I could tell the woman was going to be a talker.
As a fairly chatty person myself I normally welcome conversation but at just gone 10am I’d already had quite a stressful morning.
“Lovely to see you actually paying attention to your child,” she said, as she drew level with us in the otherwise empty street.
Erm… I was prepared to respond to “lovely day” or even a simple “hello” but this opener left me speechless.
“So often now all you see is parents looking down at their phones while their children are just left to it,” she commented, nodding to Freya held in my arms.
I felt the sting even though her waspish tail wasn’t aimed at me.
Like many parents, I suspect, I do worry that I check my email too much. Or scroll through Twitter one too many times in the day. That I’m not “present” enough even though, if I ever stop and look back at our days, I know I am living more “in the moment” with Freya than not.
Had the woman walked by five minutes earlier that day she would have seen me glancing at my phone. Had she been in my house an hour before (admittedly that would have been weird) she would no doubt have grimaced at me practically plugged into my iPad.
After learning the trains bringing my childcare were delayed by AN HOUR, leaving me in a big old mess on a work day, I was searching for a Plan B.
Freya was being looked after by the Octonauts. Not ideal but necessary (and even though she was perfectly happy, I still felt guilty about it because we’re constantly given the message that “screen time” will rot their brains).
“How old is she?” The lady smiled at Freya, who was giving a running commentary on the activities of the diggers at a building site while we waited for Mark to come out of work and swap for an hour while I did an interview.
“She’ll be three in August.”
“Well you can tell you spend a lot of time with her and she’s not just plonked in front of the television or, even worse, those iPad things.”
While I am not generally combative with strangers in the street something in her judgemental tone rubbed against my already frazzled nerves.
“I do spend time with her but actually she also does both of those things and I don’t think she’s any worse off for it. In fact, it’s because of the iPad that she is currently obsessed with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (she loves Puck). I certainly wouldn’t have thought to introduce her to it at two but thanks to the Cbeebies app she’s already enjoying it,” I said, warming to the subject now.
“Plus I think the internet has actually helped me to be a better mum.”
I said it without much thought but as I briefly explained the support I’d received from parents I met online when she was tiny and suffering with reflux or how rainy days are never dull thanks to the many activities I’ve found online which I’m not creative enough to think up myself, I knew I believed it.
I didn’t even get to blogging, Pinterest or the joy of Instagram, which inspires me to keep more of a pictorial record of her childhood (and any pretty flowers I happen to see).
The woman, perhaps sensing that I wasn’t going to jump on her band wagon, said: “Well I suppose it’s all about balance.”
Finally, something we agreed on.
Of course the internet is not all good and I know it’s easy to get sidetracked by social media and yes, maybe I should turn off my phone more, but for us it has largely been a positive. I certainly feel like I’m a better, even more engaged, mum because of the things I have learned online.
And, while the internet wasn’t part of my childhood, it is part of hers – and it will definitely be part of her future so why not give her an early start?
What do you think? Are we too attached to our phones, tablets and computers? Should toddlers have “screen time”?