I was especially behind -- on everything -- one day last week, and I rifled through my desk, alternating between the computer, the calendar and an oppressive stack of papers. At bus drop-off, the boys exploded through the door the way they always do -- noise, papers, backpacks, coats, the smell of pencils.
They assaulted the snack cabinet while I continued my work. “Mmm-hmm,” I mumbled, in a half answer to their comments. “Sure,” I answered, dangerously, to a question or two I hadn’t really heard.
The noise and unwinding continued, as did my hyper-focused work, until my two youngest sons ran for the back door. It was beautiful and sunny outside; sometimes Oklahoma will knock the February chill out of the air, if only for an afternoon.
“Hey, Mom,” my ten-year-old called over his shoulder. “We’re going out to play the Death Game.”
It turns out that certain words can break a mother out of the Distracted Zone. Death Game, it turns out, would be two of those words.
I whirled around in my chair. “Death game?” I raised an eyebrow.
Stephen smiled. He knew he had my attention. “You know, where we wrestle until somebody cries.” My eyebrows went up further. “Oh, it’s okay,” he explained, grinning. “We do it on the trampoline. You know, soft place to land, and all that. Want to come outside with us?”
It seemed like the kind of game that deserved at least some half-hearted supervision. I gathered up my calendar and papers to move outside, for a little multi-tasking.
But the breeze out there was nice, almost warm. The Death Game, it turns out, was harmless, but the laughter in the trampoline was contagious. The four-year-old climbed up there with her brothers and squealed. My oldest son wandered with us out into the sunshine, his nose in a comic book.
I put down my papers. I watched all this unfold. No multi-tasking. And I realized, with more than a small twinge of shame, how seldom I just sit and watch. There’s so much to do, I sometimes tell myself. It’s a lot of work to manage this family. I have to keep my nose to the grindstone. I have to multi-task. But in all of this, I’m missing a very sweet gift I could give to my children -- the gift of my undivided attention.
It’s important. It’s simple. It’s free, even. So why can it be so hard to do? The busy, noisy thoughts and tasks that swirl around in my head are -- some of them, anyway -- actually important. But they’re not that important, not as important as the look on my oldest son’s face as he sat down next to me and told me about his middle school enrollment that day. The look on his face was an important part of the story. If I’d kept my face in my calendar and given him only my ear, I would’ve missed that look altogether.
I stayed out there for a while, watching and listening. After I heard about my oldest child’s big day, the players of the Death Game hopped off the trampoline and came to join us. We laughed together. We looked each other in the eyes.
It turns out a trampoline isn’t the only soft place to land.