My family has vacationed out in Palm Desert almost every year since I was barely able to read. Thanks to Grandma’s condo and the completion of the 210 freeway, “the Desert” as we call it, quickly became our go-to, easy, vacation spot.
(point of reference: Palm Desert is located 10 miles east of Palm Springs and right in the middle of Retirement central. The median age is somewhere close to 65 and there are probably more golf courses and palm trees than they are people. really. Not exactly the most kid friendly place)
When we were younger the best part by far was the abundance of swimming pools. And when it’s 100 plus degrees outside and you’re under the age of 14 the only thing there really is to do out there is: go swimming. So that’s what we did. And every day we would “pool hop” to one of the gzillion pools around the country club.
Somewhere in time we crossed over to the adult, albeit boring side of life, where we neglected the “pool hopping” and swimming days of our youth and replaced it with sun bathing and chaise lounge-ing. And that is exactly what we did this vacation. Sat. Read. Napped. Ate. And relaxed by the pool. This is all wonderful and serene and peaceful, until some little eager kid, complete with floaties and goggles yells, “watch me, watch me.” And then the dutiful, doting parent lifts their head and watches for that magical moment as the darling child jumps off the edge into the water. Followed by the usual, monotone response “hmm. oh wow, honey.”
And then the cycle repeats. Mom, mom. Watch me. Parent sighs. Looks up. Watches. Child completes the less than impressive feat. Parent gives an ooooo and awwwww. and then again. Here we go. On Monday my sisters and I sat at the pool and were victims to this continuous cycle as two little girls, who under normal circumstances would have been considered quite cute, bickered and badgered to demand their mom’s attention.
Mom, watch me. Watch me.
Now, I am sure I did this as a kid. I am sure I repeatedly yelled, “Mom, watch me. Watch me” as I attempted what felt like very significant accomplishments at the time (e.g. diving off the edge of the pool or holding my breath under water for more than 15 seconds). In fact I cannot imagine what it was like for my parents to have four little voices yelling at once, watch me. no watch me. no, watch me. Each one of us expecting attention and praise; each one of us expressing this deep desire to be noticed and watched.
I cannot remember the last time I actually said to one of my parents, hey watch me. watch me. Maybe as we get older our obvious need for constant affirmation and attention for the impressive tricks we do at the pool diminishes. But sometimes I wonder if there is still some part of me that longs for someone to affirm me and notice who I am or what I do.
Obviously I don’t walk down the street or parade through the school hallway, yelling at people to “watch me. watch me.” That would just be weird. And annoying. I think part of what it means to grow-up is to develop a healthy sense of self that is not completely contingent on fickle praise or attention that we may or may not receive. However, I sometimes wonder if in this “growing-up” process we also lose touch with our basic human need for affirmation.
I believe there is there some deep part of everyone (yes, everyone…the young, old, adolescent, single, married, etc.) that is saying “watch me.” Some people may demand it bluntly and boldly, commanding attention from a group as they speak from the stage. They’re talking about politics and policies, but really they’re saying, “watch me.” Other people elicit it in more mysterious, subtle ways. They wrap themselves in culture, books and art and then drape a beautiful scarf around their shoulders. On the outside they are conveying a cautious smile and gentle eyes, but really they’re saying, “watch me.”
I think somewhere along the way, somewhere between play days in the pool and the adult world I now inhabit, I have been socialized to believe that we should be humble and not demand people’s attention (and there is definitely some truth to that) but I think sometimes we miss the whole picture. I am not advocating for more self-centered, attention-seeking people to come claim their glory in the limelight. No, not at all. On the contrary I am learning that there is something very healthy and I believe good about being able to both watch others and with it offer a sincerity of praise and affirmation and yet, still also learn how to ask, “watch me?”