I found out this week that a good friend is sick... very sick. The bewildering, "shaking my fist at God" kind of sick that no one should be, ever. And especially not when you're in your mid-thirties. I admit, I feel like I have no business writing about anything this week. I've been wading through life these past few days feeling like most of my thoughts are petty, and searching for deep meaning in every moment. I found myself looking at my beautiful 10-month-old little girl in this too short, too fast life, and thinking, How do I make each moment count?
But after a few days of asking myself that cliche question, and becoming frustrated with the cliche answers, I went back to the drawing board. And I came up with a new question... How do I live right now?
We Americans live in an overwhelmingly performance-based culture. And the Chinese culture my family comes from might be even more performance-based. So it's no surprise that I began by focusing on the "make" and the "count" in my original question. Growing up, we are asked, What are you going to be? What are you going to do? Are you working really hard now so that you can be this really great thing later on in life? Are you going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer? Did you practice the piano, so that you'll play well in the recital? Did you study so you'll achieve good grades?
We do the same thing with our babies. We ask, What can your baby do now? Is he rolling over? Is she pulling up? Is she crawling yet? Can he walk? Can he say Mama? Can she wave? Is she sleeping through the night? I think I have asked and been on the receiving end of every single one of these questions of other parents. They are the questions we think we're supposed to ask, they have become almost second nature conversation starters when we run into a parent with a baby. And because these are the questions we absentmindedly ask, we also absentmindedly live to answer them.
When I'm playing with my baby, I keep finding myself working toward making "yes" the answer to all those questions. I try to teach her how to wave... try to make her crawl toward the toy with which I'd be particularly tickled to see her play... try to capture her standing on camera. The first time I tried to do this, she was not completely ready to stand on her own yet. I propped her up next to an ottoman, then stood fumbling with my camera phone, while her big beautiful head hit the ground.
It's difficult to stop this habit of always aiming for the next thing, of planning for the next moment, of looking for the next milestone. But yesterday I made an attempt to squelch every instinct I had to "shape" and "teach" my daughter, and instead I followed her cues throughout the day. Instead of trying to make her sit and read a whole book through with me, I put the book down and followed her when she started to crawl away. I watched the wide-eyed delight on her face as she laughed at the shadow the cat's tail was making on the wall. I loved seeing the way her lips jut forward, and listening to how her breath gets heavy as she tries stacking bowls inside one another. When a siren began howling outside, I watched her head perk up, her eyes bright and searching for the origin of the sound.
I suppose we have to keep thinking about the future. I know that it's responsible to plan ahead, and to work toward goals. I know that we will continue to be evaluated based on our achievements and performance. I know that's how our world works.
But as I think about my friend today, I'd like to propose that we make a shift in how we think about living our lives. Maybe the way to "make each moment count," is to stop doing so much counting, measuring, and evaluating. Maybe we need to stop deciding what's worthwhile based on how much money we'll make, how much time we'll save, how far ahead we'll get, what rewards we'll receive. Maybe we need to take a cue from the babies we once were, and try living here right now. I'm starting right now.