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Making Our Moments Count

Making Our Moments Count

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

If I had to give top billing to just one talent from my list of skills, it might take time to evaluate and rank the extensive list. I would need to implement some tie-breaking criteria for the top dozen. The whole affair seems too laborious, so I’ll just trust my razor sharp instinct and pick “good at doing side-eye.” I probably spend at least ten minutes a week thinking about this talent. It’s a “chicken or the egg” causality dilemma for me—am I good at side-eyes because I do it so often or do I do it so often because it’s an inborn gift? I don’t shy away from tough questions because it builds my mental acuity.

Until recently, I had been throwing a lot of side-eye to the “Life is short, seize the day!” movement. What am I ever gonna do that’s longer than living my life? I even separated my to-do list into one task per day to ensure that I wouldn’t be bored as a senior citizen because I’ll still be finishing chores from my 30s. Doesn’t everything becomes more meaningful once you’ve stressed about it for twenty or thirty years?

I felt like I had so much time—maybe too much time—when my daughter, Cal, was younger. She couldn’t wait to start each day and rose before the sun. Her energy and eagerness to understand and learn, well, everything often outlasted my stamina. Sometimes one day felt like three, especially after she decided that naps were for babies, and she was “no baby because I two now!” I retreated into a corner of our kitchenette before directing my side-eyes at the microwave instead of Cal. Children under the age of thirteen are exempt.

If I could go back and visit myself in that long ago moment, I wouldn’t bother with a gentle pep talk about time—how, more than just accelerating in pace each day as my daughter gets older, it seemingly disappears in large chunks—because I know how stubborn I can be. Instead, I would most likely have to push that younger me in the face and craft my words as a command rather than reasonable dialogue. It’s hard to be reasonable when you don’t know, and you don’t really know until it’s too late sometimes.

I didn’t spend as much time with my daughter as I could have nor did I feel the urgency to teach her all of childhood’s important lessons or plan special experiences because, not only did I think I had an abundance of time, but I was also afraid of losing my identity. I wanted to make sure I ended up as the person I was meant to be. I needed a lot of “me” time pursuing “me” inclinations for “me” success. Yet, here I am today at 34, with a 15-year-old daughter, and I’m certain that I’m still not the person I was meant to become. But, she’s no longer a stranger to me. We’ve met and she seems all right, except her fondness for writing instruments. (I need to nip that hobby in the bud right now because the future me is poor but has a sizable collection of expensive mechanical pencils.)

Cal isn’t considering any colleges close to home, so once she’s gone, I don’t realistically expect to see her more than a few times each year. Actually, that thought didn’t really sink in until I typed it out just now. I’ll be right back after I go rock back and forth in a corner for a minute.

It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of difficult questions about the past: When did life become so short? Why did I wait so long to make the most out of my time with my daughter? Why didn’t I take those oil pastel crayons out of my hoodie pocket before washing a load of brand new workout clothes?

When school started again after winter break, I explained to Cal that I wanted to focus on growing our relationship and devoting a lot more time to us. She looked scared. “How much more time? Not ALL, right? Does that mean I can’t do my after school clubs?”

I could tell by her reaction that I had made her greatest unspoken dream come true. “I just meant I want to be more mindful about the time I spend with you. Maybe we can find a hobby we enjoy together and do it regularly. Plus, I want to teach you the stuff I wish I had known when I went off to college, like how to do laundry or put air in a tire.”

“Do you know how to put air in a tire, mommy?”

I don’t know why children always become fixated on unimportant details.

If I let myself think about the moments I didn’t make matter, I’m consumed with grief and guilt. I lose two moments this way—then and now—so I force myself to face forward. When the time comes for me to let her go, I suspect a part of me will go along with her. I am grateful for the time that stretches before me and for the memories we’ll build together. I’m going to make it count. Because, YOLO.

Elizabeth Jayne Liu
About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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Comments

  • Teresa

    I feel ya. I had my daughter when I was 18 years old and with little support nearby I often felt overwhelmed with the demands of an only child and no money. Physically present and being available really are worlds apart…even though i spent all my time with my daughter, there were many times I wasn’t really entirely available to her, and with little spare cash there wasn’t the chance for her to do after-school activities either.
    They grow up. She is turning 20 at the end of this week and is flying halfway around the world in 2 months to live overseas for a year (Can’t wait for MY overseas experience!). She still lives with me, she works for me in my office and for the past 3 years we have shared a deep love of circus arts and spent countless hours training together. We are learning Aerials (Trapeze, Silks and Lyra), Acrobatics and Contortion, and this weekend, on her 20th birthday, we are doing our first acro performance together and I will be standing on her head!! Her classes cost me a fortune now, but like I say, I couldn’t afford for any when she was growing up and the plus is that I get to spend all that time with her too.
    I realise that living, working and training with her is only going to leave a bigger hole in my life when she does go, but sharing this love of circus with her has enabled me to let go of some of the grief and guilt I had from being poor and overwhelmed when she was little (does she even remember it?)
    Also, after having to be a responsible, grown-up child-parent for my whole adult life I am going to finally get a chance to throw caution to the wind and do something radical –
    when she comes back from overseas we are running away to Thailand to join the circus together!
    Empty nest syndrome is real and it can be debilitating – but keep the faith that you and your girl have spent enough time together (you’ll be her longest-known person by far!) and you never know what you might end up doing together! x

    • A very happy birthday to your daughter! Your first joint performance this weekend sounds like it’s going to be amazing. (I don’t know many moms that can say they’ve stood on their kid’s head.) 

      I share so much of your grief and guilt and I’m so happy to know that everything can turn out beautifully.