Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Open Letter...

To the dad at the Children's museum this morning:

I know you are busy. I know that you were probably on your phone for work purposes. You were undoubtedly typing on your blackberry to somebody or about something important.

But while you were doing that, while your eyes were on your phone and your mind was elsewhere, your son only had eyes for you. He sat and organized dinosaurs, painted a picture, and lined up legos...but his eyes were constantly shifting to you. His face was so open, so vulnerable in those moments. His mouth opened several times to say something, but then closed. His big beautiful eyes brimmed as he cast them back down.

And you didn't see any of it.

When he finally spoke, it was with a soft and cautious "Daddy?".

You didn't hear him, so he repeated himself.

You still didn't hear.

And when you finally noticed him, it was with a "Hum? Where do you want to go next?".

Without glancing up.

I watched him watch you as you walked away, vaguely leading him to a different corner of the museum while still looking at your phone. He scuffed his tennis shoe lightly on the floor, and then got up to follow you. When he looked back at me, I smiled slightly through my own tears.

I saw him. I saw his hurt at being ignored. I saw his sadness at not being able to share this place with you. I saw disappointment.

And it struck me to the core, because I have been you. I have been the parent who was too busy. I have been on the phone, on the computer, and in my head. I have looked at but not SEEN my children so many times. I have given them only a tenth of my attention because I had other things on my mind.

I have gone to bed at night and realized that I did not once sit down on the floor and play, or read a book, or play a game.

Because I was busy.

And I understand busy. We are adults. We make their world go around. We make the clothes appear, we cook the meals, we brush their hair, we strap them in their carseats.

I get it. I truly do. And I don't blame you. It's easy to put parenting on autopilot sometimes. You and I are a product of our times- it is easy now to be online in an instant, talk to somebody in a moment, look up something within a few minutes. It's easy to shoot off an e-mail or to send a text.

But at what cost?

When do we decided to put those things away and focus on the real, tangible people in our midst? When can we let go of the automatic need to be in the loop and connect ourselves to our kids without distractions? When can we look at them and put them first, even for only an hour? Just an hour of unfiltered, undistracted time.

I can tell you that I have spent the last few days spinning my wheels. Planning, organizing, errands. Busy busy busy. And I can also tell you that my children suffered for it.

That's why I was at the museum this morning, digging in the sand and bean table with my daughter, pretending I was T-Rex coming to ravage her pot and pan city. It's why I was dressed as a pirate giving a newscast. It's why I was doctoring bears and exploring magnets.

Because I have been there. I have been distracted and ignoring and brushing off. I am sure my children have been looking up at me like yours was...with sadness and tears, as I went on a bout a life I was showing them is more important than their feelings.

And I can tell you that I hope you, like me, gets a wake up call. Before your son is old enough to become angry and cold and harden his heart against the need of you.

So please, put down the phone. Just for an hour. Look into your boy's sweet baby browns and see him. Play with him. Show him he is more important than anything else in the world.

And I pray I can always remember to do the same.