Ask any child. When adults meet them for the first time, standard questions include, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” right after classics like, “What grade are you in?” and “What’s your favorite subject?”
Such questions, unintentionally, gauge a child’s progress toward adulthood. That’s because adults tend to be future oriented. We’re distracted from the present moment by the need to plan and work toward any number of goals—what to do about dinner, how to juggle next week’s schedule, when bills can be paid. These distractions take our attention away from what is in the here and now. When we think ahead so often we have less time to notice, let alone appreciate, what makes up our lives minute by minute.
What is impatience except denying the value of the present moment? The watercolor effect of rain on the window, the meandering quality of a child’s conversation, the long wait for a pot to boil—these can be occasions to experience impatience or opportunities to breathe deeply and be present, gratefully.
Leaning so often toward the future unconsciously demonstrates to our children that later is more important than now. Yet as we know, later never comes. As long as we’re alive there’s always “later” to strive toward. Worse, we are surrounded by advertiser-driven messages telling us that we aren’t there yet, that we need to do more or become something more in order to have friends, be successful, find love.
The nature of early childhood is the perfect antidote to this hurry-up attitude. That is, if adults truly pay attention to the lessons the youngest model for us. Young children who are not yet pulled by the adult world’s messages are oriented to the present moment. When forced to disregard what is vital to their bodies and spirits—pretending, daydreaming, playing, snuggling—they rebel. They are who they are, where they are. They’re not caught up in the future tense which dimishes the here and now. They demonstrate the oldest way of knowing.
Pay close attention to the youngest children in your life. Let them help you learn solutions to our cultural overdrive.
As we slow down we have time to truly know each other and to truly know ourselves. We’re more aware of the messages our bodies send us and can act on those signals before they become symptoms. We have time to reflect. Time to remember our dreams when we awaken. After all, time is the only true wealth we have to spend.