Monday, November 2, 2009


Today's weather turned out to be just gorgeous--a great surprise. After Little Bit's nap, we headed to the park and enjoyed an hour or so of the usual: swings, sandbox, supervision of Little Bit on the play structure, "ice cream window," more sandbox, and treasure hunting.* Warm sunshine and gorgeous autumn leaves. No complaints here.

Or maybe one. Or maybe it's more a question than a complaint. Or maybe I am being too sensitive.

Whatever the situation, I'll come out with it: I don't understand parents who bring their kids to the park and then spend the entire time talking or texting on their phones.

There, I've said it.

I'll admit that I'm not a big phone talker myself. I'm happy to chat when someone calls, but I don't make tons of calls throughout the day, especially not on my cell phone. I can't balance my cell on my shoulder, for one thing. For another, unless they are really absorbed in some activity, my kids freak out when I am on the phone and it's difficult to be really present in a conversation.

I especially don't talk on the phone at the park. I would probably answer if someone called, but my phone is usually in the stroller not on my person. Beyond that, my kids still need supervision at the park. Bub is pretty good about sharing, taking turns, and playing nice, but he's been known to throw some sand every now and again. When he pulls stuff like that, I definitely want to be there to intervene. Little Bit can't really be left for a second. He thinks he's a big boy who is ready to climb, tackle steps (up and down), slide, "borrow" shovels and pails from others, and attempt to drink from the sand and leaf-filled water fountain. Lots of the play structures have drop-offs that scare the bejeezus out of me so I like to stay close to him. I don't think I could hover as well if I were engrossed in a phone conversation. That's just me.

I'm sure plenty of parents can balance talking/texting and watching their kids at the same time.

I assume there are plenty of parents whose kids are all at Bub's stage and beyond and don't need to hover.

And I know all too well that for plenty of parents, including me, taking care of kids--despite all its many, many joys and rewards--can be a lonely, isolating, and sometimes boring job.

I know how important it is to feel connected to the world beyond kids throughout the day. I check my email more than I care to admit (on my laptop though--my phone is not fancy like that). I depend upon the daily exchanges of status updates, photos, and encouraging comments on facebook . . . little glimpses of the lives of other moms and their joys and challenges. I author this blog and take great pleasure any time a reader leaves a comment (hint hint).

I know and understand that it means a lot to talk with, text, and otherwise connect with friends and family throughout the day. I get that. I really, really get that.

But here's the thing. If everyone at the park is connected to someone who's not at the park but instead on the other end of the phone line, then it's kind of tough for the people at the park to connect with one another. (You can replace "at the park" with "at any public/community space.")

When I say "connect," I'm not talking about trying to recruit new best friends, engage in obligatory small talk out of a sense of politeness, gossip about preschools or bad nannies, or drill the person you've just met with nosy neighbor questions. I'm just talking about acknowledging that the other people at the park are real, breathing human beings with at least one thing in common with you (the care of small children) and that it doesn't hurt to disconnect the phone for a bit so that you can at least be open to making some connections with the people breathing the same air as you.

Especially when I was a new mom, the conversations and exchanges I had with other moms--those in the same boat as me and those moms with more wisdom and experience--helped me through a lot of tough days. Even if the exchange was brief, I treasured that feeling of shared sympathy and understanding. I liked being reminded that I was not alone in the boat. All it takes is a "How old is your son?" or "I love her little jacket" to get the ball rolling.

Maybe you don't need to talk to anyone new. Maybe you can get most everything you need from your phone.

But maybe the other people in the park need you.

*Bub hunts for "treasures" (rocks) which he presents to me with a description of its shape ("looks like a triangle" and "this one's a turtle" etc.) and then stores in my pockets.


CaraBee said...

Great post, MEP! I feel the exact same way. Do these people really have so much going on, so many important things to say that they can basically ignore their children? I will admit to occasionally taking a call or making a text while at the park, but they are brief. My daughter requires too much attention to be that distracted for long.

This is part of a bigger complaint for me, about people spending so much time on the phone. In the grocery store, in the car, at the mall, walking down the street, etc. I just don't get it. Like you, I'm not a phone person, but I like interacting with people and how can that happen when you're so occupied? I met one of my best mommy friends at the grocery store. Just a random interaction that has turned into a great friendship. I would have missed out on that had I been talking on the phone. How much are these people missing?

Actchy said...

Amen, MEP.

I had a related thought process at a Story Hour yesterday when a nanny beside me kept raising her voice above the guitar-playing and singing so that her friend (on the other side of me) could hear her speak. What? Why are you at story hour? Go to a coffee shop with your friend and your charges.

Of course, I eventually suggested the nanny switch seats with me. She apologized, accepted my offer, sang one verse of "If you're happy and you know it" and then went back to talking.


msh said...

though i must admit i have used my phone at the park on few occasions (mostly because my mom has called and is virtually impossible to ignore), i find that on many visits to the park, i end up parenting /befriending lots of kids due to the fact that their parents are ignoring them. because they see me playing, i get: "watch this!" "what would you like to order?" "can you push me please?" "help!"
wouldn't you think a parent would see me playing with their kid, get off the phone, and step in?

Leah said...

Loved this post!!

I have similar thoughts about people all the time. It is almost as if people are not constantly connected to the virtual world (phone texting, emailing, faacebooking), they don't feel as if they exist. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. It drives me nuts to be at a party or a Bengals game and see 50% of the people around me on the phone. What is the point of going to the game or party? And, how about the people with you? Isn't a game (party, park, whatever) supposed to be a "shared" experience?

Ok....sorry! Didn't mean to rant. Again, loved the post! Can't wait to read every day this month. Yippee!

Amy said...

I am a "hovering mom"--there I've admitted it. A few weeks ago we were at a big play area that is surrounded by restaurants-I guess the idea being you can eat outside while you watch your kids play (not this mom!). A child (about 3) fell off about 4 1/2 feet to ground; another mom picked her up and was looking to see if another parent would come running--nope. She literally had to carry this crying child around asking people if the child was theirs. Unbelievable!

LAP said...

Text while sitting on the front porch watching my kids play...sure. (Would gladly put it down if a neighbor wanted to come keep me company!) Text while at the park....not going to happen. I have a hard enough time watching all 3 when focused. I too am amazed at the kids who fall with no parents in sight to swoop into the rescue. To go on a tanget for a moment though, I have experienced extremely helpful moms at the park though who see that I am holding an infant and hoisting a 3 year old into the swing and have come to help. I've made a mental note to make sure to return the favor to newer moms when I am in that position...bless Gracie's mom who helped me walk out of preschool through the busy parking lot every day last spring with my trio since her only other child was older and in school. Sorry, off topic, but had she been off in the land of technology not noticing my load, my life would have been a little more stressful three mornings a week.

I had an "ah-ha" moment this summer, realizing that I am guilty of what Leah described. On our family vacation, my younger brother and I posted nearly identical facebook status updates while sitting 15 feet from each other. We weren't in conversation with each other, but were updating the rest of the world as to what we were doing. Not the kind of "experiences" we should be sharing the couple of times a year we see each other:)

cake said...

i agree. and i find it unattractive, to say the least.

yet, i also try very hard not to hover, or to play too much with cosmo at the park, because he is of an age that he can really do his own thing, and maybe, meet other kids! if we play with him the whole time, that won't happen. i hate to say it, but i think my kid may suffer from too much adult attention. if i had a phone conversation while we were at the park, it might actually be good for him.

i also know of an overwhelmed, single mom, who might go insane if she doesn't get a little phone time-- while her kid plays at the park. but, she might be surprised to find exactly what she needs, right there, sitting on a bench. not talking on a phone.

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