My five-year-old daughter Clara is good at many things. But she is truly great at only one: gaining and keeping attention.
The relief that comes with putting a child to bed at the end of a day is one of the great joys of parenting. It’s a glorious feeling, a bit like leaving work at five o’clock on a Friday. You just can’t wait to get out the door and get the weekend started.
Now imagine if, as you’re on your way out the door, one of your co-workers asked you to perform some menial task. I am talking about the kind of menial task that makes you want to pluck out your own toe nails. Collating, envelope licking – that kind of thing.
Then imagine if, after you politely obliged this request, a request which would have seemed annoying at 9AM on Monday, the same co-worker collapsed into the tell-tale convulsions of an obviously staged heart attack, and asked you to stick around until the paramedics arrived.
Would you be able to hold it together?
Our Clara is a bit like David Blaine, the “magician” famous for constantly testing the limits of his own endurance. Clara has become famous, on an admittedly smaller stage, by constantly testing the limits of my patience.
She is craftier than your imaginary co-worker, but not by much. With her it’s about the sudden, invisible injury or the All Points Bulletin for the missing teddy bear. When faced with the unpleasantness of dinner, brushing teeth, or getting into bed, Clara’s grand strategy – and this is broadly true of all children between the ages of three and nine – is to kill as much time as possible.
I don’t mean waste time, I mean kill time. Wasting time can be fun – just go watch David Blaine the next time he dangles himself off the Brooklyn Bridge in a Plexiglas box. I actually mean killing time: destroying minutes so that no one else can use them. This is killing time, Clara-style.
“Yes? What is it?”
“Daddy, look at me!”
“I can’t look right now.”
“Look what I’m doing!”
“Can you please tell me what you’re doing? I’m busy right now.”
“But I really want you to look.”
“Clara, I’m operating on your brother’s brain right now and I’m getting to the part where I really need to concentrate.”
“Daddy, please look.”
“Okay. What? What is it? I’m looking.”
“Look what I can do with my elbow.” She is twisting it up behind her back.
“Oh, wow. That’s truly an innovation – a great leap forward for all of mankind. Thanks for letting me in on it. ”
But five year-olds don’t do sarcasm.
“You’re welcome,” she says.
And so it is that she spends most of her time tricking me into looking at things I don’t really want to see. In a way, the David Blaine comparison reveals a lot. Yeah, David Blaine wants you to think he’s a great magician. But I get the sense that the “magic” is sort of secondary to the attention he draws to himself.
In fact, what he does isn’t really magic at all. If he could get the same result some other way, like faking coronary arrest at your job, he probably would. Just like our Clara.
In fairness, Clara is interested in attention because she has yet to fully mature. I’m not sure what Mr. Blaine’s excuse is. Maybe it’s the same. In any event, he’s reached an age where he can be expected to know better.
Our Clara’s at an age where she just expects to be loved, all day long, no matter what she’s doing, and no matter what you’re doing. Luckily, she is.