Small children are renowned for many things, but a sense of perspective is not amongst them. I say this as the mother of two girls who spent this morning wailing over various troubles. One had the heart-wrenching choice between a summer dress that is slightly too long, or a summer dress that is knicker-skimmingly short. Or, one which is approximately the right size but ‘is a bit itchy and gets its sleeves all scrunched up when I put a cardigan on.’ You could ask my neighbours to confirm that was EXACTLY what she said, as she bellowed it right next to the (very thin) wall. The joys of semi-detached living.
The other girl wanted to wear a skirt which is somewhere in the loft. I refused to get up in the loft at 8am to rummage about for it, which was clearly very unreasonable of me. The boy was slightly nonplussed by all of this. “Mummy,” he said, sadly, “Tilly won’t stop crying. She won’t put her shoes on. We might all have to stay at home today.” Well, if there is one thing not to do with a house full of wailing children, it is stay in all day.
Luckily for all involved, we made it out of the house and into school. The moment they get on their scooters and are on their way, all of the worries about dress length and skirt selection just evaporate. But like I said, perspective is not really a concept they are interested in yet.
And neither is it a concept that the author of the piece I read in the Family section of the Guardian can have been very aware of as she was writing. I should say that usually, this is one of my favourite sections of the newspaper. I read it second, after the Weekend magazine. (Shiny bits first, is my rule with newspapers.) The article was about how much ‘screen time’ you should allow children to have. Because, like the author of this piece, we all have 3 or four iPads lying about, plus laptops and PCs. And the damn kids just keep, well, using the things. Don’t we all live like that?
The issue of how much time we allow children to use technology is a pertinent one, and one that will become increasingly important as technology integrates itself further and further into daily life. But. But. The iPad rule is surely the same as the biscuit rule: if it is there, it will be consumed. Instead of moaning about how much time the kids spend on the technology, how about not having so many options available? iPads were made to be lusted after; and children and touchscreen technology is a love affair waiting to happen. The article is interesting, and balanced, and the author discusses what is a moderate path through the kids vs technology battleground, acknowledging that using them sparingly and constructively is in the best interests of everyone involved. She doesn’t ignore the link between parents’ technology habits and those of our children; adding a reminder that children look to adults for their behaviour cues, and if the grown – ups are glued to their phones and laptops, it makes sense that the children will follow suit.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about how it was basically an article that could have been subtitled ‘Help! I have too many iPads lying around!’ As twitter would say: #firstworldproblems, or perhaps #middleclassangst. At no point does Emma Cook acknowledge the fact that she must be incredibly fortunate to have enough technology to share between her three children, not to mention a ‘new smartphone and laptop’ for herself. I couldn’t shake off the association with the criticism so often leveled at less well-off families who ‘haven’t got any money, but they’ll always have Sky TV.’ Well, maybe that is a bit silly, but no more silly than Emma Cook’s house, where ‘it’s as if Apple has been breeding in my living room; its slim screens and sleek lines clogging up our shelves and kitchen surfaces, beyond reproach because they look so good.’ A sleek, innovative iPad is so much more aesthetically pleasing than a rusty old Sky dish screwed to the wall of a crumbling mid-terrace, though, right? The trouble with poor people is that they just have no taste.
Later on, I was Googling some recipe ideas (this came after a disastrous incident which I will refer to for now as ‘the spaghetti bolognaise argument’) for families on a budget and I came across a blog so good it quite literally stopped me in my tracks. A Girl Called Jack is a story of a young single mum trying to quite literally survive by the skin of her teeth. Having been made redundant from her £27,000 a year job in the fire service, unable to find even the most basic job, despite endless applications, she was thrown into a a world of benefit-balancing, pawn shops and bailiffs. A world where it’s a good idea to unscrew the lightbulbs to stop you from using unnecessary electricity, and put furniture in front of heaters to keep you from the temptation of turning them on. A world where you have to sell your iPhone and furniture just to keep a roof over your head. She started blogging about her mission to make the best meals she could for her and her son, whilst living below the breadline. Her recipes are great; the blog is eye-opening. Jack writes in a post titled Hunger hurts:
“Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”
I don’t think I really need to go on about how this gave me a bit of a kick up the backside and totally put the over ipad-ding issue into perspective. Two mums, probably geographically not far apart but at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, both writing about (amongst other things) trying to do the best for their kids. The technology argument has its place, and whilst I would love to be in a position to worry about how much time Tilly had spent on the third laptop, I am mostly just glad that we will at least be able to feed her and her siblings tonight, and that the television doesn’t have to go to the pawn shop any time soon.