Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Put. The Phone. Down.

It took me over a month to write this post. I'm not even sure I'll finish it in one sitting. I'm writing it on my laptop, which is different for me, as I usually blog on my phone over my son's head while he's nursing to sleep. Lately, however, I can't seem to find the concentration to do anything except troll Facebook, play games, and refresh my email on my phone. Constantly. It keeps me up late at night when I should be sleeping. It robs me of the time I should be doing things like writing blog posts. It consumes almost all my waking hours when I'm not playing with, dressing, or feeding the Munchkin. And I hate that it does.

I knew I had a problem when I was soothing my son to sleep one day, and my phone was sitting next to me. He was nursing, I was singing softly, rocking back and forth, and with my free hand, I was scrolling through Facebook, "Like"ing people's photos, going through my notifications, seeing who had commented on what, how many people liked my links to this or that, and not paying any attention to my son whatsoever. He was going to sleep, right? He was sleepy, I was doing my job, end of story.

Except that I wasn't doing my job, and he sensed it. I wasn't really there. My body was, my milk was, but my mind was a million miles away. Finally, at just under a year old, he was noticing. And he got me back for it by not falling asleep. Eventually he got restless, so I let him play with the white noise machine while I surfed Facebook a while longer. I figured he was tired enough, he'd get bored eventually, and we'd go back to what we were doing. 20 minutes later, I was still mindlessly swiping my screen, and he was playing with the bedsheets, no closer to napping than when we started.

When it finally dawned on me that I should be PAYING ATTENTION TO MY SON, I felt deeply ashamed. Now don't get me wrong; when he was brand-new and barely cognizant, my phone got me through many a sleepless night while feeding my boy. But now... he saw. He was learning. What was I teaching him? That my stupid phone was more important to me than he was? I pulled him close and hugged him and apologized, and we went back to nursing and rocking, nursing and rocking. My phone was next to me, but off. And I had to fight every second to keep myself from turning it on.

What the hell?

What kind of a person have I become that I can't keep my phone off for 20 freaking minutes to give my undivided attention to the most important person in my life? Oh my god, I thought, I'm addicted. I'm completely and utterly addicted to a tiny jumble of metal and glass. And I'm not alone.

My son is obsessed with my phone. Mostly with eating it, right now, because he's teething, but also with having it. He has to have it. If it's out, in my possession, or anywhere in the room that's available, he makes a beeline for it. It's no wonder; that's exactly how I feel, too. I have to know where my phone is at all times. Right now I'm keenly aware of its weight in my left pants pocket. When my husband leaves the house, our mantra is, "Wallet, Keys, Phone." If we leave it somewhere that's not on our person, the first thing we want the other person to find for us is our phone. My husband had to email me from his work account today frantically asking if he'd left his at the house (he had - I could hear it vibrating in the other room - a noise to which I'm freakishly attuned). If I go dashing in to comfort the baby because he's awakened, I always grab my phone first, or have my husband search it out for me.

All babies that I meet these days are obsessed with phones. Because we are obsessed with our phones. But phones in our time aren't just phones; they're everything to us. They're organizers, and notebooks, and calendars. They're cameras, and video-takers, and entire libraries. They're a quick search for the answer to just about any question you could ever have. They're directions to anywhere you want to go. They're a quick chat with a friend without opening your mouth. And do you know what we look like to babies when we're using them? We look like a giant idiot staring slack-jawed at our hands. It takes our concentration and our focus away from whomever we're with and directs it at a teeny screen with no nerves, or flesh, or feeling. Whenever we're using our phone for these or a bazillion other uses (I believe that's the exact number of apps now listed in the App Store) we're not there. It's like the meme photo says: "What's the point of being afraid of the zombie apocalypse when you're already a zombie?"

A quick glance around any playspace confirms it - "Look at me!" screams a beaming child performing some awesome act of childhood derring-do while the parent in question, head bowed over their smartphone, says, "Great, hon," or worse, nothing at all. Pre-verbal children, of course, either just scream, or gaze intently at their mom or dad, huge grin on their face, knowing that their Big One must be doing something so important with that little gadget in their hands, that someday they'll be able to do it, too. Meanwhile, all that's occurring is a mind-suck into Facebookland or Words with Friends or texting another someone about something or other, while missing the fleeting minutes of their children's lives. If don't want my son to emulate this behavior as a teen, I thought, I'd better start setting an example now.

So I'm trying. I'm trying very, very hard. No more phone usage while he's going down for naps; I stare at it occasionally, but I keep telling myself, "You can do it. You don't need it right now. He needs you right now." I wait to post Facebook statuses until he's *actually* asleep. In the morning, if I'm up before he is, I check my email and Facebook feeds. When he wakes, my phone goes in my pocket, and I don't bring it out unless we're calling someone *together,* or I'm using it as a camera to take adorable pictures of him. If I happen to see that someone has texted me and needs answers right away, I say what I'm texting out loud, and to whom it is going, and look up and into his eyes every few words. If I have to check an appointment, or make a note, I include him in it, by telling him everything I'm doing, and pointing it out on the phone. But I try to touch it as little as possible. It's agonizing.

I feel like such a hypocrite - I've broken my own rule and done it three times in the course of writing this post already. At least I'm catching myself at it now, and stopping myself sooner. But from here on out, I vow to do better: I'm trying to erase the example I've been setting that the phone is a crutch, a necessity. That the phone is almighty and all-important. Because when I've had my head down in it for too long, and I look up to see him watching me, smiling, I wonder, "How long has he been looking at me like that, and how many of those smiles have I missed?"


  1. You noticed and are trying. That's a very good thing. Love, you, niece Marni!

    1. Thank you, Unca Mattchu. I'm remembering to be gentle with myself. ;) Love you, too!

  2. Aww, Marni, I could have written this. Thank you for sharing. This is convicting, in the best way possible.

  3. Marn, you've educated a lot of adults, and not just the ones with nursing babies. I've been in the same boat. Pouncing into my pocket at every 'bee boo' email, every 'pop' Facebook notice, and every 'knock knock' message.

    I didn't fully appreciate my obsession to the screen until your Mom asked me to please put it down when we're together.

    I should have gotten the clue when I complained that my left hand was starting to ache ... because that's where my phone sat all day long.

    The reason to stop and take the phone out of your pocket, when you're with a loved one or friend? When it rings.