07/31/2015 03:25 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

The Life-Changing Question a Stranger On a Bench Asked Me

Dougal Waters via Getty Images

"Come on, it's time to go! I'm burning up out here!"

I sat at the neighborhood park, ablaze with the summer heat and more than a little irritated that my daughter was taking so long to finish her "last" go around on the jungle gym. She continued to play, blissfully unaware of my growing aggravation.

I called for her again, this time with a scary edge to my voice -- "I SAID, IT'S TIME TO GO! WE HAVE THINGS TO DO!"

The woman sitting next to me turned to me, touched my arm, and smiled understandingly. If she had smiled any other way -- sarcastically, condescendingly,or even gleefully -- I might have yelled at her, too.

But no, she seemed understanding and kind and way better at the parenting thing than I was. Her two grandchildren were peacefully playing and had been since we got there. Without her saying a word, I could already tell -- this woman was wise.

So when she remarked, "Children are such blessings. They remind us to slow down and enjoy life like we're growing up all over again," I was ready to ask her to become my mentor. Instead, I nodded and felt a little guilty for my outburst. But I didn't tell her that.

"They really are," I agreed. "Sometimes, I get so caught up in deadlines and places I have to be that I guess I forget to slow down with her and really experience things from her perspective."

She was quiet for a moment. It wasn't an awkward pause. I could tell she was mulling over what I'd said.

When she finally spoke -- and I'm not exaggerating, not one bit -- her words changed my life and the relationship I have with my daughter, forever.

In life, and with children especially, you have to focus on making memories. Every day, you have to ask yourself, 'Have I made a memory with her today? Something she'll really remember, look back on, and grow from?'

Oh, had she unzipped the ball of stress and impatience that was me! I started to cry. Right there at the park, in full view of five or six preschoolers and their heat-stricken parents, the tears started flowing from the truth and depth of her statement.

She had touched a nerve.

"Get your shoes on, hurry up."
"It's time to go!"
"Stop playing with the cat, we've got work to do."
"Take off the costume and put on your "real" clothes!"
"Don't get dirty."
"Move out of the way! My hands are full!"

All the things I so often say to my daughter flashed into my mind, and they all had one thing in common. I wasn't focusing on making memories for my daughter -- I was obsessed with the future and constantly hurrying toward it. And why? I had this awesome, perfect present to enjoy.

I wiped my eyes, which didn't help at all because my mascara was streaking across my face like a Picasso painting, and squeezed the woman's hand. I managed to say "Thank you, so much, for the wisdom you've shared with me." She nodded and patted my hand before getting up to retrieve her grandkids.

I called for my daughter, this time, cheerfully. "Come on, it's time to go. We're going to go home and make muffins!" She came running from the jungle gym, sweaty and smiling. "Banana nut or blueberry?" she asked hopefully. "Both!" I said excitedly.

I turned back to wave to the wise woman on the bench, but she was already gone. I realized I hadn't even asked her name, and for a moment, I felt sad. But then I realized that her role in my life was to reveal a huge truth to me in a way that shook me to my core and made me want to be a better mother, a better person.

We hopped in the car and made many, many muffins that afternoon, all of which were eaten before 8 pm that night. I decided that was alright, because we were making memories.

It's sad that it took a stranger to reveal the value of the present to me, but I'm grateful for her wisdom and willingness to speak to a woman who undoubtedly seemed out of sorts, really stressed, and maybe kind of mean. She changed my life with her words of truth.

I hope that by telling this story, you might be touched by it and remember to slow down, breathe deeply, and enjoy your babies. They're only little once (TOLO) and the memories you make now can never be taken away or added to. Do what you can with your children today. They are truly our greatest joy in life.