Anyone who's ever tried to talk to a child while he or she is focused on something more important (i.e. television, nose-picking, pulling the cat's tail, or watching paint dry on the walls) knows that it's a thankless task. You can shout, threaten, jump up and down, and bribe them with candy and treats, but until they're ready to pay attention, it's like talking to a brick wall. They have all the power and they know it. Yet, when the tables are turned, and it's your turn to focus on something other than their every whim and fancy, they are (shockingly) less than gracious about the shift in power.
I work from home, as many moms do, thinking of it as a brilliant solution to the conundrum of whether to stay in the professional world or remain the primary care giver in the family. It's the ultimate form of multitasking, I thought proudly. And what mom doesn't love a little multitasking? Well, as it turns out, there is no such thing as working while watching the children, only working while they're not looking, dodging their incessant questions, and hiding in the bathroom to answer emails in peace. Don't even get me started on the horrors of professional phone calls.
Because as far as the children are concerned, your mind, body, and soul are already spoken for.
Just when you think you've secured a moment to yourself thanks to copious amounts of sugar, screen time, and begging, the children transform from reasonably self-sufficient human beings into helpless monsters with a penchant for destruction, eating all manner of horrifying things off the ground, and annoying each other without actually touching anyone. Their energetic display of domination and control over my every waking moment is impressive and worthy of anthropological study, like a mating ritual in reverse.
The first phase of their assault is one of pure tenacity and annoyance.
The first phase of their assault is one of pure tenacity and annoyance. There isn't a creature alive who can make a more grating sound than a toddler shouting "Mommy!" When they enter into this stage it's as if all other parts of their brains shut down to preserve energy, and they can outlast anyone. They don't even appear to require oxygen. They are fueled by their righteous indignation alone. It would be admirable if it didn't make you want to slam your head against the wall.
However, if you manage to ignore phase one of the children's attempt to distract you from working, cleaning, eating, or using the toilet (whatever horribly selfish task you've so rudely attempted), they will hurtle themselves zealously into phase two. This is a spectacular display of distraction techniques, and frankly, a medical marvel, as they are able to forget in a matter of seconds every skill they've mastered since birth. Including wiping their own butts, using a spoon, sitting on a sofa without falling, and using anything resembling human language. The ceaseless cries of "Mommy" are replaced by a series of demands befitting a hostage situation.
"Before we let you work, we have a few requirements that need to be met."
These requests vary anywhere from relatively small demands such as fetching a tissue from the box six inches from where they're sitting to more complicated existential questions such as "what is the meaning of life?" and "when can we go to Disneyland?" Satisfying each child is the parenting equivalent of spinning plates, and if you do manage to keep them all in the air for a few minutes so that you can attempt to read an article on Facebook, they will simply plow into you like a bulldozer, cutting off all efforts at the source.
This marks the beginning of phase three, otherwise known as the death wish stage. This is the point where your children's verbal attacks have been neutralized, you've sat down at your desk and they can hear the irritatingly efficient sounds of pens scratching on paper and fingers clacking on keyboards, and they realize that if they are going to win the war over your attention they are going to have to up the stakes. They are going to have to do something so outlandish, so dangerous, and so stupid that it freezes your blood and stops your brain from functioning beyond a primitive level.
You will know your children have entered phase three because suddenly the house will fade into an ominous silence, like the eerie calm before a storm. No one is yelling and no one is asking for perfectly spherical ice cubes or less wet water. For one glorious moment you will be able to hear yourself think, and right about the time you reach a triumphant epiphany you will realize that horror that is about to unfold in the other room. Like an oracle of doom you will see flashes of raging fires, collapsing bridges, and Lego explosions.
At this point you will abandon your hard-earned revelation (which will slink back into the recesses of your brain along with eighth grade algebra, where you left your keys, and what it felt like to sleep for more than six hours a night) and burst into the room where you will find one or more of the following scenes: a child suspended upside down between the sofa and the wall, an unidentified liquid dripping from the walls and ceiling, the family dog eating the contents of a discarded diaper, someone using the stove to warm their naked butt cheeks, and someone mixing all the colors of Play-Doh together into one brown lump. It's bedlam.
Whether or not you are aware of it, your children have beaten you.
Whether or not you are aware of it, your children have beaten you. They have your king in checkmate position and they are simply waiting for you to realize it and concede. Resistance at this point is futile, and you might as well close your laptop, put away your cleaning supplies, close the dishwasher, and hang up the phone. You're done. And they know it. Like predators, they can sense your desperation and their own impending victory.
Then, without warning, they enter phase four: the angel phase. This is where they climb down from the rafters, put down the sharp knives, and put the gum back in their mouths, and they snuggle you into a big hug. They tell you they love you and you forgive them, because after all, what could be more important than interacting with your children while they are still young and want your attention? So you sit down with them on the sofa and ask them about their day.
But they don't answer because . . . television.