One bright and sunny weekend afternoon, my kids were running in and out of the house demanding everything from popsicles to water buckets and shovels. I began to feel as if I couldn’t go a minute without one or both of them beckoning me for something. This is a common experience for parents; the barrage of “Mom!” “Mom!” “Mom!” “Dad!” “Dad!” “Daddy!” “Dad!” throughout the day.
In the middle of this onslaught on this particular day, though, I had a thought: just how often DO they ask me for something? Could I actually come up with a number at the end of the day?
Right then I decided to conduct an experiment. I was going to count the number of times my children beckoned for my attention during a typical weekend day spent together at home. This wasn’t going to be an exercise in “look at what I have to deal with all day” martyrdom that some parents wallow in. It was a genuine curiosity about the behavior of my kids, not unlike my wanting to know exactly how many band-aids I put on them in any given month.
The Grand Experiment
The parameters of the experiment were simple. I would count the number of times my children call me by my name and/or ask me something.
Keeping track of a number in my head through an entire day would be difficult. Writing a tick mark on paper would be too distracting. Also, I didn’t want to know the number as the day went on because that might influence how I interacted with the kids.
I thought a tally counter might work; one of those “clickers” you could tuck away in your hand. On my way home from work one afternoon I purchased a basic tally counter from the local office supply shop.
Now the challenge would be going about another typical day with the kids while hiding the fact that I was tracking their behavior and making mysterious clicking noises. If my son were to discover this new little toy he would spend most of his day trying to steal it from me. I decided to make the toy available to both kids for a couple of days after I bought it. Once they got bored with it and left it abandoned on a random shelf I reclaimed it and prepared for the experiment.
It Started Early
After putting the kids to bed on Friday I set the clicker on my nightstand and went to sleep. At some point in the night I was awakened to the sound of my bedroom door opening. “Daddy, it’s too hot in my bedroom…”
My daughter flopped on the bed and was asleep again in a few seconds. I looked at my phone: 4:02 AM. I clicked the tally counter and went back to sleep. That’s one.
Bacon, Eggs, and Clicks on the Side
Several hours later it was time for breakfast. Weekend breakfasts are a wonderful ritual at our house. I break out the electric griddle and let the kids practice their flapjack flipping skills.
I tucked the counter into my apron pocket and clicked while I cooked. This first hour of the day was so filled with questions that I thought I was over my head with this silly experiment. But I soon settled in to reflexively clicking the counter as I moved around the kitchen.
“Daddy, can I have some juice?” ::click:: “Can I have a vitamin?” ::click:: “Can I flip the pancakes?” ::click:: “Daddy, can we watch a movie?” ::click:: “Can we ride our bikes today?” ::click:: “Can we have ice cream for breakfast?” ::click:: “Dad!” ::click:: “Dad, look what I can do!” ::click:: “Do you know how to braid my hair like Elsa?” ::click:: “Can I eat that?” ::click:: “Can I have the pink plate?” ::click clickitty-click click click::
After breakfast I needed to get the kitchen cleaned up. This is typically the time I let the kids watch part of a movie or a tv show. They remain occupied on the couch and I can get all of the cleaning done with little interruption. Never before have I truly understood the power of the “electronic babysitter” than during this particular moment. After the flurry of clicking during breakfast, I had just two clicks in a little over thirty minutes. That television isn’t so bad, I guess.
A Walk to the Grocery Store
Now that breakfast and the kitchen cleaning was done, it was time to get out and about. Next up was a trip to the grocery store just a few blocks away. The weather was beautiful so I walked while the kids rode their bikes. I decided against taking the counter with me and thought I could just keep track of a number in my head.
“Daddy, what kind of car is that?” “Why are we going this way?” “Daddy, watch how fast I can ride.” “Daddy, I need help!” “Can I have a bag of chips?” “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy, can I have chips?” “Can I have this?” “Can I have this?” “Daddy, can I have THIS?” “Can we buy some of that?” “Daddy, brother is pushing me!” “Daddy, can we go to pet store?” “Daddy, I’m tired.” “Daddy, can I push the buttons?” “Daddy, can you carry me home?”
In stark contrast to the two clicks generated during the peaceful time after breakfast, this 40-minute excursion generated 74 clicks. I set down the groceries in the kitchen, picked up the counter and advanced it 74 times.
“Daddy, what are you doing?”, my daughter asked. ::click:: Seventy-five.
The Final Tally
I will move this story to the end so I don’t bore you with the click-fest that was our evening. It was filled with our typical Saturday events: riding bikes, playing chase games in the backyard, grilling burgers for dinner, and a slumber party in the living room. By 9:30 both kids were sound asleep and I knew they would not be awake until morning. The experiment was over and the tally counter was returned to the nightstand. I had avoided looking the number all day so I was excited to see the result.
The counter showed 315. Three hundred and fifteen utterances of my name and/or a questions asked of me in about twelve hours of interaction with my kids.
As I said earlier, this wasn’t an exercise in martyrdom to show how difficult parenting can be. I see that 315 on the counter and I am amazed. That number is evidence of how connected I am to my kids. During any given day my children are constantly asking of and listening to me. Well, mostly they are just asking.
That counter shows how often my kids want to interact with me and how many opportunities I have to help them in some way each day. I know that as time goes by the click count will get smaller. I feel fortunate to be that important to them right now, even if they are only asking for ice cream for breakfast.
Now it’s time for this Daddy ::click:: to get some sleep.