I was sitting at my computer, trying to catch up on e-mail, when my concentration was broken by the sound of my preschool daughter, Robin.
"Come back, Mommy, I need you," her wistful voice pleaded.
Come back? I was sitting inches away from her.
"I'm right here, honey," I responded casually. She shook her head solemnly. As I sat there looking into her eyes, it occurred to me that she was right. My mind was miles away.
I shut off my computer and turned toward my youngest child.
What parent hasn't felt the pull of outside demands and family needs? Although I have arranged to be home with my children, Robin's poignant appeal made me realize that being physically present means very little if I'm not here in spirit.
In the weeks following this discovery, I seriously rethought how I spent my days.
Robin was afraid of the dark. I had assured her repeatedly that there was nothing to fear, solving the problem by putting a night light in her room.
When I thought about her feelings, I realized how this action merely reinforced her worries. If dark was not frightening, why would I eliminate it with a night light? It occurred to me that her fear was partly due to the fact that she'd never been properly introduced to darkness.
One night as we waited for evening to descend, we turned out all the lights, lit candles, and admired the patterns they made on the walls and ceilings. Then, armed with a flashlight apiece, Robin, my son, Connor, and I went for a late-night stroll around the neighborhood.
We aimed our lights at the stars to see how far the beams would reach. We made our lights chase each other and dance in the night air. We ended up in our own backyard playing a rousing game of hide-and-seek with all lights off (while we counted to 10), then turned them on again to find the hidden child.
Counting in the blackness beside my little one, I could see that her fears were gone.
Darkness is now a friend - an ally in a beloved game.
This morning, I rushed outside to see a one-legged grasshopper that the kids had discovered in our backyard. I dashed back into the house, not to pick up a ringing phone or to jot a quick note, but to find a magnifying glass so that we could view the creature's wings more clearly.
Yes, I still have to spend time paying bills, making meals, and working on school and neighborhood committees. But my priorities have shifted, and I try, to the best of my ability, to be with my kids when we are together, to stay focused on them rather than my next chore or project.
I'm enjoying my children more these days. I'm enjoying myself, too. I look at their little heads bent toward each other as they watch soap bubbles soaring through the air and my heart swells. These precious childhood days are fleeting. My goal is to embrace every moment.
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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society