I sat in a restaurant with my husband recently and my eyes rested on the table across from us. A family sat there -- father, mother and a girl of maybe nine or 10 years old. It was obvious they were parents with careers, accustomed to fine dining and late night dinners after busy days at the office. The woman was on her phone, making calls and pumping out messages, while the young girl was lost in a world of mindless games on her iPad.
I watched the man steal a lonely gaze at his wife and daughter before he stared absently around the room, and sadness came over me. There was no conversation, no connection, nothing to imply they were more than random strangers seated at the same table.
Throughout the evening I found my eyes drawn back to them. Status quo. But then, something happened. Something I will never forget.
The little girl put her iPad down. She leaned in closer to her mother and started to play with her hair. Gently, tenderly, she stroked her mother's hair back from her face. As she twirled it around her fingers, she leaned in closer again. It was one of the most delicate and intimate displays of love I have ever seen.
I held my breath waiting to see what the mother would do. And with every passing second that she ignored her daughter and remained fixated on her phone, I felt as though my heart was going to burst with pain for the little girl who so desperately needed the love of her mother.
I wanted to march over to the table and pry that damn phone away from her hands and yell at her, "Do you see? Do you see what you have here right in front of you? Put your phone down! Put it down and see this child that loves you! Love her back!! Love her back NOW before it's too late!!"
Except, before you point the finger, make sure your hands are clean.
What hit me the hardest as I watched this scene was the memory of the night before, when I had sat down on the couch at the end of the day, utterly exhausted. It was later than it should've been, I'd had a busy couple of days, I was short on sleep, even shorter on patience, and had nothing to give. I was emotionally parched and desperate for all the kids to be in bed. I needed to zone out, and I needed it badly.
I sat down with my phone, and flicked open trusty old Facebook. The mind-numbing-time-wasting-ultimate-procrastinating tool on my need-to-detach-from-reality shelf. Miss Eight came and sat alongside of me. I tried to not be annoyed that it was past her bedtime, knowing I was going to be away the next night and she was already missing me. She edged in closer to me so that she could touch me -- hand on my arm, she lovingly patted me, stroked me and reached out to me for affection and connection. She needed the reassurance from me that everything was going to be okay and I loved her.
And what did I do? I continued to scroll mindlessly through Facebook, annoyed that someone was touching me when I just wanted to be left alone. I did not put my phone down. I did not return the affection. I did not pull her in closer to me to be held. I simply tolerated it for as long as I could before telling her it was time to go to bed.
And it wasn't until I sat there looking at that little girl in the restaurant that I realised that what I had done to my own daughter felt like one of the most shameful things I have ever done. I wanted that moment back. I wanted to be sitting with her on the couch, holding her close and loving her in the way that she needed me to love her. Loving her in the way that I had needed as a child.
Suddenly I saw myself as a little girl again, longing for attention, affection, longing to be held. Longing to feel important and significant enough for adults to forget their adult problems and not just look at me, but see me.
I can't have that moment back with my daughter. I'll never get the chance to make that moment right. Nor can I make right the many other moments where I have failed in my role as a mother. This is the paradox of time, that we cannot appreciate the moment until it's gone and we can never get it back.
But there is no point living with guilt and regretting what we should've done better. We can instead wake tomorrow and be thankful for a new day, for a chance to do it differently, to do it better. To love harder. To feel deeper. To live in the moment. To show up. To be present and available to those who love us, those we are so damn blessed to have in our lives.
To find the courage to do the hard work and fight for our lost hearts once again.
You can find Kathy Parker on her website, This Girl Unraveled.