“Tell me about your day mommy.”
My three-year-old sits in his high chair with a serious expression on his face. I stare at the peach fuzz on his babyish cheeks, the Mickey Mouse pitch of his voice. I know how fast it goes. I also have a one-year-old and already forget how my older son was at his age. I’m downloading all of it not in an app or photo, but in my memory. But I don’t want to just remember, I want to freeze frame it so it’s as vivid, crisp and perfect the way it is right now.
It’s increasingly hard to stay focused on the present these days. Even now as I type this, I have multiple things competing for my time. It’s after five in the evening. I haven’t made dinner yet. I’m trying to catch a few minutes between bathing the kids and cooking to write. This paragraph takes multiple tries. In between one sentence my younger son takes a hot pink pen to our white couch. In the middle of another, the microwave goes off.
It’s my laptop, but it’s also my phone too. I told my husband, “Never has my life felt more meaningful.” As a mom who writes, every day is filled with the monotony and boredom of laundry, dishes and diaper changes. But watching my boys grow, change and interact with the world is more fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done. There is a striking dichotomy, a juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary that doesn’t make sense anywhere but in motherhood.
I watch as my one-year-old ambles towards the tricycle. He looks back at me as he throws his chubby thigh over the side. I guiltily swat away my most needed child, my phone, so I can watch him. Scrolling through Facebook to see that an acquaintance is pregnant or my former boss has been promoted is on some days, my one real gateway to the outside world. I thirst for it in a way I didn’t when my toddlers were infants and nestled in the safety of our home. Now as they explore the world independently of me, I also want a piece of it-to walk out as my own person, to contribute, engage and be a participant, not just a passive observer.
For the most part, my daily tech habits seem harmless. Well, except for that one time when my eldest was nearing two years old. Fresh from a real salon, he looked dapper in his big boy hair cut and preppy sweater vest. In the moments it took to take and send a pic, my son fell a few feet into the parking stall below. Articles on head injuries flashed through my mind as I walked into the salon and nearby offices for help. It was hours later when his pediatrician finally took a look and said, “That’s it?” I felt my body sigh in relief.
I know I’m lucky. It was a wake up call for sure. But you may be surprised to know I’m far more worried about the emotional effects technology has on my sons. For the most part, I’m on the ground with my boys, literally rolling around and playing in the mud. As someone who has my masters in counseling psychology, I’m sensitive to subtle cues of hurt and anger, and conscious of how he’s feeling emotionally. But there’s no real way of monitoring this parenting thing. I know I’ll never say to myself, “Yeah I’m crushing it as a mom.”
What I have done is put boundaries so important events like mealtimes are protected from digital interference. I try to be online when the boys are napping or not at home. But I know eliminating my need to connect won’t simply go away. There’s an app that tracks phone time, but I’ve also found a non-digital way to get things back in control.
There’s a game I play when I’m with my boys, and it’s called, “Presence.” It isn’t about winning, but practice. It’s about paying attention without thinking about what to cook for dinner, or projects I have in the loop. To help me win, I have a few hacks like turning off updates on my phone or better yet, leaving my phone in the car so I can be at the playground without the temptation of texting a friend. And most importantly, I’ve carved out time for myself. The big things like taking a trip by myself are as important as the small things like prioritizing occasional me time to write, shop or do nothing. All these things add up. I realized the more me time I prioritize, the less need I have to connect digitally.
“I rested, wrote and now you’re home,” I say smiling at my son.
When he relays what I missed, his hole in one at golf, and his brother’s antics, I listen intently. I wasn’t there, but I’m here now. I realize it’s not about being there 100 percent of the time that matters. The lesson isn’t in perfection. It’s showing up as much as I can and forgiving myself when I don’t.