July 24, 2013

Being present

Category: Being Parents

It was our regular Saturday morning at the swimming pool, and that week, I was ‘’on the bench”. We take turns so that simply means it was Silver Bullet’s turn to be in the pool with the kids for their weekly swimming lessons while I stay dry on the sidelines.

As a mother, I tend to run on auto-pilot. The moment Spud gets out the pool when her lesson is over, I would hand over Squirt to his father, and trade him for Spud.  That pretty much signals the end of any chatting session I happen to have with any parent-friends  at that point in time as I get down to business to  shower, dry and dress Spud up. Once Spud’s ready, I would fish out her snacks and water bottle and Spud would happily sit at the kiddy’s table to share her snacks with one of her friends while we wait for her brother to finish his lessons.

If the table is full, I would usually linger near and sometimes chat with other regular parents as she busies herself with exchanging snacks with her friends.  If not, I would usually grab one of those kiddy chair, sit next to her and either just chat along with her, or just amuse myself by watching her interact with other kids when there are no other parents to chat with, while watching how Squirt is doing in the pool at the same time. (Don’t I just multi-task like a pro!)
That morning, I did my usual routine.  By the time I fished out her snacks, a girl of no more than 2 years older than Spud who came with her mother while Spud was still in the pool, was already seated there.  Although neither she nor her mother looked very familiar to us, Spud was ready to claim one of the seats as she usually does while she waited for her usual friend to show up.
I then smiled at the kid, asked Spud if she wanted to share her snacks (she did, but “only a little bit”), pulled up one of the available kiddy chair and plopped myself right next to Spud. Without even being aware of my surroundings, I nattered with Spud, I asked questions and was engaging her in mindless conversation that amused her. Pretty soon, Spud was giggling, laughing and was being pretty affectionate. (We are not like this all the time, but I try really hard to engage her when I’m one-on-one with her as I am never the preferred parent)
As I took a little bit of a breather from Spud’s giggles, I looked up and saw the girl looking at us rather intently. She looked somewhat forlorn. If I had read her expressions correctly, I thought she had a look in her eyes that was filled with a sense of longing and envy; a look that begged to be held with such tenderness. I then glanced at her mom who was sitting behind her and realised that since Spud had been in the pool, her mother had been a little bit too pre-occupied with her mobile phone. I actually wondered if she had actually once looked up.
I then smiled at the little girl tenderly, and asked her if she wanted more of Spud’s snacks, to which she shyly nodded with a yes. Only then did the mother looked up for a few seconds, responded with a gentle, “Oh no! You have yours. Here, eat this,” in half-Thai and half-English, and continue to do whatever she was doing on her phone.
It then occurred to me if the little girl had felt a little ignored, and perhaps, even did feel a little envious of Spud, who was, at that time, getting a lot of attention from me. I could be speculating but I then tried as much as I could to include her in the conversation I was having with Spud as her mother focused her attention back on her phone. Until then, the mother was only half-heartedly shoving a spoon into the girl’s mouth so that she would eat her own snack (not Spud’s), and she did so without even taking her eyes off her mobile screen.
In my mind, I was sighing and shaking my head in bewilderment. If what I felt was true, I could not help but felt so sorry for the child. I know it wasn’t my place to judge and laid it down to her mother being really busy at that point in time. I pushed that incident I witnessed to the back of my head and attended to Squirt when he was done with his class.
That very evening, as if on cue, I came across an article entitled “How to miss a childhood” by a blogger called Rachel Stafford, the author of Hands Free Mama, who commits to adjust her highly distracted life. What she wrote in that post brought me back to what I had witnessed earlier in the day.
Given my impersonal relationship with my mobile phone (I once wrote my sentiments about it in my “Disconnected in a connected world” post), it warms my heart to read such sentiments. I thought that it was worth sharing as I felt that she could not have hit that last nail in the coffin any harder with her how-to article.
It drives the message deeper on how important it is for us not only as humans, but as parents to be present when we are with our kids. I hope this would inspire a parent to be less connected to their devices and get more connected to the little human being they are raising.
In parting, and echoing the author of the article: it is about what really matters.

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