To say that I was slightly irritated by my under-caffeinated and over-jostled condition that wet winter morning in the overcrowded coffee shop would have been an understatement. Working types elbowed aggressively past me, perhaps assuming from my disheveled appearance and whining 3 year-old toddler in his stroller, that I somehow had fewer responsibilities than they did.
The glacial pace of the coffee line, coupled with the screeching of the barista’s espresso machine and agitated buzz of the packed café’s patrons, was beginning to take its toll on Toddler. As if infected by the frenzy, Toddler was beginning to whine more deliberately. Because its too early and I’m too tired, I offer up a half-hearted song. Toddler gets louder. Forcing greater effort, I try a favorite descriptive game, “This animal has a long neck!” Decibel level increasing, cue the stroller-writhing. Not good. Dreading the imminent meltdown, I launch into mommy mode, resorting to old trusty “I Spy” for the distraction. Screaming ensues, punctuated with stroller-kicking. Inevitable glances of disdain from my fellow café patrons follow. I reach for a book but it is received with a definitive twist in the opposite direction.
Desperate to calm Toddler, and to alleviate a rapidly deteriorating situation, I grab the iPad. I lean over to a suddenly pacified child and deliver some instructions. Toddler manages a half-nod as he expertly swipes and taps his way to the desired app. Mommy – and patrons – begin to feel tensions diminish. I indulge myself in my own contemplations for a moment, or maybe two, before audible grumbling from a woman behind me interrupts my thoughts.
“What kind of parenting is that?” she criticizes loudly.
“Don’t you think you should be reading to him?” the denunciation continues.
“I’m sorry?” Incredulous, I find only those words.
“Don’t you think you should be teaching him how to read, or count, or SOMETHING?” she condemns with much contempt.
Angered by her interjection but empowered by her folly, I smile.
“I AM teaching him how to read, actually,” I grin confidently at her. “He’s playing a spelling app. He is learning how to read by viewing the picture associated with a word, listening to the word, and then selecting the letter that completes the word. He’s practicing his letters and phonics. Plus, he is working at his own pace, without the pressure of trying to please a hovering mommy. Best of all, he thinks he is playing a game and is having a BLAST doing it!”
She blinks. She turns silent. She mumbles an apology as her gaze drops away.
As I leave the café with my latte, I realize that the admonishment I have just received may be common to moms who resort to the iPad as a temporary pacifier. It seems all too easy to pass judgment, to assume that the parent often, or even always, depends on electronics or screen time to pacify their child. Maybe this is because the critics do not usually have the benefit of viewing the screen themselves. Maybe it is because the depth and breadth of well-created educational apps is not fully appreciated, given the nascent technology.
As we head to the playground, Toddler begins to sound out the word “PLAY,” one of the words he has just seen on the iPad, taking time to pronounce each letter perfectly. I congratulate him on his fantastic effort, surprised a bit by his accomplishment. I think of the woman who had just offered her unsolicited criticism and I smile. If resorting to well-designed, fun, and stimulating technology to educate my child is an indiscretion, then by all means go ahead and judge me. Make my day.