Is this more recent, like since Elijah left? He could just be noticing that there's a missing person, Nicole got extra clingy at that age when Daniel went out to sea.
Maree's right though, let him watch you and talk to him... When he starts whining, say "Mommy's got 2 more dishes, and then I'll play for a bit." then "OK, only one more dish, then we can play!" "YAY dishes are done! Now we can play!" He'll learn to count at a young age!
He'll learn to look forward to hearing that the dishes are done.
I also gave Nicole an old non working keyboard, set her up in her high chair right next to me, when I wanted to get online. She loved that! Maybe find one at a local thrift store and clean it up real good.
Do you have a baby back pack? I used to stick Nicole in one of those while I did dishes, a bit of an added work out too!
Split his toys in half, and switch them out every couple of weeks. They'll always seem new and interesting.
Sticking Nicole in her high chair with a yummy and extra messy food would keep her occupied for about 30 minutes.