At my youngest nephew’s first birthday, I was pushing his older two-year old brother on the swings. As he swayed back and forth, another mom joined me and pushed her son on the swing next to me while her two other girls zipped around gleefully on the playground. One of the girls tripped in front of us over the sand. She flew forward like Supergirl and landed harshly on her hands and knees in the unforgiving gravel. She remained still for a few seconds in surprise. As she stood, she brushed herself off, looked down at newly made scrapes on her knees and looked back up at her mom. They locked eyes and gave a look of, “I’m okay, you’re okay, I can keep going” and then mom said, “Sometimes, you gotta learn to play in the dirt” as she laughed and shrugged.
For the next few days I thought about the wisdom behind her words. Keeping the analogy in mind, it made me wonder as parents about how being present can feel too laborious to get dirty in the midst of duties and routine, or that there doesn’t seem to be enough time to even do it, much less do it well. If the richness of the soil reflected how well we were being present with our children, would we say the soil is dry or fertile? “Playing in the dirt,” or being present takes constant practice, intention and mindfulness. There’s times where it feels dry, times where it’s fertile, and lots of times where it feels somewhere in between.
The struggle lies in the fact that dirt has its share of weeds. Weeds, such as: I need to clean the house, we need to get in the car, I just need my kid to put on his/her shoes, I need to make dinner, I need to give my child a bath, I need to do laundry, I wish my kid would go to bed already, I have errands to run, here’s the next school event, and the next one, and the next one after that. Then more weeds of: you need to do your homework, you need to listen to me, you need to do this before you can play, you need to brush your teeth before story time, etc.
And that’s just Tuesday. Whew!
Is it the weekend yet? Oh wait…there’s a whole other list of to-do’s, places to be and people to see too. There went the weekend. The following Monday is here already.
There is richness in what you can miss in the midst of these duties and routines, and it starts with a shift in mindset and what you look for. While maintaining a hold or scaffolding on the tasks at hand, in the midst of them, pay close attention to the interactions between you and your child – the us. Slow down. Did I really look at the artwork my child did, talk about the colors and strokes, and share in genuine mutual pride? Did I really hear how rough a day my child had and share in the emotions while we ate? Did I join in that funny dance my child did on her way through the door that made us laugh away? Intentionally focusing on the us and being mindful of when these moments present themselves every day help cultivate towards fertile soil. And did you notice, it watered your parenting reservoir too?
All because you played in the dirt.
Andy Yang, MA, LPCC