A small person wearing lopsided pigtails reaches for my hand. Tugs at my pantlegs. Wraps her twiggy arms around my thigh.
“MOMMY. Come. Come on.”
She is two feet tall and weighs 100 pounds less than I, yet by sheer force of insistence believes she can relocate my body and, with it, the attention I’ve focused on something else. So she heaves her little body against my legs, fully intending to steer her mother to more essential endeavors. Like making Playdoh worms.
This is usually when I say something like: “Sweetheart, Mommy’s in the middle of something,” “Just a minute, please,” or “I’m trying to finish this right now.”
Which, to this unrelenting toddler, means: “I’m not paying enough attention to you, so talk louder and push harder.”
Which she does, to which I respond by offering the same excuses – just louder and with more inflection.
“ELLE,” I bark, “I’M BUSY.”
And so it goes, throughout the day. Me, attempting to: 1. Cook something, 2. Clean something, or 3. Do something that seems crucially important. Something besides playing with my 2-year-old.
It isn’t as though I don’t want to play toddler games with Elle all day. I am actually quite gifted at molding eccentric creatures out of clay, and appreciate the opportunity to practice my princess marker sketches. It’s just that I often feel compelled to accomplish some portion of my Daily Adult Duties, like cooking, cleaning, or doing something else that’s crucially important.
This faithful struggle between accomplishing something and accomplishing nothing pockmarks the days my daughter and I spend together. And it often leads to an aggravated mother and a frustrated child, neither of whom have actually “accomplished” anything besides wasting time in the midst of the attention tussle.
This week we were at it again. Me, attempting to fold clothes and pack for a camping trip while cleaning the kitchen and looking up maps on the Internet and emailing my mom. Elle, meanwhile, was attempting to play with me.
“It’s basically impossible,” I whined to Craig when he called to check on our progress, as Elle dutifully clung to my leg begging that I join her in piecing a puzzle back together.
OK, kid. You win this time, I thought as I hung up the phone, mentally consigning myself to completing zero tasks in the near future.
Instead of folding, typing, wiping, and organizing, I sat on a stool and my daughter and I took turns fitting multi-colored wooden shapes into their appropriate locations. We discussed the difference between a triangle and a diamond, then we sang “Twinkle, twinkle little star” (with extra attention paid to the “like a diamond” verse.)
“OK, mommy’s going to finish packing now so we can go camping,” I eventually stood up from my station, somewhat tentatively, waiting for the gripes and complaints my exit would surely produce.
“OK.” Elle returned to the puzzle.
I lingered, expecting a bigger to-do. Whining. Pulling at my pant leg. Perhaps a tear or two.
Instead, Elle dutifully entertained herself for the next half-hour; a harmonious, peaceable half-hour in which I actually managed to accomplish what I needed to.
With so many divergent interests contending for consideration, it often seems vitally important to throw my concentration at accomplishing tasks (making dinner, returning emails, paying bills) rather than giving my daughter my undivided attention. Entire days can pass during which I’m splitting all my time, and all my attention, between my daughter and my duties – without giving 100 percent to either.
Although it may at times seem impossible to halt the cyclone of daily obligations to offer undivided attention to my toddler, not taking that time is actually more unworkable. Undivided attention, even if only for a few minutes, is vitally imperative to a child; and, as it turns out, to her mother as well.