We have all had the experience of toasting someone on the birth of their baby or some other such happy occasion. The ritual for toasting is clear: say the words, clink your glasses and take a sip -- could be wine or Kool-Aid; it really doesn't matter. What does matter is that you, together, are acknowledging something special. I've been scolded enough times by friends with "You forgot to look me in the eyes -- we can't drink yet! We have to do it again!!" that I now finally remember that before you clink you have to look.
The looking -- and seeing -- is key. And when I do it right I feel great. Not just because I don't get scolded, but because someone is there on the other side of the glass looking back at me. In this moment of being mutually engaged, everything feels possible.
But I have noticed that as a parent, I can often miss the magic moments of being engaged. Parenting involves so much planning, anticipation and knowing; we have to know how to treat a skinned knee, a high fever, a broken heart. And we have to know how to do everything at once; we're rewarded for being multi-taskers and applauded for our juggling skills.
The catch, however, is that we as parents run the risk of becoming disengaged and automatic. Remember when you first learned to drive and it was so new and exciting? But now as a busy adult, how many times have you gotten home only to wonder how the heck you got there? Oh you know you drove, you just don't remember doing it. When we know how to do something and do it long enough, we may become proficient, but the doing can become routine rather then filled with wonder.
When I was a new parent and my son was still a toddler, we used to spend a lot of time sitting at a tiny table covered with hand-painted butterflies. We were truly engaged in whatever moment arose between us. That was special time that I took for granted until my husband got a taste of it for the first time. I remember coming home from work and my husband racing to tell me, "You'll never believe what happened today. We were sitting at the little table, and --"
I said, "I know -- did he do that thing where he just looks at you?"
"Yeah," my husband said, enthralled. "What is that?"
What it was was a child being engaged. Nothing fancy. He wanted nothing more than to look, see, (clink) and be before moving on to whatever came next. Maybe that's why they call it a pregnant pause -- because in that moment anything can be born.
Our boys are now 15 and 10 and I find too often that I can get lost in thought and lose the beautiful pause. I'm convinced now that knowing is the main culprit behind loss of meaningful connection. While it makes sense to know what homework needs to be completed and how many days have passed since the last shower was taken (these are boys -- remember) it doesn't benefit us to try to know it all. On the days that I've insisted on being "listened to" instead of "listening to" my kids, I miss out on loving my job as a parent and just feel like I've been driving for a long time; I don't know how I got there.
Just as my friends remind me when toasting not to rush through just because I know how it goes, let's all remember to pause and find each other's eyes. Clink. Let's toast each new birth born of these moments.
Here's looking at you, kids.