Attention is something that seems to ebb and flow. A good speech almost always gives an indication of its duration in the opening lines, allowing the audience to listen to the content rather than wondering half way through: ‘How long is this guy going to talk?!’ As adults, it is quite common for the mind to wander. In meditation, you are told to acknowledge thoughts that detract from your quest for inner peace, ‘acknowledge them and let them go.’ Yet, just about every parent I know, with children old enough to talk, regularly express their frustration at being ignored; ‘He just doesn’t listen,’ ‘It’s like talking to a brick wall.’
As a teacher, in those first staff days at the start of the school year, I sit in an auditorium listening to speaker after speaker – fidgeting in my chair, checking my watch for the minutes left until morning tea – thinking is this what we put our kids through?
Eyes on me. Listening ears on. How is it we have such high expectations of our children, when most of us struggle to start the day without a morning coffee?
And yet, I feel frustrated. I feel it when I ask the boys to put on their shoes more than once, to stay at the table to eat their dinner; not least, to stay in their bed of a night-time. I feel it when they run a little too far ahead on the walk to school, when they dart down a different aisle at the supermarket. I feel it when my seventeen-month-old lets out an ear-piercing squeal just to test out her vocal chords; mimicking her older brother whose squeal – very much intended for her benefit – is only slightly less offensive and equally obnoxious.
As parents, we see our children as a reflection of ourselves. Just as we are happy to claim our part in our children’s achievements, we can’t help but feel a sense of inadequacy when they don’t quite meet our expectations.
But consider that our children feel frustrated, too. They feel it when we serve up their milk in a red cup when they specifically asked for yellow. They feel it when we cut up their sandwich in triangles, when their preference has always been squares. They feel it when we have the audacity to presume, overtaking some seemingly menial task that was always going to be their job; like squeezing their toothpaste out of the tube.
But this is human nature. In all of us, the mind is prone to wander.
For the second day in a row – after already having a chat about the importance of not running off – our big (usually responsible) school boy bolted down to the pirate ship at school pick up. Stranded with the pram between two sets of stairs, I was effectively stuck until our son chose to return from the playground.
After a long chat and some consideration, weighing up angry mum versus pirate ship, our six-year-old was, indeed, apologetic, even wishing to consider how we might avoid this situation in the future.
His suggestion – ‘But…do you think you could write me a note…to remind me?’