I found this fun post I wrote when Ender was eight months old when I was struggling to explain the difference between offering attention freely versus diffused attention. I don’t achieve this very well, because this was when my brain was still leaking out through my nipples. But, there’s a valuable insight in there of what freely offered, fully focused attention is… and a hands-on demonstration of the sort of diffused attention our children and our lives usually get:
June 21, 2010. My eight month old–who’s just discovered crawling!–is giving me a hands-on demonstration of just unbabyproofed our house is, so of course I deal with this by sitting down for a moment and writing…
I find there’s a huge difference between offering attention freely, with full focus on the child, and giving diffuse or temporary attention. Most of the time, diffuse attention is great: the kids are there, doing their thing, the adults are there, doing their thing, the two intersect for a while, go their own way… but at some point–at different points of the day, at different points of life stages–children (and spouses! and friends! and grandparents, gosh-darn-it, them needy grandparents!) really crave focused, concentrated attention, and if it’s freely offered–given before it’s asked for–all the better.
My beautiful Flora, 5.6 going on 117, had [writing interrupted to change poopy bum, notice bum had washed the kitchen floor and himself with dog’s water dish, clean up water―hey, now I don’t have to mop the kitchen floor until the next mishap! what was I blathering on about before?] has been going through a rough couple of weeks. Sensitive always, she was uber-sensitive. People looked at her sideways and she burst into tears. [Crap forgot to put a new diaper on and the baby is now playing in his pee, hold on, break to wipe up pee] She was essentially waking up teetering on the edge of a breakdown. [oh, hell, the baby is trying to climb up the stairs… no, he’s backed off ]
Apart from being 5.5, a few disruptive things happening in her life, including chaos from the above mentioned 8 month old [gah, he’s back on the stairs…. ok safe], her best friends’ being sick and away, and her mother not well and not all there. There were so many things that I couldn’t do anything about… but I could do this:
I started sitting down and playing pets and Heart dolls with her. For what seemed like hours–but on the day on which I clocked it (because I’m that sort of anal retentive person), added up to a mere 45 minutes. It made all the difference. It gave her an anchor that was missing before.
OK, he’s determined to climb those stairs today I am done…
2012. I’m so glad I found and re-read this post now, because I needed a reminder that beautiful, sensitive Flora needs this freely offered, focused attention so much more than either of her brothers right now. Ender’s fully satisfied to be destroying the house somewhere in my wake; Cinder grabs a quick cuddle and a book reading when he needs to recharge (although I do see him shifting more and more into needing more one-on-one Dad time). Flora needs one-on-one Mama time a lot. She asks for Girls’ Days Out. Girls’ Movie Nights. “Just a Girls’ Hour Out, Mom?”
This is really hard to do when you have three kids. There are only so many nights, only so many days. But I need to make a concentrated effort to give Flora this time, this focused attention, because it anchors her. Fills her up. In Flora’s ideal world, she and I would have a weekly night out. I would love to give this to her―and one day, one day soon, I will. Maybe we’ll take an art class together. Or Spanish. Right now, I can’t give her that weekly night or that schedule. But I can do this:
Flora! I’m going to the library. Ender’s sleeping and Cinder’s going to stay with Daddy. Want to come?
I do this all the time now. Take her with me when I go to my physio training. We have 30 minutes in the car there and 30 minutes back to talk; she has 30 minutes of brother-free chill time while I go through my torture session. Ask her if she wants to run pick up milk from the market with me. Run to the drug store. She almost always says yes.
Now, these opportunities don’t arise, frankly, that often. I have three kids. I work, as does their dad. Most of the time, I’m taking all three of them to the library and the grocery store. But when the opportunities arise―when Cinder wants to stay and home and play Minecraft, when Ender is sleeping, when both boys are engaged with Daddy, when the stars align―I grab my Flora and we run.
I also try to grab her at home when the boys are occupied, and I notice that she’s lost. And I sit with her while she organizes her pets. Or takes me through her art. Or just tells me silly things, important things, weird things. When she wanders into the kitchen when I’m massacring vegetables, I know that she might be looking for a snack―or Mommy-time. I pull her into chopping or stirring with me. And listen.
I don’t do this, let me be clear, very well or naturally. My attention most of the time is diffused―between all three kids, the freakin’ dog who won’t stop peeing in the basement, the house-that-ever-teeters-on-the-edge-of-descending-into-utter-pigdom, the latest three writing projects that are all due yesterday, the committee meeting, the really interesting discussion happening on my Facebook, and the less-interesting professional one I’ve got going on LinkedIn.
But I try. And I know when I’ve done it well or consistently, because I have a much happier, more anchored Flora.
Photos (Crawling Baby Earthenware Olmec Culture 1200-900 BCE Mexico) by mharrsch and (FLORA) by adafruit