In each of the classes that I teach, a percentage of a student's final grade is allotted for class participation. The bullet point in the syllabus says something to this effect: Participation in class entails more than bodily presence.
Anyone can show up physically, but showing up mentally and emotionally is another story. Good participation means that you engage, that you contribute, that you roll up your sleeves and get involved. It's highly intentional.
As a mother with three children under six years of age and a job, it's easy to show up physically. I can be in the same room with my kids, close enough in proxemics to let them know of my presence, but be immersed in my own world -- attending to a stack of student papers, checking email, writing a blog post. I can be present bodily, but absent mentally and emotionally.
I don't want this. I want to parent intentionally.
I've never yet met a mother who didn't feel pulled in multiple directions. It doesn't matter whether you're staying at home, working outside the home, or working at home. Life is busy. End of story.
That, in and of itself, is enough reason why I want the time with my children to count. It's why I save my work until the girls nap and after they go to bed. It's why I don't blog every single day. It's why I need to show restraint and avoid getting sucked into a million-and-one online pursuits and blogs and Facebook status updates, tempting as they may be.
I need to be mentally and emotionally present in order to truly participate in the lives of those very precious people in my own home.
I'm not perfect in this regard. There are times when I'm distracted, when I'm not attuned to my kids, but I'm working on it. At the same time, I'm not suggesting that mothers should hover. Kids need independence and free play. They need to solve their own problems, use their imaginations, and learn how to enjoy their own company. Sometimes this requires that they're left alone.
It's all a balance, one I'm working to find each day. Take yesterday, for example. My to-do lists for work and home sprawled onto multiple pages and post-it notes. Brooke wanted to play Candy Land. I could have named roughly seventeen other activities that could have taken precedence, but I laid down on the floor and opened the game.
Brooke doesn't play Candy Land with the cards, mind you. She plays the non-Candy-Land-version-of-Candy-Land.
We walked our little pieces across the board as she narrated a story. We got stuck in the Molasses Swamp. We picked plums off of the Gingerbread Plum Tree. We knocked on the door of the Crooked Peanut Brittle House and pretended that it was a library. Brooke yelled when Kerrington crawled over, swiped one of the pieces, and disturbed the board.
I broke them up and reminded Brooke about sharing. And about not sticking out your tongue and hitting your baby sister on the top of the head with a block.
See how well intentional parenting works?
I cuddled Kerrington on my lap to keep her out of the way. After a half hour we had finished our game-of-sorts, and I put both of the girls down for a nap.
I had been intentional. I knew it. Brooke, although she can't articulate it, knew it.
My to-do lists never have "purposefully engage with your children" written on them, but perhaps they should. It would be my reminder to complete the most important things of the day.