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Dear Mom (writing about Mom) writing about Mom on the iPhone

These days I don't usually get too exercised about mom-on-mom atrocities. You know: the mommy wars. Momtroversy! Hand-to-hand mombat! ...OkayI'llstopnow.



...Momnia Brawlia in tres partes diviOKAY.

It's not so much that I feel that hot-button topics don't apply to me, because Marissa Meyer and I have a lot in common and I plan to give her a call next time I feel like getting my peasant on, see if she wants to bump panniers or something. It's more, I think, that I feel comfortable.

I don't have a lot to fight over, not a lot I'm ambivalent about. I don't feel the urge to argue about what goes on in my life. The need I might once have had to defend a position is satisfied now by living it. When it comes to caring what other moms do, or what others think about me, I'm as disengaged as one of Marie Antoinette's cows, as immune to controversy as her pretty pink sheep.

So it surprised me to get so annoyed about a piece that was making the rounds last week, the one about the mom on her iPhone. Yet get about it so annoyed I did do. First of all, don't call me Momma. I spell it Mama, and it's pronounced I'll thank you not to patronize me. Second, I found the sanctimony of it repellent. Third, the implication that every moment is golden and not to be missed strikes me as disingenuous, although I do agree that watching a four-year-old stick his finger up his nose all the way up to his elbow is more gripping, in its way, than anything a smartphone can easily serve up, possibly with the exception of a video of same set to K-pop. Fourth — and this is the biggie — I reject the notion that I should always be available as an audience, that my kids should be entitled to endless applause, and that they should get positive reinforcement for expecting it.

Now pretend there's a paragraph here explaining what I don't mean by that last. I mean, look, I'll gladly watch you twirl once. I'll even watch you do it twice, to verify that in fact your twirling only improves as you work to hone your talent, which is, I agree, prodigious. And if you're Ben in your pink sequined skirt, I'll even give you three more times, because, child, you are hilarious. But beyond that — well, anyway, are we good here? Okay, moving on.

So that post made me crotchety, and I know I'm not alone in that, as I saw several rebuttals posted in a much more timely fashion than this one. (What. I was busy having my farthingale rewired, installing new rebar in my stomacher, and getting my wig sprayed for silverfish.) I was glad to see so many dissenting opinions, because it seems to me that sistermothercommunityhood is only powerful as long as we're willing to call each other out on our bullshit. But I was chagrined to see so many of them miss what I felt was the point.

The responses that disappointed me all boiled down to this premise: What if the trope on the bench with the phone were doing something important? She could be answering e-mail from work, so as to keep the job that puts food on the table. She could be scheduling therapy appointments for her child, who has, I don't remember, scrimshaw or something. She could be organizing a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She could be reaching out for emotional support from her 60,000 Twitter followers. Don't judge her: she's righteously busy.

Dr_pepperAnd, you know, she could be, this entirely fictitious lady on her entirely hypothetical phone ignoring, imaginarily, her theoretical children. Plenty of people manage to be respectably productive on a smartphone, even in the presence of children. Me? When my kids are around I find I can't work, so fragile is my focus. (It's not you, boys, it's me.) (And you.) (But mostly me.) (...Andalsoyou.) And when I'm on my phone, it's Scramble city, sweetheart. Or Facebook, or HootSuite, or texting snotty things with a friend about, seriously, the four cans of soda her son was given during a recent playdate. ("Howler monkey on PCP?" "ADHD lemur on meth.")

The thing is, I'm usually not busy with something important when I'm ignoring my kids. I'm generally dicking around, and why is that not okay? Why do I need to justify doing something just because it's fun with phrases like "self-care" and "recharging my batteries"? Oh, wait. Huh: I don't! It is okay to just screw around, to put my own desires in front of my kids' now and again, and I wish more people would thrust a fist into the air and declare it. I'm fucking off and I don't care.

I mean, we still get to do that, even once we have kids. If you're uncomfortable with the baldness of that assertion, you can dress it up if you want to, acknowledge that during interludes of benign neglect we're simultaneously teaching our children something valuable: that other people's desires are important, too; that you're not always the focus of every eye, and you mustn't expect to be; that when you need us we'll be present, but not every second you merely want; that if Momma — shudder — looks away for a minute, you'll still be fine. You'll thrive.

All true. All true even if the reason for my benign neglect is not that I'm organizing an airlift of humanitarian aid or spearheading an adult literacy program or singlehandedly keeping special needs primates off street drugs and Dr. Pepper. The same thing is true even if I'm merely scowling over my phone, wondering why SHIT and SHAT are words in Scramble but SHITTER doesn't count.

And, whoa, 950 words later I find I must still have something to argue about. Hey, good thing it's something important, like what anonymous strangers think when I'm tuned out with my kids.