Looking up

I recently took a walk around Como Lake in opposition of typical traffic flow.

Not only did I see the knockout fall colors from another angle, but I also looked upon more faces. Intrigued, I actually made an effort to smile and nod — maybe say hello — to each and every person (and dog) I passed.

Even if I felt shy, even if the passerby looked grumpy, I smiled.

It was kind of amazing how my spirit elevated with so much eye contact, so much exchange, so much, “I see you, too.”

I was also thinking about this month’s column for the Technology Issue.

Screen at your side

Truth be told, I’ve been putting off talking to you about screen time, Toddler Parent. Because what can I say that hasn’t already been said? What can I say that doesn’t sound nagging or insufferably superior? 

You, my dears, are the first generation to have babies and toddlers through an omnipresence of pocket media — weather, news, sports, snark, a virtual high school reunion, misogyny, rage, Pokémon, offshore casinos, all on your body, at your fingertips, lighting up your pretty face ALL THE TIME. 

The benefits are obvious.

A 75-plus-minute bedtime struggle can be eased with a quick “Why did I just read that?” escape into Hello Giggles. Need a soothing lullaby on command? Done. Looking for 1,000 Minneapolis moms in the exact same parenting stage as you? Easy. 

Modern parenting technology can be a Godsend.

The rise of the app

But, if I may sound about 500 years old and a little bit like a know-it-all, I have to tell you that my firstborn is now 12.

I didn’t have a smartphone for her infancy or toddlerhood. And it was awesome. I looked at her; I sat restless in the dark for minutes 74, 75 and 76 — alone with my own thoughts.

I noticed the smell of my daughter’s hair after the bath and the feeling of her soft, squishy arm on mine as it became heavy with sleep.

Yes, I’m aware that those pleasures can also be enjoyed while playing Cooking Fever and Instagramming the pictures you took of that smiling lunatic at Como Lake.

That’s me, looking down at an electronic little device more than I’d like to admit. 

Yes, I, too, hand my iPhone over to my kids — their brains and eyes and hearts all still developing — while we’re all waiting for food at a restaurant I’m mindful, I’m careful. I’m thinking about this, I’m talking about this. But I’m still a part of this.

As I bounced and bubbled and spread good will around Como that day, I was listening to my iTunes playlist, while also (sigh) trying to hatch an ever-loving Pokémon egg — like it was my job.

Zero hours a day 

While I could tell you that the recommended amount of screen time for ages 18 months and younger is ZERO — and the recommended amount above age 2 is now just ONE HOUR a day (according to new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics) — I know that the reality for families can be quite different.

It was true for me, even WAY BACK in 2006 when all I had to contend with was an Elmo fixation and what craziness my tot would eventually come across on the big scary desktop computer with the fancy new DSL modem.

What I really want to tell you, instead, is that I’m with you. 

You’re the guinea pigs. The moon walkers. The new normal. 

I’m with you as you make these choices, as you struggle to look up instead of down. As you perhaps decide to put your phone in another room (I know … bananas) while you sleep, because you’re parenting a toddler and you need your rest that badly.

I’m with you as you both lap up and mistrust instant gratification. I’m with you as you realize that satisfaction is harder to come by these days.

And with gratitude and love and solidarity, I want to remind you to walk the wrong way around the lake, every once in a while.

Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com. Learn more about her work at jenwittes.com.