A short time ago, in recent history, I was one of those moms who was quietly judging other moms/caregivers sitting by the sidelines, almost literally, of the park on 15th and Wabash in downtown Chicago.
Their kids, between 3-6 years old, were playing, happily, screaming and yelling out to each other, as kids on playgrounds should. Meanwhile, I was right there, next to my 16-month old, helping him climb giant rocks (not really, but in comparison to his age-related ability and size), holding his hands as he climbed large nets, and swinging him actively, following his every move, carefully walking next to him should he stretch out his hand for support or help.
Those other parents, moms mostly, it’s almost always the moms – were sitting at the back by the wall, hands on their phones and with eyes glued to their screens. I looked in their direction every once in a while and couldn’t help but judge them for not being actively involved in their kids’ activities. I also realized that while this bothered me on some level, I couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was, at the time. I judged them for being neglectful. I judged them for caring too much about themselves over their kids, some of whom may have needed their help. I judged them for choosing their phones over their kids.
Then, I chanced upon this eye-opening piece by Jennifer Hicks and I felt extremely ashamed of having judged those mothers that day at the park. From that day onwards whenever I have seen parents on the phone while also being in the general presence of their child, I have suspended judgement.
The only exception to this personal rule has been if their kids are being unruly or rude to my kid or not following implicit playground etiquette and even then, I am angry (not judgemental) because I have to deal with their obnoxious kids while the mothers/supervising adults could care less – like really, why aren’t your there to mind your child’s behavior? Why do I have to discipline your child or ask him or her to wait his or her turn? Here I am, telling my kid to politely wait his turn for the slide, which he does even though he is not quite happy with having to do that, and in swoops your kid, shoving past mine, and taking over the slide, jumping in line, like he is some kind of a playground warlord! Excuse me, but we aren’t your goddamn Minions!
In all other cases, I no longer judge because I am not in that parent’s shoes. I don’t know for a fact what’s on their screens and their kids seem to be doing just fine without their hovering. If all this is working smoothly for them and their children, who the heck am I to interfere with the status quo?
Still, I try really hard to not be that mom even though I now accept that being on the phone while being with your child is sometimes unavoidable. If I am on the phone, it is usually to text a picture of our kid to Aaron or my parents; or to reply to a message from my parents or sisters. I am not on my phone so I can update my Facebook status or send a Tweet.
Today, the kids and I went to the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. I had promised TJ that I’d take him to see a “vyu-vyu” (firetruck) and after our two unsuccessful attempts trying to find firetrucks at our local fire stations last week, I figured, why not just go to one that does not have to go on rescue calls [the Museum has a firetruck on permanent display]. So here we were.
After TJ had his fill of the firetruck the first time around, we went over to the pretend-food /kitchen area where he started making pizza and put it in the microwave [real but not a working one] to cook (why I didn’t think to tell him to put it in the oven is still beyond me). All was going well until it was time to take the pizza out.
He opened the microwave and said, “Hot.”
“Okay, let’s wait for it to cool down,” I said.
I started thinking of how clever my kid is – that he knows how to open and shut the door of a microwave (which his mother didn’t learn until much, much later in life – microwaves didn’t exist when I was growing up), that he knows to press buttons to get the unit going, that he knows food gets hot on the inside…but then, the food never seemed to cool down. So we waited some more. And, some more.
I was beginning to lose it a little and I had left Baby E hanging out by herself with the cover of her carseat and stroller over her in case she decided to take a nap. She clearly had other plans.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the pizza in the microwave to cool down.
I kept trying to entice TJ with some of the other things we could do at the museum but he just stood there. He stood guard beside the microwave, neither opening the door nor moving away from it. Meanwhile, Baby E had started a full-blown cry so I had to leave.
I told TJ that he could do whatever he wanted (and not as lovingly as the words may make it sound) and that I was just going to go sit outside of the kitchen area with the baby. He didn’t seem to mind or care. After all, in his mind, he still had to guard that very important microwave and I guess, a mistaken sense of responsibility toward the microwave takes precedence over mom.
So for a few moments, I became that mom on her phone. I looked up from my phone every now and then to check on him . He was still going strong, still standing guard by the microwave, keeping a watchful eye on other kids lest they came over to use it.
I was engrossed reading my awesome friend, fellow blogger, and writer, Hema’s really relatable piece on the struggles of a writer-mom (you can read her post here) and having read the piece and written a comment, about to post it, when I heard familiar sounding cries.
I peeped through the window from where I was keeping an eye on him and sure enough, there was my son, bawling. After spending a millisecond patting myself on my back for recognizing the sound of my child’s cries, I went over to where he was standing.
As soon as I got to him, with the expertise that only a mother can garner, and without even looking directly at his surroundings, I knew exactly what had happened. In my quick survey, I noticed a girl, a little older than TJ, now using his precious microwave with a tall and older man – perhaps a grandfather, standing next to her, and who kept looking in my direction. I saw him from the corner of my eye and figured he was directly or indirectly involved in my son’s tears situation. Maybe he wanted to apologize or maybe he was trying to justify his granddaughter’s use of the microwave or maybe he was curious to see the mom who had hitherto ignored her child. I wasn’t going to ask what had happened. I knew what had happened. Keep reading…
A part of me was thinking, “Should I be angry now? Should I ask if he or his granddaughter were responsible for potentially ruining my son’s day? Should I ask if pushing or shoving was involved or worse, hitting?” Another part of me, however, was relieved. At least now, we could go do other things.
I scooped my son up, tears and all, and took him outside. Balancing him on my left hip with one arm around him and pushing the stroller for Baby E with the other hand, we made our way to the Cafe. Tears and soft sniffles still followed but were on the wane. Crisis averted for the moment. Phew!
As the day advanced, I reflected on what might have ensued in the play kitchen in my absence. Had it been my child who was waiting to use the microwave and saw this little boy guarding it, not letting my child near it, I would be annoyed.
At first, I would ask my child to politely wait her turn and if our wait had seemed endless with that guard-boy not moving from his position, I would begin to look around to see if a parent was around. I would still give it a minute or two.
Then, I would talk to the boy to get him away from the microwave so my kid could use it.
If he continued to stay there, I would yet again look around hoping I see a parent who could come and knock some sense into this boy.
Seeing no parent around, I would then, reluctantly and kindly tell the boy that his turn was over and that it was my child’s turn and make him give his microwave up and let my child use it. I would deal with the consequences.
I believe that something exactly like this might have happened.
I wonder if I would have approached the boy’s parent or someone sitting close by with a cellphone if I didn’t know for sure that, that person was the boy’s parent. I wonder if I would have approached the person even if I knew for sure that, that person was the boy’s parent. OR as I present in the hypothetical situation above, would I have taken it upon myself to make the boy give up the microwave?
Fact is, I would have done exactly like that grandfather probably did (just like I wrote above) and then gotten angry at the invisible parent for not doing her or his job! See what I am saying? I was that mom today. I was invisible even though I had my eyes on TJ almost the entire time. I was the mom who was not present to discipline her child and tell him to let other kids get a turn at the microwave.
Usually, I am the overzealous helicopter mom always hovering around my kid. I do it because he is almost always younger than the other kids around him and because, as ironic as it may sound, other parents aren’t around to discipline their unruly kids and so if any of them try to hurt my child, I need to be there to protect him. Yes, I am a mama bear and proud of it!
I don’t like being that mom even though it is not a disparaging term, necessarily. Yet, these things happen even with the best of intentions. Situations like these sure do help gain perspective on otherwise judgement-friendly instances. Oh well…life goes on.