About Me,  motherhood,  Parenting,  reality check,  social media

Smart phone, dumb mom

I wanted a pithier title than that, but the pun artist in me couldn’t resist. #sorrynotsorry

Last night my trusty Samsung Galaxy J6 (sounds fake, but real, and amazingly cheap!) bit the dust in the kid’s bathroom under incriminating circumstances that none of the 4 bathers present would cop to. Best the gal at Best Buy could figure this morning, actually killed the phone a week ago, in all likelihood, when it went splat on the concrete and cracked the display, thereby allowing the magical power crystals installed there by factory unicorns to leak slowly back into the atmosphere, mingling with the stardust from whence they came.

Obviously I’m a big fan of technology. And my life as a mom with a job, kids, doctor’s appointments, volunteer commitments and the title of carpool and grocery schlepper has made me increasingly dependent on google maps, while far flung friendships have secured Voxer and WhatsApp a tender place in my heart.

But. But.

I am connected all the time. And while I like to fancy myself moderate in my usage, especially after my summer of self discovery and internet fasting, the reality is I’m super, super available to anyone who dings for my attention on that little square of magic in my pocket.

And I can’t always say that I’m the same for my kids.

This morning, untethered from my tiny screen, I found myself with the familiar case of the phantom phone checks, reaching idly for my back pocket or into the cupholder or my purse ever 15 minutes or so. I felt like a woman with a tick. I wanted to see what my sister was up to this morning and couldn’t call her, so instead I drove the 9 minutes to her house and pulled into the driveway, catcalling her with lines from Mean Girls and trying to entice her to come shopping. She didn’t take the bait, but she did invite me in for a cup of coffee and 30 minutes of cousin time. 30 minutes that would never have happened had I simply texted her, been rejected, and gone on my merry way.

Hmm, thought I, this actual, physical “stopping by unexpected” thing is kind of cool. I mean yes, she could have been in a towel and displeased to see me roll up in the minivan, but then again, she could have been delighted, as she was.

Once we made it to the store and I had my replacement in hand, I seriously considered bringing it into the library to activate it there while the kids played, but decided I wasn’t so much of a junkie that I couldn’t wait the extra hour until we were home.

Then a funny thing happened. We went into the library and it was story time. And I didn’t run away shrieking. And I didn’t pull out my phone and resign myself to multitasking during the milkshake song, mentally checking out while my kids shook their maracas and licked strangers. Instead I pulled Luke into my lap, plopped Evie into the circle of preschoolers, and I watched them. Listened to the story. Let Luke suck the (non lead based? fingers crossed) paint off of a wooden flamingo figure while the librarian read through 3 books and performed a really stand up rendition of the itsy bitsy spider. Once or twice I reached for my phone to capture a moment and send it to daddy, but it wasn’t there.

But I was there.

I was there, and it was good. And it doesn’t matter if I didn’t preserve the memory or share it with a single other soul. And I know this in my heart, of course, but it’s easy to live as if the opposite is true, as if every memory has to be captured, shared, tagged, and filed away as worthy of being experienced. All the while, the experience being the crucial thing that *is* being missed.

After the library I did something even crazier than story time, and I crossed the courtyard to a little pet store that I’ve walked past 100 times and never thought to go inside. We opened the door and there were dozens of real, live puppies in cubicles of soft straw, playing with toys, wrestling each other, sleeping in piles of fluff. It was semi magical, except for the devastating aroma of pee that slapped enough sense into me via my olfactory system and reminded me WE ARE NEVER GETTING A DOG.

But still.

I told the guy at the desk we were definitely not buying today, but could we look at that little keeshound puppy? He was happy to pull him out and put him into a little play yard with Evie and me, Luke looking on from the safety of his stroller and longing to pull out clumps of fur, no doubt. And the puppy was adorable and I was instantly 15 years old again, playing with the family dog (we had a keeshound named Mac, and he was irascible) and oh, how my fingers itched to snap a shot of Evie getting puppy kisses and nuzzling his fur. Also, I wanted to google “hip dysplasia in keshounds” and research the likelihood of using a live animal to bribe my 2 year old to potty train had any kind of proven track record for success. And also to send a WhatsApp to my 6 siblings that said “MAC!!!”

But instead I just watched her play. I picked up the puppy and cradled him in my arms, showing Evie the right way to hold “not too fast, not too squeezy,” and I soaked up the urine-scented moment of unexpected joy in an otherwise ordinary Wednesday.

Afterwards I took them both out to lunch, free Chipotle kid’s coupons in hand. I sat patiently and helped Luke pop pieces of quesadilla and rice, which is possibly the worst food to attempt to feed a baby in the whole world, into his little mouth. I poured some of my club soda into a condiment cup and let him try to hold it himself, which went exactly how you’re thinking it did. I wiped mouths and answered questions about cheese and why it’s stringy. I passed out lemon slices and picked up single grains of rice off the floor until finally we just gave up and slunk out in shame.

What I didn’t do was check my email. I didn’t log into my work messaging app to chat with colleagues. I didn’t open notebook to drop a rouge idea into text. I didn’t send a single vox, and I didn’t spend a single minute scrolling through Pinterest looking at healing Paleo squash recipes to welcome Fall with all your heart and also gold spray paint.

I was disconnected, but I was present. Am still present. And while my replacement phone is charging up beside me as I type, ready to be activated and to connect me back with the rest of the world, I am aware that I have a pressing responsibility to learn to do this better. My kids are growing fast. In a few years they’ll be clamoring for devices of their own, especially if mommy continues to use hers like it’s the most important thing in the room.

But of course it isn’t.

Or is it?

Is it?

I wouldn’t fault a casual observer for thinking, after spending a few hours or days following me around, that it was.

So here’s to a broken screen, which has done more in 24 hours to show me how broken my relationship with technology has become than any number of self improvement resolutions have done in recent years. Yes, I will reactivate the phone. No, I’m not going back to a dumb phone. But I also don’t want to continue being a dumb mom who is more tethered to her device than to her actual life. Maybe I’ll even leave the device itself tethered, plugged in and waiting for me at home, once it awhile.

(But we’re still not getting a puppy.)



  • Philippa

    Lovely article.. and so true. Sometimes I leave my cell at home… just to prove that I can! Don’t discount getting a puppy! We have a spoodle and he is so cute and the kids just love him. They have been learning responsibility and care of an animal and then we decided to get a couple of chickens! Such fun. God bless. I’m known to quote you! Philly

  • jeanette

    “And I can’t always say that I’m the same for my kids.”
    Your comment so reminded me of my husband. Will go to great lengths to answer the phone, but I could be bleeding to death on the floor and would have to “wait a minute” (which is really much longer than a minute…). It is very important to be as available in person as you are electronically, most especially to your family. You are smart to pay attention to that fact.

    Anyhow, our computer (which we share) died not that long ago and I waited 3 weeks to replace it to give my husband time to realize how addicted he is to using it. And he came down from the overuse pretty well. I was impressed. Until we got the new computer…

    The funny thing is, you are experiencing what life used to be like for my generation. Just the old land-line and snail mail. Nothing else but face-to-face real relationships occasionally supplemented with greeting cards, post cards, and phone calls to actually get together.

    When I worked at a computer corporation years ago, I would forgo using my office phone to actually walk to the office of the person I wanted to talk to. I would often hand deliver interoffice documents rather than send it through the interoffice mail. Reason: to get up and walk, rather than sit, and to connect with people in the company on a personal level, even if it wasn’t required. Human interaction is so vital, and electronic connections are meant to support, not supplant that. It takes real effort to notice our own behavior, because it does really become second nature to make the tools at our disposal overtake our lives.

  • Diana

    I LOVE this! Not enough to want to break my phone but still such a good reminder. I was just thinking about the foot surgery I had two years ago and how that left me mostly couch bound for 6 weeks with an 18 month old to watch. It was a really tough time and parenting on crutches is not easy but…it was really nice to mostly just be focused on my son since I couldn’t do much else! Definitely the best thing I got out of that time even though the circumstances weren’t ideal!

  • Judith

    Great reminder, Jenny! You know, I think we could all achieve some of this just by powering off our phones now and then. How often do we just set it to silent or airplane mode so we can turn it back on as soon as possible? If it’s off and needs to power up, of course it would be there if it were really an emergency, but maybe we’d think twice about powering it up just to check Facebook when we’re bored being moms. Thanks for the idea. (Hmmm, how sad is it that I want to wait until Lent to actually give this a try? 🙂 )

    And I second the question about the Chipotle coupons!

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