A thoughtful friend sent me an article from Magnolia Journal called "A Case for Failed Commitments." It may have entered my mailbox at the most perfect time as I had been looking back on the summer with regrets- not doing enough, not being enough. The article gracefully discusses how sometimes we worry more about the outcome and finished product than the actual moments in front of us. There's an example where the writer talks about making plans to take one child out for a special dinner each week to connect. Things would come up, dinners would be missed, and guilt would set in. Commitment failed, again. The writer came to realize that there were many opportunities to connect with the children, and just because the dinners didn't always work out, there were ways to accomplish the same goal- connection and appreciation- throughout the day. "Those evenings might've looked different from what I intended, but we always found our way to one another."
The change of seasons is always a time where I make these amazing plans with all of these commitments... some never leave my head, others happen, and many, many fail. But what if we could learn to enjoy what's in front of us? Not so much in the act of following through with a commitment, but in taking the opportunities to connect and love with the time that is is now. Taking a minute to call a friend that you've made and canceled plans with a half dozen times, going for a spur of the moment ice cream to stir up the mundane after school hours, or spending an extra minute in the morning with your partner- even if it's in the middle of the kitchen with 65 things going on around you.
Many of us put significant pressure on ourselves to make sure we follow through with plans without much flexibility. I'll use an analogy of those fun moments of taking family photos. Everyone is dressed nicely, you've even ironed shirts and maybe some of us have laid out the outfits to make sure they coordinate, but not too much. And then in your head you're like, "This is going to be amazing. I'll bring lots of snacks, I'll act super chill, everyone will look like they just stepped out of a catalog and no one, not one little person will ruin this Kodak moment." But then in reality, kids are flying off the rails because you asked them to smile and sit next to their sibling for one freaking second and before you know it you're bribing them with a trip to Disney World if they sit and look at the camera for 5 seconds. Take a second though... what is the point of the family picture? This might take a little honesty to answer. Is it to impress the long distant relatives we haven't seen in years? Is it to come across like we have it all together? Or is to capture a moment in time that we can look back on with a full heart? My favorite pictures of my children now are the outtakes of when they were little. The one that showed the very dirty Cookie Monster my son would run around with, or the one of my older son crying and me hugging him, or the one where my daughter had dirt all over her little bum.
If we brought in some flexibility into moments like taking family photos, we'd be ok with capturing life, the ins and outs of a family, and that no picture is perfect, no child is perfect, and we all know that no parent is perfect. One of my favorite quotes of this article is "...maybe the true purpose of being devoted to something isn't found in how it ends, but in the way it takes shape- or even ends up shaping us- along the way." We put so much emphasis on the end result and painting the perfect picture (no pun intended here... this goes for date nights and family dinners and....) that often times we are missing the opportunities to connect and love and grow that are right in front of our face. If I could go back in time and hold that little hand who was holding Cookie Monster, a little monster that was so loved that I used multiple Sharpies to color back in the eyes, I would have realized the memories I was trying to create in these photos were right in front of me. I should have taken the stress off of the outcome of the picture and captured more of the opportunity to enjoy the moment. I should have been looking at their little fingers and waddling walk, or the way they interacted with their surroundings, which usually involved carrying leaves, sticks and rocks around, or the way the sun lit up their little sweaty faces... this is where my focus should have been.
Commitments fail. They always have, and they always will. Before you make them, take a step back and look at why you're making them. First step, move your ego aside. Second step, find ways to take out the "have to's" of the commitment and try for some spontaneity to connect. Just because it didn't happen on Tuesday at 6pm, doesn't mean it can't happen. And can we all stop pretending Martha Stewart's going to be knocking on our door checking up on you? Although if Snoop is coming along, he's more than welcome. Live your life for YOU and your family. Support each other, lift each other up and be real... we are all trying our best. Even if most of our commitments fail.