Drink In the Precious Moments Before It Is Too Late.

Over my years as a full-time mom, I spent my fair share of hours in coffee shops. Then, years later, when I started working on my first novel, I spent hours tucked in a corner pounding out words on my laptop. Whenever I took a break, I’d look around—and what I saw left me heartbroken.

At this time, my children were teenagers, but I loved to watch the younger parents with their little ones. What saddened me was that the majority of young mothers (and mothers made up most of the caretakers) were glued to their phones. 

One time when I didn’t want to take up a table, I squeezed myself and my laptop at the end of the bar counter. There were several empty chairs alongside my spot, and soon a young mother and her little boy (about three or four years old) sat down. In one hand, she had her coffee, in the other her phone.

The little boy scrambled up and plopped down at the counter. Still looking at her phone, the mom blindly rummaged around in her bag and dragged out a juice box. Using her teeth, she pulled off the straw and placed both box and straw in front of her son. 

Immediately, he started chattering away. He pointed out things, swung his legs, asked questions, tugged her sweater, nudged her elbow, but throughout it all, she remained glued to the phone.

It took all my self-control not to rip the phone out of her hand! I wanted to stand on the bar counter and tell her that her son would grow up so quickly her head would spin. I wanted to tell her that these years were beyond precious. I wanted to tell her that a time would come when she would dream of holding his chubby little hands and discussing how they get the sugar into the packets.

But, of course, I didn’t.

I took a deep breath and imagined myself back in 1999 when my son was three. I grabbed one of the long iced-drink straws, gently eased off the paper wrapper, and pressed it flat like a ribbon. I did this slowly, knowing his eyes were on my every movement.

Then, turning so he could see what I was doing—but not saying a word—I folded the wrapper back and forth into accordion folds until it was one tiny square. Taking my finger off, it sprung open like a corrugated snake. 

His eyes shone with surprise. Then, I took the discarded straw and dipped the tip into my coffee. I moved it above the wrapper and let one drop drip onto the middle. Immediately the wrapper buckled and moved as the paper absorbed the liquid.

He spun to his mother, eagerly sharing this marvel. I crossed my fingers this would be the point where she put down the phone, but no, she glanced over the top of the screen, nodded, said, “that’s cool,” and went back to her screen. 

The reason I took myself back to 1999 is it was our Big Travel Year. For various reasons, we were able to take off seven months between leaving South Africa and arriving in the US. We had sold our home in Cape Town, and all our furniture was in a container en-route to storage in America. My dear parents provided us a base in their home, and from there, we wandered the world.

For seven months, five days a week, 24 hours a day, it was just the four of us; two adults, one six-year-old and one three-year-old—and it was heaven! I cannot explain how wonderful it was to be our little unit without the pull and push of jobs, school, in fact, any of the demands of regular life.

But, of course, without structure, there were hours to fill. It was during this time that we became the most resourceful. I can attest that when you’ve spent hours and hours in airports and waiting in restaurants or in lines for a museum or attraction, you quickly figure out how to entertain small children with almost nothing. (One day, I will write a blog titled: “A hundred games you can play using sugar packets, straws, and a few odd coins.”

This was long before handheld devices or any electronic devices suitable for young children. Naturally, my bag was always stocked with coloring-in books, crayons, and pads of blank paper, but they could amuse up to a point. Most days, we went on outings or had a goal in mind, but there is only so much ‘touring’ you can do with two little ones. 

As both my husband and I had always worked full-time prior to this period, we, too, had to adjust to a slower pace. There were no nannies, au-pairs, or nursery school to take care of the children; it was just us. Slowly we began to realize that we could watch our two grow up in front of our eyes. 

In our previous lives in Cape Town, they had been eyebrow-deep in educational and fun toys. Also, they always had a caretaker watching, supervising, etc. Now, as the weeks passed, games evolved with whatever was around.

Hours were spent in the little garden of the house we stayed at in England. Sticks, sand, pebbles, shells from the beach, flowers, sheets of paper, brooms, even items of clothing could be part of our games. 

We saw how they thrived. New words were added to their vocabulary, reading and counting skills soared, and their general dexterity improved enormously. 

When we finally resumed real life in the US, I would often think back on those glorious days. (Full disclosure: I still do.)

All of this passed through my mind as I looked around the coffee shop. 

I wanted to shake these parents and beg them to put down their phones, remove their earbuds and drink in every moment they had with their babies, toddlers and children. The world would steal so much time away from them; they shouldn’t give it away, lost in a phone.

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2 comments on “Drink In the Precious Moments Before It Is Too Late.
  1. Jennifer Pinney says:

    So true, Jane. Rubber bands and paper clips were always my “go to” and those times with my kids were the best!

    • Jane Paterson says:

      It’s often the unstructured moments that are the sweetest. And yes, amazing the games you can create with those simple objects!

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