Sometimes my four-year-old son Ezra asks me, “Where are you, Mama?” when he’s sitting on my lap.
“I’m right here,” I say. But I know he’s caught me. I’m really miles away, my mind flitting from what we will have for dinner tonight, to the article I’m writing, to the garbage cans that I forgot to drag out to the curb this morning.
Sometimes I lift one-year-old Ira onto my lap while I’m working and rub his back, thinking I can multitask parenting and work for at least a few minutes. But the moment I glance over his fine white curls at the computer monitor, he senses my inattention like a drone detecting heat. He spins around, wrapping his fingers in my hair, his giggles echoing through my office.
Many childhood development experts say that connected parenting requires 30 minutes a day of undivided attention. Thirty minutes playing whatever your kids want to play, talking about whatever they want to talk about. No trying to peak at the newspaper; no trying to teach them the alphabet. Sounds easy, right? But sometimes it’s not, and I’m tempted to skip it. I’m home with my kids a lot, I tell myself. They see plenty of me. But it’s like Ezra has a score card tucked away in his pocket. “We never play together,” he moans if more than a couple of days pass without my undivided attention.
My kids just seem to naturally get something I so often forget: focusing on something transforms it. Of course, it’s not just parenting that requires our attention. So does writing, reading, art, marriage. Kids are just better at reminding us.
Recently I started a huge editing project. Work towered in front of me like a canyon wall. “I’ll never finish,” I told my husband after I spent most of my first day procrastinating.
“Just commit to it for one hour a day, and see what happens,” my husband advised.
So I did, and a couple of months later I was done.
When something is decaying, be it our aspirations or health or friendships, it’s easy to say we don’t have time for it even if we have time for other things, like Facebook, Twitter, and television. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, of course, as long as they are the things we want to fill our lives.
But we can never forget that what we attend to flourishes. And what we neglect decays.
I seem to need to remind myself again and again about the astonishing power of my attention. So as a new year approaches, and everyone begins talking about resolutions, I’ll be shifting my thoughts to attention.
What are my highest priorities this year? What do I want to flourish? Where do I need to shift my attention?
If you liked this post, you may enjoy these related posts:
- Attention Needed
- Learning to Listen
- Learning to Enjoy the Journey
- A Year of Meditation
- Resolving to Do Nothing
What do you want to pay more attention to? I’d love to hear about it.