As a parent, I try to be ‘present’ as much as possible when I am around my daughter. I love the times when she has my full attention, and we play together or read books, or play hide-and-seek.
Sometimes, adult things just need to be done. Bills have to be paid, emails responded to, cooking done… it’s just not possible to give a child 100% of your attention, all the time. But toddlers don’t understand that. They have particular feelings at particular times, and these feelings are quite separate from your desire to get things done. As a consequence, distractions are sometimes required.
Take, for example, my experience last night. I was sitting at the table, tapping away on my laptop keyboard, when Hannah wandered over and took a great interest in what I was doing. Not content with watching me type away (Hannah is never content to just watch), she insisted on being part of the action. I can’t blame her, the clicking of keyboard keys and the bright screen are enough to entice any toddler to interaction.
I needed a distraction and I needed one quickly. I was in the zone with my writing and I really didn’t want to break my concentration at that point (It’s always so hard to start again, and it’s never as good). Almost absent-mindedly, I reached for the one thing on the table that was even more enticing than the laptop – my keys.
What is it about keys? I don’t understand it at all. I used to laugh at the stereotypical image of a parent dangling a set of keys in front of a baby, but I don’t laugh any more. Keys have a mysterious power over the infant mind. They hypnotise it in ways that even science can’t explain (I’m assuming this, I have in no way bothered to research the validity of this statement). It works. I don’t know why, but it just does. Anyway, back to the story…
I handed the set of keys to Hannah without a second thought and I carried on writing. The distraction had worked and Hannah toddled off to examine her newly-acquired treasure. All was good.
The only thing was, I had broken the golden rule of letting a toddler play with something they shouldn’t otherwise have – I hadn’t watched what she did with it.
This rule is fundamental and universal. Take, for example, letting your child play with a pen. She will examine it carefully, and look ever so grown up with it while you have your eye on her. But dare blink and immediately a blue line will appear on the wall. You will then look down at your child and she will innocently look back up at you, blue ink all over her face and the remanets of an exploded blue pen in her hand.
Or your phone. The innocent and adorable child, sitting at your feet and swiping through some mindless game, will flush that bad-boy down the toilet if given even half a window of opportunity.
After a substantial period of quiet play by Hannah and excellent writing by me, it began to dawn on me that I had made a terrible mistake. A niggling little sound at the back of my mind turned into full-blown alarm bells as I realised that Hannah had moved on from the keys, and she was now playing with her toy train.
I snapped out of my writing haze and focussed fully on the burning question – Where are my keys?
“Where are my keys?” I asked Hannah, fully aware that it would be futile. She looked up at me briefly, smiled, then returned her full attention to her train.
I tried to retrace Hannah’s movements in my mind, but that was useless. My attention had been on my laptop and I had no idea what she had been up to. I had vague recollections of her wandering past the table and towards the stairs, but that was it. They could be anywhere in the house.
I began looking in toy boxes and drawers. I searched under the cushions on the couch, then under the couch its self. I headed up stars and checked the bedrooms. Nothing.
I headed back down stairs and resigned myself to a thorough search of the house once Emma returned home. I was annoyed that I had so easily given away something so important, all for the sake of a few minutes of uninterrupted writing time.
When I returned to the play mat, Hannah was still sitting and playing with her toy train. She was completely oblivious to my frantic searches. Defeated, I slumped into my chair. Hannah was still engaged with her train, but I was no longer in the zone to write.
A short time later, Emma returned home. We said our hellos, then almost immediately she looked to the spot on the play mat where Hannah had been sitting.
“Why are your keys on the floor?” She asked.