Over the 4th of July weekend, we took a family road trip from Sacramento to Orem, Utah to visit my soon-to-be brother-in-law and his family. It was a short trip: we drove out on Thursday, stayed and played Friday and Saturday, and drove back on Sunday. Almost as soon as we got there, the Man Cub started his countdown clock for when we were going to leave.
“Why can’t we stay longer?” he asked, and with good reason. He was really enjoying his time with his cousins, who he only gets to see about once a year, and was disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer.
“Well, Jerry and I have to go back to work on Monday,” said the Cricket. “We’d love to stay longer, too, buddy. Maybe next time.”
“But I want to stay longer,” he grumped.
I decided to take a stab at re-directing his thoughts by engaging him in a sure-fire, totally age-appropriate philosophical discussion about being present. I know, in hindsight it sounds ridiculous to me, too. What can I say? Sometimes I get carried away in my enthusiasm to impart whatever wisdom I’ve managed to scrape together, especially when I have a captive audience strapped into a child safety seat, safely tucked in the rear of the car, where there’s no danger of me seeing him roll his eyes. Look, I never said I’d got the hang of this parenting thing yet. Anyhow, back to being present.
“Hey buddy,” I said, “can I ask you a question?” This is how I always start the diversionary tactics, and I think he’s starting to catch on; I may not have seen the eye roll, but I’m fairly certain I heard it. He humored me anyway.
“Are you having fun, thinking about going home?”
“No,” he whined. “That’s why I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here and have fun.”
“But you’re not having fun right now, are you? Because you’re thinking about when we have to leave, and that’s making you feel sad, and so you’re missing out on the fun you could be having right now, aren’t you?”
He eyed me suspiciously. I don’t blame him; I am, after all, only a step dude. I’m also the guy who once tried to convince him that eating his broccoli would make his magic stronger, and that he’d managed to make the clock disappear once he’d cleared his plate. Try explaining that one to the kindergarten teacher when she tells you he tried to turn one of his classmates invisible. And so when I say things that he doesn’t already know to be true and factual...well let’s just say he raises an eyebrow in consideration.
After a few seconds of deliberation, though, it clicked. He didn’t even say anything else, just wandered off to find his cousins so they could play. He grokked it: enjoying his now was more important than worrying about the future.
I, on the other hand, had to take a minute to process what had just happened. I realized that just a few months ago, he wouldn’t have given a flying fuck about leaving until we’d strapped him in his car seat and were driving away. Why? Because up until recently, he had no concept of time. Everything in his world happened now. There was no past, no future, only what was right in front of him. But that was starting to change. Now some old dude was having to remind him to stay present. The same old dude who was constantly telling him “Ten more minutes to bedtime,” and “We’re leaving for school in half an hour.”
I can’t think of any better example of how we screw ourselves up into the giant balls of stress by the time we’re young adults. On the one hand, we preach the value of time and we push deadlines and timelines and schedule every minute of every day, and on the other hand, we tell each other to slow down and smell the roses. No wonder we’re fucked up: we can’t even decide whether to live in the past, future, or present.
Jeez. I hope he’s ready for a discussion about duality and paradox on the drive to school tomorrow.