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Attention economy

We have an attention economy in our house.

The attention we all want is Kendra’s.

“Mama, look!” Theo will say, demanding one-on-one attention on his latest dance, lip-sync, costume or performance.

Ben will barge in with a question. “Mama! Can I…” [usually associated with gaining access to a specific piece of technology]

“Mama!” Addie will holler, showcasing her latest illustrated work of art and storytelling.

But Rosie is the primary advertiser. “Mama!” she’ll declare.

“Hi mama,” she’ll chirp, and cheerily climb onto her lap.

“Mama?” she’ll call, looking for Kendra from around a corner.

“Mama!” she’ll exclaim, worried if there’s no response.

“Mamaaaa,” she’ll wail, if it turns out Kendra’s out and she’s stuck with dad, who just won’t do.

Kendra graciously grants this coveted attention to each of her demanding devotees. Mere listening is not enough, they require eye contact. “Look at me?” Theo will say, whenever we attempt passive “mm-hmms.” He needs engagement, and will be appeased by nothing less.

It’s like sunlight, for photosynthesizing plants. Keep steadily baking under that light, and you’re growing. You’re greening. You’re good. She’s got eyes like a sunbeam, and our family is entirely solar powered.

Tonight at dinner, Theo’s lips were stinging. Cracked lips and citrusy foods made for a distraught Theodore. “Dey aw CWACKED?!” he moaned, erupted into volcanic tears, and stumbled over to Kendra, who was still trying to eat her own meal.

Rosie spotted to the shift of Theo attention, and pushed her plate closer to Kendra, like a cartoon cat, itching to be noticed.

Kendra soon had two small people on her, again, while her own dinner was unfinished. (Don’t worry, I took Theo away.)

In that moment, I saw Kendra’s lack of arms, lack of nourishment, lack of lap. She’s not the sun; she’s a plant herself, craning for nourishment.

And there I am, across the table from here — am I another plant, bending to gain from her glow? Another advertiser, craving hits of Kendra attention? Jockeying for position in the list of never-ending demands for eye-contact and noticing? Or can I somehow be a sun, offering some form of growth-generating warmth, some of my own attention and care, to bring some of the nourishment that’s maybe missing from the life of a misunderstood sun.