I am sitting next to her in the front seat of our metallic blue Chevy Monte Carlo, my bare feet dangling above the floorboards, the backs of my skinny legs sticking to the vinyl seat. My mother is at the wheel, also barefoot, her toes eternally painted bright pink, navigating the winding back roads to my grandparents’ farm, her long, bare legs working the mysterious pedals that somehow get us to Grandma’s house. The windows are rolled down and the smell of fresh manure wafts through the car, making me pinch my nose between my fingers as my mother smiles and says the same thing she will repeat hundreds of times throughout my childhood,”That’s fresh, country air.” I distinctly remember the non whipping of my white blond hair. Dubbed a tomboy at birth, I will sport a shagged pixie, cut by my mother, until puberty hits a few years from now. In an hour, I will be plucking freshly killed chickens at my grandmother’s kitchen table, but for now we are cruising past blurred rows of corn in companionable silence.
The memory is so clear, so intact, and what stands out about it is not how easily I recall it, but what is missing from it.
I wasn’t thinking about the future.
I was in the car with my beautiful, young, barefoot-car-driving mother, admiring the way her golden legs glowed from the lotion she put on them, comparing them to my own shorter legs as I slowly lifted one, then the other, unpeeling them from the hot seat, experimenting with holding my nose, realizing if I plugged only one nostril, the manure still filled all of my tiny smelling self.
Flash forward to now.
I’m worried about finishing a video project at work, about my son dealing with mean kids at school, about the car we need to buy but I don’t want a car payment, about my parents getting older, about predators who might hurt my children, about how my daughter will fare at sleep away camp because of her fear of water, about bad drivers on the highway, about my husband whose lingering head cold whisks me to the future where his senior citizen body won’t rebound at all, about if my friend’s daughter/husband/father will survive that cancer/stroke/illness.
‘Little me’ didn’t worry about the future. I guess that was what parents were for. I was wherever I was, good and bad. That time I found out that boy in Miss Kuenzler’s first grade class liked me, too. That time the kids made fun of me for the surgery that made me miss school for months.
My children are much the same way. “I’m bored. I’m miserable. This is cool!” They’re in the moment and I’m in the room with them, thinking ahead — to homework, to dinner, to baths, to the end of our lives. See how quickly it devolves?
I don’t know when it happened. High school? I don’t remember worrying, even about college. I knew I would go. After college? Maybe that was the beginning. I began to worry about making it in the competitive business of broadcast journalism. I think the living forward boulder dropped on me when I became a mother and suddenly I was the mouse dropped into a maze, my babies on my back, and it was all up to me to get them to the other side (adulthood), which meant anticipating any and all road blocks/sneak attacks/detours.
I know I’m lucky, dear God in Heaven, I know. And just as soon as I finish feeling grateful, I switch back to future mode, fretting over my chess pieces on the board of life, trying to dodge the pitfalls that remain unseen until you’re hurtling head first into them.
I live by ‘When.’
When the kids are older, when we pay that off, when I get that job, when I finish that project, when the week is over, when we’re not so busy, when school starts again, when summer is over, when it’s Christmas break, when we have more time…
Funny how when when shows up, I’m already past it, onto the next when.
I’m chasing a future no human being has ever caught.
Maybe I think my constant mental motion will help me outrun the random things that befall others.
I’m trying to figure out (and I’ve thought about this a lot which is why I’m finally resorting to writing about it), is it possible to contend with the emotional complications and weighty responsibilities of adulthood/parenthood and to not be looking and living ahead?
In polite conversation with people who love me, it manifests in conversations, like when one of my best friends and I wondered, “Will we regret we didn’t enjoy this time in our lives more?”
What to do? Meditate, read ‘The Power of Now,’ work on being present. Tried it, read it, failed at it.
The sexist me believes men are better at this than women. My husband can eat a sandwich, and while he’s eating that sandwich, guess what? He’s eating a sandwich. He’s not remembering that he forgot to empty the book bags or move yesterday’s laundry to the dryer, or that we still don’t have a sitter for that Saturday workday.
I have older friends who tell me to enjoy life because ‘before I know it, this will all be behind me.’ To me, that’s like saying humans walk upright. No offense, but I know that. Invariably, when we keep talking, I discover that these friends were like me at my age, frantic and split in two, juggling and careening, trying to keep up, and it’s only in life’s rearview mirror mode that they see the mistake in not being in the moment. Their own regret is then delivered to me as an edict of Don’t do what I did.
Is ‘being in the moment’ a crock? Are people who live in the moment better at their faith than me? Have they learned some Jedi mind trick that eludes me? How can you be a mother and not worry all the time?
I’m told most often to ‘give it over to God.’ Arrogantly, I’m certain God needs help steering my bus full of crap. I know.
I have moments. I will be struck by the beauty of my daughter’s face when she is deep in concentration, coloring the 15th doggie she has drawn this week. My growing son will roar with laughter, understanding the adult, sarcastic remark I make to my husband. I’ll put my head on my husband’s chest and his arms will encircle me like a warm cocoon.
A friend told me my children would be my greatest teachers. I’ve come to believe that me as a child has much to teach me as an adult. It begins by going back to a ride in the country with my young mama on a summer day. It’s a truth filled with sticky legs, short hair and and an innocent, full heart that already knew, but would grow to forget, all of life is in this moment.