Staying Present at the Playground

“Are you ready to go to the slide?” I ask.

“No!  More pushes!”  My 2-year-old daughter is in a swing phase.  And by swing phase, I mean she wants to do that activity with a single-minded focus that outlasts my interest by 15 minutes.  It’s beautiful that she’s learning and enjoying herself and smiling adorably but oh-my-gosh-why-can’t-we-switch-to-something-else?!  I’m crawling out of my skin with impatience, which is ironic because I’m helping both girls practice ways to be patient every day.  Remembering this, I try to flip my internal script.  I decide to ask the developing expert.

“Sweetie, I’m feeling impatient.  What would help me wait?”  I’m hoping this is a teaching moment where I can normalize her frequent experience of impatience, rather than a moment where the grown woman is asking to be emotionally cared for by her toddler.  

“Big breath!” she shouts.  Her chest puffs out with pride.  She is confident she got the “right” answer.  Breathing is big in our house.  It helps when you can’t fall asleep or when you’re frustrated that a toy is missing.   It’s a better choice than hitting your sister or biting.  We also practice hitting pillows when we are upset.  Why doesn’t this park have any pillows?

I start to daydream and design an adults-only park with giant pillows for punching, a bouncy house floor where you can flop on your belly and throw a tantrum, and juice boxes in quiet corners when you need to regroup.  I’m brainstorming names for my creation when I remember an email I forgot to send before I left the office.  Crap!  That’s okay, I can multi-task.  During this repetitive swing-pushing, I can compose the email in my mind and plan dinner and think about that graph I want to add to the slide deck after the girls go to bed.  This multi-tasking makes me Super Mom, right?

Wait, no … I look at my daughter and remember how many times today I looked forward to having time with her.  Not once in my anticipation did I imagine this quality time would be about daydreams, composing emails, and checking out of my body.  My inner critic jumps up, ready to judge me for my inattention as a parent, for wasting the precious years I have with my girls at home, for being cranky and tired.  But I don't want to make myself wrong again.  I get to be tired and distracted and impatient.  I had a long day and I'm human.  And it helps her development, even at this age, when I can be honest with her about my needs.  

Noticing that my attention is getting hijacked again, I look for something to ground me in the present moment.

There she is.  My daughter.  Still experiencing bliss on the swing but also perceptive enough to notice that her mommy isn't smiling.

“Hey, Sweetie.  Want to play a feelings game with me?” I ask.  She lights up.  We take turns making faces while the other one guesses the emotion we’re expressing.  “Sad!  Happy!  Angry!”  She does her signature grumpy pout, a look we've named "burrito face" because she once asked me to take a picture of her happily eating a burrito and then pulled that face to get a laugh.  At the playground, she wiggles and raises her hands, asking to get down from the swing.  We start using our bodies.  Stomping.  Tickling.  Running.  Pretending to fall asleep on the grass.

Well, what do you know?  I’m breathing.  I’m in my body, in this moment.  I’m connected to my daughter.  I’m having fun and dumping some of my stress from the day.  I take a moment to appreciate the intuitive part of me that knew what I needed.  I also feel grateful for my daughter who helps me grow and learn all the time.  

"I love you," I tell her as I give her a hug.  "Thank you for being silly with me."

"Swing?" she asks.  Her eyebrows creep up expectantly as she waits for my response.

"Absolutely!"

Burrito face is real and it is glorious.