I wish every parent in the whole world could read:
“I'm in my late teens, and I'm sitting here with tears running down my face for the first time in a long, long time. I'm not a mom – but I have one. And she doesn't know me. I know for a fact that she dislikes or downright hates many things that I like, feel or believe, so I lie to her almost constantly. I've grown pretty resigned to the fact that I will never have a relationship like I want with my mom (or dad, for that matter) and then something like this comes along and rips the feelings open all over again, making me question. Why couldn't she have bothered to know me?
… She snapped at me for writing short stories instead of doing schoolwork; I stopped writing for years, and have only recently started again. Even now I cannot write short stories or songs because of the feedback I got from her. She divided her interaction with me between laying down her laws, leaving me alone and without instruction, and then calling me stupid and many other things when I slacked off or made mistakes.
… She never even talked to me about the birds and the bees. I still can't get over the stupid hurtfulness of that whole business.
And now that I'm older, I've found out that she had terrible parents, as did my dad – so now my siblings and I have to suffer because of that. And knowing that she thinks she's a terrible mother doesn't help her stop being one in many areas–knowing that she stares at the computer or works on something else while talking to me because she wants a ‘buffer' doesn't change the fact that it hurts when she does it.
I feel tired now. I'm sorry that I kind of emotion-dumped, but the article just stirred such strong feelings because for me and my mom it is kind-of too late. I'm working as hard as I can to form some kind of relationship with her now but it will never be as good as it could have been.
Any parent who's reading this, this article is spot-on. You need to get to know your kids when they're little – and then never stop getting to know them. Always make sure they can tell you anything, without fear of getting put down or being judged.
– A kid who isn't known”
In my response to this bright, compassionate, and courageous young lady, I told her that her message would make a difference in the life of someone who stumbled upon her comment one day. I knew this because her words immediately made an impact on me. Within minutes of reading her words, I found myself making a little more effort to look in my children’s eyes, to build them up every chance I got, to hug them a little longer. Like an angel from my children’s future, this young lady reminded me how desperately my children need my time, love, and attention. She also reminded me how important it is to know them as people.
Perhaps that is why I hated to put an end to my child’s doll show. There is so much that can be learned about our children simply by being present, by listening to their words, and by observing them while they are doing their favorite activities.
My child finally yawned and looked ready for her nightly “question time.” But once we were settled in next to each other, she didn’t have any questions. She simply reached over and said, “I need to hug you.”
I couldn’t recall a time when my daughter ever spoke those exact words. I felt incredibly thankful I was there when she needed me.
I plan to be there for her anytime she needs me throughout her lifetime … even if it is just to tell me she ran out of hand sanitizer or that she really wants to go to lunch.
I pray that she does.
In honor of the young lady who posted the courageous comment on my blog, please hug the children in your life … tell them you love them … listen to their words … know them and accept them even if they didn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped or expected. There is something to be said for unconditional love.
If you feel inclined to share this message, please do. Through you, this message can reach a multitude of parents and children.
Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution. I am thankful for each and every one of you who have joined me on this journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters in life.