Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eye Contact

            Michelle’s been telling me to, “Make sure you get eye contact with Celia” every time we play together now. She read it in a book somewhere. Apparently, it’s supposed to improve the child’s self esteem or something.
            At first I thought it was silly, a light-hearted and easy task. But then, when I started trying to pin her down and actually look into her eyes I found it a lot more difficult than it sounded.
            Celia is the epitome of energy. She squirms from one thing to the next without a breath in between. She’ll be chasing the cat one minute, and running back and forth with a ball the next. Then, she’ll climb up the stairs in search of something, back down again, start jumping at my leg like she wants me, then run away again when she gets that little spurt of attention.
            How on earth can a guy look his daughter in the eye when she’s that squirmy?
            One thing we do have going for us is reading. She absolutely loves books, and is spurred on by Michelle’s weekly trips to the library, after which there are two or three new stacks sitting on the coffee table.
            Celia will read through all of them in the first day. She absorbs anything in front of her (except for the ones with inadequate art), and eagerly asks for more. Problem is, she’s always sitting in the lap, looking away. No eye contact. So, yes, she’s calmed down and nestled in with us, but no, she’s not looking into the eyes. Hmm.
            Yesterday I told myself I’d put in that extra effort to lock eyes with her, even if only for three seconds. When I got home from work she leaped into my arms, and stayed there for awhile looking everywhere except my eyes. It’s harder than it sounds, I realized, as she pointed and showed me all the things that interested her that day.
            Then it was game time. She’s just starting to figure out hide-and-seek, so Michelle and I would take turns covering our eyes while the other one would go hide with her or vice versa. Celia took to the game with gusto, and although she isn’t particularly a good hider, we’d pretend not to see her for a little while before suddenly “seeing” her. At this point in the game everybody needs to shriek. Daddies. Mommies. Daughters. It makes things a whole heckuva lot more exciting and it brings a huge smile to my face every time.
            So, we ran around shrieking and hiding for a good forty minutes, until she was hungry. I thought, “Here’s my opportunity!” but no, alas, she is feeding herself these days and doesn’t really want to look at me while she’s doing it.
            She made her customary mess, then I cleaned her up in the sink and we went into the living room to read some stories. After a few stories she got the bulgy look in her eyes, and I knew it was time for soiling the diaper. Sure enough, she began to grunt, her face strained and turned red, and a certain smell entered the room.
            “Let’s go change your diaper,” I said to her, taking her hand.
            We walked into her room and I lay her on the changing table. In that moment, that unexpected blip of time where I checked to see how she was doing, we suddenly locked eyes.
            I grinned, and stared into her eyes as long as she let me. She smiled back and said, “Daddy.”
            “Yes, my Sweet Pea.”
            She kept looking at me as she started patting her diaper.
            “Yes, I’m going to change your diaper.”
            “Eeeugh!” she said, and looked away.
            And that was it. Short, but very sweet.
            I now understand why Michelle keeps telling me to make eye contact with her. It takes some effort, but the reward is huge, not just for Celia, but for me.
            I think I fell in love with her all over again.

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