For many moons now, I have been mothering two little caterpillars disguised as my daughters. From babies to toddlers to schoolgirls to adolescents, I recently awoke to find a butterfly.
In just the last few weeks I have witnessed my oldest daughter end a meaningful relationship, choose her college, and voluntarily tell a story from her heart to a large audience. The three events aren’t connected, and they aren’t extraordinary in and of themselves, but they do paint an unmistakable portrait of a blossoming woman.
Woman? Do you mean my first-born?
Do you mean the child who was so planned and so coveted after the two miscarriages before her? Do you mean the baby I worried, for many of the nine months, would leave my body the way the other two had? The one who never crawled, and walked exclusively on her tiptoes those first years? The one who used to play with an imaginary friend inspired by the child catcher in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the one she affectionately named “Scary Guy” (who was neither scary nor a guy in her beautiful world)? The one who told her baby sister, “Don’t worry, Claire, I can help you. I’m 3 ½,” with supreme confidence? The one for whom the 1940’s American Girl doll, Molly, was primary companion and confidant for quite a stretch?
Sentimental slob that I am, I was not the mama that cried as my littles went off to kindergarten. I was the mama who rejoiced. Heartily! It was good for them and good for me, and time. My oldest leaving the nest in just a few months feels both unnatural and essential. This day was always and only coming, as sure as the sunrise, but as these almost-18 years start to wind down, I’m keenly aware. Of. Every. Moment.
It’s actually not a bad way to live, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Live in the moment, we are endlessly instructed. It’s the key to happiness and tranquility. The present moment is all we have, our only reality. Quit rehashing the past (it tends to be depressing) and rehearsing the future (it tends to evoke anxiety). Be here now. I have more proverbial bumper stickers to this effect than you can shake a stick at.
I was in a seminar last week where we were asked to answer a most poignant question:
Out of the options before you now, which choice will make the most interesting story when you look back in 5 years?
Drink that one in for a moment. It’s seemingly future-oriented (projecting 5 years ahead), yet it asks about choices before you today. And feel free to alter it as you see fit. Perhaps it’s the most meaningful, courageous, compassionate, generative, compelling, you fill-in-the-blank story. The point is that we have the opportunity (and the privilege) to write our own future every single day.
Yes, it takes noticing the threshold upon which we stand and the kindling of courage to act on it, but all we ever have to work with is what’s before us right here and right now. The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us:
“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.”
As I carve out my own future, (ideally) firmly planted in the present moment, I think about how I will show up in this next phase of life. Like many transitions, it is fraught with both enthusiasm and trepidation. For those facing unemployment or retirement…who am I without my job title, business cards and career? For those navigating divorce…who am I outside the container of my marriage and my “in tact” family? For the rising college freshman…who am I without my high school friends, my family and the creature comforts of home?
I think I will redouble my efforts with practicing present moment awareness, and also heed the advice of a wise person who once encouraged me to experience the path I’m on instead of constantly evaluating the path I’m on. That rings true and in sync with dwelling in the present, hard as ALL of it is in practice. A kind of foreign concept but with deep resonance.
Much like my butterfly.