A small hand squeezed my own over our compartment’s handrail.
“Look, Daddy — lellephants!” She smiled, radiantly.
“I see them.”
I tousled her eternally knotty hair as she continued to stare in wonder at the giant African mammals. Or were these ones Indian? Wasn’t it the ears that told the difference?
I probably should have corrected her. She was four now, almost five, and it was likely the time a responsible parent would have made sure she was speaking clearly and accurately. To hell with that; I had sweet little time left of ‘lellephants,’ ‘pesgetti’ and ‘rainboops.’
Sweet little time before she turned into another one of him. I jabbed my first-born not ungently with my foot, “Time to give my phone back, mate.”
“Dad! You made me miss!” he grunted more than spoke, giving me a look I thought was reserved for those officially in their teens. Can boys be tweens, or was that a gendered thing? Girls are tweens and boys are jerks? That seemed right.
“Jake, c’mon mate, we’re at the zoo. You wanted to come. And we’re coming up to the tigers soon, the train even takes us up over the wall!”
“I don’t like tigers,” he mumbled sullenly, eyes glued to the screen.
“Yes you do!” declared his sister with the confidence a preschooler has for the infallibility of favourite animals, colours and games. “Your favourite is the tigers, mine is the cheetahs and Daddy’s is the monkey-spiders.”
“Spider monkeys,” I corrected with a smile.
He didn’t respond, his two thumbs swiping back and forth across the glass.
I leant in closer. “Jake, I know you like playing that game, but you’re missing out. Missing out on the animals. Missing out on spending time with your sister and me. And if you don’t learn to put down the game, you’re going to miss out on so much more in the world. Screens don’t rot your brain, but if you’re always stuck with your head in one, you’ll miss out on the best parts of life.”
I thought it was a good speech, one of my best, but his lips set tight and I knew it was pointless to push any further. I turned back to his sister.
“Daddy, the cheetahs! The cheetahs!” she giggled excitedly.
Suddenly, my phone was being thrust into my hand, with a barely audible, “The game’s frozen, anyway.”
He slid along the seat and his sister climbed into his lap, pointing out where one cheetah was lazing in the sun.
I smiled to myself and glanced down at my phone. I tapped open the message app.
[Guess who got our son off his game.]
The response came back quickly, [Did the battery die?]
“Just a second.”
[No, I had a chat with him, about the dangers of missing opportunities. I really got through to him.]
[I think I capitalised on a real teachable moment here.]
“What?” I demanded, looking up from my phone.
“You just missed the spider monkeys.”
Mark Kramarzewski is a married father of two writing in Canberra, Australia. This is his first published piece.