By Kent McDill
The funny thing about your own children is that they are always with you, even when they aren't.
I've decided that is a good thing.
All parents know the joy of having a moment to ourselves. The kids are at school, or at their grandparents, or on a play date, whatever the case may be, and you have that unbelievable moment of quiet bliss. Yes, that moment will soon be replaced by the guilt of knowing how thrilled you were to be apart from your kids for that short time, but still, it feels good to have a chance to catch your breath.
But the truth of the matter is that even when the kids are elsewhere, they are still with you, in your heart and in your mind.
I know what you might be thinking. "You are so correct, Kent," you say to yourself (or out loud, if you have that habit). "Even when my kids are at school, I'm thinking about them as I clean the bathroom and wonder just what that sticky pink stuff is behind the toilet, and how it got there, and which kid I'm going to blame that on."
Oh, you cynical thing, you. I'm not talking about that kind of thought.
Or maybe I am. After all, there are two kinds of parents -- the kind that get angry that their children are children, and the kind that accept and maybe even enjoy their children's foibles, as long as their foibles can be removed from the walls or carpet or dog's fur.
But I'm kind of focusing here on the good thoughts, the times your kids' faces appear before your eyes when you don't expect them to, and you are pleased to see them.
I can't see a soccer ball without thinking about Kyle. Thoughts of Dan spring forth whenever I read the sports page of the newspaper. I think of Haley every time I see a minivan with a magnetic ice skater sticker on the back. And Lindsey -- I think of Lindsey every time I see a little curly black-haired girl running or skipping or jumping.
Of all the great things that come with being a human being, memory is one of the greatest. I know we all have some memories that sting, but most of the painful ones fade. The good ones, the strongest ones, stay with you, and the best ones of all pop up time and again, sometimes exactly when you need them to. For parents, many of those memories include their children.
Remembering your children and their favorite things provides endless opportunities to connect with them even when you won't see them again for hours. You just have to be open to the experience.
I spend a great deal of time on the Internet, and there are constant reminders of my kids that spring forth from website pages. I am always coming across news stories that I think "I've got to tell Haley about this" or "I have to send this story to Dan; he'll love it."
And the absolutely great part of the world in which we live today is that I can do that instantly. Click to link, copy, paste, forward. Boom. I have connected with my kids, even though I am at work and they are at school. They may not get the message instantly (and then again, they might) but they will get it and they will know that I was thinking about them. In fact, they can know the exact moment I was thinking about them.
While shopping, the kids might as well be with me, walking past the store windows or walking down the aisles, for all the time I spend with them on my mind. Grocery shopping is always a time for me to be with the kids in spirit (Kyle needs pudding, Dan needs pickles, what flavor of yogurt does Lindsey like?). And then you spot that one item that one of the kids absolutely loves (yes, bacon), and you can't help yourself -- you smile. It's a comforting feeling, seeing something that you know will produce a smile from one of your kids.
This column idea came to me as I walked into my local Portillos. As I was ordering my 1,000th career Italian beef sandwich (I'm guessing on that, possibly underestimating), my eyes glanced at the menu board, and I saw their chopped salad listed. Of all the things my daughter Haley loves in the world, Portillo's chopped salad is maybe first on the list, certainly in the "things to eat" department.
Haley is away at college, her first year there, our first year without one of our children being around. But it's nice to have reminders of her even when I'm out and about. She's gone, but she's still right here, right where I can reach her, or more importantly, she can reach me.
And that is very, very important. I love having a reason to think of her now that she is hundreds of miles away.
And I have another really good reason to go to Portillos. Not that I needed one.
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.