How to Not Regret the Small Moments with Our Children

Photo by Togather Family Joe Shriver somewhere over Florida.

Photo by Togather Family Joe Shriver somewhere over Florida.

Have you ever seen a rainbow cloud over a park in middle-America in summer? What about the Northern Lights in middle Alaska in March? One of these I happened to catch because I was looking up for no reason and was awarded a huge surprise. One of these I am still getting grief about from my dad and brother over ten years later because I chose NOT to look up and chose rather to go to sleep. Guess which is which?

I’ll start with the one I actually DID see. A rainbow cloud. What the ……?!? Yeah, I wouldn’t believe it either. Google it. It exists. It’s real. I was playing at a park with my four children. This day I had consciously made the decision to leave my phone in the car so I have no proof, but I promise I saw it! The sky was beautiful that day. Perfect blue. Some puffy clouds, some “wispy” clouds. Not a grey cloud or sign of rain anywhere. I happened to look up and all of a sudden in the middle of it all, one of those wispy clouds was a rainbow. Not like a rainbow passing through, but IT was the rainbow. I took my sunglasses off to see if that is what I was really seeing and I found I could only see it with my sunglasses on. I could barely see it without them on. So of course, I’m yelling at all my kids, “look up! There’s a rainbow cloud!” I’m passing my sunglasses to the one who didn’t have sunglasses on. We were all amazed. I even started signaling to the only other adult that was closest to me. My excitement probably sounded ridiculous, but believe it or not, this woman was in awe because – of all the people at the park that day, I chose the woman who was witnessing her second rainbow cloud she had seen in one week. I know, it sounds unbelievable. You’re thinking: “I’ve lived my whole life under this sky and have never seen a rainbow cloud, let alone heard of one. There is no way someone has seen one twice.” The other was in Rhode Island the week before and she showed me a picture on her phone to prove it. Yep. A cloud made out of a rainbow. One in Rhode Island and one right there at the park above my face. True story.

Now on to the story of the spectacle in the sky that I did NOT see. And then we’ll get back to the point of the crazy rainbow cloud.

I thought I could catch the Northern Lights another night. We’d be there six more. I went dog sledding, snow-machining (not “snow-mobiling” contrary to what non-Alaskans may think) for four hours across the back woods of Alaskan frontier, went to a hot spring, saw the International Ice Sculpture Festival, went on a 12 hour train ride through Denali National Park, stood on the Alaskan pipeline (is that legal?), had a moose cross in front of our car on a major highway. All pretty amazing once-in-a-lifetime things, right? Sounds like a jam-packed trip you can walk away from and have zero regrets. You know what I regret? Saying no, going to sleep, and not looking up. I had worked all week teaching, jumped on a plane to fly five time zones away and I could not keep my eyes open to go out at midnight. I couldn’t think of anything except how tired I was and I was certain I would have another chance. I didn’t. We tried to catch the Northern Lights just about every other night we were there and the sky and weather were never as perfect as that first night. They never came out again. We have a joke in my family (the family of six I grew up with) –“who’s missing from this picture?” because someone always got sick or had some terrible reason for missing a family event. Now my brother and dad, who I went to Alaska with, love to pull the “who was missing from Northern Lights” card every once in a while. Or “Jen, how are the Northern Lights?” They think it’s hilarious. I actually think it’s a huge regret. Thanks for rubbing it in.

Why do these two stories matter? Simple. We have spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime moments happening all around us on a daily basis. These are moments that happen in our kitchen, in our backyard, in our car, right in our own families, with our very own children. Don’t say no because you’re too tired. I know playing animal hospital, or dollhouse, or one more game of the game you hate can be nauseating, but what if it turns out to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments you share with your child forever just because you decided to stop and “look up”? Don’t push those moments off one more time. I know you will have incredible moments without that “one” moment, but missing that one may turn out to be your biggest regret because when that time passes and there are no more requests like “daddy, watch me climb this tree”, or “mom, will you fix my hair”, or “can we snuggle on the couch?” – when those stop, those will be the times that you regret your decision to not look up.

And finally back to the rainbow cloud. The best part of all this journey of life….God gives us some pretty incredible moments when we don’t even expect it. So look up when you don’t really need to. Look at your children playing on your floor and actually stop to sit with them. Grab a swing next to them at the playground. Rebound for them on your driveway. You will find, in those moments, you and your child will see your very own rainbow clouds. They exist. I promise.  

Jennifer Zumbiel