There has much ado about a recent article on parenting entitled, “Don’t Carpe Diem” by Glennon Melton. And while the author and the majority of those that resonated with her essay made some sobering and honest view points about their parenting experiences, I guess overall, I found the end result rather bleak. And its not just because I have lost a child, but of course that didn’t exactly help my reaction still being in the thick of the grieving process. It’s because I felt that all of the brutal honesty amounted to just that………there was no want or need for resolution. There was a resounding quality of accepting that the days are long, that the frustrations you have with your children are unfixable, that you are stuck in this mode of what she terms “chronos” time, climbing up Mount Everest, that you will only have a couple of “kairos”, or beautiful happy moments a day that will vanish quicker than they came, and that you wont even remember them, you will just remember you had them. But somehow those foggy moments were so powerful that makes it all worth it?
I have always been the kind of person that welcomes change, and especially the kind of person that creates change especially when things are stagnant, stale, old and just plain not working. I recently read this book called “The Happiness Project.” I have an extremely high respect for the author, Gretchen Rubin, who embarked on a yearlong journey to, well, be happier. One of the most profound statements in Rubin’s’ book, that is grossly missing in Melton’s’essay, “Don’t Carpe Diem”, hit me of over the head with a mallet: “One April day, on a morning just like every other morning, I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life.” Melton never addresses this concept. And although I was not surprised by Melton’s refreshing admittance of how hard it is to be a parent, I was shocked at how willing she was to just accept it.
What do I want from life, anyway” I asked myself. Well…..I want to be happy.” But too often I sniped at my husband or the cable guy. I felt dejected after even a minor professional setback. I drifted out of touch with old friends. I lost my temper easily I suffered bouts of melancholy, insecurity, listlessness, and free-floating guilt…….. I had everything I could possibly want-yet I was failing to appreciate it. Bogged down by petty complaints and passing crises, weary of struggling with my own nature, I too often failed tocomprehend the splendor of what I had. I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted. The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think,” How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it”?
I guess the writer Colette was her little old lady at the grocery store reminding her to carpe diem.
Rubin dedicates a whole chapter on parenting. She also mentions those chronos and kairos moments that she calls fog happiness, “Fog happiness is the kind of happiness you get from activities that, closely examined, don’t really seem to bring much happiness at all-yet somehow they do.” She uses the example of a host at a party. You are so busy hosting that you don’t even take the time to enjoy your own party. But she feels that you should take that time to enjoy it. She, for all intense purposes, wants to lift that fog and see more clearly, she wants more kairos moments, she wants to carpe diem, as opposed to “Carpe a couple of kairos moments…good enough for me.”
Rubin goes on to say
“I knew I didn’t appreciate enough this fleeting time in my children’s’ lives. Though the stages of diapers and dress-up clothes and car seats seem interminable, they pass quickly, and too often, I was so focused on checking off the items of my to-do list that I forgot what really mattered.” She begins to change many things to create,” a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous atmosphere…I had two healthy, affectionate little girls, and I wanted my actions as a parent to rise to the level of that good fortune…I wanted to be more lighthearted. I wanted to take steps to preserve the happy memories from this time.”
Now this is the attitude and energy that I want to achieve, to aspire to, especially after the extremely hard and difficult two years we have just been through. It has been very easy for me to slip into a mode of anger at the world, and sometimes critical extreme judgment towards most other parents who thank goodness don’t know how hard it is not only to lose a child but to live an entire year in utter fear, turmoil and horror; but I don’t want to settle for that. I want to do everything I can so that my life, my daughters and my husbands life don’t slip away, and all we remember is the grief of what happened. At the twilight of my life, I don’t want to be the old woman in a grocery store that only remembers how hard it was, “yea you think your life is rough, I only have memories of my sons death, and that year we spent living in a hospital, oh wait oh yea I think I had another kid too and I think I had a couple of kairos moments but I don’t remember them.” I COULD easily be that person, if I CHOOSE to hold on to the bad moments and just blindly accept that life is hard. BUT, I want to create beautiful memories that I clearly specifically can recall. I want to feel full and enriched not just for my daughter’s sake but also for my own. I want to have way more awesome incredible gorgeous fun exhilarating memories than frustrating angry sad ones. And most importantly, I want to give my living child those good memories of her family life.
The big hole that lurks in Melton’s essay is that if you are having mostly chronos moments, guess what, so are your children. Parents think if they are working hard, immersed in their children's lives, giving their children everything that they didn’t have etc. that their children will be happy right? Children are extremely perceptive. They learn most of their behavior, coping skills, and attitude through modeling. I will never forget when my daughter started sighing “ahhhh” after every swig of her drink. It always cracked me up and when I asked my husband I wonder where she got that, he said,’ "well from you of course. You do it after every sip of coffee you take in the morning.” I actually had no idea I did that. After that I became more aware of my behavior and realized that old “monkey see, monkey do” saying is all too relevant when raising kids. If you are frustrated most of the day, by looking at the clock and waiting for the moment that your kids go to bed, your children will follow suit. What are we teaching our children if that becomes the daily goal? Get the kids to bed so we can collapse on the couch and watch junk TV. Is that the attitude we want to instill in them when they go out in the world? When they go to school, when they get a job, when they get married and settle down and have a family of their own? Do we want our children to just accept a life of mostly chronos, to gaze at the slowness of the clock all day and wait until the most important part of the day has ended? Are we unknowingly teaching them that the goal in life is to stare down the time we have on earth and heave a big sigh of relief when we are at deaths door. When someone asks us if we loved life will our response be, "no....but I love having lived." Or do we want them to learn how to handle adversity, in a positive way. To strive to be happy, to live a rich life full of mostly good moments that they will clearly remember, treasure, and cherish and to pass that goodness on to the next generation.
Furthermore, what kind of “treasure house of memories”(Rubin) am I creating for my daughter? Do I want her memories to be of a cranky upset mom, who looks sad and frustrated all of the time? Who gets impatient and angry waiting in lines, or in traffic, or at my grandchildren? Melton says she has a few kairos moments a day but doesn’t remember exactly what they were whereas Rubin realizes the “importance of keeping happy memories vivid.” Remembering the specifics, the details, is not only important to Rubin’s happiness but to the overall happiness of her children, and of her children’s future memories.
Now I am not saying I don’t have those Chronos moments. We just had one this morning. Complete and utter melt down. My daughter did not want daddy to leave to go to work on a project. It was the weekend after all. “Why are you leaving daddy?” She screamed, not letting go of daddy. I used every trick in my book; distraction, choices, you name it nothing worked. I had to resort to tearing her away. After daddy left, I kneeled down and told her it was ok to be upset. I know how much you love daddy and how much you miss him. After she calmed down a little I told her, we have two choices. We could sit around all day and wait for him to come home, or we can fill our day with fun and excitement and adventure. We called some friends and they were available so we went out to lunch, rode on a train, played in a park, and then suddenly hours zoomed by filled with kairos after kairos after kairos moments. No looking at the clock counting down the moments until my daughter goes to bed. After all time flies when you are having fun right? An incredible teachable moment and one that I hope my daughter takes with her so later in life when things don’t go her way, she can turn a sour moment into a sweet one. When we got home everyone was in a good mood and daddy and daughter got to spend some time together and it was that much richer. I CHOOSE to have more kairos moments a day. Even in that excruciating line at the grocery store…I choose to play with my daughter instead of perseverating on how slow the check out clerk is or if I am by myself I always bring a good book to read…ten minutes to someone else looking at the clock impatiently is a lot different to someone else who is diving into a good book, suddenly you’re at the front of the line wishing the line was longer. That is the attitude I want to impart on my child. After all, I want her life to be easier not harder and the less she sweats the small stuff and the more she uses her time wisely the happier she will be. One of the best ways to do that is by modeling that behavior in you. I do whatever I can to turn those chronos moments into kairos ones…. kind of like the old saying “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade.”Surely easier said then done, but I am at least trying in spite of the tragedy that is still all too fresh in my mind. At the end of the day having a multitude of kairos moments that I remember in great detail, and just a few chronos moments that I know I had but don’t remember. Now that for me is success.
Melton also mentions one of the kairos moment she had was when she looked up and truly saw her daughter for the first time in that whole day. That is a beautiful moment but I say do it sooner. Make that your first moment of the day, not one of your last.
My favorite part of the day is waking up. Staring into the wide eyes of my daughter, scooping her up in my arms, feeling the warmth of her breath on my neck as she squeezes me back. I start my day every day with a beautiful wonderful kairos moment. When you start the day like that, I can guarantee that you will not only be more inclined to have many more kairos moments throughout the day, but you will remember them, not just the feeling but the specifics, the details. And so will your children. And those are the memories that THEY will remember for a lifetime. Take it from me; I am not the little old lady in the store remembering from afar. But I know at an extremely early stage in my parenting life that you should relish these moments, and try and change your life and attitude so you can have more of them and so instead of looking forward for you kids to go to bed, you are looking forward to spending quiet time with your significant other; to me, there is a huge difference between those two attitudes. Don’t wait for something tragic to happen, or for you to grow old. These moments do go by fast. Too fast for me and unfortunately too short-lived. Carpe Diem.
These are the days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you
These are days that you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you
With desire to be part of the miracles
You see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched
By something that will grow and bloom in you
These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
To you, to you