It was about 6 o'clock, there was a warm breeze and the smell of fall in the air. "We will only go to that playground if you and Chelsea behave." Connor responded, "We will Mommy, I promise!" We embarked on our evening family walk and headed toward the W&OD Trail. The leaves, beginning to change colors created a rainbow effect above us, and the smell from the woods was intoxicating.
Connor, knowing where the playground is located, was sitting at the edge of the stroller seat, ready to run out as soon as we arrived. As we slowly approached the isolated playground located a couple yards away from the trail, I saw a woman sitting on the stairs to the entrance of the playground equipment staring at her cell phone. It took us about 3 minutes to arrive (we are slow walkers!) and I realized that she was not acknowledging us or likely to move from her location. Considering my children would not be able to use the playground equipment, I told them that we'd continue to walk and come back in 10 minutes. We were in front of the playground for about 2 minutes, I checked Connor's blood sugar and reassured him and Chels that we would come back. The woman never looked up, not once. As we continued to walk away, to my shock and surprise I saw that there was a young boy with her, he appeared to be about 6 or 7 and he stared very intently at us as we walked off. "Hmmm, strange!" I thought, she was so disengaged from her surroundings that I had only assumed she was at the playground alone. We walked for an additional 10 minutes and slowly re-approached the playground. I was disappointed to see her still in the same exact position so engrossed in her phone that she never looked up to see who was arriving, again. Connor ran to one of the 2 swings and the little boy sprinted over and pushed my daughter to the ground to get to the 2nd swing. I wasn't mad at him because his actions told my husband and I that he just wanted attention. I looked back at his mother who never looked up from her phone. My husband put our son on the swing (which was very high off the ground) and was going to offer to put the little boy on the swing as well, but wanted his mother's approval. Problem was, his mom never looked up. We were at that playground for a total of 6 minutes. Do you know that she never looked up. She never even knew that the 3 children at the playground (2 of which were mine) could not use the playground equipment because she blocked the entrance, because she never looked up. At one point the little boy said, "Hey, Mom." No answer. "Hey, Mom." No answer. "Hey, Mom." No answer. At this point my husband and I are staring at her with baited breath as she is staring at her phone.........just answer him I wanted to shout! "Mom, I'm talking to you." No answer. "Mom, I'm talking to you." No answer. "Mom, can you answer me?" At which point she finally said, "What?" She never looked up. The little boy boasted about something that he wanted to show her..........she never responded and she never looked up. I was so disturbed by the whole thing that I got up from the bench I was sitting on and loudly proclaimed to my children who were just standing there (because they could NOT use the equipment) that we had to leave and go to another playground. It didn't phase her, she never looked up. By the time my feet landed back on the pavement of the W&OD Trail, my heart felt so heavy & saddened for that little boy. Their very nice SUV was parked in the distance, they were both well dressed & she certainly held a fancy cell phone in her hands, and ALL that child wanted was 1 minute of her attention. As we walked away I kept looking back and he just stared at us in silence. He was lonely. He was physically there with someone, not just someone, his MOM, but he was craving attention and company. I wanted to ask this mother a thought-provoking question, if she were to invite a friend to the park, would she ignore that friend and dismiss them as if they were not worth even a minute of her time? If the answer is "no", then why do you think that your child deserves less respect? Just because a child can't eloquently request your attention or convey how much it hurts their feelings, doesn't mean that it doesn't.
Let me go ahead and say this: I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE WITNESSED ANYTHING LIKE THIS, nothing even remotely close, but I wonder, is this the beginning of what will be "the norm"? I hope this situation serves as a reminder to all of us, (myself definitely included) to the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nannies and babysitters, of these little people, that all they want is your attention, acknowledgment, praise, recognition for just a minute or two. They don't need you glued to their every move for every second of every day, but just a minute or two to engage them in conversation, ask them to show you how well they can do something, laugh with them, play hide & seek, and you know what? You will see their little spirits soar, they just want a little bit of attention.
In this woman's defense, maybe there was something very pressing or urgent that was occurring in her life that required her undivided attention via her cell phone for a long period of time. Maybe she is completely unaware of how her actions, or more like lack of actions, are impacting her child. Maybe, if she were an outsider viewing the same scenario, she'd be appalled. Maybe, just maybe, had I not witnessed this situation first-hand, I could've been this woman in a year or two, totally disengaged from my surroundings and unaware of how my lack of interest in anything but what was occurring online was affecting my children.
I grew up in a generation, and if you're reading this, so did you, that didn't have any portable electronic devices. Our parents were not distracted with online games, Facebook, e-mail, work phone calls, Twitter, and blogs, they were at the playgrounds watching & engaging us. They were fully aware of what was going on......they made eye contact with strangers, said "hello." They taught us how to be polite and mannerly by setting an example; everywhere we went with them we learned the art of small chat, how to converse with adults, to not speak too loudly in public settings, and you better believe that our bad behavior was corrected. We were taught how to introduce ourselves, how to politely ask another child his/her name and if they wanted to play. After last night's incident, I've been pondering, if we are so frequently disengaged from our little people, then who will teach them how to be polite and engaging, how are they to learn?
Beyond our children, we are ignoring each other too! I recently witnessed a new mother who was pushing her stroller walking behind a young man who was looking down at his phone as he was entering a store. He was so engrossed in his phone that he literally dropped the door on her stroller.......something must have grabbed his attention because he realized what he had done and ran back to hold the door for her. If he had just looked up from his phone and took a look around he would have seen her. Believe you me, it is no easy feat maneuvering a stroller through a doorway trying to keep the door open, and I'm sure she was hoping for someone to help! I worry that we are all becoming so plugged into an online world that we are losing touch with politeness and connectedness in the real world.
I am very thankful for that mother at the playground last night, she certainly opened my eyes. I am going to be more cognizant of how much screen-time I am engaging in everyday, especially when my children are present. I will be sure to always make eye contact with my children, let them know how much they impress me and how loved they are. I will always do my best to be polite to strangers, hold doors, say "hi", drive courteously with my phone out of sight..........I am going to do what we all need to do from time-to-time, UNPLUG! Aaaannnddd, on that note, I'm closing my computer for the day, I hope that everyone has a terrific day, thanks for stopping by! :)