The Moment Another Mum Brutally Rejected Me -- For Her Phone
There’s a question that many new parents ask themselves, particularly when it’s a quiet day of watching daytime TV, sterilising bottles and patting the baby: where did all of my friends go?
When I became a mother for the first time, I knew exactly where my friends were. They were at work, which is where I used to go, before I had a tiny baby whose life depended on me.
This huge responsibility was the reason why I needed friends to see during the day – I needed a break from obsessing over the baby, preferably involving coffee and a chinwag, while also getting some reassurance that I wasn’t completely stuffing up this motherhood thing.
My plan for Having Friends Other Than The Characters From The Bold And The Beautiful was simple. If I saw another parent, at the park or story time or any other local, kid-friendly place, I’d say ‘hi’.
There was one problem: the other parents were so engrossed in their smartphones that they wouldn’t look up, and it put me off from saying ‘hello’. I felt like I would be interrupting something, even though I had a suspicion (okay, I peeked at their screens) that they were just scrolling through Facebook.
It’s the 21st century version of crossing the street to avoid someone, or the adult way of saying “you can’t sit with us!” without uttering a word. Want to be left alone? Just stare at your phone.
I experienced the ultimate phone fob-off one day, after I’d taken my daughter to a “mummy and me” dance class. After the class, the parents would split off into small groups and grab coffee together, or they’d take their kids to the park next to the dance studio.
Each week, I happened to stand next to the same woman at the park swings, as our daughters played on the swings at the same time. I recognised them from the dance class. This woman was an expert multi-tasker, as she pushed her daughter on the swing, drank from a takeaway cup of coffee and texted at the same time.
One day, I worked up the courage to try to chat with her, even though she rarely looked up from her phone.
I made a small, benign comment, like “It’s so cloudy today”, and it seemed to go okay - she glanced up and said she agreed, before returning to her phone. Over the weeks, as we followed this pattern of comment-and-response, I mistakenly began to feel like we were building up a rapport.
Finally, one morning, she said something which left me in no doubt that she wanted me to shut up and leave her alone.
“It was so cute when the kids did the butterfly dance today,” I said.
She didn’t answer, and instead looked pissed off. She held her phone in her palm and used the other hand to gesture to it, as though she was showcasing a fine piece of art.
“Sorry,” she huffed, “I just want to use my phone right now. This is my time for texting my friends. It’s the only time I have. I don’t want to be rude, but I’m very busy.” And then, you guessed it, she went back to using her smartphone.
I never spoke to her again. I respected her honesty and her boundaries. But also… what was that?! I was embarrassed, and it stung to be rejected for a phone.
It made me feel insecure, and I wondered if perhaps ‘striking up a conversation’ wasn’t an acceptable thing to do any more. And if everyone already had their friends neatly stored in a group chat on their phone, then how would I ever make new friends?
That moment has stood out in my memory because I saw how smartphones and social media were having a negative impact on my real-life interactions.
It’s really awkward to know that the parent next to me is a sociable person who likes to chat – just not in real life, not in person and not with me. Chatting silently, via a smartphone keypad, to an invisible person while another human stands in front of you and tries to make a connection, is just plain rude.
There are times when we really need to be on our phones, and I get that, and I’ve been there. But after that’s done, I put my phone away, because I want to be present in the moment, for my own enjoyment of life and also for my children. They learn about how to interact with the world through watching me.
What am I teaching them about socialising – and in broader, hippier terms, caring about their fellow humans – if I refuse to look at anything except for my phone?
The next week, after dance class, I saw the phone lady having coffee at the café with another woman from the class. It’s not you; it’s my phone.
Featured image: Supplied