“Mommy, put your phone down. Pway with me.”
Those were the words that made me reassess who I am to my daughter.
When I first moved to Chicago ten years ago, I remember reading an article in the back of O Magazine* where Oprah, while shopping, recalled overhearing a kid repeatedly ask her mother to put her Blackberry away. As I remember it, the daughter was trying on outfit after outfit in the store’s dressing room and then coming out to show her mom how she looked. But instead of looking up at her daughter and providing feedback, the mother was busily texting on her then-cutting edge device. The girl was exasperated. She just wanted her mother.
*FACT: Everyone is issued a subscription to the Oprah magazine the moment they sign their lease in the Windy City. Shortly thereafter, you are made to align yourself with the Cubs or the White Sox. If you refuse, you are banned from ever consuming a hot dog within the entire Chicagoland area. The stakes are high, my friend. Very high indeed.
The article wasn’t one of condescension: Oprah reflected on her own growing insatiable appetite for connectivity and how easy it is to cut ourselves off from the very real relationships we must nurture every day so that we can answer that proverbial one.more.text. It was a problem then, and ten years and six iPhone iterations later, it still is. I can only imagine that it’ll get worse as an entire generation grows up with the image of their parents’ faces illumined by a screen.
I remember reading that story and thinking to myself, not me. One day when I’m a parent, I‘ll never callously place anything – much less a phone – in front of my kid.
The truth is that we are far better parents before we have kids, right? At least I was. Twenty-two-year-old Emily knew what was right all the time, and she was pretty quick to judge. She had never been married, she had never had a crappy first job, she had never really traveled, and she had never looked at her child and felt pure joy and utter frustration at the exact same time. Yet, despite all these things that she had never done and all the shoes she had never walked in, she was totally equipped to make I’ll never statements all over the place.
Of course she was. That’s just what makes 22-year-old kids (let’s call them what they really are, ‘k?) special.
So when Cee asked me to put my phone down, I realized that, once again, I am not the mother who I vowed to be when I was a lot younger. I am not present all the time. Sure, I’m physically there for her, but how many times has she wanted to connect with me only to see my nose buried in my phone? I can tell you all kinds of warm-fuzzy stories on my blog recounting the depths and profundity of my love for her, but from the mouths of babes comes the truth.
Sometimes, I’m that mom that Oprah saw in that department store ten years ago.
It doesn’t have to be the phone. Sometimes I close myself off to her by falling prey to exhaustion. I don’t take time to care for myself like I should, I get exhausted, and then I become listless around her. Sometimes I close myself off to her by allowing the provenance of her challenging age (two, going on 14) to get the best of me: she’ll scream at the top of her lungs or slam doors all over our house, and I’ll check out in frustration. There are so many ways that I find to not be present in the moments of her life.
That’s why for Christmas this year, I’m resolving to give my daughter my presence. (See what I did there? Wordsmith McWordsington at your service.) Even though I set the parenting bar high for myself ten years ago without the knowledge of how insanely difficult it is to just turn the freakin’ phone off for a second and be with your child, I know that that bar should be set high for a reason.
These days? These days are precious. Many would argue that the toddler years have an even higher premium attached to them because our kids still actually like us and have that effortless capacity to learn from us. Why would we knowingly give them anything but our best?
Doc McStuffins may be awesome, but I’m pretty sure what Cee really wants and needs from me is me. So this Christmas, I’ll be turning my phone off and tuning in.