Put down the phone, Mama!
We were getting settled for nap time. As I changed BabyC’s diaper, I talked with her in a quiet tone and told her that we were preparing to rest. We did one slow and whispered round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” on the changing table. I closed BabyC’s curtains and dimmed the lights. We fished her special doll and blanket from her crib, and then we all sat down into the rocking chair to nurse. BabyC was still a little wound up, though, and as we were getting settled, she swiped my phone from the side table. I don’t usually let her play with my phone, but in the interest of keeping things mellow, I figured I’d let her hold it for a while. She latched, and we both started to relax.
But then, BabyC turned on my phone. She started swiping her finger across the touch screen, just as she watches me do throughout the day. She hit at icons and watched colors flash on the screen, her eyes darting around. Suddenly, she was opening the address book and initiating a FaceTime video call with – who? Oh, an old college buddy of Husband’s, someone I’ve met once, about 5 years ago. Yikes! A surprise video call from my boob is probably not the best way to get back in touch.
OK, BabyC, no more phone. I felt annoyed. I wanted BabyC to snuggle up with me and enjoy calming milk and our time together. It seemed ungrateful for her attention to be somewhere else entirely.
Of course, it took about half a second for me to realize that this was the example I set for her. How many times had I needed to check Facebook while we were nursing? Or my email during breakfast? Does this annoy her, or is this just her norm, for Mama to be halfway present and halfway in a different world?
The truth is that I’ve been working on being more present for BabyC for a while. It was actually a New Year’s resolution for me to not check my phone while nursing, and I think I’ve been about 80% true to that. But sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes there is an uncomfortable quiet in my brain that I feel that I have to fill, and I reach for my phone. That BabyC could so quickly and adeptly navigate my smartphone while she nursed was proof that she observes me doing this plenty. She is way too young to be learning this kind of multitasking! I admire her focus in the way she lives, and I don’t want to disrupt that with technology.
I love this phone. I love Facebook, blogging, texts, and email. As a stay-at-home-mom, technology is my lifeline to the rest of the world. It is what keeps me from feeling too isolated when I’m cooped up on a rainy day with a toddler. It is the way I connect.
But to BabyC, there is no connectivity through this phone. When she is trying to get my attention and I brush her off to see if anyone commented on my Facebook post, she doesn’t get that I am having a conversation. She can’t imagine what could be so interesting about that gadget that it could make me ignore her, a real live person! And she’s right. As much as your blog comments and Facebook conversations feed my hunger for smart, adult interactions, this real live person is more important in this moment. The great thing about the Internet is that it’ll still be there in 30 minutes.
I should thank her, really, for giving me this gentle reminder to connect and be present with her. Her world offers a welcome quiet from the stream of data that I feel compelled to track. Without the Wi-Fi connection, nursing is an intimate time with emotional connection. We talk quietly. She points to my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and I name each of them for her. I sing a little song, one that I’ve sung since her first days, and she’s my baby again. This is, after all, the main reason that I’m still breastfeeding her and enjoying it so much. It gives us a time to be quiet and close together in the midst of her busy toddler day. It occurs to me that all babies, whether breast or bottle-fed, begin life connecting food with emotional closeness. At some point in their first year, meals often lose the emotional connection and become rushed, distracted, chaotic affairs ending with peas on the floor.
And here’s what I’ve noticed: If I’m constantly feeling the need to connect with the outside world, then I’m distracted in the moments in between. I feel bored with sitting at breakfast with a toddler, and 5 minutes later (or is it 2?) – I have to check the phone again. It’s an addiction, I tell you! But if I leave my phone in a different room and sit down to a meal with BabyC, she’s not boring at all. She bobs her head to the music from the radio. We talk about our food – the colors, the textures, if she wants more, and when she’s all done. I feel my mind start to clear and focus. Amazingly, when I’m engaged with her throughout a meal, she often doesn’t end it by throwing her food or her bowl. And after breakfast, she happily toddles off to play rather than whining and pulling at my leg. I can clean up the dishes and maybe even sit down to check Facebook and answer a few emails.
Anyway, I know that one day I’ll have to ask my daughter to please not text at the dinner table. That seems impossibly far away right now, but I suppose it is never to soon to start setting a better example.
It’s funny how hard this is. Why is the pull of the digital connection so strong? Anyone else struggle with this?