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The Year of Paying Attention


"Mommy! Mommy! Why didn't you hear what I was saying?"

"I'm sorry honey. I wasn't listening."

When my daughter was too little to talk, whine or even appreciate good opera, I was very judgmental of my more experienced mommy friends and their ability to completely ignore their children.

I remember sitting at playdates or at the library and watching children do everything but burst into flame trying to get their moms' attention while their mothers chattered on, read a book or simply stared into space.

I couldn't wait for Laylee to learn how to talk and tell me all the amazing things that were going on in her tiny little mind. From the faces she was making, it was obvious she had a lot to say and I was anxious to hear it all. How thrilling it would be to know her favorite color, what she wanted to do after lunch, why she was giggling in the middle of her nap. I could not fathom being callous enough to ignore communication from my daughter once the miracle was finally possible.

Here I sit almost four years later and I realize I have become a master of tuning out. She talks so frequently and so quickly that at some point in a moment of total overstimulation I snapped. I found that I could cope much better if, rather than actually listening to every word that came out of her mouth, I learned to zone out until she said something "important."

It wasn't a conscious choice, and to see it typed out that way, it seems quite horrid. How would I feel if I knew people were mentally sorting my words, sifting them and deciding when they should actually pay attention to me? I didn't realize how bad it had gotten until last week, when she yelled in my face asking me why I wasn't listening.

At first I was mad. Members of this family do not yell at their mother. Then it hit me. Members of this family should not have to yell at their mother. There was something so desperate in Laylee's face as she begged for my attention that I came up with this parenting focus for 2007:

I will listen to my children the way I want them to listen to me. When they speak to me, I will stop typing, reading or staring at the grease stain on my T-shirt. I will make eye contact, engage with them and help them know they are important and adored.

Does this mean it's okay for them to yell at me or interrupt me when I'm speaking to someone else? Not hardly. It's not okay for me to yell or interrupt them when they're having a conversation either. However, if I know Laylee is waiting patiently to speak to me, I'll cut my 20-minute conversation on the merits of fresh ginger short and listen to something that matters to her.

I suppose it all comes down to respect. Regardless of their age, do we respect our children as human beings and do we treat them with the same dignity we want for ourselves? Being younger does not lessen your worth. If anything, I should be paying more attention to my children as they grow and develop and try to make sense of the world. They need my focus. They need my respect. This year I will listen.