MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Unremitting and relentless is the beast named More Attention.
Like an insidious fungus, its large appetite envelops my toddler – and all children, I know, from this age until some indistinct future date when they won’t give their parents the time of day – and turns her into a pint-sized vampire whose every move is dictated by the pursuit of More Attention.
Parents of young children become intimately familiar with this malady, which always seems to strike at the most inopportune times.
Sometimes it’s during a telephone conversation, with the chanting of “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama,” while banging on an electric toy piano that plays the B-52s’ Love Shack, for some incomprehensible reason, at the push of a button.
Or while paying for groceries, insisting, “Up please. Up please. UP. UP. UP please.”
Or crossing the street, insisting, “Down please. Down please. DOWN. DOWN!” while kicking and squirming at the same time.
Or, when I’m attempting to not overcook dinner: Finding it impossible to let go of my leg; when we actually have to be somewhere on time: Finding it impossible to keep her shoes on. Or her coat. Or her diaper. Or all of the above.
And my most recent favorite example of how a child’s yearning for More Attention can cause a perfectly sane mother to bang her head against the wall, upon finding her child proudly scribbling across the tax forms she has just finished filling out.
A toddler simply cannot understand that her mother has anything else to do but draw pictures, play toy pianos, or be a 24-7 personal assistant to a busy little person who would like to be UP, PLEASE, but now needs to be DOWN, PLEASE, and moments later will need HELP, PLEASE.
Like, right this instant and not a second later.
When we drove to Crested Butte for Labor Day weekend, Elle asked to hold my hand: “Hand. Hand. Hand.”
“OK, Elle, but Mommy can’t hold your hand the entire way.”
Five minutes pass. My hand has gone numb on account of it having no blood flow, since it’s wrenched backwards, holding the hand of my daughter, who is happily looking out the window.
I let go and unravel myself back into my seat.
“Hand. Hand. Hand! Mama, hand! Hand, Mama!”
“Elle, Mommy’s hand hurts to hold it like that for so long,” I try to explain.
“Hand – please,” she says, proud that she has remembered what to say to get what she wants. How do I explain to a one-and-a-half year old that all I want is to sit here and do nothing. Yes, that means sit here comfortably, with all my limbs where I want them to be, and not holding anybody’s hand.
Of course, this is impossible to explain, so, I wrench myself around and hold her hand, until she – and my hand – are both sound asleep.
The couple we were going to visit in the Butte, with a child planned for somewhere on the not-so-distant horizon, asked at one point what was the hardest thing about being a parent. This was a question we’d never been asked before. We were taken aback.
“I guess it’s just not being able to do what you want to do all the time,” Craig finally answered.
“Yeah, and I suppose it’s just having to, well, be on it all the time – you know what I mean?”
They nodded. I knew they didn’t, really, know what I meant. Because I never could, before having Elle, fully comprehend what it would take to be a parent. This is despite all the well-intentioned advice you get from other parents who are continually hounded by the Attention Monster.
“Enjoy your time while you still have it!” they sneer, with the air of a high-school senior taunting a couple of scared new freshmen.
“Did you ever wonder what you did with all your time before having a child?” they laugh, once the little bundle has arrived and with it whisked away any semblance of “down-time” in your life, as it drowns in an overwhelming wave of snack-times, playtimes, bath-times, potty-times, and bedtimes.
A child’s need for you to drop everything you’re doing (or not doing) sometimes can seem overwhelming.
I really, sometimes, would just like to eat my pasta al dente instead of all mushy.
I really, right now, would just like to carry you across the street and have you not splash in that puddle.
I wish, at this moment, I could just sit here and NOT DO ANYTHING. Please.
But what I want isn’t, really, what’s so important anymore. So I drag Elle around the kitchen while she holds onto my leg like a monkey, giggling, while I overcook our pasta. I draw flowers with crayons and read Pat the Bunny for the one-thousandth time and, yes, I allow my hand to fall asleep while holding hers. Because while I sometimes want nothing more than for her to leave me alone, for JUST FIVE MINUTES PLEASE, she has an uncanny ability to let me know just how important those five minutes of my undivided attention are. She helps me ward off all the other daily beasts vying for my attention, showing us both whose More Attention beast is more important.