“I’ll be right back,” she said.
I snapped my head up, but she was gone already, back down to the ocean splashing in the waves.
Normally I’d have just muttered “Uh-huh” and kept reading my book in my beach chair without even looking up. We were on our annual beach vacation—something we look forward to every year. My daughter had been running back and forth between me and the edge of the ocean all morning–dropping off seashells, rocks, buckets of sand, and any other treasure she could find.
But something hit me when she said those four words this time. It suddenly occurred to me that one day soon, she wouldn’t be right back. First it will be sleepovers, then weekends away. Then semesters away at college, then years punctuated by major holidays. Then…who knows when a job or spouse or children are involved? I was reminded that for now, I still have the Right Backs.
I get too consumed and distracted by the grocery shopping runs, dinner preps, BlackBerry notifications, laundry, yard work, and the 7 billion other things on my to-do list. So she and her brother get a lot of “Uh-huhs” from me. We all get distracted. We all lose perspective of what’s important.
In trying to keep perspective, I’d been trying hard to let go of things that really don’t matter, and trying really hard to not sweat the small stuff. Life has been better, trusting that everything will be OK in the end. Trusting that mistakes are OK, and allowing myself the latitude to make them. Embracing Good Enough instead of Perfect. Well, Good Enough and Not Sweating the Small Stuff resulted in me Messing Up Vacation Plans.
Found out hours after the Right Back moment that I didn’t quite book the nights I told the kids I did…. so when we discovered we were in fact checking out one night earlier, the kids broke down in tears. Not whiny, pouty tears. But broken hearted tears. Our beach vacation is a special time for us. We look forward to this week all year. They’ve grown up counting on the rituals and familiarity of going down the shore year after year. They take comfort in choosing the same ice cream and pizza parlors, the morning bike rides and runs down the boardwalk, greeting the fish in the hotel lobby, catching up with our friends at the hotel, searching for the perfect hermit crab of the season, riding the same amusement park rides…I take comfort in knowing I won’t check my BlackBerry or Facebook, and I essentially unplug for the week. I take comfort in watching the joy in their eyes as they scream at the waves, run down the beach chasing seagulls, and squeal on amusement park rides. I look forward to all of us collapsing into bed too late at night every night after long days in the sun and long nights walking up and down the boardwalk doing nothing but being.
I know I could do a better job with being present with my kids every day; that I shouldn’t wait for one week away to do this. I know. I try. And some days are better than others. So I keep trying. I do. I could do a better job, I know. I don’t beat myself up over it, but I know they deserve better. So I give them better in this one week where it’s much easier for me to succeed in giving them what they deserve–a more present mother. I believe that is what they cherish–sure, the pizza and ice cream and late nights are nothing to sneeze at; but I think they look forward to feeling in every pore of their beings that they matter, and that they’re being seen.
So I gave it to them. Because one day soon they won’t be Right Back. They won’t be right back to give me another chance to show them they matter. They won’t be right back in a moment I’m not distracted. I want one more day here down the shore with them to show them they matter, just as much as they want it. I found another room for our last night.
And the very next morning on our bike ride down the boardwalk, we heard the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” waft over the boardwalk–it was the local high school graduation ceremony. It seemed so fitting to cap off the decision to stay another night. Too soon my children will walk across the stage towards their futures as well, and they won’t be right back. In the meantime, I’ve renewed my commitment to seeing and being with my children. I’m back, babies.