Constantly in a rush. Always running from one chore to the next. Continuously reminding myself to stop, put the phone down, stop thinking and just focus – really focus – on what she’s asking. Listen with intent to what she is saying; watch her body movements and facial expressions.
What is she really saying? How is she really feeling?
My daughter, a spirited, strong-willed, intelligent, and sassy toddler, consistently asks for my undivided attention. She craves it, especially during times when she senses that her parents are only partially paying attention.
“Mama, mama, mama,” she whines, pulling on my pant leg, “I need attention.”
Sometimes her demands frustrate me. “Why can’t she understand I’m busy? How does she expect to eat if I can’t have two seconds to cut her meat? Please give me a moment!” I want to say. And sometimes I do. My motherhood isn’t perfect. The responses I offer are not always well-thought out, but rather, reactive.
Other times her request fills me with so much warmth and love for her that it’s easy to stop what I’m doing and focus solely on her: “Of course we can play dress up,” “I’d love to draw with you,” and “Of course I want to see you do a cartwheel,” fall from my mouth without a second thought.
If only it was always that simple to stop everything and just connect with my daughter. This amazing child who evokes so many feelings, namely astonishment (as in “Did she really just come up with that all on her own?”) to unabashed pride and love, requires constant attention.
As much as I try to meet her desire for undivided attention, I fail at times. Instead of paying attention just to her I have to improvise: playing Playmobil with one hand while spooning oatmeal to my nine-month-old with the other; pulling her close to me on the couch while watching TV as the infant nurses on my lap; reading on the bedroom floor using one hand to turn the page and gesture as I act out the characters, all while using the other arm to make Elmo dance in an attempt to keep the infant happy.
During busy evenings, when the house is a blur of bath times and teeth-brushing, prepping lunches for school and outfits for work, a diaper bag for drop off, I improvise. It’s those moments, while I’m in the kitchen cutting fruit or tossing a prepackaged salad into my own lunch bag that I catch up with my daughter. My chatterbox is animated and all too happy to share her thoughts on her day, standing in the middle of the kitchen as I move around her.
Upstairs in her room we discuss the weather and what she believes is the best thing to wear on a sunny or cool day and I present her with two clothing options.
It’s in between these busy moments; our daily routine, that I connect with my daughter.
“What did you learn at school today?” I ask as we pick out clothes.
“What was your favorite part about today?” I ask as I cradle her head in my lap to floss her teeth.
“Tell me about your new friend, Lucy,” I inquire as she brings me the lunchbox.
“Okay, mama,” she responds before telling me about her schoolmate.
“Mama, are you proud of me?” She asked one recent night as we sat in the playroom at her kid-sized table – me on the floor nursing the infant with my left arm, using the right hand to help her decorate a Sofia the First coloring book page with stickers.
“Of course I’m proud of you,” I tell her, looking straight into her hazel eyes. “You’re brave and smart, and so so funny. I’m so proud of you for being nice to other kids and the way you share your toys. I am so happy that you were patient with me today when your sister was crying. You’re so amazing.”
She continues to place stickers on the page, not looking up.
“I love you forever, even when we get mad at one another,” I press on. “I love you. Always.”
The moment passes as the baby stirs; once again my attention is diverted from one daughter to the next.
“I love you always, mama,” she says.
Those five words make my day.
It’s moments like this that help me realize the importance of all those little moments that we take to connect with one another – no matter how brief. They mean so much to her.
And they mean everything to me.