If you’ve spent much time around kids, you know they develop their own version of their native language as they start to work things out in the world around them. No matter how many times we try to explain the concept of days and weeks to Cooper (we even put a calendar in his room to help), he still calls today “this week.” So, if you tell him you’re going to do something “later this week,” he thinks you mean later today. And if you accidentally answer the question “Can we go to Target this week?” in the affirmative, you’re going to have to deal with a meltdown when he realizes you meant two or three days from now.
The kid is also a master negotiator. If you’re discussing anything where the amount of time spent doing the thing is negotiable (playing in the bath before getting clean, watching a bit of a show before bed, playing Legos together, letting Mommy rest on the couch before making dinner), Cooper always brings “twelve minutes” to the table. Are you ready to get clean? In twelve minutes! You can watch a few more minutes of TV before bed. Twelve? I don’t think he has a real sense of how long twelve minutes is (because I’ve definitely cheated and called anywhere from three to twenty minutes “twelve”), it just feels relatively substantial to him.
Last night I had a bit of an epiphany. Twelve minutes, in the grand scheme of things, is not that long. But twelve minutes devoted to a single person, where you’re not being pulled in any other direction, and you can give your attention wholly to them, is a pretty big deal. I don’t know that I spend twelve minutes of my day on ONE single activity very often. I’d probably be ashamed to know how often I interrupt myself to check some form of social media. And even if I spend twelve straight minutes on Twitter, my mind’s energy is fractured into however many parts it takes to process each individual tweet, consider whether I’ll comment or retweet or favorite for later. If I’m watching TV, I’m often also reading or playing on my phone or responding to email. There are very few times when I let my mind just do one thing. I feel like that’s an unhealthy way to live.
I’m certainly not the first to wonder about how social media and inter-connectivity can ultimately make us more unsocial and disconnected than we naturally would be, or how it can pull our attention away from being with our kids and living in the moment. I’m definitely not anti-smart phone or anti-Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Words With Friends. My life right now – my job, my relationships, my social life – depends on being connected. I accept that and I enjoy it for the most part.
But for my own mental health, and for the sake of one of the most important relationships in my life, I can commit to giving my son twelve actual, uninterrupted, undistracted minutes this week (and by that I mean today for those of you just skimming this while you’re on the toilet or wherever and who missed the explanation at the top). Twelve is a minimum, obviously, but it’s a good place to start.
Last night, Cooper asked if we could play in the loft before dinner. I was super hungry, but knew that after dinner, the evening would be busy with laundry, getting prepared for the next day, winding down for the evening. So I agreed to do it “for a few minutes.” Predictably, he responded with “twelve?”
I set a timer for twelve minutes on my phone then turned the ringer to silent so I wouldn’t get any notifications except the timer going off. Yes. Twelve minutes. This week. It was glorious.