Lilly, barely 4 and still the baby, is laying on her belly in my bed beside me, chin in her hands, feet kicked up like she’s seen her big sisters do all her life. It’s about my bedtime and well past hers. An altercation between her sisters woke her up, and she needs a place to be while they settle down, so she’s chilling in my room while I read. It’s nice—there’s nothing really pressing; she’s just hanging out.
But then she spots a shiny, black battery bank on my headboard and grabs it, immediately bringing it to her ear. It’s almost exactly the size of a phone, even happens to have its “on” button where an iPhone’s “home” is. She proceeds to prop herself up on her elbows and spend the next—I wish I were exaggerating—20 minutes staring at this black phone-like brick. She scrolls up and down with her right index finger, types away with her itty-bitty thumbs, makes and answers phone calls and video chats. “Hello, fwiends…Yes…No, I don’t think so, but I will in the afternoon. But first, we will have dinner.” Her one-sided “conversations” sound eerily familiar. What has happened that my 4-year-old would rather talk to a piece of plastic than to me? I’m right here, reading, and that never kept her from chattering at me before.
I’m not offended that she doesn’t want to talk to me—it’s 10:00 pm and I’d rather not be talking to children right now—but why is the “screen” so intriguing to her, even when it’s not doing anything?
Then it comes to me—I remember being in my bedroom several weeks before, putting away laundry while Jenna (my oldest, age 9) chattered on, narrating a picture book she’d written called “The Boy Who Didn’t Baleev In Himself.”
“…and then the boy tried to fly, but he just fell on the ground. ‘Oof. I guess I’m just no good at anything.’ Mom! Are you even listening?”