I Judged a Dad on His iPhone
I need to admit something: I judged someone this past week. I judged a dad. I judged him hard. My family was having lunch after church. (I am aware how that point makes this story rather hypocritical, ironic and cliche, all at once.) A dad sat down with his son. A few minutes into their meal, the son was saying, "Dad! Dad! Dad! Hey dad!" I looked over, and you know it, dad was buried in his smartphone. I thought of the recent onslaught of "dear mom on the iPhone" posts and thought to myself, "Well, maybe they have a point. Here's a dad! Not connecting with the cute child right in front of him! COME ON, PEOPLE!"
Then the dad put down his phone, looked his son in the eye and said, "Mommy said she'll be home in about 20 minutes, so we better hurry and eat so we can get home to see her!" They went about the rest of their meal, chatting and laughing together.
I swallowed the bite I was choking on and looked back at my own sons. You know, the ones I had been ignoring while I was judging the parent on his smartphone. You know, the parent who was communicating with his spouse and coordinating schedules. You know.
We all do it. You can say that you don't judge other parents for x, y or z, but you do. We do. I obviously do. I felt like a heel and almost wanted to verbally apologize to the guy, but I went back to eating and telling my boys not to kick each other under the table. However, I think the whole "we all do it" thing is an excuse that lets us all keep doing it, that we use to justify our judgment, that we use to make ourselves feel better for doing something completely unnecessary, unwarranted, and unhelpful.
The recent and specific meme about parents on iPhones and the like has been rubbing me the wrong way for a few weeks now. Argument after defensive argument about how you are missing little Janie learn how to touch her toes at her tumbling class (which, may I ask, does she need anyway?). I am, however, thankful for the responses telling me and others like me that I'm a good mom, or, like Megan at Fried Okra, made me feel okay about being me.
Practice is boring. Parents decades before me have known this fact for years. Prior to smartphones, they brought -- wait for it -- books to rehearsal time and endless practices. They brought their knitting. Magazines. The newspaper. A crossword. Or, gasp of all gasps, they simply dropped their children off, drove away, and let their children learn how to do things. On their own. The same goes for the playground; instead of hovering, parents dared to sit and enjoy a moment of semi-peace during which no one is sitting on or near or touching them with peanut buttery fingers. How dare they?
iPhone Moms like Fried Okra are right. I've been practicing the sit-and-read at the playground for a couple of years now. Or, sometimes, I'm on my phone, usually responding to email because if you see me out and about during the day, chances are I stepped away from work to play with my kids for a little bit, but I'm still on the clock. I still have to work. I still have to pay for the gas that drove us to this child-enriching safe space for kids to play.
Yes, I full on work at the playground sometimes.
iPhone haters like Creatively Living with Sue are also right. We need to interact with our children. When they ask us to read a book in the evening, well after work is done and well before bedtime routines, we should want read to them. We should play games and laugh. We should be engaging in conversation, not just to teach them the art of conversation, but because we're legitimately interested in their responses, their interests, their well-being, their hearts. Parents should want to interact with their children.
But I stop and interact with my kid when he runs up to me. Isn't he cute?
But more than than, when I'm on the playground, I force myself to sit, force myself to refrain from helicoptering, because I recognized early on that my constant involvement in their every move on the playground hindered their ability to learn, to discover, to take risks on their own. I peek. I worry. I don't really ever read more than a page because my Mommy Heart is beating a million miles a second. I whisper to my husband, who sometimes gets to come with us and forces himself to sit next to me, "What if they fall?" He winces as one of our children jumps to the ground. "We'll pick them up." I nod.
We go to the playground so our kids can play with other kids, not us -- their parents. They play with us every day in their own yard; we kick the soccer ball, play basketball, shoot Nerf guns and water guns, run and run and run and hide and seek and fall down and laugh and love and live. The playground is their space to learn more about their world. I don't want to hold them back. I sit. I snap a picture on my smartphone so I remember the moment when I'm old and gray. I worry and panic and breathe and love.
I'm not sorry I snapped this picture.
We can work with our kids on leaps or goal kicks at home, when someone else isn't in charge. When it comes game time or dance recital time, we can sit on the sidelines or in the audience and know that we did our part -- by sending them out there, by teaching them to listen to someone else in charge, by practicing at home -- but that our child -- our magnificent, talented child -- learned that dance routine on her own, kicked that goal on his own.
And so, an apology:
Dear Dad on the iPhone last week, I'm sorry. I was a jerk, and I'm sorry. I hope you had a great day with your family. Though... I do wonder why, as Fried Okra also pointed out, you have been left out of these judgmental posts -- blissfully unaware on your smartphone. Oops, there I go again. I better end this apology and twitter blast this post -- before my kids get home from school. Sincerely, Just another mom on her iPhone.
There. I feel much better.