I have always enjoyed watching my kids play soccer and this morning’s instructional soccer practice was no different. A chilly, but beautiful morning, all bundled up, sun shining, kindergarteners chasing after the ball like a pack of hyenas after their prey. It reminded me of the many seasons before where we’ve spent our Saturday mornings watching both kids play since they were three. My son had the same coach this Spring as he did last Spring, which made me think of the last time he played with this group of kids.
I remembered one dad in particular of one of his teammates. He looked so familiar to me, but I couldn’t place where I knew him. Every week, I’d watch him interact with his son, trying to figure out why he looked familiar…as if staring at him would jog my memory. By the end of the season, I still had no idea how I knew him, but I’d spent a lot of time watching him and analyzing his relationship with his son. He always seemed right there, by his son’s side, whispering in his ear to reiterate the coach’s instruction, cheering him on and hovering close. I was the opposite with my son. Keeping my distance, wanting him to listen more closely to the coach’s directions without my help or reinforcement. Giving him a high five at water break time, but otherwise, letting him be. But I admired this father, and his clear bond with his child. The way he stayed close to him to let him know he was there, safe and loved…and I really wanted to figure out how I knew him.
A couple of months later, a friend of mine from graduate school informed me that one of our former classmates had recently passed away from cancer. An aggressive cancer he had been battling with for a while. He was the one guy in our tight group of future counselors, who put up with our constant antics and jabber jawing. Immediately, I realized exactly who she was referring to. It was him. The father from the soccer team. That’s where I knew him. And he was gone.
I struggled to wrap my mind around it. He looked perfectly healthy to me. He was at every practice. He was involved and protective and loving. He hovered to let his son know he was there. And the whole time, he was fighting for his life. He knew he had terminal cancer. He knew his time with his son was limited. He knew that those hugs were numbered and that the instructions he gave him were a short script. But he gave his son every ounce he had and he seemed to do it effortlessly.
As I watched my son play this morning, I thought of him. I wondered what it must have felt like to be with his children, his wife, his friends and family, not knowing how many more experiences he’d have. I wondered what I would do differently if I knew I might not be around tomorrow. Would I be more patient with my kids? Would I change the way I treated them? Would I spend my time in other ways?
In my mind, I live each day as though I have a thousand more years to go. When I teach my children what I want them to know, I expect to one day feel the satisfaction of watching them do the same with their own children. I daydream of enjoying time with them when the hard labor is done. My goals for them are to be independent, kind, respectful and thoughtful human beings, who love themselves unconditionally, but I am often looking in the future and not focusing on who they are and who I am to them today.
We’ve all heard the advice that we should live each day like it was our last. But until you’re in a position where you can see an end, it is incredibly easy to take our time, our health and our moments of content for granted. We are spoiled with moment after moment of experiences and opportunities, seemingly endless. We get to choose how we want to use them and rate them as valuable or not. They are the non returnable gifts we are granted each day.
So I question if I would parent my children differently if I knew my time with them was limited?
My answer is… I don’t know.
Whether or not I’m here tomorrow, I would teach them the same lessons when the opportunities became available. I would give them the same consequences when they made mistakes, but I would spend more time together on the experiences we do have. I’d waste less time on arguing my points and more time on modeling what I want them to learn.
And although I would teach them the same, I would love them more intently. I would hover over them at soccer practice and cheer for their effort when they didn’t think I was looking. I would whisper in their ear to make sure they knew what they were doing and let them know how proud of them I always am. I would stand near them so they could feel my presence for that moment and hope it would linger. I would do exactly what that father did for his son…intently.
But for now, I will count my blessings and not my days. I will love them the best way I know how. And I will try to remember that each moment is a gift, no matter how I choose to use it.
What would you do differently if you knew your time was limited?