For the Record, I Wrote this After Their Bedtime

I came home from the gym last night after David had tucked the girls into bed. If that magical window of time between David getting home from work and Cian needing his bedtime feeding is wide enough, I’ve been trying to fit in some exercise in the evenings–to be able to move again after nine months of Cian in my belly and c-section recovery feels like what a former prisoner’s first meal in freedom must be like, except maybe not as greasy.  And since our house has grown smaller than those little boxes that Panera Bread uses to package your sandwiches, I either trek outside (brrr, so no) or to the gym.

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Last night, my class ran late, and I ditched out of the cool down early (I can breaaaaathe in and out in the car well enough, thanks) to race home, convinced that Cian would be screaming his head off in dire need of his mother.

But the house was quiet when I entered. Cian was dressed and ready for bed, the girls’ room was dark and quiet. David admonished me for being so worried (“We’re fine. Relax!”), and suggested I duck in to see the girls just in case they were awake.

Saoirse was already sound asleep, but as I approached Quinn’s bed, I heard her sharp intake of breath. I leaned over, and she was smiling wide at me, her head the only thing poking out of her covers, her little teeth shining in the light from the hallway.  Her eyes were wide, too, bright and soft.

“Mommy!” she gasped. “You’re here?”  I cannot explain well enough the way my insides went to mush when I heard that. We leaned toward each other to kiss good night.  She was still smiling.

“You’re here?” She said it again, like she couldn’t believe her good luck. “Yes,” I said. “I’m here.”

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I’ve been noticing lately that I’m on my phone a lot. I mean, a lot. Between Facebook and Twitter and email and the news and gofugyourself.com, it’s too much. I’m constantly looking at it. A notification pops up and I’m one of Pavlov’s dogs, needing to check it before anything else in my life happens. My children will be sitting next to me, reading books, and I’m on my phone. Feeding Cian in the morning while my children burst into the room to see me? On my phone. I check it in my car, before bed, after lunch when I should be making sure Quinn is going to the bathroom before her nap.

I’m sick of it. And the funny thing is, I’m already a mess of guilt and stress because I’m desperately trying to get my novel ready for Katie to submit to potential publishers. I have two of the biggest dreams of my life happening at the same time–starting a family, and being thisclose to publishing my first book and trying to establish a writing career–and I worry. Worry that I won’t find time to throw myself into the writing when I need to. And then when I do, I worry because the children are being ignored or watching too much tv. It’s a pitfall, too, of the full-time parent. Oh, I think, I’m here all the time. I can read that book with them later, maybe. I’m busy right now.

But I’m not, really. Yes, I have the book. Yes, I have the laundry and the dinner and whatever else. But the phone is what’s getting me. Why? In twenty years, am I going to care what Jennifer Lawrence wore to the Oscars (well, probably yes, because I really do think she’s awesome)? Will it matter if I miss a day of tweets? There are only so many food blogs you can read, after all. And oddly enough, it’s my biggest pet peeve to go out to dinner with friends or family members and watch them put their faces in the phone the entire time we’re together. It makes me feel small, like it doesn’t matter if I’m there or not. So why am I doing it to my own children? Especially the children I gave up a job for because we thought it was important to be a constant presence in their upbringing? Do I want my own kids to not respect other people one day? Do I want them to make the people in their lives feel special, or treat them as I’m treating my own family?

I’m done. I’m through. Yes, I’ll still be on social media. I mean, really, like anyone can quit it cold turkey and not chew their fingernails down to nubs from withdrawal. And there are some really good relationships I’ve fostered on it that simply won’t translate to real time, or real life. It’s the strange truth of modern interaction, I guess. And yes, I’ll still be looking over status updates during down time, or while I’m waiting for the food to heat, or sitting in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. But I’m finished looking at that thing in front of my kids. I’m tired of them seeing my phone rather than me. And I’m tired of the Pavlovian response, the urge to check, check, check that means I’m not present when my children are.

I read somewhere that if you walk into a room and your child is there, the best thing you could do for her self-esteem is seek her out with your eyes. Make her know that you see her, rather than rushing by like she’s not there. That simple gesture of eye contact–and I try to do this–really does make their faces light up. It sounds so hippie-dippy (is that a thing?), but I love that advice. Especially when I sometimes don’t acknowledge my children when they’re sitting right beside me.

Am I being too hard on myself? Am I overthinking a staple in our modern lives, or navel-gazing when I should be getting back to that novel revision already? No. Not at all (And don’t worry, Katie, I’m making good headway!). And you probably know it, too, because you do the same thing. In fact, I’ll bet you’re reading this post on your phone. It’s what we do. Especially bored stay-at-home moms whose only adult interactions some days are with the other moms we run into at preschool drop-off. It’s a small world, with little variation. There’s a reason the internet is so popular.

But enough. My children will be grown before I know it. An e-card joking about how wine makes a great dinner substitute can wait. I don’t need to see another Harlem Shake video, and I certainly could live without having to view another photo of a cat in a basket. The damn phone is being put away, face down. At least until the kids have walked into another room.

I keep picturing Quinn’s little face last night, that unexpected moment in the dark quiet of bedtime. She’d been so thrilled to see me, her happiness so simple, and true.

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“Mommy!” she said.  “You’re here?”

Yes. Yes, Quinn. I’m here.

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