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Learning to pay attention

I know I talk a lot about how hard I find things with Kai some days. I’ve become so aware of the negative voice into which I seem to slip:

“I’m exhausted”,
“He’s so difficult”
“Why does he have to make everything so complicated?”

That’s me off-loading.

I need to do it because he is difficult. But it’s only one side of the coin and I’m beginning to see that the other side is far richer, and far more significant. It’s a side I need to concentrate on more, need to talk about more. Because it is the ‘good’ things that define Kai far more than the ‘bad’, and actually affect and enrich our time together far, far more.

This post is about one of the good things. One of many that make my boy so special and being his mother, being in his company, such a privilege and such a gift.

I realised something recently. Kai’s lack of language is forcing me to pay attention.

Without a simple word or words to hear, understand, maybe instantly dismiss, I have to become a detective, hunting for clues of meaning. The body language he uses, the intonation of his voice, his gestures and made-up signs. What is he telling me?

Kai is incredibly sensitive to noise at the moment. It’s his big obsession. Sounds seem to affect him in a multitude of different ways. Of course there are the bad noises, the ones that make him quiver and shake and cling and scream. Or that will seem to mesmerise him and leave him wired and overstimulated for hours afterwards. The hoover’s the biggy here, and the food processor and the hair dryer and the shrill noises on some toys. These sounds cause frustration and tears and stress.

But then there are the sounds he likes, the sounds of sirens in the distance or aeroplanes in the sky, or a dog barking, or the sound of a bin lorry or a million other different noises he will detect in his environment instantly, no matter how quiet or how much background noise there is. His little eyes light up, he cups his ear and excitedly he will grab and point and dance and babble to tell me in his language “Listen Mummy! Listen!”

And listen I do. And I hear the thing he has heard. The thing I have nearly always failed to notice. And with my boy we will hunt for the source of the noise, scanning the sky, or stopping to work out which direction it’s coming from, or listening to what the dog might be saying and if another will answer back. And when we work it out I will share in his glee and his excitement. If it’s music that has caught his attention I will pick up on the sway and bounce of his body as he tries to find the rhythm, and I will listen to the beat and the way the music fits together.

I’m getting better at the listening. I’m getting better at picking up on the source of his interest. I’m hearing the bird song and the sound of the wind.

Did you know that the world is filled with such beautiful and fascinating sound?

Of course there are the visual interests too. What it he has seen? What is it that has caught his eye and his attention? A cat darting under a car, a bird on the TV aerial, a bus or a digger in the distance, the light flashing on the answering machine. Again, all things I wouldn’t have noticed. Again, all things I am learning to see.

I am getting better at looking. I am getting better at noticing the tiny details. I am seeing the shine of a treasure in the hedgerow and the way the leaves dance in the gutter.

Did you know that the world is filled with such endlessly intoxicating things to look at?

Why would I want to change this way of perceiving the world?

Yes, the lack of language, the sensitivity and frustrations Kai experiences, sometimes they make my days more exhausting and overwhelming than I feel like I can handle.

But in the moments in between, when I feel like this boy is opening my eyes and my ears in ways I never could have predicted, I am so glad of it all, every little bit.

He is making me a better mother. He is making me a better person, and a better writer too. I really believe that.

And I am so grateful for it, so grateful for him.

What have your children taught you? How has responding to their personalities and their needs changed you?


  1. Baba and I are very similar, he is heavily into pointing at the moment and you do have to figure out what it is he pointing to. You have to look as he could have seen a cd under the unit or something like that that you would have normally missed. I think it is the fact that you have to almost stop, don’t you to see what they are looking at. Whereas in our normal life we would have just gone past it. That is the difference.
    Its such a joy to talk about the good side, as I think we all get bogged down with the bad, the tantrums, the illnesses, which we have both had a lot off and everything else, and forget the little smiles, the cuddles, and the experiencing the new. What a lovely post xx

    • It’s really making me slow down. Me, that races through everything at a million miles an hour. It’s a good thing for me :)

  2. As I’ve said before Kai sounds so like J was at that age, especially with his difficult traits. J was extremely late in learning to talk so I had to become a master of babble, cries and baby signin (thank god for Mr Tumble!) J has an amazing set of eyes, he will spot something that I havent spotted yet, often a train or mcdonalds in the distance hidden behind something, but he will have seen it no matter what, its me who pays if I havent spotted it in time :D


    • Yes the ‘lost in translation’ game is by far the hardest bit. If you can figure it out, it’s wonderful, but the difficulties come when I can’t! I do feel like it’s getting easier though – he’s signing more which helps A LOT :) x

  3. Josie you’ve found perfect motherhood right there in those moments. Accepting your child for being him, enjoying his company & living in the moment. Very special.

    None of us as adults are perfect but we all struggle when are children are a bit “different” to their peers. Perfectly natural to feel that way but very hard to cope with. I wish when Eldest Daughter had been Kai’s age I’d been able to be more positive but it was terribly hard. Well done you.

    MD xx

    • I’m not going to pretend that I’m suddenly a serene, endlessly positive shining example of motherhood ;) But I am learning to focus on the good things a little more and it’s helping a lot.

      Thank you x

  4. potentialmummyb

    That’s fantastic! I’m new to writing and I’m having to train myself to see things differently, to observe things I’d usually ignore. It sounds like you have the perfect little helper to make sure you never miss a magic moment of nature or the beauty held within an every day situation. If only we could all hold onto that view of the world that makes everything so much fun and so much of a fantasy…

    • He is a very good writer’s muse :) I can’t bare the thought that one day he will ‘forget’ to see the world like this. What is it about growing up that changes us like this? That makes us so blind to the little things? It’s a bit sad really!

  5. It’s so fascinating when you listen and suddenly rediscover the world, isn’t it? I love doing that, also trying to really understand fears and frustrations and what triggers them.
    Have you tried baby signing? It’s often a great way to open up a new way of communicating. I tried it early on (thinking it may help link the two languages we use) but never followed it through, but my daughter is very much in love with Mr Tumble and has just picked it up from watching, so she’ll sign to me without prompting.

    • Yes baby signing has been a real life-saver. We’ve only started doing it with him relatively recently but he’s picking it up quickly and it’s really helping him to communicate what he wants. Making a big difference :)

  6. a wonderfully uplifting post. What a great way to look at things, yes he may be a bit ‘different’ or whatever but when you look at the world through his eyes how new and exciting it all is!

    • He’s not so different really. Well, not so different to me :) I like the way he sees things – I hope it lasts a long time x

  7. I think it’s brilliant that you have found that balance and are using Kai’s ways of seeing the world to your benefit.

    It amazes me how much littlies communicate, without speech. In the last week Abigail has made it quite clear that I cannot use the laptop at all while she is awake. She also has discovered ‘being funny’ and that making me laugh is fun.

    • They do communicate so well don’t they? But then they say, even as adults, that only a fraction of what we communicate is conveyed by speech. That is so sweet about her finding her sense of humour. I remember that with Kai and it used to really make me smile!

  8. Great post. There is no right or wrong, only perception. Yours, Kai’s, everyones. To be able to empathise with another’s perception is a great gift.

    • I agree. And it’s our own perception that gets in the way! I am learning that I do not need to change him, I need to change me. It’s a big challenge but I’m getting there.

  9. It’s so good to keep your eye on the positives as well. I’m going to make a special effort to do that today.

  10. To see the world through a child’s eyes must be amazing , I wish I could remember what it was like for me to be learning & taking all these new things in. I’m going to look at Oli’s good things today , I’m going to ignore the whining and the temper tantrums that he has recently learnt and look for all that is good :D x

    • It’s a bit sad isn’t it? That as adults we have forgotten this? Maybe that’s what having children is all about – to help us rediscover it!

  11. vwallop

    This is exactly why I am so excited about travelling with our children. They are so observant and so delighted by so many tiny little things, that it will truly be an education for me.
    We live under a flight path and for about four years (two years each with two boys) it felt like I had to marvel at every single plane that went over. It got rather old after a while. My boys were also completely freaked out by noises for a while (massive tantrum when you switch on the microwave, that’s not annoying in the least), they usually grow out of it. Enjoy it while it lasts x

    • Yes I think most toddlers go through a really sensitive phase. It’s a shame it can’t last in some ways!

      Seeing the world, literally, through your three’s eyes is going to be an incredible experience. One I hope you will capture so we can all share in too!

  12. mummymania

    it’s so great when we get those eureka moments that jump out like a firework and light the dark sky of our minds when we sometimes get overwhelmed with all the crappy stuff. And even when you were writing about the bad stuff, we could read between the lines to see that the love of the good bits was there too…

    • Aw thank you.

      I seem to be having quite a few Eureka moments lately. Definitely feel like I’m understanding him more and it’s helping a lot. And you are right, it’s a little bit of light and just enough to see us through the dark times. Lots of love xx

  13. That is such a beautiful post. I love that you walk his walk and see things through his eyes. It’s precious, isn’t it? And such a great way to meet our children across the bridge. Our children are our teachers in so many ways.

  14. mummylimited

    You are so right about looking at the positives. I refuse to let my view of Mini Mck be dictated by his challenging sleep. He has taught me to take a breath and slow down as he doesn’t like quick transitions. I can’t rush him out of the car and straight into his highchair. We need to take a moment to play or talk or walk around the house a bit. He really does have the right idea, so much better than rushing about all the time.

    • Sympathies for you with sleep issues. As you can probably tell from the name of the blog sleep has been a big problem in our house! Kai is exactly the same with transitions – we have to do lots of talking about things, lots of preparation. But it does help me to slow down!

      You have a friendly ear here if you ever want a good moan about sleep – really have been there (and still there!) and I know how hard it is x

  15. Beautiful.

    I think parenting is about accepting each kid and their uniqueness. There is a hebrew saying that goes something like teach a kid according to his own way. So true.

    • I like that saying. That’s something I’m trying very hard to follow at the moment. Thank you Susie x

  16. I love this, we’re all so different and sometimes taking a minute to appreciate that fact can take us to some wonderful places. Did you ever see the bit in the film Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams as the teacher got his whole class to stand on their desk to see the world from a different perspective? I remember my HV doing much the same thing on reverse when Sam was first born…telling me to crawl around my house to see things from his point of view. Parenthood changes everything, it takes away so much of what we used to take for granted but it also offers many gifts….sometimes you just have to look hard to find them.

    Apols for the ramble, it’s been a tough day and I’ve had a glass of wine. This was the perfect post to cheer me up xx

  17. i was so impressed, Josie, when we met and you were so tuned-in to Kai – you do *actually* stop and listen with him and get down to his level to try to understand. That’s an impressive skill, and not one everyone possesses! Moo is a little more obvious in her actions, but I only really realise how tuned in I am when someone else – daddy, or nanny or papa, are interacting with her and are missing something I know she is trying to tell them – although I’m never entirely sure *how* I know!

    He’s a super wee man, and the two of you are lucky to have each other.

  18. What a great post. I know things are tough but good outways the bad. You have shown a great way to look at things. Thank you xx

  19. It’s so easy to overlook the detail and color of life in the whir of our day to day – it’s wonderful that by closely tuning into Kai you both learn more about him and find your eyes open to the many finer but beautiful pieces of the world around you. It’s still early days for my daughter LLC and me but I look forward to rediscovering the world through her eyes as I do my best to get to know her.

  20. Everything you said is so true. We overlook all the noises and sights we have come to take for granted, and our kids are great at drawing attention to them. It’s amazing the things they notice, and it teaches us to look at the world, really look at it. My daughter doesn’t have many words either, but is very definite about what she does and doesn’t want. It can often take a little while to work it out though, but it helps me get to know her better. It is indeed a wonderful world full of wondrous things (despite the awful things that go on), and who better than our children to teach us not to take it for granted :)

  21. My children have also taught me about the amazing sights and sounds in the world. I don’t really look and listen like they do, because for them everything is new. They’re not used to discounting background noise like I am.

    My children have also taught me to be more optimistic. There are a lot of things that I don’t want to do because they sound like too much work. But my kids? They want to do EVERYTHING. When I do get up from my chair and follow them, I am often pleasantly surprised. And so I no longer discount things in the way that I used to, and I am more upbeat and ready to experiment and play.

  22. How is it that we haven’t discovered each other before? I’m so happy to have found you! (Here via Amy Spencer) I too am a mama to a sensitive boy (two actually, though the second one isn’t so sensitive)…and a writer. I’m bookmarking your blog to come back to tomorrow to dig around some more. xo!

  23. It’s great to see the world through a child’s ees. Thanks for reminding me.

  24. motherhood is amazing! It is a wonderful blog, as always. I have noticed that Sarita and loads of her friends have such sensitive hearing too. The other day she complained that the sound of hand whisking batter was too loud – and obviously hot air hand dryers are an impossibility. She seems to be growing out it slowly, but is is yet another factor to build into the mix, avoiding loud noises.
    Also, my Mum has a hugely unscientific theory that late talkers are the most intelligent children. She is convinced by it, for what it is worth.

  25. Being a Mum has made me slow down a lot, I notice the little things I probably wouldn’t have before and can share them with K.
    I also don’t get very embarrassed anymore – once you’ve had a baby screaming on a bus ride (it was an echoey museum yesterday) you realise that this is what children do and learn to ignore disapproving looks!
    That’s an adorable photo of Kai x

  26. Fascinating post. It is good to slow down and take notice of the things around you, so often we’re too busy with “bigger” things that we miss all the little stuff that makes the world so beautiful and interesting.


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