We were in New York for Thanksgiving and one of the days we went to Central Park. We arrived at the playground near Columbus Circle and I looked up and saw a red-tailed hawk high up in a tree. I was thrilled. Next thing I knew, it had flown down to a fence just ten feet away. It had its eyes on a nest of small birds in a bush.
I had never been so close to a hawk in the wild and I stayed there admiring it for over an hour until it flew away. It reminded me of my time on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. I couldn’t get enough of being on safari. It felt like home to me in a way no other place has. When I go to the park with my daughter, I’m always struck by her awe and interest in all the little things that we tend to ignore. She’ll happily spend an hour looking for and collecting red seeds and lie down on the street with the neighborhood cat, Jo Jo, for a cuddle.
Going to the park is not separate from being at the park for her. She’s not switched off and thinking about the day ahead. She’s not beating herself up over peeing in her pants the day before. She’s not anxiously anticipating the separation process at school the next day. She’s wholly and unselfconsciously immersed in the present.
Our children can at times be our greatest teachers. I feel deeply grateful when I can recognize my impulses, keep them in check and join her in the moment. That happens sometimes and other times it doesn’t. For me, I can only describe those moments as painfully joyous. The joy I experience through her eyes is magical when I can join her at play in the universe. It fills me. The pain is when my mind yanks me from the experience and starts wondering how long it will be until she is conditioned to sleepwalk.
It feels inevitable, like a wave thousands of miles across the sea that is slowly building force until it turns into a tsunami that will one day wash away her sense of wonder. That makes my heart ache. It makes me think of all the times I messed up with my 12-year-old son.
My daughter squeals in delight when she sees a squirrel running up a tree. I laugh and my thoughts evaporate and I join her once more.
It doesn’t take long until I start thinking again, this time about how easy it is to get sucked into the vortex of my mind. It’s like living on the edge of a black hole whose massive force keeps trying to suck me in. I want to keep my kids as far as possible from that hole, but the only way to do that would be to inhibit the “development” of their minds, or create an alternate universe where they do not live in a world full of distractions.
I think that the best that I can do for now is to keep working on taming my own mind and bringing myself back to the present moment as often as I can so I can continue to sing and dance with them and appreciate how time stands still in those moments.
They’re growing up so quickly.
I breathe deeply and bring myself back again and…
David B. Younger, Ph.D is the creator of Love After Kids, helping couples with their relationships since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couple’s therapist with a web-based private practice and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global. David lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, two kids and toy poodle.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on November 30, 2016.