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Undivided Attention Be Damned

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The day I realized my children were old enough to play at the park without my constant supervision (read spotting) was a blessed one. Their feet had grown dexterous enough that I didn’t have to follow them every time they climbed up the slide. They understood that they had to hold on tightly while swinging and that they had to hold the rail when they walked across the shaky suspension bride.

Life was good. I sat back, took a deep breath and relaxed. I’d just made it through a hard phase.

Then a new phase started.

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Perhaps you are familiar with this one, the one where every three seconds one of my children calls out, “Watch me, Mama!” Every three seconds for the entire 45 minutes we play at the park, I’m expected to feast my eyes on my daughter’s sandbox skills or my son’s jumping skills. My kids are brimming with talent, creativity and gusto, but they’ve never done anything I want to see 900 times in less than an hour.

Once I missed my daughter’s eighth death-defying leap from the monkey bars into the sand pit below because I sneezed.

And worse, if they catch me not looking (also known as blinking), they sigh like I’ve betrayed them and start all over again. Since this phase started, I’ve been berated repeatedly for looking away right before something completely unforgettable happened — like my son pumping his legs on the swing (the same way he had been for the previous 15 minutes, which I saw because I was watching, I swear). Once I missed my daughter’s eighth death-defying leap from the monkey bars into the sand pit below because I sneezed.

I’m such a bad, bad Mommy.

I’ve tried to explain that sometimes Mommy needs to look at the trees, the squirrels eating out of the trashcan or her own ragged cuticles. “Kids, I love you but I can’t always watch everything you do.”

They don’t care.

They insist my attention be undivided. But I can’t do it. It sounds horrible, but I just can’t be their captive audience. I don’t want to. So I started something new. From now on, they get to spend 40 minutes at the park perfecting whatever “tricks” they want me to see without begging me to watch. Then, in the last five minutes, they can have my complete attention. I promise not to blink, sneeze, cough or glance away even for a micro-second. I focus on them as if nothing else in the world exists. And by then, I’m ready, because I’ve had 40 minutes of unfettered free time to let my gaze follow every whim.

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Like all phases, there are positive and negative aspects to the “Watch me, Mama” syndrome. Now, with this helpful boundary, I’m able to revel in their growing skills and watch as a proud mama, not a resentful one.

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