Teaching kids to live for today

Author's daughter (Picture Courtesy Jeff Bogle)

Author's daughter (Picture Courtesy Jeff Bogle)

Every day that I’m fortunate enough to wake up, I reach down to the thin space between my bed frame and box spring. My phone is wedged in there. The first thing I do each morning is check Twitter to see if today is still a thing to be enjoyed. Because as of yesterday, tomorrow seemed a 50/50 proposition.

We’re on the brink, America.

I can feel it in my bones, in the same way the humidity has been causing my right wrist to ache since I broke it trying to literally jump a hurdle on the track in high school.

We’re on the brink of…something and that something, I fear in my achy bones, is not going to be pleasant.

With nuclear war closer to a reality than ever before in my adult lifetime, and with famous landmarks, legendary structures, & ancient cities all just a determined suicide bomber away from being history, I’ve made a crucial life adjustment to focus far more on the now and far less on a future that’s not even a little bit guaranteed.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Most importantly though, as a dad, I’m teaching my 13 and 10-year-old daughters to do the same, to adjust the delicate balancing act of planning for tomorrow and living for today.

Conventional wisdom be damned.

If I were to pinpoint the start of this sea change in my thinking about the now/later balance, it was the missive of mine that got picked up by The Huffington Post’s Money vertical several years back.

That idea, of not saving for my kids’ future college tuition costs but rather investing in their childhood, came about after 9/11 but before European train station and stadium bombings were on the regular, before peaceful church service, elementary school, and music festival shoot ups were, gulp, commonplace in America, and before a fake president pushed us toward wars both nuclear and civil.

I’m not, however, the only one to ever consider this kind of now/later balance. Folks much wiser than I have been wrestling with this topic for many years.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who influenced much of MLK’s later work, was fond of saying that if we take care of right now, the future will take care of itself, and the past will be worth remembering.

My friend Dr. Josh Misner, who takes a big swig of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh before remarking in his newest book Seeing Again For The First Time: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, goes further to say that “Prediction belongs to the future. Analysis is the property the past. Action is the sole prerogative of right now.”

My prediction is dark so I’m taking action right now while the sun still shines down on me, my family, and the cities, landmarks and ancient sites we long to see while there’s still time, before we’re all history.

My wife is still contributing to her 401(k), enough to maximize her employer match, and we still set aside some cash for a rainy day, but we are spending more money to experience life together right now, while we still can.

There’s a price to pay when living for today. We may need to work longer. I get that. We may need to further redefine our ‘success’. That’s fine. We may be utilizing community college and in-state universities, instead of fancy schools with famous names, should the kids wish to continue their formal education beyond high school. They know this and are okay with it. After all, knowledge is knowledge and textbooks are pretty standard from one school to the next. Plus, my girls will be bringing to the table an invaluable wealth of experience from young lives lived in the moment.

It’s my wish that my daughters not be spend thrift but that they learn to strike a new kind of balance, one that emphasizes living a full life in the present day. I want them to make the decision to go to that concert, fly away to see that game, pay for the tickets to the life-altering musical, read all the books, and see as much of the wide world as humanly possible, and that they allow all of those experiences to change them for the better.

If we take care of the now, together, I’m willing to wager that our future, should we be afforded one, will indeed take care of itself and we’ll share a past that’ll be very much worth remembering.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal