Last weekend, my family and I had a few errands to run, so we packed everyone into the car and headed out. The agenda itself was pretty typical and nondescript: return some pants because they were the wrong size, pick up a few items for dinner that night and maybe look around for a new movie for our tradition. Every week, my family has a tradition we call "family movie night," where we eat a kid-friendly dinner together on the living room floor, camp-out style, while watching a movie and cuddling.
It's always the most benign plans that seem to hit me with the most profound and unexpected lessons.
When we arrived at the store, my not-so-little boy complained that his knee was hurting him (most likely growing pains, given his recent appetite), and when I opened his car door, he gave me the eyes. You know the look. It's a cross between puppy-dog eyes and a baby seal begging for a fish.
"Hold you," he said, uttering the phrase he's repeated grammatically incorrect a thousand times since he learned to talk. Not being one to pass up a good snuggle on my shoulder, I obliged and lifted him into my arms.
As he put his arms around my neck, he tilted his head off to the side and lay his cheek down on my shoulder. Despite my thick wool coat, I swear I could feel his smile through the padding, and I returned the smile with a grin of my own.
My wife looked at me and sneered, shaking her head as she silently mouthed the word, "Sucker!" I simply nodded in agreement.
As we made the trek across the parking lot, my 65-lb. boy exhaled a deep sigh of satisfaction, and that's when it hit me. What if this is the last time I ever get to "hold you" to my little guy? What if, tomorrow when he wakes up, he decides he's too old, too big, or too cool to be hauled around by his daddy? What if he gains just enough weight overnight to the point where he becomes just heavy enough to prevent me from successfully carrying him across the parking lot to the store next time, and I have to put him down because I'm not strong enough? What will he think of his old man then?
As the flurry of questions flashed across my mind, my grip tightened a little, and my head cocked to the side to meet his. I felt his smile grow, and mine grew in proportion. The sights scrolling past my peripheral vision blurred, the shopping agenda faded into obscurity, and I could no longer hear the hustle and bustle of early January shoppers scurrying about the parking lot. Instead, all I could see were my own feet, one after the other, all I could hear was the sound of my son's breathing, and all I could feel was how good his weight was seated safely in my arms. If this was the last time I was ever going to "hold you" with my boy, I was going to make it count.
What dominated my conscious thought process in the parking lot was the experience of wonder or marvel, which is a type of savoring. Savoring is a newly researched topic area within positive psychology, and in addition to marveling, other types of savoring include basking in pride, the expression of gratitude through thanksgiving, and luxuriating in a rich physical sensation. A prerequisite for savoring is mindfulness, or the act of being fully aware and attentive to the present moment. Once a positive experience is mindfully realized, savoring then involves attending to, appreciating, prolonging, and enhancing the beauty of the moment.
Savoring essentially kicked in for me in this moment because our embrace was tender, fleeting, and gentle, and I acknowledged that this specific type of moment -- the "hold you" moment -- is nearing an end.
While my children's firsts are moments to be celebrated, it is the lasts that must be savored.
That stated, I will be watching our future interactions with a fresh set of eyes, and each activity we engage in or moment we share together will be approached as though it could be the last. I promise to my children to work on letting go of the distractions and pressures of the outside world to focus more on savoring the moments we have now, because as some Zen philosopher once stated, now is all we really have.
"We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right." --Nelson Mandela
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