I went shopping at Target this morning. I was killing time waiting until I could go back and pick up my mother at the doctor's office. I was leisurely making my way through the store when I saw a family of four. Actually, I HEARD a family of four. The parents were whispering to each other and an 18 month old was whimpering while his 4 year old brother sat quietly in the cart. We did not speak or even make eye contact but I had noticed them and was smiling thinking about the sweetness of a young family. As I was completing my shopping, I passed the same family again. This time, the toddler was sucking on a pacifier, completely tuned out to the world but his brother had come alive. He was walking beside the cart and was very animated. His mother and father were working down their shopping list and not paying ANY attention to the young boy. His conversation went like this, "Mom? Momma? Mom? Mommy? Hey, mom! Mom! Can I show you something? Mom, can you take my hand? Can you? I want to show you something. It will only take a minute. Please! Mom, Mommy!...." Never once did she acknowledge him nor did his father. There was no, "Just a second, honey." At one point, she did give him her hand and he SMILED with delight and tried to lead her but I watched her and she never turned in his direction and, upon realizing she wasn't going where he wanted, the boy said, "No! Mom, it's this way. Over there! Mom! Mom!..." Before I even had a moment to process this scene, I heard another young voice. This one came from a little female toddler. She was sitting upright in the cart facing her mother. Her mom had a bottle of something and was studying it while the little girl s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out both arms while repeating the question, "Can I see?" This mother too, paid no attention.
It saddened me. Way deep down, it saddened me. I'm a mom. I've been a mom for 16 years. I remember what it was like to only need a moment, just ONE to read the ingredients, to double-check the list, to grab the last thing so I could leave the store but instead have the unrelenting sound of "MOM!!!!..." in my ear but still it saddened me. Because now I know better. Because I've watched the generation of kids my daughter's age grow up, I've seen how different parenting methods work out. How the kid whose parents ignored them grow up. Now I know what I want these moms and everyone else to know. You need to pay attention.
Pay attention while they are young and full of wonder. Pay attention when YOU are the voice they want to hear. Pay attention when YOU are who they want to share their world with because that time is fleeting. And when you don't notice them, they start to think they don't matter. And when they start to think they don't matter, they stop trying to get your attention and then one day YOU don't matter and someone who will give them attention will. And then you won't be able to dictate who gives them attention and you'd better hope its the right kind of person. I know it seems silly. I know it seems ridiculous but that is how it happens.
Every child needs a champion. Every child needs to know they matter and not just that they matter but that they are the most special thing in the whole world to YOU. It all begins in that buggy. So mom, stare deep into those eyes. Those eyes that have nothing but love for you that want NOTHING more than for you to connect with them. Come off auto-pilot and engage. Hold their hand. Tell them what you see. Ask them what they see. BE IN THE MOMENT not in your mind. Don't be the parent that, 20 years from now, will be talked about through tears of anguish as your grown child retells their story of how they ended up in the sorry state they are in. It doesn't have to end that way. SEE your child now!