“Look at that cornfield!”
“See those bridges?”
“Wow, look at that truck! That’s a poop-sucker!”
This is traveling with my son – a three-year-old.
Only, that’s not my son talking. That’s his daddy. And he has already discovered how to live in the moment.
“What’s that, daddy?” asks my son.
“That?” Dad points to the flatbeds with pipes laying on them. “That’s pipes for laying in the ground.”
“Why are they right there, Daddy?” he asks.
And Dad launches into a Big Story about how Harvey will be here soon to unload the pipes.
“Where’s Sir Topham Hat?” my son wants to know.
“Sir Topham Hat is having tea in Goodridge and the pipes are here in Bemidji, waiting for Sir Topham Hat and his henchmen to come and tell them how to unload and lay down the pipes.”
And I listen to the story as my son nods his head, soaking up every word.
It is the first time I really paid attention to their conversation on this trip. It was going to be a long one, so I immediately settled down with some work, to pass the time.
But in listening, I was reminded of a time long ago; my preschool days.
I had worked as a school social worker. The days were long, the students were needy, and the parents drove me absolutely nuts. I was crabby all of the time and not at all good to my family, least of all my boys.
I was burned out, and quit after six years. I took a job as a paraprofessional in a preschool classroom for one school year, while looking for my next career move.
That job renewed my spirit
I had joined the Secret Life of a Preschooler.
And I loved it.
Preschoolers see everything for the first time. Even if it isn’t the first time they have seen it. My son has seen many bridges, many trains and many flatbeds. No matter. The newness never wears off for him.
He is number four of six boys. Our oldest is 17. Our youngest are one-year-old twins. And what cracks me up is that their daddy sees everything for the first time too, right alongside each boy.
The newness never wears off for him either. The stories only get more elaborate, more entertaining, as the years go by.
But he knew something that it took me a year in a preschool classroom to learn: How to live fully in the moment.
As grown-ups, we see nothing. Really. We take our surroundings for granted.
Adults need to learn to live fully in the present moment – and see through the eyes of a preschooler.
Have you ever driven somewhere, lost in thought, and then all of a sudden, you are at your destination? But you really don’t remember much of the drive?
We do this on the way home from work all the time. We drive on auto-pilot, not really seeing the gas station as we pass, the right-hand turn we take by the house at the end of the drive. We just drive. And get home with no thought to it at all.
Preschoolers, they don’t do that. They don’t miss a beat. “Why didn’t we go over that bridge?” he asks. Funny. I didn’t notice a bridge.
“How come we passed that blue pick-up?” What pick-up?
The questions alone wear me out, never mind all the observations that spurred the questions in the first place.
Ah, but not daddy. He gets just as fired up as the kids do. “There’s the paper mills,” he points out as we drive by.
Dad races home after a fresh snow fall, to take his boys out to play in the snow – for the twins, it is for the first time. Dad is so excited he can hardly stand it.
Even though he has done it over and over for the last 17 years.
The leaves in the fall, the snow falling down, the sound of a babbling brook, the crunchiness of an apple, the smell of cookies in the oven, the feel of Floam between our fingers, sand between our toes. We take all of this for granted.
Because we are too busy with our responsibilities. We have deadlines to meet, chores to do, meetings to attend, budgets to balance. We don’t have time to play, much less look around.
And we’ve seen it all before. So why do we need to pay attention now?
Because it’s exhilarating.
And because it will help you to slow down, to live in the present, and to fully appreciate every little detail of your beautiful life.
And your preschooler will absolutely LOVE that you have joined his or her secret world.
Here’s How to Live Fully In the Moment, Just Like Your Preschooler:
1. Completely Unplug
Turn off your phone. Put it on vibrate or silent. Put it in another room. Do whatever it takes to get it away from you.
Also turn off all T.V.’s, music, computers, gaming systems; anything and everything electronic.
Turn it all off. Technology is a distraction and it completely pulls you away from the given moment.
2. Be Still
Take a moment to quiet yourself.
Calm your body. Slow down your breathing. Concentrate for a moment on the movement of the breath going into your body and flowing back out. Stop any jitters or movements and stay still.
Feel any tension in your body; your neck, hands, feet, eyes, muscles, face. Release that tension. Deliberately relax those muscles.
Still your mind. Empty it completely of all things adult-related. No thoughts about bills, responsibilities, your to-do list, the kids or the house. Nothing.
Let go of your worries, your regrets, and all thoughts in general.
Briefly close your eyes.
3. Pay Attention
Now open your eyes slowly, and take a look around you. Notice everything in your surroundings, just as if you were seeing it for the first time.
Really SEE it. Linger on each object for a few seconds, observing the details you may have overlooked lately. Allow yourself to feel any emotions related to that object.
LISTEN to the noises in your surroundings. Hone in on a few that you may take for granted…the laughter of your children, the washing machine, the lawn mower, your husband’s yawn. Allow yourself to feel any emotions related to those sounds.
FEEL whatever surface you are standing or sitting on. Wiggle your toes in your shoes. Enjoy the comfort of that cushion under your butt. FEEL the sunshine on your face, the cold air against your skin, your sweet baby’s wet tears. Allow yourself to feel any emotions associated with the things you can feel.
Take in all of the SMELLS around you. The scent of warm grass, the stuffiness of your corner office, the saltiness of the little boy on your lap that needs a bath. Breathe in deep and see what you can pick up.
And allow yourself to feel any emotions that those smells bring out.
4. Practice Appreciation
And this is the SECRET to the life of a preschooler.
They really, really appreciate their surroundings.
The preschooler doesn’t just notice the blue pick-up driving by. He appreciates it. Everything about it. And he shows this through his wonder and his questions.
“Where is he going? Why is he driving so fast? How come he passed us? Why did he buy a blue pick-up? He should have picked a black one.”
Of course, we are adults, so it would look slightly silly if we asked questions about everything around us.
So instead, to really appreciate your surroundings, pick out ten objects and allow yourself to feel thankful for those things.
Mentally note in your head what you are thankful for, if you are surrounded by other people.
The smell of your coworker’s coffee, the hum of your computer printing today’s report, the sound of your car warming up outside.
If you are home, or alone, say them out loud.
The grass between your toes, the sunshine on your back, and your baby crying in your arms. You are surrounded by people and things you love.
The bills on your desk, the washing machine beeping, and the noodles boiling on the stove. Say thank you for these things. They are the responsibilities that allow you to provide for your family.
If you feel silly saying thank you, then just state what they are.
The picture on your desk of your baby chewing on his favorite blanket.
Your dog trying to yank the chew toy out of your son’s hands.
Deliberately noting everything around you keeps you present in and thankful for your surroundings. If you are thankful for something, if you truly appreciate it, then the newness of it never wears off.
Just like in the eyes of a preschooler.
5. Actively Listen
When a preschooler talks to you, he is not thinking about what he is going to do after this conversation. He is fully present in the moment with you, listening to what you say and answering back.
Make eye contact with whomever you are with and smile at them. Focus solely on what they are saying and let go of all other thoughts.
Repeat back to them what you heard them say, so that they know you are actively listening to them and focused on the conversation at hand.
“I can’t believe the dog’s nose got caught in the pickle jar! And you tried to get it off with butter? Crazy!”
And then follow up with a question.
“Did the butter work?”
If you are amongst strangers, make eye contact! Say hello. Share your appreciation of something within your surroundings.
“Sure is nice to finally be above zero,” with a little smile or nod.
You will never see a preschooler ignore the people around them.
They are fully present with other people, either by having a full blown conversation or by comically observing things we adults don’t dare say out loud.
Being fully present in the moment, living life deliberately, full-speed ahead, is a preschooler’s super power
It is the one thing they can do so much better than anyone else.
That skill loses it shine as the preschooler slowly matures. There are very few of us who can still do it as adults.
Maybe those young at heart, like my husband. Or those most creative, such as writers, painters or architects. Maybe those most spiritual, who have learned a true sense of awe and wonder.
There is such a simple joy of living in the moment and appreciating the experience of everything around us.
It provides the calm to your chaos, the quiet to your worries, and the joy in every day moments.
Grab your favorite preschooler and let him or her show you. You will be amazed at what you’ve missed all these years.