I hate mini-golf. It doesn’t require skill or strategy. (Note: Sendhil strongly disagrees on this point.) Instead, you pick out a “golf club” with sticky tape (where the sticky part has long since turned to brown tacky slime) and stand around in neon lights, taking turns hitting a glow-in-the-dark ball through a glow-in-the-dark windmill, or a glow-in-the-dark clown’s head, or a glow-in-the-dark waterfall. And you do this for 18 holes. Unless you’re with kids who want more chances to do better on each hole. Then you do this so. many. more. times.
My kids (and probably Sendhil) love mini-golf. At home, I always had (or made up) a reason not to go. I was tired (Not much of a stretch). I had work to do. I wanted to go to my parents’ house. The kids would always ask me to come, and I would brush them off with a version of “I’ll see you when you get back.” I longed for a few hours of being free from the weight of expectation and having the freedom to waste time. Admittedly, those few hours were glorious. Glorious like lying down in bed and rolling around indulging in memories and escapist fantasies based on decision points that have long since passed.
Fast forward to New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand, January 2023. It was a slow day. Slow, like lounging. As I heard the kids and Sendhil chattering about mini-golf, I started to set my sights on an afternoon alone. It would be a full agenda: I would start by taking a nap, and finish by watching a couple of hours of television.
Karthik, my twelve-year-old son, came into our bedroom with a huge smile and eagerness oozing from every pore. “Mom, we’re going to mini-golf. Are you going to come?”
“No, kiddo.” I smiled as I responded.
From the kitchen, Sendhil interjected, “why aren’t you coming”?
And before I could think of anything else, I immediately blurted out, “Because I don’t want to” — immediately hoping that would be enough.
“Too bad,” Sendhil responded firmly, but kindly.
And… I had no retort. There was nothing else I had to do. There was nothing I had been tired from. In the present moment, I was entirely available — free from even my thoughts. So I managed to utter, “okay, you’re right.”
Caught between knowing I should go and not wanting to, I focused on the rationality of the former while making peace with the feelings of the latter. I got dressed and silently tried to shake off the war of inconsequence going on in my head.
Karthik and Meera were thrilled that I was going to join them. I mean really happy. Unbelievably happy. They whooped and hollered, and, as I was getting dressed, Karthik kept asking “You’re coming, right?” (Karthik’s manner of asking the same question over and over, even after receiving an answer, is fodder for another blog post, probably best authored by him.)
They wanted me; my time; my attention. No convincing or persuasion required.
I have spent a better part of my career thinking about how to create workplaces that allow individuals, especially women of color, to bring their whole selves to their workplace. And, what I saw was my kids practically begging me to bring my whole self. That’s all they want is my whole self-present with them, at least for now. All the time.
Time, it turns out, is the point of the travel. Attention is the point of travel.
Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, says “concentration is love.” The openness to concentrate is the point of the travel. Admittedly, my concentration is out of practice. As we entered Hole 3 of our neon world, I found myself getting restless and irritable, wanting to run from the golf cave, into the light of the bowling alley so that I could check my phone.
Not for anything in particular, but for the habit of it. Like a terrible mosquito bite that I needed to itch. My attention and interest wavered greatly. But I made it. I withstood the uncomfortableness of paying attention and staying put, mentally as well as physically. I loved and was loved, traveling through 18 holes of minigolf, which I suppose, is the point.
But, I’m not, I repeat, am not, getting on a luge.