One of my favorite aspects of the parenting philosophy known as "Love and Logic" is the way a parent is encouraged to practice presence with a child by sitting next to them and simply narrating the things they are doing. Not judging, not even commenting... just narrating.
As in, "Matthew, now you're picking up the truck. Now you're driving the truck. Now the truck and the car are all lined up. Now the truck is driving over the car and down to the ground. Oh look, you grabbed the purple balloon and now the truck is driving on top of the balloon."
It may seem simple or boring, but the Love and Logic parenting strategy is built on the concept that the parent attends to the child in a neutral way...that it's of great value to a child when the parent simply sits with them and notices. When we start to judge or comment, then we lay a bunch of our values or priorities on the child, which gives the child the message that they should play differently or be different than they are. But when we simply notice them and sit beside them, we affirm their personhood and give value to who they already are.
Because of Matthew's delays, I have this tendency to make every interaction with him an opportunity for him to learn and grow. But after a long day at school, with so many demands pressed upon him, I always feel like he needs to come home and simply be. Choose what he wants to do. Play with toys his own way.
So I am practicing the gift of presence by sitting alongside him, noticing aloud what he's doing so he knows I'm attending to him.
I hope this has been a gift to him. But it's most certainly been a gift to ME. I have learned all kinds of things about Matthew simply by sitting beside him and attending to whatever it is he's doing. I see his intelligence. I've learned about how he thinks. I've come to realize some of his preferences that I didn't know before. And I've done it all with a kind of stillness in my own body and heart that allows me to be in relationship with him in a calm and present way.
Freed from any expectations from me, Matthew is also free to enjoy both his playtime and my presence without feeling like he owes me something. I am finding that some of my favorite times with him are during these times of presence.
Sometimes I'm honestly not sure how much Matthew likes me. That might sound like a funny thing to say, but because of his social delays he's not a kid who says "I like you, Mama," or even expresses that sentiment with his body.
But when I sit and attend to him, I know. I know because every so often he will look over at me and hold my gaze, checking to be sure I'm still sitting there. And when I go to get up, he'll sign "sit" + "mama," telling me to sit back down and spend more time with him. And that melts my heart.
How much better my life would be if I could practice presence with everyone I encounter. I flit from one task to another all day long, sometimes barely remembering to take a breath. So my few moments of presence with Matthew are really a break from most of my life's pace.
It also dawns on me that because Matthew is pretty much non-verbal, he probably starts to resent everyone talking around him all the time. So sometimes instead of narrating what he's doing, I simply sit beside him quietly.
Last weekend we were on an island with some friends and late in the morning on Saturday, I took a walk with Matthew riding his skuut bike. We walked quite a distance and I let him set the pace of the walk. We stopped when he wanted to stop. We went extra fast when he felt like doing that too. I can't think of a time when his body was so calm, and he seemed so genuinely happy. His mama was with him, paying attention to him. My phone was put away in my pocket so I wasn't distracted, and I was free to focus on Matthew and our time together.
It was a blessed half hour with my boy, one I would have most definitely missed had I not been committed to giving him the gift of my presence.
There are many things Matthew needs from me as his mama. But perhaps one of the most powerful and lasting is that of my time and focus: of a presence unfettered by the many other distractions that life brings, a gift to him and to me.