At 4 AM my inner clock, still three hours ahead on east coast time, woke me up with thoughts of my parents. We’d said a quick, sad good-bye the other day at the airport, before I flew home to the west coast with my husband and kids. I lay in bed, wide awake, thinking about how I need to do better about keeping up a more regular connection with my parents, despite the distance. Unable to sleep, I got up, started making lists, and checked activity schedules to put on the calendar. On one of my notepads, I drew a little sketch of a series of concentric circles and stuck it in my wallet, in the photo window with my kids’ pictures. The circle sketch I hoped would be a visual reminder to regularly do something to put the far-away people I love back in the center of the circles that make up the relationships in my life.
I live in the moment. Of course I plan for the future and look ahead, but so often the present, sometimes insistent and whining, demands my attention. This is part of why it’s so difficult to say good-bye to my parents at the end of a long stay at their home. For three weeks we were present in each other’s lives every day. We related to one another with immediacy, expressing love (and sometimes frustration or impatience) each day with no need to plan ahead how we’d do that. Being apart again means I have to plan and remember to stay in touch. And despite all my best intentions, the here and now often gets in the way.
But the beginning of the school year is a chance for new schedules, fresh starts and better habits, I hope. As I plan our activities for the year, I’m trying to schedule in regular Skype sessions with family and promising to send photos more often. Just as I make a conscious effort to get our appointments, meetings, and activities on the calendar, I’m setting aside times to connect with family too. Too often our phone calls are a multi-tasking session of juggling the phone as I empty the dishwasher or make dinner. I want our connections to be more intentional whenever possible.
Interestingly when I expressed to my mother how sad and guilty I felt about leaving them to return to our lives so far away, she pointed out how much she enjoys hearing about what we’re doing. We live separate lives a long way apart, but my parents feel they are enriched by the perspective and adventures we have in a completely different setting (and country, for that matter). This is not to say that they live only through us — they of course have their own interests and circles. However, our stories bring them satisfaction and I’m sure they feel a sense of pride telling their friends about things we do. In some strange way, living in the same cities might seem less interesting or more mundane.
My challenge is to try to make a place for absent family members in the here and now of my everyday life, always remembering to feel grateful that they are available with a phone call or Skype connection. I hope that a regular connection keeps them present and more consistently at the center of my circle sketch.