The woman sat on the bench scrolling through her Smart phone, studying pictures, sending texts. Beside her sat a girl, too young to have a phone, yet definitely old enough to want to do something other than just sit. She wiggled and looked around She spotted me and moved over closer, “What’s your name?”
“Hush. Don’t bother her.” The woman barely looked up from her phone.
“Miss Joan.” I said and put my phone aside. “What’s your name?”
She said her name.
“Do you know your ABC’s?” I could not quite place the child’s age. Old enough to be quite aware that she could ignore the woman’s frequent, “sit still.” “Be quiet.” “Don’t bother her.” I ignored the buzz of half-hearted parental input and found an electronic book I had saved on my phone for grandchildren. We talked about the pictures until I had to leave.
I walked away amazed again at yet another adult (parent?) who had left the house with their phone, but failed to bring anything to entertain and/or educate their child during an inevitable (or even an unexpected) wait.
I have seen it time and again. In the restaurant, a child, stuck in a high chair with nothing to do while the adults chat, choose their meal, and carry on a conversation as the child simply waits, wanting to do something, tugging at the table, reaching for the cutlery, whining for attention, a toy, something! It takes so little to find something to occupy young minds. A word game. Hours on the road with my traveling parents and I must have played a thousand games of Find the Alphabet using the first letter of words on signs, read the license plates and see how many states you can find on passing cars, or count the tractors or red cars,
Idle hands and minds need something to do.
Recently, I was too tired after the family event to creatively find something for the elementary aged grandchildren who were also tired. They insisted they must be very silly and loud. Even a warning stop by the side of the road until they quieted barely caught their attention. Tiredness won. I tried telling them a story as we hurried to the end of our ride so everyone could unwind without restrictions.
The next time, I had a long stretch with tired, bored kids, I moved to the back of the car with them and made up a game using colorful building blocks. Each color had a different number. They pulled blocks out of the bag and added up points to see who pulled the most points. Nothing fancy, but much better than bored children pestering each other and driving me to distraction.
My grandchildren think that I have more toys than they do. I do have a lot of colorful, multi-shaped toys and books. Before every trip that will include children at some point, I pull out books, crafts, toys, cars, anything possible for entertainment. If we don’t have oys, I will find someway to entertain. After a funeral, the friend I had not seen in decades sat beside me to talk. I interrupted our conversation to direct the grandchildren, “Okay, let’s see how many chairs you can fold up and put away now that people are leaving. How many dirty plates you can gather up? You clear that part of the room. Each of you get 15 plates and take them to the trash bins.”
My childhood friend observed, “You always were the one organizing everyone. Telling us what to do.” Me? No way. I just see things that need to be done and people who obviously have time to do it. Seeing little ones whining, bored, wiggling and pestering other people makes me wonder why the adults have not brought something to entertain them, have not taken the time to focus on the child and given them something to do with their hands and mind.
I prefer it any day over snapping, “be quiet, quit fussing” every time the child simply wants to do something besides watch an adult while away the time on their phone.
Joan Hershberger is a staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.