Sunday, October 18, 2009

Carpe Diem (at the risk of sounding cliché)

Tonight I heard a story that made my hands fly protectively to my heart, as though this small gesture could somehow ward off the kind of pain I was hearing described in such tender, heart-wrenching detail.

It is the story of a nine-year-old boy who was killed this summer in a freak accident during a road trip home from a family vacation. From what I understand, the family's trailer, which was hauling jet skiis and other recreational gear, somehow broke down, and while the family was pulled off the side of the road to unhitch it (in an official pull-out), a young driver asleep at the wheel managed to fly her car across the opposing lanes of traffic and strike the trailer. This young boy was hit by debris, bringing his life to an end in his father's arms fifteen minutes later.

The agony of it takes my breath away. It is horrific, tragic, unfathomable.

To have known and loved this little boy for nine years, to have dreamed about and worried about and wondered about his future, to have assumed his presence at evening dinners and holidays and grocery trips and all the other moments that comprise a lifetime as family--and then to be left with a void, an absence, a giant, aching hole...

It made me want to run home and hold my children forever. It made me want to take back every second of their presence I've ever taken for granted--or worse, resented, or tried to escape.

I asked myself: if I knew they wouldn't grow up, would I do things differently? Would it change how I parent? Would it alter the focus of my energies, of my efforts, of my corrections and praise? If I weren't so concerned with raising model citizens of the adult world, would it change how I treat them as children?

I'm thinking hard about this, and I think the conclusion I'm coming to is yes, yes it would change things.

Because I would be more apt to revel in the nuance of their temperament and personality without worrying about how it will work for or against them later on.

Because I would treasure--with genuine gratitude--the everyday moments of meals and car rides and play time and night night time rather than looking for my next break or worrying about my e-mail or trying to do a dozen things other than sitting on the floor and paying attention as they change before my eyes.

Because I would stop disciplining them out of some faulty subscription to worldly expectation and instead discipline out of my love for who they are and my belief in who they can be.

Because I would never, ever find it acceptable to only half listen or half watch when one of my cuties honors me by sharing joy or fear or frustration or accomplishment.

Because I would focus far more on our relationship than on our achievement of some set of values or behaviors or skills or experiences for their advancement in the world.

Because I think I would give up trying to "make" my kids into something and rather receive them as perfectly designed someones to be discovered day-by-day and savored moment-by-moment in our fleeting time together.

I think what I'm saying is that I would be more likely to surrender my expectations and aspirations, accepting instead their lives as gifts from Someone bigger with purposes beyond my understanding. Without the weight of their impending academic challenges and career decisions and family responsibilities and spiritual journeys, I might just open my hands a little bit more and let go of their outcome--and enjoy.

I wish I could remember where, but I once heard someone say that we spend so much time worrying about who our children will become that we forget they are someone today, now, already.

I want to know Ben as a four-year-old, not as a prospective twenty-five-year-old.

I want to know Abby as a two-year-old with H1N1 and reactive airways on Sunday, October 18th, 2009.

I want to play the games and listen to the stories and answer the questions of my children now. I want to love them in this moment, not in some hypothetical moment down the road of life.

I grieve for this family who had their son snatched from them too soon. I wonder what they think, how they feel, what dreams died with their little boy that day. I wonder if they would have done anything differently if they knew they'd only get nine years with him.

I hear Abby coughing--it's her asthma flaring. It seems to be worst at this time of night. So I'm going to go get her nebulizer and the albuterol, and I'm going to pick her up out of her crib and appreciate this extra ten minutes of snuggle time I don't normally get in the middle of the night. I'm going to hold her close and kiss her head and smell her freshly washed hair and tell her I love her...

And tomorrow, I'm going to spend less time checking e-mail and more time building legos. I want to live fully in this time with them because it's precious, whether they live nine years or ninety.

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