I confess to being one of those people who have (quietly) judged parents who are on their phones while seemingly ignoring their kids. This morning we went out for an early breakfast before work, and I had a very different experience. Here is my story:
The monkeys (my kids, aged 7, 8, and 9 years as of next Tuesday) are chatting away about the weather, as it is unseasonably cool. Kayleigh (8 years) asks, “Mama, what is the temperature?” I pull out my phone and let her know it’s apparently 63 degrees Fahrenheit. McKenna (7 years next Tuesday) pipes in wanting to know what the temperature is in Walt Disney World. Ok, 79 degrees. Now all three of them are spouting out locations. Aunt Pat and Uncle Lee’s house? 65. Hawaii? 72, and it’s still night time there. Brazil? I forget which city I picked, but it was similar – somewhere in the mid-60’s. Mexico? Ummmmm, where in Mexico will I look? Mexico City. 55. These are all from The Weather Channel app on my phone.
My husband Evan chimes in with a comment. “I think Mexico City is the largest city in the world, isn’t it?” I look at him with my “blank screen, blinking cursor” face, which is indicative of complete ignorance on my part. Chasby (9 years) wants to look it up. Evan pulls out his phone and looks up the population of Mexico City (19,463,000, according to the website they were looking at). My girls are still spitting out places they want me to look up for weather. My step-son becomes more interested on what the biggest city is. Evan asks us to guess what the biggest city in Virginia is. Kayleigh chooses Richmond. Chasby chooses Norfolk. I was thinking somewhere in Northern Virginia but realized I had no idea the relative sizes of places like Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church….Evan tells Chasby he’s close with his guess. I mentally decide it must be Virginia Beach then. Eventually we are told that is the case.
Now we go global. “What IS the biggest city in the world, daddy?” I smirk at Chasby from across the table and ask him what he means by “biggest.” We talk about measuring a city by area and by population, and how they may not be the same. Evan looks up the biggest cities, and then they start talking about different populations of cities around the world, and I am looking up the current weather in them. Tokyo, Japan. 82. Shanghai, China. 80. Delhi, India. 90.
Our lively conversation and learning frenzy is rather suddenly severed by the gruff sarcastic voice of the owner of the bagel shop. “Well THAT’S a nice way to play with your kids,” he sneers. I freeze. My husband looks up and says “I’m sorry?” The man repeats himself, adding a comment about being buried in our phones. The kids are looking back and forth between me and Evan. Evan smiles and says jovially, “Yeah, we were talking about the biggest cities so we were looking some things up,” and Chasby, as if on cue, turns and proclaims “Shanghai in China is the biggest area, with 6,340 square kilometers, but Tokyo in Japan has the most people. Over 37 million!”
The shop owner says “Oh. That’s cool,” with no real inflection in his voice, and disappears into the back.
I relayed my story to my boss/coach/team leader (he doesn’t like “boss”) at work, and he pointed me to a NY Times article about social media use by teenagers on vacation. It’s a beautiful demonstration of being connected to both the here and now and bringing that to others, as Evan and I were bringing the world to the here and now, talking with our children about the here (Richmond, VA) and now (this morning’s weather right this minute) in the context of how it compares to many other places on the Earth.
My husband and I have not yet discussed the incident, so I have no idea about his perception of what transpired. Perhaps I will ask him about it when I get home from work today. I know that next time I see parents on their phones with their kids nearby, I may think “Maybe they’re looking up the biggest city in the world.”