I just came back from a family dinner & game night at my cousin’s place. When I say “family gathering”, it’s usually my cousin’s family (wife, husband, 2 kids), my sister (+ Bandit, her doggie, and another +1 when her bf is in town), a newlywed couple (wife is a mutual friend from college), Steve and me. When we get lucky, about once a year, my other cousin’s family is in town and they also join in (cousins are sisters) and they are a family of 6.
Needless to say, it’s a huge gathering that can go up to 16 people plus a dog, including 6 kids, 7 years and under. It’s pretty hard to stay focused or have any conversation over 2 minutes long because there are kids running around and yelling all over the place. I think kids are awesome and I absolutely love my darling second cousins, whom I consider nieces and nephews. But to be totally truthful, after these gatherings, I’m kinda glad to go home to peace and quiet. I give parents mad props. Like mad props times a hundred. Like if there was something better than a gold medal they should get that. (Uh, do people say “mad props” anymore?)
The adults (I can’t even believe I’m one of the adults in this scenario…) are also catching up and there always seems to be a plethora of topics to cover in our time together. Each person has a unique personality and it’s a really fun dynamic to be all together in the same room. Now that I think about it, I wonder if anyone else in this huge group is an introvert, like I am. I often find myself raising my voice to say something only to be covered up by another story or another kid or just the distraction of food, dog, etc. etc. etc. And then when I get a chance to talk, I find myself stuttering for words because I think somewhere in my head I realize this is a rare moment and I have to use it well and that’s just too much pressure for my tongue-tied self. I don’t mind it much since I realize the setting isn’t conducive to everyone’s voice being heard. Plus, I also like hearing what everyone else is talking about so I always have one ear attuned to anything someone else’s saying.
At one point tonight, Natalie, the 3 year old, was doing a 100 piece puzzle with my sister and they finished it. Immediately, Natalie wanted to do the whole thing over again, at which point, my sister stood up and volunteered Steve. Kids are funny. When they get into something, they seem to want to do it repetitively for days, maybe even weeks. When my sister and I were kids, we watched “Little Mermaid” at least once a day for, I’m sure, weeks or even months. Nowadays, I get bored easily and I’m not sure of the last time I did anything repetitively for weeks on end. Anyways, I sat down with Natalie since I like puzzles. We started on it and she was fantastic at it. I don’t know what the age recommendation is for 100 piece puzzles, but I’m pretty sure they’re not for 3 year olds. (Or am I underestimating our children of the world??) I mean, she was getting the pieces to fit at almost the same rate I was doing it, so I was definitely impressed. When I couldn’t get a piece very quickly, she would encourage me, and even give me high-fives when I got a piece to fit. What a sweet girl! Inevitably, as we were doing the puzzle, many conversations ensued around me and I would get distracted and turn around to add to the conversation here and there. Every single time I did that, Natalie would grab both of my wrists, pull me towards her and look me straight in the eyes. She clearly did not want to do this puzzle by herself and she was, in her determined, 3-year old way, demanding my attention to her and to our task at hand. I was startled the first time she did it but I dismissed it a bit too quickly. But each time she pulled at my wrists, I started to realize more that she did not want to spend passive time with me. She was absolutely interested in me being present in our activity together. As I think about it now, I am stunned by her quiet but direct motion to get me to be present with her. She didn’t throw a tantrum and yell or even say anything to me. She just looked me straight in the eyes and her intention was unmistakable.
I know exactly how Natalie felt when I got distracted and turned away from her. That happens in life regularly. I hate the feeling of someone being distracted or looking away while I’m talking to them. I feel insignificant and passed over when I know that person is not being present with me, especially if I’m trying to share something that’s personal or important. Instead of addressing my feelings with that person, I tend to shut down and move on. I disconnect and lose a chance to be vulnerable and honest. And then I wonder how many times I’ve done that to others, when I choose not to be present with them for whatever reason. This is going to sound corny but I’m gonna say it anyways: Being present is one of the best presents we can give to another person. As life becomes more and more distracting, I wonder what it will take for me to be aware and stay present with the people around me.
Because when I think about it, I really do want to finish that puzzle with Natalie. And we can give each other high-fives and look proudly at our job well done, together.