My friend Tom at work lent me his copy of a book called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (W. W. Norton & Company) which analyzes the experiences of people who survived despite incredible odds. Tom himself is an outdoor adventure kind of guy, someone who rides motorcycles on treacherous dirt roads down in Baja and who once went sea-kayaking without benefit of instruction. You get the idea. I supect Tom wanted to read this book to determine why he had escaped doom thus far and how he might jack up the odds for future exploits.
The author of the book came up with some rules that might save someone in a hairy situation. One sounds simple: “Be here now.” The book describes how climbing accidents, for instance, often happen on the way down, when climbers’ thoughts stray to the hot shower and warm meal they will soon be enjoying, instead of the slope ahead of them.
I hereby propose that we parents adopt “Be here now” as a guideline for our parental moments henceforth. I put forth this proposal after watching one too many moms strolling their beautiful toddlers down the street while yakking on cell phones instead of pointing out leaves and squirrels and big trucks to their little ones. Not to mention moms and dads talking on cell phones while at dinner with their kids in restaurants, while watching their kids’ basketball games in the parish hall, and perhaps while tucking their kids into bed for all I know. “Be here now” also applies to those of us who are are addicted to reading the newspaper, checking e-mail, watching TV, or compulsively cleaning house while a child is trying to get our attention. I once wrote asking whether our kids are being “entertained to death” by electronic games, but isn’t the lure of cell phone calls and e-mail almost as seductive to parents?
As a spiritual discipline, to “be here now” means honoring the real people whom God has put into our lives who are in the room (or car) right now. Like all of us deep down, our kids are hungry for a real human connection. Being kids, they might prefer to connect by playing Monopoly or building a snow fort rather than discussing Deep Thoughts, of course. In any case, certainly we can do better than just being together in the same place, each with our own electronic distraction.
I hasten to add that I’m not suggesting that we should be constantly interruptible, that we ought not set limits on when kids can have our attention. Of course we should. A friend, Kate Byrne, once wrote that if you can’t give a child your attention at the moment, give them “the assurance you’d grant any other important client. Tell her, ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.’”
Most of us won’t use “Be here now” to climb Mt. Everest. Instead we are engaged in what all of us say is the most important work of our lives: giving our children a loving start in life. Let’s allot our time–and attention–accordingly.
by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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