One Friday evening not long ago, I was on a train for a couple of hours. A few rows ahead of me, in seats facing each other, were a mother and her twin daughters, who appeared to be about 5 years old. I gathered from the friendly conversation between them and the conductor that they were ''regulars'' on this leg of the trip, and they were excitedly looking forward to a weekend with the grandparents and a Saturday at the zoo.
I simply couldn't take my eyes off this family. They were just so connected and engaged and present. The give-and-take between the mother and the daughters was lively, and as far as I could tell, they were truly communicating with lots of conversation, hugs, and silliness.
And then the mother's cell phone rang. While the twins continued to color in their sketch pads, Mom's face lost its glow as her side of the phone conversation went something like this:
''I have the car keys? Are you sure? Wait. Let me look in my purse. Uh-oh. I do have them. I'm sorry! Can you push my car out of the driveway and somehow get yours around it? No? Isn't your brother going to the races tomorrow and can't he drive the both of you? No?'' By now, the whole vibe of that cozy little corner of the train had changed. The girls were now intently watching their mother, who was keeping her cool, but was obviously chagrined. There were calls back and forth with the husband, but her attempts at problem-solving weren't going anywhere. It seemed that right in front of her eyes (and mine) their fun weekend with the grandparents was going down the drain. Eventually, she agreed that the three of them would get off the train at the next stop, wait for the husband to drive the 100 miles to come get the keys, while she and the kids waited for the last train of the night to resume their journey, arriving at their destination well after midnight.
Preoccupied by all of this, the mother had turned into a different person. In a nutshell, she had basically checked out and was dealing with something that demanded her attention right then. No longer was she tuned into her kids; her mind was somewhere else. And haven't we all been there as parents? Stuff just happens, there's no denying it.
I mused about how many things show up in life that we allow to distract us from truly connecting with our families. I thought of how much better off we would all be if only we were more tuned in to what situations really do warrant getting into such a preoccupied state that we ignore or dismiss the most loved, the most important people in our lives. We'd likely find that they do not include spilled milk, a bad day at work, or even a fender bender. Or getting too bent out of shape before all solutions for a problem have been explored.
Turns out the husband found an extra key somewhere in the house, allowing their weekend to proceed as planned. Although you could say that this was a happy ending, still a few precious moments of joy had been lost forever in the process.