The other day, we pulled into the driveway, got out of the car, and I asked Noah if he wanted to come check the mail with me. He eagerly said he did, so we made the trek across the driveway, over to the mailbox. I opened the box and reached for the mail, and at the same time heard a tiny grunt. I looked over and was surprised to see Noah looking frustrated and defeated. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.
“I said that I wanted to get the mail out!” He was on the verge of tears.
My first inclination was to tell him that I didn’t hear him and that it wasn’t a big deal, but as I rewound and replayed the memory of our walk to the mailbox, he hadn’t just said it. He had said it anxiously and excitedly. I just hadn’t listened. My mind was somewhere else, lost in some other place where I couldn’t possibly pay attention to my son.
Normally I would shrug it off. After all, every parent zones once in a while, but this time Noah’s body language was saying what I already knew. This was happening way too often lately. Dad wasn’t listening, and it was starting to really frustrate and deflate this four-year old.
Earlier that day, and several times during the preceding week, Noah had exclaimed that he wanted to open or close the car door by himself. I wasn’t listening, and I sucked the wind out of his sails when I did it on my own.
The day before Noah had wanted to put the groceries on the conveyer belt at the supermarket. I wasn’t listening and began doing it without his assistance.
A few days before that, Noah had told me he wanted something besides quesadillas for lunch. I never heard him and fried him up a quesadilla anyway.
I could probably come up with a couple dozen examples, all within the last couple weeks, of when Noah had said something and I was just gone, thinking about work, thinking about life, thinking about myself, thinking about who knows what.
There’s no doubt that my brain quite naturally gravitates toward this pattern. My whole life I’ve struggled to force myself to pay much closer attention to those around me and to what they are saying. Heaven knows that I’ve ticked off girlfriends and wives far too many times. The excuse, “that’s just the way my brain works,” doesn’t seem to cut it.
Nobody likes repeating themselves, including four-year olds. I feel like I’m a damn good dad most of the time, but this is definitely something I’ve gotta work on. I think Noah has a right to be frustrated.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
PS. I’d love to hear your thoughts? Anybody else struggle with this? Anybody else find that they have a hard time keeping tuned into whatever’s going on in the moment?