Be Here Now
Learning to live one day at a time.
I’m generally not a fan of clichés, the reduction of wisdom into simple phrases for cross-stitched samplers. But as it turns out, I seem to be clinging to one particular cliché for dear life these days.
One day at a time.
I am known to use various iterations of this sentiment: “Let’s just do today.” Or, “I’m going to focus on Tuesday, then I’ll do Wednesday (if it’s a Tuesday).” Or this family favorite, “Be here now.”
The idea here isn’t an end-all erasing of anything I might look forward to in the future. Anticipating and dreaming are fun.
I get excited about upcoming trips (now that they can be planned a little bit.) I anticipate completing a book. I look forward to meeting Dax Shepard someday. But for now, I’m doing it today. It’s all the energy I have.
One Day at Time in Parenting.
The true implementation of “One Day at a Time” started early in my parenting. Sure, I was familiar with the idea of being present in the moment but it wasn’t until the birth of my first son that the notion set in of just how quickly time would go. I was aware that although the days felt long, they were numbered and I was open to the discipline of being present for the current day with my boy. Some of this was rooted in the song, “Where are you Going, My Little One?” my mom would sing to me at bedtime,
“Turn around and you’re 2. Turn around and you’re 4. Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door.”
Wait, what?! I’m going to leave you? A heart-wrenching seed to plant in childhood but it crystalized the idea that the days of parent with-child are limited.
However, “One Day at a Time” took on a deeper meaning when our youngest was born with Down Syndrome.
Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty in parenting but somehow it is easier to maintain the façade that I can make plans for my typical child. I can dream about his college scholarship (totally likely, right?), the partner he’ll meet someday and the grandchildren he’ll give me. Of course, none of this is certain. And yet, I feel more permission to dream these things with my oldest who doesn’t have Down Syndrome. (And by “dream” I mean to project my dreams onto him. A delightful component of parenting, projection.)
Having a child with Down Syndrome shines a bright light on this precarious thinking. It brings into focus the important understanding that we have very little control in our lives. Sure, we have retirement accounts and savings for our children (if we’re lucky).
I’ve arranged some trips for the upcoming summer. There is wisdom in planning. Futures happen and dreams come true. So, there is good work to be done in seeing and working towards it.
But, there are also things we can’t plan for, unforeseen catastrophe or windfalls, or inclement weather.
Worrying about them clouds the present moment and the ability to be present in it. More and more I know acutely that the control I think I have is, well, nonexistent.
So, I just do today.
I am also trying to teach this to my children, specifically my youngest. Once Chase understood the concept of time and could verbalize his excitement about upcoming events, he asked questions about the future, near and far. Near future: What are we having for dinner…. while he’s eating his breakfast. Far future: When are we visiting Grandy and Grandad… a trip that isn’t for 5 more months. My husband and I quickly learned we would need to help him stay focused on the present.
“Be here now” grew out of this dynamic with my youngest. Every summer we travel to North Carolina for a large family gathering in the southern part of the Outer Banks. When Chase hears this, he begins to verbally anticipate the trip for months. He packs his bag days (weeks) in advance. He asks every day (hourly), when are we leaving?
How are getting there (always by plane)? Who will be there (same people every year)? He just can’t wait. His enthusiasm is infectious, if not just a little exhausting.
And then. When we arrive. He asks when we’re heading home! When are we getting back on the plane? (Hands smack forehead incredulously.)
It didn’t take long to realize this pattern would not work for us, so my husband started replying, “Be. Here. Now.” We have said this so often that one of us might simply ask Chase, “What are the three words?” And he will reply, “Be. Here. Now.” It isn’t a cure-all, but it can curb the barrage of questions for a bit and help him enjoy his present circumstances.
Learning Myself as I’m Teaching my Boys
The funny thing is that in extolling him to heed these words, I’ve heeded them more and more myself. When I get overwhelmed about whether the future is going to look a particular way, whether tomorrow is going to include certain things, or if my sanity is going to make it to the weekend, I simply say, “Mandy, be here now.”
A funny thing happens when I loosen some of that attachment. Focusing on today can be quite life-giving. When I focus my energy on this moment right here, I find I can be a little more successful if all I’m working on is today. I may even have enough patience for today.
Repeating this phrase to myself, “one day at a time,” also helps mitigate my existential crises. I seem to have a penchant for them, like a favorite hobby. I wrestle with existence at least once a month. Why are we here? What’s it all for? I can get a bit, um, grandiose in my thinking. So, I gently say, as I breathe in and out:
One. Day. At. A. Time.