Mom! It’s a simple, one-syllable word, yet approximately 50% of the time I hear it, I almost bite my own tongue in half — intentionally. Why? Because there’s one of me, and four of them. Now, I’m no Jimmie the Greek, but that’s some shit odds. And odds are, they need something, now. Or at least, they think they do. And chances are I’ll be in the middle of meeting one child’s needs when another one of my hormone-infested roommates makes his or her desperate situation known to this hormone-receding mom from across the house, give or take a floor.
“Do not yell at me from across the house!” I yell, from across the house, followed by a four-step recommendation on how to solve their problem, while the kid in front of me stares blankly, as if to say, “I can’t wait to go to college,” to which I want to reply, “Same here.”
Trying to stay in the moment is exhausting when two or three other people want you in their moments. How come there’s no book for that? Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll call it Mindfulness for Mommies: My Ass.
I try to practice mindfulness (being in the moment you are in, not fantasizing about the next, or regretting the last one) in my daily life, which takes conscious effort. When you meditate, you remain mindful of your breathing. But you can be mindful when you’re doing other things and it can be just as relaxing as meditating. Here’s how it works: Do, and think, about one thing at a time. It’s like a game. When I’m winning, it’s noticeably relaxing and calming. It’s pretty easy when I’m working at my computer during the day, all alone in the house. When I’m editing an article, and I get to a particularly riveting sentence describing solderable finishes, and my mind tries to plan dinner, I gently guide it back to where it’s supposed to be. So I recognize that I’m mentally wandering, and then I return my thoughts to their proper place: the article. When it wanders again a few minutes later, I nudge it back to where it belongs. Rinse, repeat.
It feels good to give oneself permission to just think about the task at hand. Over time, the mind veers less frequently, and it’s easier to catch it and return it to its rightful moment – this one – the only one that actually exists. That’s all there really is to mindfulness. Do what you’re doing with your body and your mind. Easy, right?
Inevitably, a minute into a task, I get my marching orders, beckoning me in another direction. Which way should I go? If I go mentally and not physically, hollering suggestions across the house, the person in front of me suffers. I suffer.
The thing about getting interrupted when I am helping one of my kids with something is that I feel bad that he or she can’t get help with a knot, a tricky paragraph in a homework assignment, or a gaping flesh wound without having to share my attention. So, it really comes back to me. It’s about how it makes me feel when I can’t complete one simple mission without saying, “Let me see what’s going on. I’ll be right back.” I mean, what if the thing upstairs, or in the garage, or in the bathroom really is more important than what I’m currently helping another one of them with? What takes precedent, a hairy spider in the shower, or the lid on a jar of nacho cheese sauce that won’t budge? Which moment wins? These are judgment calls I am not comfortable making.
That’s why I’m installing one of those “take a number” machines that spit out little pieces of paper to people in delis, butcher shops and customer service counters in department stores. It’s going to take the anxiety out of my moments, mainly because I’ll have total freedom to stay in the one that’s currently happening until it’s all the way over, and guess who gets to decide when it’s over: me. I’m the decider.
“Mom, I need you to – “
“Take a number.”
“How can I help you?”
“I’ve got a knot in my shoelace.”
“Ok, let’s see….”
“Honey, have you seen my –“
“Take a number.”
“What the hell? Oh, fine!”
“Wait! I’m thirty-six!” my husband says, skidding back into the room. “Right here! I need—“
“Sorry, pal, ya gotta pay attention.”
If my kids don’t like it, I’ll just tell them what I usually tell them when they look at me like I’m a total moron:
“Call me when you have four kids.”
“Don’t bother. I’ll be busy lying on a beach, thinking about my umbrella drink, and maybe the next one I’m going to order. And the one after that…”