I went to one of my favorite local restaurants for dinner over Thanksgiving weekend with my husband and a friend of ours. Our boys were out sleeping at my mother's house, and we were doing what parents are wont to do when the children are not at the table: enjoying uninterrupted conversations about very adult topics.
Across from me on the other side of the restaurant, a family was nestled in at a booth. Dad was sitting next to his two kids, who looked to be about 5 or 6. Mom was on the other side of the table with a set of grandparents. Both children were plugged into their iPads with headphones on while the adults ate and talked.
Involuntary parenting judging muscle twitched uncontrollably.
Look, I don't dig it when other parents judge me. But let's be real — we are all guilty of judging. Mostly silently. Although I often encounter the woman on the street who asks my kids if they are cold and then says that their mommy should dress them better in the winter.
So, what was I all Judge Jenny on the Moral Mountaintop about? My kids have electronics. And I have plugged them in when I need to get stuff done, like finishing one of these blogs during a snow day, for instance.
We know kids are twitchy. Especially in a restaurant. When my kids were younger, every time we went out to dinner I toted along this bag of activities –paper, crayons, markers, puzzle books, picture books, sticker books, coloring books, little creatures with removable parts that snapped together, race cars, squishy dinosaurs, hope. Every mom I knew had one such bag of table-occupying toys.
But there was something about the dinner with Grandma and Grandpa plug-in — with headphones — that felt like a line-crosser to me. We battle with electronics use on the regular. The thing that I think is most dangerous about screeny things is their ability to disconnect people from each other. And that is what I saw in the restaurant. I watched these beautiful kids, faces illuminated by blue and white light, eyes fixed, ears covered, immersed in a digital world and unaware of the family around them. Without words, they were being told that it is O.K. to tune out your relatives during dinner. No need to learn how to sit and behave and converse. Just watch your show and don't bother the grownups.
And so I judged them. From my child-free table, sipping my whiskey sour and telling no one to stop whining because the food will be here any minute.