One afternoon this summer at Coldwater Park, I happened to see a mother sitting on a sidewalk bench, engaged in conversation on a cellphone.
Her young son was riding a tricycle back and forth on the walk, which declined slightly toward the street. Suddenly he found himself rolling to the end of the walk, unable to stop. In a flash the tricycle tumbled over the curb into the street between two parked cars, and the boy fell off headfirst.
I rushed to help. At that moment the mother looked up from her telephone, saw the accident and came running.
"What happened, Adam?" she cried, gathering him into her arms. "Didn't I tell you to stay near Mommy?"
One morning at a local public library, a librarian was reading to preschoolers. Since the children were very young, it was required that each be accompanied by an adult.
In the middle of a story, a mother's cellphone rang. She pulled the telephone from her purse and started talking. The librarian stopped reading and asked, "Could you please put the cellphone away?"
The mother continued talking, and the librarian repeated her request.
The mother then stood and said, "I'll talk outside the room, if that's what you want," and she turned to leave. Her child, 2 years old, burst into tears and called, "Mommy, mommy...." The librarian told the mother it was not permissible to leave a child there, especially now that the child was distressed.
Finally, the mother said into the phone, "I'll call you later," and returned to her seat. She sat the remainder of the story hour, glowering at the librarian.
One day I stood waiting to meet a friend inside a delicatessen in Los Angeles. A father and a girl, about 5 years old, sat in a front booth. She was dressed in a Minnie Mouse dress. On her head she wore a tall, pointed princess hat, with a long, flowing organdy ribbon fastened at the top. In front of her on the table sat a plate of half-finished scrambled eggs and an empty milk glass.
Her father, across the booth, was talking on a cellphone. For several minutes she watched him. Then she began folding her napkin, unfolding it and folding it again into different shapes.
We caught each other's eye. She seemed glad to make contact with someone.
"How pretty you look in your dress and hat," I told her.
She beamed and said, "Thank you." At last the father turned off his telephone.
"Can I have another glass of milk, Daddy?" she asked.
Just then the cellphone rang again. Ignoring her question, he answered. At that moment the waitress brought the check, and he left it with the money on the table. Continuing to talk, he motioned "come on" to his child and walked briskly toward the door.
The little girl followed, the organdy ribbon on her hat trailing behind. She remained invisible to her father.
These are not fairy tales. They are true stories. Once upon a time, parents offered conversation and attention to their children and granted them a measure of respect.