“For attention, please ring bell.” This is the sign pasted to the bell at my doctor’s office, at the local shop and even over the entrance to Owl’s house in AA Milne’s Classic, Winnie the Pooh (although the spelling was slightly more creative, given that it was written by Christopher Robin). Sometimes I feel as though I am also wearing such a sign.
My middle child (6) is very good at ‘ringing my bell,’ and by this I mean that she knows just what to do to get my attention. Unfortunately, it’s normally negative attention in the form of me reprimanding her for one thing or another. She is my child who tells the most lies and does the most things covertly. She struggles with temptation and lacks self-control. It’s her age, perhaps her birth order, and to some extent her personality. She is busy and intelligent, a person hungry for distraction, involvement and attention. As a mother of three young children I struggle to meet those needs, so she usually ends up at a loose end and in a position to create mischief.
It is when I am at my busiest that she rings the bell the loudest. I have too many things on my mind: people to please, a house to keep tidy, food to prepare, work to do, lessons to plan, and oh yes, three children who need my care. And they need more than the basics. Feeding, clothing and washing them– some days this is all I am able to do. But the mothering job description is more than this. Reading stories, making eye contact, cooking or baking together, putting the train set together, building a tower, kissing the top of a soft head, holding hands as we walk, assembling a puzzle… all of these apparently meaningless tasks are the bread and butter of motherhood. This is the attention she craves.
What I would love is for my child to have no need to ring my bell for attention. I yearn to meet her need for attention completely. It is a cup that will never be filled, a bottomless vessel that I try to fill but never reaches capacity. She is a bright spark in a world that is dim by comparison, a firecracker that engenders passionate responses in everyone around her. She is a catalytic person– someone who creates change. And while I usually say, “she knows just what to do to push my buttons,” I also re-imagine her as one of the most interestingly provocative people I know. Apparently, my parents say I was just like her as a child!
Yesterday I took her on a cycle ride to a local woodland area, just the two of us. She rode her bike and I ran alongside. Partway through I asked, “How are you enjoying riding your new bike?” “Great!,” she said, “how are you enjoying being with me?” “Brilliant.”