When my best friend’s baby was learning to eat we slowly introduced him to different solid foods. One day we put a few raspberries on his high chair tray. As he crammed a raspberry into his mouth with his little fingers, a smile suddenly came over his face. He gave us a huge grin as if to say, “Thanks, guys,” and then started to clap his hands. For weeks, he applauded every time he ate a raspberry or a strawberry. His ecstasy was palpable.
Children, in being new to the world, live completely in the moment. They take in their surroundings with curiosity, awe, and delight. Whenever my friend’s son saw a bird or a flower, or discovered a loved one lifting him from his crib after taking a nap, he smiled. This in turn made us smile.
I often think back on that time with my friend’s baby as I sometimes babysat for him. On those mornings, I’d arrive and we’d have breakfast. Then I’d sit on the couch and read while he sat on the floor and made new discoveries; how to grasp an object; how to roll over, how to make a sound. After about an hour of that, we’d get out the stroller and go for a walk. Then it would be time for lunch. After lunch, he’d fall asleep in my arms. When I spent time with him, my worries and struggles seemed to melt away, as he taught me how to focus on the here and now.
Those of us living in the adult world sometimes struggle with being in the moment. Often we want out of the moment and into a new one! I personally get frazzled and frustrated when I have too much to do and not enough time to pause. When this happens I long for more quiet time. Yet sometimes I wonder if I’m trying too hard to control my reality. I wonder if my real task is to find joy within the chaos instead of trying to manipulate life to be different. I’d like life to have a slower rhythm but more than that, I’d like to find joy from moment-to-moment. In each moment, there is an opportunity to talk to someone, to look at one’s surroundings, and to breathe. In fact, in each moment, there is an opportunity to applaud.
Although I forfeited visiting my mom at Chowchilla, her friend Bob made the drive. It took him ten hours to get there. When he arrived she was on suicide watch, which meant Bob wasn’t allowed to see her. The logic of this was absurd. Isolation would only increase despair. The second time Bob made the trek he was denied visitation rights yet again. This time the prison was on lock down. He called me expressing extreme frustration.
“Boy, did you make the right decision,” he said. I listened to him vent and for the first time acknowledge that taking care of oneself wasn’t necessarily an act of selfishness. “I spent all that time and energy and couldn’t even see her! Cards and letters will have to be enough.”
I never knew if cards and letters were enough. My experience had been that nothing was ever enough. All I knew was that my inability to fill the void within my mother had left me with one as well.
Before mom transferred to Chowchilla, she spent two weeks in the local jail. Bob and I visited her there together. He couldn’t admit that she had a drinking problem. He just thought it was unfortunate she had been pulled over while under the influence. Yet sensing her depression, he brought photographs with him to cheer her up during our visit. The pictures were of dolls she owned. At her most neurotic, she drove them around in the back seat of her car and talked to them as if they were real.
When mom faced us through the glass, I saw depression plastered all over her face. “Isn’t it terrible?” she kept repeating over and over again, staring at me hard, as if I could fix it. I wasn’t even certain she knew it was me. I felt I could have been anyone. When Bob pulled out the photos, I was astonished to see my mom’s face suddenly brighten. It was wildly and instantaneously transformed. “My babies. Lisa, see my babies. Bob brought me my babies.” And then she proceeded to name them all, cooing and gooing at the pictures. I felt like I was in a Fellini film.“What about me?! I’m your baby!” I wanted to scream. “I’m your baby! WHAT ABOUT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I wanted nothing more than to be her baby and for her to coo and goo at me. Instead she was becoming my child.