Last week, I sat next to a headphone-wearing blanket with an iPhone at a Minnesota Twins game.
It was our first time at a baseball game as a family. My daughter’s best friend and her entire family had driven 16 hours from their home in Saskatoon, Canada to celebrate Eliana’s 10th birthday, and a Twins game was on their vacation must-do list.
To be perfectly blunt, we usually avoid things like going to see new movies in the theaters and, well, baseball games, because Eliana's high-functioning autism means family outings such as this one come with a hefty dose of overstimulation, and as a newly-minted autism family, we are just starting to get our bearings.
"The only story any of us truly know is our own."
But Eliana was all about it, seeing as she’d be sitting next to her BFF, also autistic. The girls talked and played and shifted their attention from the game itself to occasionally taking the time they needed to self-regulate. In my daughter’s case, this means shutting out the world with some Minecraft and Youtube gaming videos on a phone or tablet with her soft blanket over her head.
When she was feeling calmer, she put the blanket away, but the iPhone stayed right in her hands. No one chided her for not paying attention to the game or wasting the cost of the ticket. Not a single one of our party scolded me or my husband for setting a bad example for our child by not setting a device-free rule for the evening.
For starters, it’s not anyone else’s damn business how we parent or where our child’s attention is when out in public. Secondly, I have severe ADHD and am always playing with or looking at my iPhone in order to self-regulate after my medication has worn off. And since Eliana’s diagnosis late last year, we’ve learned the value in never inserting our own perceptions and narrative onto others. The only story any of us truly know is our own.
If we got any funny looks, I did not notice, nor would I have given a single fuck.
No shame. No time for judgmental bullshit. No room for good, old-fashioned parent-shaming from ignorant onlookers who may have assumed my husband and I are too weak to ignore the siren call of easily portable Apple products in order to avoid having to actually converse with one another when out in public.
This week, we went out to dinner. As per usual, Eliana didn’t even look up when I ordered for her. When our food arrived, I gently tapped her on the shoulder — her signal to eat. My husband and I sat across from each other, alternately lost in our own conversations while we ate and scrolling our respective Facebook feeds. This happens to be what quality time together on a busy weekday evening looks like for us. I’m not going to apologize because our reality doesn’t match up with people's perceptions.
A stranger might see a family entirely uninterested in each other, or a dismissive girl who cannot be bothered to acknowledge her parents. They might bemoan the ills of the cursed digital age, or boast of their own superior parenting skills, while the rest of us roll our eyes skyward in the universal sign for “Here we go again.”
The simple truth is that we are all doing the best with what we’ve got.
My personal best as a mother happens to involve an iPhone, spare lightning cable, charged headphones, and travel charger in my bag. I’m okay with this. But what I am not okay with is the surprise that comes when I explain that my daughter is on the spectrum and her iPhone is actually her self-regulation tool.
“Oh, I’m sorry for assuming…”
“But I thought…”
I’m going to claim the high-moral ground here and explain that this is why assuming can make you look like an asshole. You cannot see my daughter’s autism any more than you can see numerous other invisible disabilities and neurological disorders. You can’t know the stories behind the story behind the parents who give their kids iPads at restaurants any more than you would presume to know the stories of those that do not. Maybe rush hour traffic and a bad day at work are the only reason behind handing a child an iPad while out for a nice meal.
Maybe the reason doesn't matter and we should all just grow up and stop the sanctimonious bullshit.
To everyone who sat behind home plate at the Twins game on June 12, 2017, thank you for being too busy enjoying your own night out to pay attention to the woman sitting next to the child hiding under the blanket. You ate your popcorn, you drank your beers, and you made sure your own kids were cared for and happy. I’m going to assume that is probably why you didn’t go home and write an essay about parents who give their kids iPads in restaurants (and when sitting behind home plate at Target Field).