As a parent, there are childhood developmental phases that you know are coming–learning to walk, eating solid food, starting kindergarten. Then there are phases you cannot wait for–learning to wipe, comes to mind. And then there are the phases that you didn’t even know are phases until one day your child doesn’t do them anymore. Like the last time they say “back and forest” instead of “back and forth” and you feel a weird ache. Like you’ve been cheated. Someone should have told you that was the last time!
The last couple of weeks Zev has been learning to ride a bike and I’ve realized that he, as the youngest, is still in a phase that I didn’t realize was a phase with the older two. No, it’s not the riding a bike without training wheels–I knew about that one. He is in the “watch me!” phase.
Somewhere around the time the kids begin to talk, they entered the “watch me!” phase. Mae, as the oldest, had a long, luxurious beginning to her “watch me!” phase. I must have watched her climb and slide and climb and slide a billion times. Each time she was more delighted than the next and each time it didn’t count unless I was watching. Lalo, as the second child entered his “watch me!” phase a little earlier. Toddling over to me and grabbing my fingers with his own chubby, little hand in order to show me something he couldn’t quite articulate but really wanted me to see before Mae had my attention again. Zev–the youngest, announced his “watch me!” phase from the top of the stairs. He would stand on the precipice of the stairs and yell, “Zevvie, poming down!” And proceed to smiley widely as I stood at the bottom and watched him (/stood ready to catch him) as he took the stairs, one…..at….a…time.
If I close my eyes, I can almost hear their little voices. Watch this. Watch this! Mommy, watch now! Mommy, look! Their voice full of delight and pride. It’s not a question or a request–Mommy, is what I’m doing awesome? It’s a command. Mommy–you must see this now or you will miss out!
Zev still has this delight and childish pride in his accomplishments. Every shot of the basketball–Mommy, watch this! Every leap from bed to bed–Mommy, watch! Every silly face–Mommy, you gotta see this!
In Spanish, the word for look or watch is mira. It was the same monosyllabic staccatic intensity of watch or look. And now, every time I hear it, I think of this childhood phase. People say it a lot. To their kids, to adults they are explaining things to, to someone trying to park a car. And each time, I hear the echo: Watch this, Mommy!
I wonder when the other kids stopped doing this. They still want to show me things they’ve done, sometimes. Mae, will ask me to listen her piano song, sometimes. Every once in awhile Lalo will want to show me something. But he does it in a grown up kid kinda way. He plays it cool, doesn’t beg or yell and also doesn’t reveal what he wants me to see. Mommy, come here. I want to show you something.
I admit I sometimes don’t have patience for this and will say, exasperatedly, Just tell me what it is. I’m not walking into your room to see your lava lamp bubble again. I’ve seen it!
Maybe kids leave the “watch me!” phase because adults tell them in a million subtle ways–old news! I’m not watching any more. They burst that childish bubble of pride and delight young children feel as naturally as breathing. When they want us to watch, it’s not like they are seeking approval but more like they are giving us their pride and asking us not to drop it. And then, we do.
I was the middle of a bunch of kids, so I don’t remember wanting my parents to watch my every move. Perhaps I was too young to remember. Perhaps there were too many of us to give that kind of undivided attention to. But I do remember being a teenager and not feeling compelled to tell my parents about a poem I wrote that the teacher liked but also the complete elation I felt when my dad whooped and hollered and rang a cowbell (hello, Idaho!) when I spiked the ball in a volleyball game. Someone is watching!
Now I feel a little childish when I present something to my parents to see. Here’s an essay I wrote. Here’s something the kids did that was funny. Here’s something I’m excited about.
But the thing is, my parents lap it up. They are hungry for these details that make up a life.
And I am, too. Because the “watch me!” phase is about sharing delight, I miss knowing what makes my children happy. Mae, why are you laughing out loud at your book? Lalo, what is it about that lava lamp that you love?
I know what makes Zev happy these days. It’s his bike. And it’s learning a new skill that is, as far as I can tell–mind-blowing. His favorite place to ride is in the plaza, where he can do laps. The wide sidewalk full of people strolling around the plaza is the perfect place to practice his ducking and weaving. It’s also the perfect opportunity for me to practice my poker face as I try not to let on the panic I feel as he barely misses an old lady and heads straight toward a stone bench only to swerve toward the man walking a dog and ever so slightly turns to somehow make it around each new obstacle. He comes barreling toward me saying, “Mommy! Did you see you that? I did it! Help me stop, Mommy?” (Did I mention he hasn’t figured out how to stop, yet?)
After a few laps (which is all my heart can handle), we left the plaza, hand and hand, and Zev, in his elation, was struggling to find the right word for what happened.
I’m perfect! Well, I’m not quite perfect. No, I’m great! No, I’m better than great. I’m amazing! I’m wonderful! I’m amazing! I’m somewhere between amazing and great! Mommy, don’t you think I’m amazing?
Yes, yes. I do. And I’m so glad I was watching!