A few weekends ago we went to a hotel and upon entering the pool, found ourselves watching a stray 3-year-old as his parent stared at her phone, her back to the water behind her. The kid became a part of our tribe and we responded to the “Watch me!” and “Look at this!” from the little one. This happens sometimes I think because we have so many kids. People feel like, cool that lady must love kids she can totally hang with mine too. And I’m sure the parent had a long night, a long week, a long year. I get it.
The next day, we tackled the zoo. I watched families making their way around, and so many parents were absentmindedly walking through the exhibits, phone in hand. Not taking pictures, just scrolling and typing and shuffling kids along. The zoo is a lot to take. I get it.
While walking around the world, I have seen so many kids trying to get their dad’s attention at the game as he scrolls through his newsfeed or mom’s attention at the grocery store as she texts and pushes a cart. We have stuff to do and people to touch base with. I get it.
I get it because these parents are just like me. I know just how they feel.
I have been that parent. The one who just wanted to chat with friends. The one that just wanted to play one more round of Hay Day on her phone. The one that wanted to do a quick Facebook check in the middle of the zoo because really, it’s a whole lot of looking at animals doing a whole lot of nothing.
But watching other people do just what I do opened my eyes. It made me feel like I can do better. We can all do better. It was a wake-up call.
Because as an observer, I watched the look in the kids’ eyes.
The look in the eye of the 3-year-old hoping mom would watch him jump in and then the resignation, realizing he was on his own.
The kid at the zoo that just wanted to stare at the giraffes for a few more minutes, but whose mom was walking forward without him, chuckling at a text from a friend.
The look in the eyes of the kid at the grocery store that wants to point out something they see to their mom, but who can’t compete with the phone in the hand.
I am sure my kids have had that very look in their eyes at one point or another.
Let me stop and say I am all for being a free range parent. I tell my kids to go play on a regular basis and I believe this is a necessary and healthy thing to do. I don’t helicopter or lawn mow my kids, or whatever the newest over hovering parenting thing is. I agree kids need room to be kids and parents need time to just be, without being on all the time. 10 minutes of connecting on Facebook with a friend can be my lifeline to sanity.
And for the record, “Watch this!” gets old fast at the pool for me too.
But we live in times of ultimate distractions. Our phones. Our computers. Our exhaustion from trying to do everything. It can swallow us up if we let it.
10 minutes on Facebook turns into an hour. A text to a friend leads to checking an email and then sending 5 more. Taking time at home to relax and read a couple articles on our phone can lead to not even realizing we are continuing to do these same things when we are at the zoo and the grocery store or when our kids are looking to us for US.
This is why my observations gnaw at me.
Because there are limits.
Because there are lessons.
This weekend my lesson was this: We must look up.
There is a time and a place and a way to disconnect and it might not be in the middle of the zoo.
We need to look up from our cell phones and our computers and whatever that thing is that is distracting us and we need to see what is really important.
Because it crushes me to think of the amount of times in a day I say things like, “I’ve just got to finish this text.”
“Hold on…I’m doing something.”
Or, “Hmmmm…yup. Sounds good,” when I have no idea what on earth this kid just said because YouTube can be hilarious.
And all my kids can see is the top of my head.
Because I am looking down. At my phone. At my computer. At a book. At something that will always be there.
When our kids won’t.
And yet somehow I cannot be bothered to look up at them and into their eyes?
We are missing it, you guys. We are missing the moments and we are missing a chance to be our best selves.
Look up and see the look in their eyes as they long for you to see them.
Look up and see that this time together is so fleeting.
Look up and look into their eyes.
Look up and look ahead.
It is almost over. Whether they are 2 or 12, it is almost the end of the time you have with them. How do we want to spend that time? The choice is ours to make each and every day.
This time is so short and it all goes so fast. We hear this over and over because it is so heartbreakingly true.
So look up my friends.
Put down the phone. Close your computer. And really live this beautiful life….even the parts that don’t feel beautiful. Because either way, missing it is never the choice we want to make.