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Elaine Bauer Brooks Headshot

Clear and Present Stranger

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This morning, my two kids and I had one of our "car talks" on the way to school [Side Bar: "car talks" are like singing in the shower... facing forward and bracing the wheel with my crew strapped in behind me, I'm like the captain of the ship -- the leader of our little "car country" -- i.e. I'm totally brilliant.]. Anyway, on this day, my 8-year-old-son asked me a question. I don't know... it was something about what the president likes to eat for breakfast or why mountain lions don't have wings. The question was sneakily attached to the end of a long stream of consciousness, during which my mind had wandered. I guess I didn't answer right away because he then asked, "Mommy, why do I always have to repeat the question every time I ask you something?" I snapped back into the moment pausing only for about a millisecond before launching into my defense, conveniently rationalizing the cause and minimizing the regularity because I'm "mommy" and I can. I think my answer was something fairly lame like, "Ummm... well... mommies have a lot of very important, loose ideas to keep track of."

I mean, really? "Loose ideas?" This sweet thing was trying to ask a very important question. If there had been a mountain lion or presidential chef in the room, he would have been on pins and needles waiting for the answer. But I was only barely listening so I gave my lame, defensive answer. Was I lying? No... In my multi-tiered role as editor of my blog, The List Collective, school volunteer, freelance writer, wife, sister, daughter, friend and most importantly, assistant to Asher and Leni Brooks, my mind is constantly swirling with disparate details, deadlines and to-dos. Like all of us, we have more places to go than there is time to get there, more things to do than there is man power to do them and a bunch of dreams on our "wish lists," for which we still reserve mental energy. It's truly mind-numbing. But mastery, for me, like any recovering type A executive or Supermom, remains the prize... and I'm so convincing when I tell myself that it's within reach, that I keep trying. I'm nothing if not tenacious.

So, most days I multi-task and spend much of my life looking down... tap, tap, tapping away, mind drifting off running wildly through lists and dates and plans and responses. If only my bottom could get the work out my thumbs do, I'd at least be able to check something off my resolutions list. In any case and on this particular day, it struck me. He's right... why DO I make him repeat himself? I mean, yes... the mind wanders and adult responsibilities are real. But does it HAVE to be that way? Am I truly satisfied with the answer I gave him? He'll accept it today... I mean, I'm Mommy. He's 8. But someday he'll know better. Someday I'll hear him joke with his sister about how when they were young, I was always distracted. Or worse... he'll give up trying. Maybe it was the time off over the holidays that re-framed my focus. Or maybe it was the sound of that sweet little voice asking his question with such genuine disappointment. But on this day I stopped and dropped into the moment, catching myself living completely out of the moment. I realized that I'd been operating without clarity. I had not been present. I was a clear and present stranger. How many moments had been blurred this way? How many little gems had I missed? How many would I miss in the future?

When my kids fall into bouts of disorganization or they're feeling frazzled, I guide them. I preach about slowing down, creating a routine, always putting things back in the same place so they're easy to find. And I tell them to give themselves 15 minutes... or five.... before they have to go somewhere, in order to collect their things... and their thoughts. And then there's me. Relishing the flexibility my new life gives me but so poorly managing my schedule that I'm constantly whipping my head out of one "hat" and into another -- smash-cutting from one part of my day into the next. Never enough time to wrap-up my thoughts and quiet my mind. I'm thinking about Twitter posts as I walk into a volunteer meeting. I'm stressed about a business meeting as I walk into a teacher conference. I'm thinking about a call I have to make when my little monkeys wants to tell me about their day.

A friend told me that she meditates every morning in order to stay grounded and focused. I believe in that... I do. I tried it once in 1990 and it worked like a charm. Maybe I'll try it again. The fantasy version of me does that... often. The fantasy version of me is calm. I sleep well. I find time to prep after-school projects and cook homemade snacks. Sometimes I actually AM the fantasy version of me... Sometimes. This year I hope to be her a lot more. In the meantime, I'll add it to my list.