Like many people today, I have a smartphone. I love my iPhone (still on the 4S, in a pink case bright enough to find in my quagmire of a purse but not too bright to embarrass my colleagues). My work, personal, and promotional email addresses are all linked to the phone. Calendar, task items, and miscellaneous “push notifications” buzz and ring and tick throughout the day. I use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and various news and law apps regularly. Obviously, I call, text, and FaceTime my family, friends, colleagues, and clients.
I’m not troubled by these constant connections; to the contrary, they provide a level of security and comfort that I crave. I’m never out of the loop on a work matter, my sitter can get in touch with me virtually anytime, and I (usually) know the highlights of what’s happening in the world (although, the downfall of always reading the news is that I’ve suffered from embarrassing mishaps: the wife of a first generation Russian pronouncing Crimea with a short “i”?—not good). It keeps me in touch, on schedule, and in the know. On the other hand, I’ve read enough insightful parenting articles to know I should make a conscious effort to “be present”. And I do. Do I check my work email at the dinner table when I have a court appearance the next morning or need a document from a client? Of course. Have I missed my train stop or—worse—the adorable comment my two-year old, Johnny, made in the backseat because I was busy satisfying my voyeuristic tendencies on Facebook? Maybe once or twice. But, I try to keep the phone on silent (granted, within arm’s reach) during family meals or play. I’m usually well connected with the “live” people near me.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I sat next to Johnny at the dinner table and asked him how his day was. “Good, Mommy,” he says, while pushing despised string beans away from the coveted corn. “Tell me what you did in school,” I continue. He begins rattling about the toys that were out for play when he arrived, which friends shared trucks, and which friends ate the Cheerios that were really meant for arts and crafts, not snack. A long conversation for a preschooler…and he doesn’t look at me once. Instead, his eyes are focused over my shoulder.
While he talks, my discreet glances behind me become full-out rubbernecking: Is my husband making funny faces in the doorway? Is there a toy on the kitchen floor? What is distracting my kid?
“Honey, what are you looking at?”
He finally looks at me. “Mommy’s phone.” He points to the phone-- pink case up, face down on the kitchen table. Not ringing, blinking, or vibrating.
“Why are you looking at Mommy’s phone? You should look at Mommy when you tell me a story.”
“No, Mommy, I look at your phone when I tell a story and say cheese and make a picture.”
The 600 plus images stored in my phone over the last four months flash through my mind. As does the removable hard drive my husband had to buy to maintain pictures of our kids. And the myriad moments I excitedly texted or uploaded to Facebook a picture of Johnny playing with his Cars (yes, capital “C”- as in the movie), covered in ice cream, and jumping in the snow; or the videos of Joey reaching for a toy, flashing his amazing smile, dribbling baby cereal, and staring with wonder at his big brother.
Have I gone overboard? I know for a fact that I’m not in the minority here, at least not among my peers, but is the incessant picture taking interfering with my actual interactions, thwarting my goal of “being present” with my children?
Who knew that of all the amazing, interactive, and otherwise distracting things my phone can do that it would be the LED flash, digital image stabilized, 8 megapixel camera that disconnected me from my family?
Before I even finished wiping off my toddler’s face and picking up the stray vegetables that found their way to the placemat, chair, and floor, I resolved to curb my inner photographer. Seriously, the only “GUI” I want with my boys are the messes we make together with mud pies or cake batter.
I knelt down in front of Johnny’s chair so that I was at his eye level, held his hands, and said, “Mommy takes too many pictures. I want to look at you when we talk and play. I want my hands to be free to hug and play Cars.”
Johnny gave me his monster grin, jumped off the chair and said, “Let’s go!”
So what that he probably only heard the “play Cars” part? The person that the statement was intended for heard it, loud and clear:
Live the moment, don’t capture it.