I can miss so many things.
Confession: I have an alarm that goes off like the first faint notes of a sonata half an hour before they get home, before the first one opens the door and drops her book bag right there, her pony tail all wilted. I have to. It’s long enough for me to remember that being able to be home with them is a gift; long enough for me to pray; long enough for God to pour something into me that I can offer them. But, it hasn’t always been that way.
It wasn’t long ago–really just days–that, swallowed up in my work, I lost track of mothering and twisted in my chair to see her there. I hardly lifted my fingers from this computer. I saw that look pass over her face, the gentle, thoughtful one that says she doesn’t want to interrupt me. She had homework to do anyway, and that’s what she said, sighing to turn and heft the bookbag (do those things really have to be so heavy?) again as she walked away from me and into the kitchen, out of sight.
I’m almost finished, I thought that day. I’ll just tidy up a few things here and be done.
But for me, online time melts away even faster than the other kind. I can be as absorbed in my work as Adam is in his games or Riley is in her texts. My children can lose me to my to do list just as easily as I can lose them to their devices. Before I know it, I’m rushing into the kitchen and I’m late taking care of, well everything. The last time this happened, I realized we were just a couple of quick hours from closing another day and all I had to show for it was a collection of half-heard phrases. I hadn’t even noticed when afternoon faded into evening, and the reality of my poor choices made me ache. I grieved the trade—a few more things done for what for me is the “creamy center” of life.
Painfully, I have discoved that if I’m working on the computer when they walk in the door, an entire afternoon can slip through my fingers and I’ll miss the sight of them. I’ll miss touching them with my fingers and the way Riley’s face looks while she’s telling me, the words tumbling almost too fast for her to catch them on her tongue, about what this friend and that friend said at school, about the friend who felt angry today. I’ll miss the way she offers that last fact without criticism, the way her head tilts and momentary concern complicates her expression. I’ll miss the way Zoe curls over her homework, pressing a hand against her forehead; the way she taps her pencil to whatever song travels to her ears through those bright blue earbuds. I’ll miss the chance to stand right there in the kitchen with my daughter and pray about the benchmark tests she just wants to do her very best on, even though the grades don’t count.
I know that if I’m cyber-living when they get home, I’ll miss Adam working beside me in the kitchen. I’ll miss the way he makes sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch that are twice the size of the ones I used to make—double the meat, double the cheese, because he’s just hungry. And I know that when I finally migrate to where they are, when I finally remember again to see and hear all the living around me, they’ll be just as absorbed as I’ve been by other things. These days, we can all so easily live in our heads or in no real place at all.
The alarming truth is that sometimes I just lose track of the really beautiful things–the eccentric things that make her laugh, the moment he misses his grandparents enough to talk about it, the tucked away thoughts she’s reserved to say right now. Sometimes I’m so taken with work that I miss the softness of the light on their faces as afternoon drifts into twilight; I miss the impromptu hugs; I miss the questions that tell me how much they’re growing. It’s tragic to see it written down, but honestly, sometimes I forget to count the abundance of these gifts and give thanks.
Again and again and over and over I’m learning, just like my kids. And a mother teaching her children self-discipline must exercise some herself. So, now Adam has an alarm for computer time and Riley has an alarm for texting time and yes, I have an alarm too. And I made its sound something beautiful on purpose, because it’s not an obligation but a choice to be present, a choice to gather up Grace.