Monday, February 1, 2010

Attention, Divided

Attention, divided.  It is a survival strategy.  Without it I couldn't of lasted through 13 years of motherhood.  Keeping track of the needs, concerns, schedules of a large family requires a lot of attention dividing.  I need to note who needs more time with mom, who needs more independence from the same, who has been getting too many, "no's" and who is testing limits and needs a little reigning in.  On top of that there are book order deadlines, piano practices to track, dinners to make, et cetera to infinity

It is also how one keeps her head from exploding when reading the same picture books 600 millions times or watching the same episode of {whatever show your toddler was obsessed with} over and over until theme songs haunt her dreams.  She turns her attention to other things while watching/reading/listening.  Attention dividing is an important skill.

So when I was left with just one child at home this year, we went through a bit of a shock.  I was used to giving him a certain (not small) amount of attention, and he was used to constant attention, via his siblings.   He demanded attention undivided.  Turns out my attention is no longer able to coalesce  into a whole.  All right, fine!  It has NEVER been able to coalesce into a whole.  And we struggled.

The biggest problem is that Matthew didn't just want me to play with him.  His idea of play involved me doing the actual playing while he sat beside me, occasionally handing me pieces or making comments.  (It makes sense when you remember he is the youngest of 6 children.) That is how "we" played with blocks, cars, sand, or coloring.  And if my gaze shifted at all, he would redirect my attention back to the task at hand.

Since attention undivided was driving me toward insanity at twice the regular speed, I knew something needed to change.  I tried to remember what I'd done with the other kids.  Then I remembered that I've never had a 3 year old without providing a younger sibling for their play partner.  Being home alone with a 3 year old was a completely new experience, and one that needed figured out.  Quickly.

So I worked on forcing him to actually participate in our play.  Slowly we made progress; he learned to live without constant attention and, amazingly, I learned to pay him more focused attention.

Then we discovered puzzles.

I have always loved puzzles and have long been a little sad that none of my children have inherited my desire (think obsession) with taking many little pieces and fitting them into one complete whole.  I have to be careful when I start, because I usually won't stop till it is finished.  And in puzzles I found a companion.  Matthew spends hours each day doing puzzles.  And he doesn't particularly want or need my help.  I sit and help him from time to time, but  he is so focused on the puzzle that I am free to divide my attention and worry about my daughter's grades or my shopping list while we play.

There is no surprise, then, that our puzzles went from 2 cheap ones to about 12 more expensive and sturdy ones.  Funny how putting together pieces of wood left me able to divide my attention again.  And also gave my son and I something that is just ours.  A shared love, undivided.

18 comments:

  1. That's great. Puzzles are great. Being able to check emails/blogs on the computer while eating breakfast and getting my kids ready for school.......priceless!

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  2. I love puzzles and the many metaphors they allow. Puzzles - including the one pictured here! - are a big part of Big Boy's life. I spent hours as a kid working on increasingly larger puzzles - an early indicator, I suppose, of my meticulous nature.

    Great post!

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  3. Jeanette Hiatt2/1/10, 9:34 AM

    Thanks Charlotte. I will soon be in the same boat.... I am a little worried.

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  4. Cute Matthew! I feel the same way about HoT wHEELS.

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  5. My son LOVES puzzles too. He will sit and do the same one over and over and over, dumping it out excitedly each time he finishes it. He gets that from me too, I loved puzzles as a child.

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  6. Hilarious, Charlotte. Attention, divided is the way my brain works. But sometimes I actually have to take one thought all the way through to the end, and just then the various members of my family find they all need to interrupt me. That's when we get in trouble, because my brain doesn't work that well anymore,clunking along on its way to one complete thought.

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  7. "Attention divided" is something I'd best learn to cultivate. I'm afraid I'm kind of all about willy-nilly parenting. sigh. I should be a bit more organized about it all! We're also puzzle people. Both kids really like them, and it's good, quiet, time. Love that.

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  8. I love reading your blog because you are just one step ahead of me in the whole mothering thing. Sure gives me something to think about as well as some great ideas. :)

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  9. Thanks for your always refreshing, insightful, and funny take on motherhood!

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  10. Even younger than Matthew you loved putting puzzles together. At fifteen months you would dump out all 8 puzzles then pick up and piece and know excatly where it belonged in the right puzzle. You would even put them together with no picture showing. Not suprising that you still love them. Way to go Matthew.

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  11. This is a really great post! I too struggle with attention that cannot coalese into one whole (loved that description!)

    I am so glad you have found a shared interest.

    Okay- my word verification is "Inebroke". Get it "I'm broke" tee hee!

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  12. My son loves puzzles. We were being taken over by them so awhile back I had to purge some of our collection. Every few weeks if he has done something deserving or if I am just feeling super nice I take him to the dollar store to get a new puzzle.

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  13. Just look at his cute blond self!

    I have two sons close, then 6 years of a break, then two more sons close together.

    It is interesting how you get into a certain mommying rhythm.

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  14. We love puzzles around here too. I wish we had more! I am so glad Addie has a playmate- though the times they play nicely are few and far between, I'm VERY grateful for them.

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  15. I love puzzles too, it's a feeling of completion and accomplishment thing. I thought for a moment there that maybe your solution to keeping your son entertained was to give him a baby brother or sister, or heck, BOTH! cause that would be fun. I love other people having babies but that might have ended up being counterproductive to your problem at hand...I mean, the older kids have to go to bed and school eventually and then you would be left with another child to entertain. Puzzles are good.

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  16. My kids love puzzles too. They are great. The only problem I have now is that Maddie and Dallin fight over them ALL DAY LONG!

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  17. I guess you forget how much attention that siblings give your youngest, huh?

    Those puzzles look very thrilling! Now you can't say none of your children turned out like you!

    : )

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  18. I'm best at having m attention divided....makes it easier to let everything go.

    I have had fun playing with my youngest this past year. It just goes so fast and then she'll be sucked into school all day, then I'll miss it, at least I tell myself that.

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