When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves
We’re stretched out on the couch watching a children’s cartoon channel. I’ve temporarily reached my point of saturation with everything Netflix has to offer and so am willing to put up with the ads of an actual TV channel (so far the Christmas present list includes small creatures whose purpose seems to be to poo gel, a camera, and a number of board games), for a break from Spirit, Mia and Trolls.
When your child begins to sound like an American teenager, you know it’s time to shuffle up their regular viewing choices.
The Twirlywoos appear on the screen, a cartoon version of a book she had as a baby. "Oh look, Mommy," my five-year-old says. "Remember I had this book when I was little. There’s Peekaboo." She’s right. She did. It’s the first time I’ve heard her hark back to a babyhood memory that really happened.
That is not something someone told her she used to do. Or something she has decided she used to do. The first time the two of us together notice the passing of time. Remember you used to do that.
"I love this phase, I don’t want her to get older," a friend says regularly about her own child. And I get it. But I’ve never felt like that. A child pulls you so firmly into the present moment, engages you with who they are right now – I don’t mind the moments passing.
The here and now
When you are going through any kind of trauma, and you’re sunk deep in the gloom, a child can pull you out of it, even momentarily. Whether it is because they need yet another snack, and you are distracted out of your own stuff looking after them. Or because they say something funny, and you are pleasantly jolted out of it. Nothing gets you in the now, grounds you, like a child.
My friend Maria-the-life-coach describes how to ground yourself within moments, if you’re nervous, or overwhelmed, and there isn’t time for walks in nature, yoga classes, meditation. Focus on the physical.
"Think first of your extremities," she says. Hands and toes. Press your toes into the ground. Squeeze the tips of your fingers together. Pull your thoughts away from whatever is going on in your mind and into your body. What is your body doing, how does it feel?
A child is like an extra limb; an extremity, just the attachment is invisible. You put your focus on them, and pulls you out of yourself. Out of your mind, and into the present moment.
And in turn, they pull you into the next moment, and the next. So I don’t mind the passing phases. Because I love to watch her change. To see how she takes up space in a different kind of way, the older she gets.
We’re walking home one evening from the shops, she on scooter, me on foot. "Want to go for breakfast in Starbucks tomorrow, Mum?" she says, with that slight, funny, jarring quality small children get when they are using phrases they’ve heard on an adult tongue.
"You could get porridge, I’ll get pancakes. I’ll bring my toys and you can read your newspaper." Now she’s inviting me out for breakfasts. She pulls me back again and again into the present moment, and the moments are (mostly) lovely.
Read more: Your relationship with your child is different as a single parent
Read more: Starting over: How to put your life back together after divorce
Read more: If you’re losing it over socks, there’s something else going on