The Best Gift

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

When my son, Douglas, was four, his preschool teacher dropped a nugget of gold in my lap that has had a profound impact on my parenting to this day, ten years later: “The best gift you can give your child is your eyes.”

Sounded pretty simple. My eyes? “Hmm, maybe I’ll try that tonight,” I thought as I turned the key in the ignition of the minivan, driving home from our parent-teacher conference. Her words clung to my consciousness like Velcro for the rest of the day.

That evening, preoccupied with chopping and stirring and microwaving and trying to get dinner on the table, I heard my son say, “Mom, guess what I made today?”

“What?” Chop. Stir. Re-warm. Wait!

I looked up from the cutting board.

His eyes were trained on me, steady.

I put the knife down. I listened to his animated description. I marveled and asked for more details. I maintained eye contact!

Our entire interaction lasted maybe 60 or 90 seconds, tops. And just that simple act of looking at Douglas while he told me his tale infused an unexpected warmth and richness into our exchange I could never have predicted or manufactured. I relished the treasure of that perfect moment. He smiled. I knew he felt seen and heard.

And isn’t that what we all want?

It was an extremely satisfying evening, and such a small investment on my part. Little did I realize that I had just practiced mindfulness.

The speech-language pathologist in me was eager to test this subtle yet powerful new approach: Would the change in my eye behavior have the same impact on others in my family, enhancing our connection in the moment and to each other?

My son is now 14, my daughter, 17. All these years later, I can tell you that the answer is an unequivocal Yes. In fact, remembering to pause and look up from what I’m doing to really see my children, my husband, my loved ones and friends has remained, to this day, the best gift I’ve ever given myself.