I brought a book to my 7-year-old daughter’s soccer practice. To be honest, I was looking forward to one hour of time when I didn’t have to do anything but sit. No one would be asking me questions, and no one would need anything from me. I wasn’t in charge. So, I set up my lawn chair, got cozy, and opened the book.
But then I happened to glance up as it was her turn to run a drill. The coach was passing each kid the ball for them to kick into the goal. She stepped forward, kicked, and made it in the goal! I loved being able to catch that sweet moment for her.
But then something even better happened. As she turned to run to the back of the line, she looked back at me. Her eyes were shining. Her grin was gigantic. She was so proud of herself. And at that moment, my girl wanted to know I was watching her.
My heart could have exploded.
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I set my book down to watch. Really watch. And here’s what I noticed. After every kick, every drill, she was looking back. Did I notice? Did I see? Was I excited for her? That look back was so precious to me. That look back sunk deep into my heart. She was trying out soccer for the very first time, and each accomplishment felt huge to her. I could see it.
It could have been easy for me to let guilt creep in during this time and rob the beauty of the moment. How many practices did I come to when I did read my book most of the time? A lot. How many look-backs had I missed? I’m guessing a lot.
But at that moment, I let those feelings go. I can’t be 100 percent present all the time and beating myself up won’t change that. Sometimes I do need that break to sit, disconnect, and read my book. But sometimes I can also make an effort to be more present. And I can savor the sweet moments that come my way when I am present.
Now, my 2-year-old is great at demanding my attention. When he says “watch,” it’s not enough for me to just make eye contact with him. I also have to verbally acknowledge his request, saying out loud “watching” before he’ll show me his trick. This means I’m sometimes standing at the stove, trying halfheartedly to cook dinner while twisting around to watch him do a trick in the living room. But it also means it’s easy for me to know when to be watching. He will tell me. And he won’t let me off the hook until I reassure him that I am.
But as my kids have gotten older, they’re not always shouting for me to watch. They’re off trying new things—sometimes on their own and sometimes with me on the sidelines. But the look back shows me again and again, they’re still hoping I am watching. And as much as I can, I want to be watching too.
My daughter must have looked at me 20 times during her one-hour practice with a huge smile on her face. I’m so glad I was there. I’m so glad I was watching. And I’m so thankful for each look back that came my way.