Monday, 1 October 2012

Plugged in & tuned out?

I was out for a walk with Baby this sunny October morning, enjoying the beautiful weather and the gorgeous yellows and oranges and crimsons of the fall foliage, basking in the luxurious quietness of a few hours alone just the two of us and keeping up a steady (albeit fairly one-sided) conversation with him the whole way - pointing out the colours of the leaves, the pumpkins and scarecrows and fall front porch decor in the neighbourhood, drifting in topic from the bench I want to buy for the living room to the kids' Halloween costumes to a new class I'm planning at work to my next blog rant, running all these thoughts by Baby. This is pretty much how I keep him entertained during the day when my husband and other two children aren't around - near-constant conversation-monologues, so that he's never just sitting in silence.

I passed a mom I recognize from the neighbourhood, pushing her toddler in a stroller. I smiled and said "good morning." I got no response. Very unusual in this neighbourhood. People tend to be excessively friendly and neighbourly, even to complete strangers. Then I spotted the earbuds - aha.

We passed another half-dozen moms-pushing-wee-ones out walking or jogging while we strolled and chatted, Baby and I. (It's that kind of a neighbourhood - lots of lululemon-clad stay-at-home fit-moms.) All but one of them was plugged into their iPod while their kids sat there silently staring off into middle distance or fiddling idly with the empty tray in front of them.

So disconnected.

I'm not sure I've ever really noticed just how common this is.

I noticed it after school, too, while I was waiting to pick up my older two sons. Almost every parent with a stroller stood there with the stroller in front of them, child facing forward - away from Mom - while they scrunched over their little iPhone screen texting and surfing with studied concentration. Plugged in to the world but completely disconnected from the child right there in front of them.

I understand the need to feel connected and the desire to be in constant communication with the world, but not to the exclusion of my own child sitting in front of me. And I understand the need for music when exercising, but I do not think it's appropriate to pop in earbuds and ignore your child while they are trapped in a seat you are pushing around. If you can't go for a run or a walk without music, maybe you should be jogging on your own when your spouse is home to play with the kids or after they go to sleep. Or why not incorporate the kids into your workout routine? I do Pilates on a yoga mat in the living room with Baby. We crank the tunes and he dances and laughs at Mommy flailing about on the floor. I can still talk to him. I can still hear him.

No-one can be "on" all day long, every day of the week. It's impossible, and unrealistic for any mom to expect that of herself or for anyone else to expect that of her. Mommy "me-time" is definitely important for your mental, physical, and emotional health, and if the only way you are able to eek out a few minutes of that is to pop in the earbuds and check out, knowing that your toddler is strapped in and safe, then, well, a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. But, having started paying attention to just how many Mommies are wandering around with earbuds in or tap-tap-tapping on their little keypads without once lifting their heads to look at or talk to their children, I think it may often simply be a matter of convenience for Mom.

It's important for kids to learn independence and self-reliance, and no child should grow up expecting to be entertained twenty-four/seven - but I have to wonder what kind of a message we're sending our kids if we are choosing to plug in and tune them out over engaging them in a little conversation and quality time.

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