It’s that middle place for children, right after self-awareness and just before it’s singed with pride and embarrassment: When they look back at you after a great or terrible act with a question in their eyes, “Did you see that?” Of course, this carries far past the little years, but there is this short period of time where their need to be seen is so… seen. They threw a ball! Did you see that? They pushed their brother. Did you see that? Their chubby little fingers stacked the third block and it didn’t fall—head turns and eyes grow: Did you see that?
Our seeing their accomplishment actually completes it for them. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? They feel at home in our gaze; they feel like a whole person with our eyes on them. To be seen is to be. We would be fools to think that we somehow grew out of this basic human need. We’ve just figured out how to shade our eyes so that no one sees us looking around, trying to catch another’s gaze: “Did anyone see that?”
Longing to Be Seen
We can feel this sorely, though not solely, as mothers—when every part of our body and brain and soul just needs to lie down, and we can’t even remember what made us so tired in the first place. We hurt from loving, we ache from longing, and no matter how affirmative our husbands might be, we can still feel unseen. (Is anyone watching me make four lunches at once?) We may (I have) turn to sharing our moments on social media. Maybe a few hundred hearts and thumbs will quench this thirst. Maybe a comment of solidarity will pick me up off the ground. But it can’t last, can it? I can’t hold that person’s face in my hands and fix their gaze forever.
It’s not just the hard moments that we wish for others to see—like when two people need their bottoms wiped at the exact same time (always, always… law of nature!). But it’s the beautiful moments, too: when your baby hugs your leg and says, “I love you!” for the first time, unprompted. Oh, did anyone see that?! And so, like I experienced as a young mother, our brains can spiral down into a philosophical depression—is my life of motherhood the proverbial tree that falls in the forest? Do these common, everyday moments mean anything outside of someone’s gaze?…