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Tim Lloyd Wright

The day I put down my mobile and discovered my four-year-old daughter

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Yesterday, Ella came to me with what seemed such a complicated request. It was Friday at 4pm. I’d worked since nine or so and I had intended to finish a little early, but my mind was full of anxiety about tying up loose ends before the weekend.

“Can we go outside, and go to the hill and have a picnic with a blanket,” she asked.

I squinted as I looked up from her straightforward expression, to the laptop, and then to check the time on the phone in my hand. Then I rehearsed the following brush-off in my head: “Ellaaaa, you know I have to get dinner ready, and I have to work to finish off. You know that. Don’t you!”

Lately, a creeping mobile phone addiction sucks me in and away from the things and people I love. The truly urgent and important stuff, like feeding children before hunger-despair sets in, or getting out the door for school on time in the morning, won’t wait while I check Facebook for a ‘like’.

And suddenly what starts as an escape from the banal, workaday chores leads to me getting irritated, stressed, upset and angry.

So, when we started buddying recently I told Ursula that what I most wanted to shift in my life was to be calm and kind, not be irritable or angry, and that I wanted things to be harmonious at home.

The phone contributes to me acting up, and it leads also to some (understandable!) attention-seeking behaviour from other family members.

Ella has been wanting to go barefoot when it’s three degrees above zero outside. Ossian has been doing his hulk act in response to the simplest requests, like “dinner’s ready”, or “please get dressed”.

So I said to my new buddy: “I think I’m going to meditate every day.”

But Ursula had another idea.

“Give the kids some extra attention. They’re acting up because they feel you’re not noticing them,” she said.

She told me how with her grown up children she finds herself unable to make up a shortfall of attention that built up when there were some challenges at home.

“It’s not easy to make up lost ground now they’re older and busier,” she said.

I was very struck by what she said and took it to heart. I made a daily agreement which I love to bits. It may be the most profound habit I’ve set out to establish.

Three times a day I give conscious attention to a family member.

Of course it’s simple, yet buddy support extends a simple agreement into day after day after day where it can work its magic.

Of course it’s simple, yet buddy support extends a simple agreement into day after day after day where it can work its magic.

I have a picture of it in my mind to help me. It’s hearing a request from a child and immediately bending down to their level, really stopping to listen and really NOT having a screen up. Doing this has made the most amazing difference.

I’m on a plane now and when I left home I had the warmest, longest goodbye hug from little Ella. It’s emotional. I have to gulp as I write that she and I are closer now as a result of keeping this ludicrously simple habit for just two weeks.

It’s partly because of the picnic.

You see I caught her little request, prompted by my agreement.

I felt my knees bending. I took her in and asked about her plan – the blanket, the picnic, the hillside.

I released my grip on the mobile phone and pushed aside the laptop and said simply: “Yes, okay, let’s go.”

It was so very, very simple. I found a blanket, some raisins and a packet of broken biscuits. Within a minute we were through the balcony door, down the stairs into the garden and out by the little gate at the end.

I suspect she’ll remember the 40 minutes that followed for the rest of her life. Perhaps I will too. And being a little girl, on a larger than life adventure in the afternoon sun with her dad, I know there’s a good chance those memories will fill out and become a childhood – as children’s memories can.

Something happened in me too.

All I had to do was give her those moments when she was heard, and then follow along. I found myself climbing on parts of the small hillside behind the house I’d never been to. I discovered a new rock plateau big enough for a single-blanket picnic which actually overlooks my house. It’s within 5m of the garden fence! I walked a new pathway to my nearest neighbours to the west which I haven’t walked in the 16 years I’ve lived here.

And her adventure sort of overtook me. That sunset seemed to drench me. I was a child again. Awake to something wonderful.

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