Have you ever looked at young child and thought, “I wish I had a fraction of the energy that kid has?” Kids seem to have a never-ending supply of boundless energy from sun up to sun down. My own two sons can barely sit still long enough to eat a proper meal, and when they do grace us with their presence at dinner time they literally bounce in their seats like little kernels of popcorn ready to explode. They go from one activity to another with vigorous enthusiasm, whether they are creating a T-Rex-meets-Thomas-the-Tank-Engine layout under the slide in the backyard, or running around in capes like Captain Underpants. Our 7-year-old, The Professor, hops out of bed with the kind of sunny disposition I can only dream about.
But last Tuesday, I killed a little part of The Professor’s energy.
I didn’t mean to do it. I was just trying to keep all the characters in our little family drama on track, fulfilling my role as mom – by watching the clock, checking off my mental To-Do list, thinking ahead, and anticipating everyone’s immediate or inevitable needs. Isn’t that what a Good Mom is supposed to do?
I picked The Professor and his little brother, Huck, up from school with a few fun surprises. “Kiddos! Look what I got for you,” I said, reaching under the front passenger seat of my Honda CR-V to reveal a cellophane-wrapped DVD. “Cars 3! It came out on DVD today! I bought it for us so we have our very own copy!”
“Wow! Cool!” Both my little munchkins’ eyes got big and smiles grew wide. Score one for mom! They started talking over themselves so I couldn’t distinguish who was saying what in their energetic flurry. “I want to see the part with Miss Fritter! And Jackson Storm and Cruz! I want to hold the DVD case! I can’t believe ‘Cars 3’ is out! And we get to keep it!”
As I was patting myself on the back, I put the car in drive and said, “So we just have to eat dinner and finish homework and then we can make popcorn and have a pajama party. Won’t that be fun?”
Four-year-old Huck was ecstatic. The Professor, however, was not.
“Aww! After dinner? And homework? That will take forever and I will be too tired to watch the movie! It will be too late! It will be dark out and we will have to go to bed,” he whined, grief-stricken and deflated like a balloon.
Wait a minute. What happened to my happy, excited little man? He had just been here a second ago!
I tripped over myself trying to back pedal. “Oh no, buddy, we’ll have plenty of time to watch the movie! We’ll just fill our bellies and bang out homework …” Darn it! Why did I mention homework again? Now he’s worrying about homework! He shouldn’t haven’t to worry about homework right now – we’re in the car! We decompressing from the day! What have I done?
“We have to do homework straight away! Awww,” he moaned again, as if I punched him or poked something into his eyeball.
What happened to my little man? What took him from happy and enthusiastic to deflated and depressed in a second?
Unfortunately, I think it was me.
I have a theory about energy. I believe that energy comes not only from adequate sleep and proper nutrition, nor does it have to do solely with our age – after all, I’ve seen energetic 80-year-olds and lethargic Kindergarteners. I think energy stems from our ability to live in the moment unencumbered from regret and worry.
Living in the moment is something that young children specialize in, and thus, they often have enviable energy levels. Kids generally don’t beat themselves up over something they said or did a day ago, nor do they waste their precious energy wondering what they’re going to do that night during playtime. They go with the flow. Sure, transitioning from one thing to the next can be a bit of a challenge with young ones, but when a child is engrossed in an activity they are 100% present. They achieve the seemingly elusive state of “mindfulness” that many of us adults covet but can’t seem to reach. And because they are able to let go of all the mind chatter that comes with planning ahead or looking back and worrying about past or present actions, they are free to concentrate on their current activities with joy and simplicity. They have nothing weighing them down.
On the other hand, I am sometimes so burdened and weighed down by even the idea of what I still have to do in a given day/week/month/year that I can hardly summon enough energy to get started on the first task. For example, I’m often exhausted at 4:10 every afternoon when I enter my house after picking the kids up from school. All at once, I see a list of looming “To Dos” in front of me that all have to happen almost immediately. Our dog needs to be fed. School bags need to be emptied out. Dinner has to be cooked. The table should be set. The lunchboxes need to be washed and dried so they can be repacked in an hour or so. Homework folders need to be emptied and sorted and reviewed. Homework needs to be overseen and signed and placed back in the folder and the corresponding backpack. Teacher emails need to be read. Family texts need to be responded to. Messages from friends need to be answered. Coats need to be hung. Laundry needs to be folded, or put into drawers. The mail needs to be retrieved from the mailbox, sorted, tossed, shredded, paid, and/or filed away. Kids need to be bathed. Dishes need to be washed and dried and put into cupboards. Books need to be read aloud by a happy and gentle parent ready to do various voices enthusiastically and to pronounce “pachycephalosaurus” properly. Heads need to be on pillows by 8:00 p.m. It all seems so urgent, if not important – and it is enough to zap every ounce of my energy before I even bring the bags in from the car. And I know that I’m lucky, because I don’t have to worry about work on a typical evening as most parents in America do.
Is it possible to lessen the weight of the To Do list and increase my energy by living in the moment instead of drowning myself in fretfulness?
Maybe I’d have more energy in my daily life if I took a cue from my own kiddos. Maybe the key is focusing on what is in front of me here and now rather preoccupation with planning every little detail of the future. Incessant worry about what has yet to come is worse than troublesome – it ruins the only real thing in the world, which is what is happening at this very moment in time. We all want more time, so why waste the moments we have by focusing on things that haven’t happened yet?
As Eckhart Tolle says:
All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.
I can’t change the circumstances of my life – the family needs to be fed and the permission slips need to be signed. What I can change, however, is my attitude. I can change the way I approach each task. Instead of seeing every To Do as a giant burden, I can take each thing one at a time and focus on what I have in front of me instead of worrying about what comes next and how I’ll fit it all in. In doing so, I can free up a tremendous amount of energy. That recovered energy can make a real difference in my life. It could help me tackle all the tedious tasks with vigor, or help me muster enough patience to play “Candyland” with my little men, or give me a chance to notice the giggle that erupts from my son’s lips when he accidentally uses a marker instead of a spoon to dig into his mac ‘n cheese.
On the night that I killed my kid’s energy by bringing up the “To Do’s” instead of focusing on the moment, I decided to change my attitude a bit. As we drove home, I stopped talking about all the things we had to do before we could watch the movie, and we started talking about Lightening McQueen instead. When we got home, I left all the full backpacks and inside-out jackets in a pile on the counter (and tried not to look at it) and opened a bag of pre-popped kettle corn. I grabbed my two sons, covered them and me with fluffy blankets and we watched that movie together … before homework was done and before dinner was cooked or eaten (what’s wrong with popcorn for dinner?). We giggled and snuggled and had a blast. Then, when the movie was over, we got off the couch with renewed spirits and still had hours – yes, hours! – left to do all the tedious work … and most importantly, we each had the energy to get it all done.
Energy might be more important than time or money, because energy allows us to live. I don’t want to waste any more energy with mindless anxiety. I want to live energetically in this very moment right now.
Maybe we can tap into the energy of a child.