Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Mothers

I watched a young mother on the trolley with her 3 year old. She sat her son by the window but insisted that he sit down on the seat rather than look out the window. As soon as she sat down, she called someone on her cellphone and proceeded to chat with them for the next 15 minutes or so. Sitting across from the two of them and slightly behind, I had the perfect place for watching interactions. This mother sat with her back to the child!

After about 5 minutes, curiosity got the best of him and he knelt on the seat in order to be able to see out the window. "Look!" he exclaimed with glee, "A truck!"

Mom paid no attention as he patted her on the arm. He tried again. "Mommy! Mommy! A truck right there!"

"Shut up!" she replied, clearly irritated. "I can't hear."

He was quiet for a few more minutes until he spotted a fire engine. You could see his whole body react to the sight of the big red hook and ladder. He broke into a big grin, bouncing on his knees and patted the window. "Mommy! A fire engine! A big fire engine! Look! Look! Oh! a firemen waved ! Look Mommy! He waved at me!"

How could you resist that plea? The child was clearly overcome with joy at the response from the firefighter. "I told you to shut up!" she screamed as she smacked him, "Sit down! What do you think you are doing! I can't hear. I told you that. Sit down and shut up or I'm gonna smack you again!"

The little guy didn't even cry, as though he were accustomed to this reaction and sat down for a few minutes. As his mother had finished the call, instead of putting the phone away, she began to play a game at this point. The little guy eventually got up on his knees to look out the window but didn't talk to his mother again.

Same trolley, different day.

A trolley pulls up to the stop and a young mother gets on with her son, about 3 years old. She has obviously just picked him up from daycare - his fists are clenched around some colored pages upon which he has drawn some scenes.  She is also on her cell phone. "I'll call you back when we're home," she says, "We're on the trolley now. Can't talk."

She sat her son by the window but insisted that he sit so he could look out the window. As soon as she sat down, she took the papers her son was holding and proceeded to chat with him about them for the next 10 minutes or so After she was satisfied that he had told her everything about his day, she instructed hime to look out the window and find squares. "Look at that big box the man is carrying" That is a square!. Can you find a square?"

The young boy looked dutifully for squares as Mom helped him. "Look at the building. Do you see any squares? Where are they?"

He excitedly poinnted out the various geometric shapes his mother requested. She praised him each time he found one and gently corrected him when he didn't. "That looks like a circle, but see the shape? It's a little flat in the middle. We call that an oval."

The entire time they were on the trolley with me, they conversed. He asked her questions when she told him it was his turn to question her! I was delighted with the whole process. Not once did she glance away, hoping that he wouldn't say anything to her. She was totally focused on him, as it should be. They talked about what happened at school, where they should go on the weekend, who has more dogs - Mom-Mom or Aunty?, what color the cars were, how many cats sat on the step. It was amazing!

Can you guess which child will sail through school? Can you guess which one will know shapes and colors before he gets to Kindergarten? Can you guess which child will be willing to try new things or have a discussion? Can you guess which one will have a great vocabulary when he gets to school?

It's not hard to figure out the answer.

When my youngest daughter was four years old, she had to visit the doctor on a day she was under her grandmother's care. Mom-Mom was not sure where the doctor's office was, but her granddaughter was able to tell her where to turn and what was coming up next because we talked about it on the way to previous doctor visits. Mom-Mom was impressed that a child could give her such excellent directions. She was only able to do it because she was an observer as we traveled, something I encouraged.  Her first words read were the street signs on the way to kindergarten. Words like Locust, Spruce, Market, Chestnut, Walnut, Arch, Vine, Haverford and even Westminster. The only one that stumped her was Wyalusing!

Since the advent of cell phones and game boys, we have enabled a generation of kids to get by without having face-to-face conversations or observing their surroundings. This just doesn't happen on public transportation either. How many parents buy vans or SUVs with DVD players? Put the kids in their car seats and boosters, turn on the DVD and drive without having to talk to the kids. They don't have to look out the window to notice shapes, colors or the number of cats on the steps. All the entertainment is electronic.

How sad! What have we learned by depending on all these pieces of modern technology?

That discussion is dead?


  1. No we have learned "I must be entertained at all time." And "People don't matter, except to entertain me." so much has gone out the window in this new digital generation, including interpersonal skills and problem solving - not to mention manners and the art of conversation.

  2. I remember when a housemate was babysitting a little boy named Ian, who wandered into my room and proceeded to dump a box of small random objects on the floor. We started sorting them by shape. He got mad when he sorted a thread spool into Circle, and I knocked it over and said it was a rectangle.

    An old subway pass surfaced printed with a rudimentary map of the subway system, and I said, "What's this?" He looked at me like I'd sprouted a third eye. "Rectangle, right?"

    "No!" said Ian. He pushed the card across the floor on its edge. "Train! Choo Choo!"