Just last week, I found myself doing something I never do: texting and walking at the same time. So, I am that person now. It’s funny, when I go to pick Oliver up at school, all the parents are waiting under the trees to hide from the sun, but also to prevent the glare on their smartphones. They all have their heads down, no doubt doing some very important Facebooking, Tweeting and Instagramming, or catching up on emails while they wait for their kids.
And like the theoretical tree falling in the forest, if something happens and you don’t post it to a social network, does it even happen at all? I’m going with “no.”
Since I’m a part-time parent, there is a whole chunk of Oliver’s life that I miss. During the weeks he’s at Seth’s house, I rely on text messages and Facebook posts from Seth and his girlfriend to fill in the blanks for me. I love the connectedness that my iPhone can bring.
But I also sort of hate it, for the same reasons I want to burn down the Internet sometimes. While it keeps me connected to my son when he’s not with me, it is a barrier to connectedness when he is. Too often, I find myself absently checking Twitter, or Instagramming a photo I just took of my food, or posting a video of Oliver to Facebook, when really, I should be fully enjoying the time I’m spending with my kid, who I only see half the time. It's tough to focus on your kid and your phone all at once.
Look, if ever there was a master multi-tasker, it is me. At my last job, I was the go-to person for last minute work that needed a quick turnaround. The reason for this was that I could juggle five assignments at once by re-prioritizing in a flash, all while keeping up on e-mail and looking at cat pictures. When I left, they had to hire two people to replace me, no joke.
I was totally burned out, though. It is impossible to maintain that kind of focus on two or three things at once and not have it affect at least one of them. So I may have been moving work through like clockwork, but that also meant that something had to give -- usually accuracy. Hey, you can’t have both lightning quick turnaround and 100 percent accuracy.
And this is how I feel about dividing my attention where my son is concerned. Sure, I can check my e-mail while I’m at the park with him, or text a friend, or Instagram a picture of the tree I’m sitting under, but either he’s not being fully watched or that email I’m writing to you is full of errors.
And dividing your attention between a glowing screen and a person is also kind of a lousy way to manage your interpersonal relationships.
When Seth and I were still together, one major issue was the fact that Seth spent a lot of time chatting with friends online. I felt neglected sometimes. Not that I needed a freaking parade and Rip Taylor showering me with confetti every time I walked in the door, or anything like that. (Though that would be amazing, right?) And I don't need constant attention from my significant other. Like Greta Garbo, I often just want to be alone. But there is a special kind of loneliness you feel when you are in the same room with someone and their attention is turned to something else for hours on end.
After Oliver was born, and before either of us had iPhones, there were times when both of us had our attention focused on our laptops while Oliver played nearby. Oliver would act out, and one or both of us would get annoyed and lose patience, as you might when kids whine. Except Oliver was whining because he felt the same way I did when Seth’s attention was focused on his online friends. Once we recognized what we were doing, we cut back on the amount of time we spent staring at screens. I felt terrible (I still feel terrible!)
Even so, I still spend a lot of time on my smartphone. Like, a lot a lot. Thank the universe for unlimited data plans because wow, would that be a chunk of change otherwise. I guess you could say I’m addicted to my phone, if that’s even a thing. Remember “Internet addiction”? Isn’t that just sort of the norm these days?
Smartphone addiction is a real problem, and it can have pretty serious consequences for parents of young children. Since 2007, nonfatal injuries to children under five have risen an alarming 12%, probably due to smartphone use. As if I didn’t already have reservations about leaving my kid with a stranger, this piece over at Jezebel highlights the case of a babysitter whose charge, a toddler, nearly drowned while the babysitter was engrossed in her phone, oblivious. Because really, how can you be fully aware of what a child in your care is doing if you have your nose buried in the latest meme?
Also from Jezebel:
Another woman's 2-year-old son accidentally drowned in a swimming pool with the Florida Department of Children and Families concluding that his death was "a direct result" of inadequate supervision. The mother had been tweeting about a tortoise in her backyard for five minutes while the child was dying.
Holy shit, you guys. While my kid is a bit older and knows how to swim, he is still small enough to need close supervision in many situations. And while I would like to believe that I would never neglect my toddler in favor of Twitter, all I can really say is I am so glad the iPhone didn’t exist when Oliver was that age.
And sometimes you just aren’t paying attention. About a year ago we were out to breakfast, and while Jeff and I were talking about something probably very meaningless like how shitty the diner coffee was, Oliver was choking on a piece of bacon beside us. Neither of us noticed until finally the kid’s gag reflex kicked in and he made a noise that alerted us to the situation. Thank God he was OK, but it was really scary to realize that my six year old was choking just inches from me and I didn’t even notice. Where’s my goddamn mother of the year award, already?
And that’s why I’m not going to Tweet, text, Facebook or Instagram in these kinds of situations anymore. If we’re at the park, my eyes are on my kid at all times. Photos of the park can wait until we’re home. If we’re out to dinner, I’m engaged and present. Not just for Oliver’s safety, but for his emotional well-being as well. I don’t want him to feel lonely and neglected when he is really and truly surrounded by so much love.
Somer is tweeting (but not when she's at the park with her kid) @somersherwood