“Cat’s In the Cradle” and a smack in the face

Last week I was enjoying a rare treat of driving child free to the grocery store. I was listening to the radio, switching from ABC news with old fogey music, to the youth alternative station of Triple J (‘cos that’s the kinda girl I am). I was unashamedly singing out loud to the songs I knew, usually the ones on ABC, and observing how many swear words were used in the songs on the other, but still loving the tunes (no, really, …).

The song “Cat’s In The Cradle” came on (yup, on ABC) and I started singing at the top of my voice, I knew this song, I loved this song. I was singing lots of syllables very loudly when, for the first time ever, the syllables became words and the meaning of those words when put together became glaringly apparent.  Light bulb moment.

I stopped singing to truly listen and tears started to stream down my face. The song got sadder and I sobbed harder.  I had to stop the car.

I sang along to this song a million times before, it was of my mum’s era, a song she played often at home while I was growing up. I’d listened to it  (clearly not hard enough) throughout early adulthood and there is no doubt I’d heard it post having children, but this time, I felt its powerful significance and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Was I the only person in the world who never understood the message in this song?  Or is it my reality right now that made it finally meaningful?

“Cat’s In The Cradle”   by Harry Chapin Listen to it here or here

My child arrived just the other day He came to the world in the usual way But there were planes to catch and bills to pay He learned to walk while I was away And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon Little boy blue and the man on the moon When you comin’ home, Dad I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok And he walked away but his smile never dimmed And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon Little boy blue and the man on the moon When you comin’ home, Dad I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came from college just the other day So much like a man I just had to say “Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while” He shook his head and said with a smile “What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys See you later, can I have them please”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon Little boy blue and the man on the moon When you comin’ home son I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away I called him up just the other day I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind” He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me He’d grown up just like me My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon Little boy blue and the man in the moon When you comin’ home son I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad We’re gonna have a good time then

Bang!  Turn down those tears again, the screen is blurry. I have a son who thinks his daddy is God, and a hubby who, like all of us, is so very busy.

There are two things I’ve been contemplating since that insightful yet tearful car journey to the shops.

Being present is a joyful investment in the future

So far on this yoga journey of mine, I’ve been doing my best to be present when it counts and I’ve been preaching the importance of living in the now to – well anyone who will listen – my students, my friends, my family and my hubby.

I’ve discovered there are two kinds of people, those who continue to live in the past, finding new ways to change the unchangeable;  and those who create scenarios in the future, having in depth conversations about situations that may or may never happen.  The latter my friends, is me. There are also people who just work way too much, and spend their non-working moments thinking of work – of past events or future scenarios.

Very few of us live our lives right here right now.  I’m sure it’s good for us to have a little bit of the past and a little bit of the future; we need to learn from one and plan for the other.  But we also need to re-learn the childhood skill of noticing, feeling and truly experiencing each and every minute that passes.  How on earth will we have memorable memories if we are constantly lost in our chattering heads; our daily presence and movements switched over to auto pilot?  How positive will our children’s memories be of us, as robots of routine?

How many times have you driven somewhere and couldn’t remember anything of the journey? Or, washed and conditioned your hair but couldn’t remember that you had done one or the other? How much of the day do we spend with our children on auto pilot, not noticing and appreciating their excitement and wonderment of all that is new to them? Or totally forgetting their existence while lost in the processes of being at work?

If we can learn to let go and to simply be while dedicating that time to our kids, even for short periods of the day, we’ll find a guiltless sense of freedom and enjoy the little things we don’t know we’re missing – until they’ve gone.

Creating traditions of the regular things we do can help to create beautiful memories for our kids and will help to ensure we are truly present when we’ve found the time to live them.  For example, we need to eat; Friday nights in our house is home made pizza night and Sunday mornings we make pancakes – it’s loud, messy and a collective experience.  I teach yoga on Thursday nights and now the sun is out later, my husband Mark, takes the kids (bathed and ready for bed!?!) bike riding or to South Bank for a play in the park. We ‘try’ and eat most dinners together and each night we have a new ‘grateful boss’. Each member of the family is asked what they are grateful for that day. These regular little activities have become our little family traditions, and I hope they are times when Mark and I are truly present with the auto pilot button switched off.  It’s not always easy nor consistent, but it’s a start.

The importance of  leading by positive example

We know the saying, but it’s never more true than when you watch children and their parents. I’ve watched my seven year old son and a couple of his friends turn from blank sheets of paper to mini replica’s of their dad’s.  From Wiggles fans one day to absolute sporting fanatics the next.  Always loving the sport or football code that is preferred at home, they are sponges – apples do not fall far from the trees as the saying goes.

But children mimic bad traits too, and they become those characteristics.  These can obviously be catastrophic when bad people become bad parents.  It’s not good either when good people think that they need to provide everything but quality time to their young.

We are all born the same, and we wear the layers of our experiences and those experiences can define us. As parents we are our children’s initial guides, we lay the foundation of who they are to become and it is so important to stop often. To find the time to simply be with them, to listen, to see the world in their eyes, to understand the world from their perspective and to steer them on the right playful path to adulthood.  With all the conforming skills needed to thrive in the chaotic world today.

(That last sentence didn’t end well did it? But oh to live the simple life on an island. With no unnecessary things like stamp duty).

“Cat’s in the Cradle” is a powerful reminder, to embrace all the opportunities we have – as limited as they may be – to create time and space within to spend quality time with our offspring, young and old. Now to spend the rest of the day with my children and be present!


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