It’s Friday night. My husband, toddler and I are out to eat. My husband and I are having a conversation about a vacation we want to save up for while enjoying our steaks. Our 2-year-old sits on her chair. She is wearing headphones as she plays with an electronic tablet.
She’s pretty well behaved for a 2-year-old when we go out to eat. Here and there we get a sitter when the hubby and I want to feel more like adults; other times we bring her to places we know are OK with kiddos.
For two years I’ve been lugging around a giant bag. This bag contains mitigation for all the mayhem that could happen when going out to eat: wipes to clean and disinfect any messes, bibs and extra clothes for a messy eater, and tons of quiet toys. Crayons, coloring books, stickers, dolls, dinosaur figures, fake keys, and a pretend phone.
That’s a lot for a bag. We practically have to ask the hostess for an extra chair just to hold the damn luggage I’ve brought!
Even if I had the Crown Jewels of England in this Mary F-ing Poppins of a bag, my kid would only be entertained for a max of 30 minutes.
Fun fact: most toddlers don’t sit in one place for very long. Those who claim differently are either lying through their teeth or heavily sedating themselves or their children.
By the time our nice warm food is on the table, the kid has decided not to be the angelic, quiet child we see in a Rockwell painting. She is ready to get out of her seat, dump all the salt shakers, and possibly scream bloody murder. I can no longer ask her to be a courteous toddler because they only exist in fairy tales, next to dragons and Jon Snow.
I have a choice to either take my child outside to regroup, entertain her with sugar packets and salt shakers, or let her reek havoc in the restaurant while I eat one warm goddamn meal in my motherhood lifetime. I usually end up with the cold meal. To go. That I always accidentally leave behind or on top of the stupid car as I pull away.
After yet another purchase of coloring books and stickers, only resulting in the child still demanding a change of scenery, I finally threw in the towel. I got the kid a learning tablet. I budgeted for the screen sucker next to the allowance of wine and beer for myself. Why? Because at the end of the day, I’m tired. I want a warm meal and an adult conversation with my spouse.
I keep reading and hearing about how terrible screen time is for children. Left and right, I get guilt-tripped about how my child needs to stay away from these devices from hell – but then I realized, my kid doesn’t sit in front of the TV all day. She thinks my iPad holds Grannie and Pop Pop whenever she wants to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” to them. She gets her “off screen” time 95% of her day. A device that sings about counting and ABC’s with Elmo twice a month for 30 minutes isn’t going to magically turn my child into a zombie. It’s going to give me a warm meal at a table surrounded by adults and allow me to finish a sentence with my husband.
Now that I have it, it’s been a very different night out. We sit down with no extra seat for my purse. We all talk and play quietly at the table. When the child starts to whine and make a scene, all our tricks failing, the tablet comes out. For all she knows, this thing pops out from nowhere every time we visit the Macaroni Grill. She’s quiet for a whole 30 minutes while we finish our meal.
Then I hear someone sitting near us tsk, “These children are everywhere with electronics! Can’t parents be parents and have a conversation with them and guide them to sit at the table?”
Honey, from the moment I wake up to the moment I struggle with bedtime, I have face-to-face time with my kid. We teach her to sit at the dinner table, and we highly encourage her to do the same in public.
But it doesn’t work 24/7. Because, toddler.
I have two hours of sitting in a public area, where I need her to be appropriate so that I (and everyone else) may enjoy a meal. You saw us for merely 10 minutes of your life and declared us unfit for something that is evolving into a new style of parenting. If you feel that even this small amount of screen time is drastically harming children, then you need to move somewhere even the Amish folk think is a bit archaic. Good luck posting that on your newsfeed when you get there.