Moms with their Blackberries, Dad's with their Droids, children entertaining themselves with a Starbucks Frappuccino or a McDonald's Happy meal. You see it everywhere and yet yesterday I saw it more than I wanted to, another one of those "signs" of mine, and obviously a sign of the times. This sign had to do with being present, paying attention.
We were down on Hawthorne Street in Portland, doing a bit of thrift store shopping when we ended the day at the corner Starbucks. After getting our drinks we decided to take a table and actually enjoy our drinks on site instead of racing off to the car with them. Next to our table was a Dad and his, I'm guessing here, four year old daughter. Adorable daughter at that. They apparently had ridden their bikes as she was still wearing her pink flowered helmet. Dad was eating a piece of banana bread, drinking his coffee, and either checking his email, Facebook account, Craigslist, porn sites, or who knows what. All I do know, for a fact, is that we sat next to them for at least a solid 15 minutes and he did not speak one word or even look up at his little girl, not even a glance. I looked at her, plenty. I really couldn't keep my eyes off of either of them as I kept waiting to see some sort of interaction between the two. She looked around, looked at me, and when our eyes would meet I would give her a little smile but she would quickly look away. Maybe that was from the old "strangers" message we send to our children at a very young age. Whatever. I just know that I was disturbed by this now prevalent trend, this new attachment, the addiction du jour, of being in a constant state of connection, but not with the people around us, but cyberspace to be more exact. In all fairness, I am sure they interacted, talked, hugged, laughed, etc. plenty on their bike ride over and the morning spent together, but as I watched them my heart seemed to ache a bit for this little girl, whose eyes darted back and forth, her "a bit too big" helmet slipping from side to side, looking uncomfortable and I wished Dad could have at least removed it for her while she was inside enjoying her adult snack.
Later in the day we had to run to the mall, against my better judgment but I needed to pick up some Evian water at Nordstroms. We were all hungry by this time and decided to visit the dreaded food court. As we all went our merry way to scout out the many offerings we then returned to a table where next to us sat a Mom and her young son. She had her cellphone pressed up to her ear, talking on her phone while the small boy entertained himself by putting his head between the railings they were sitting next to, staring at people, fidgeting around with his food, fidgeting around with his body. They even got up and changed tables, mom never missing a beat on her phone conversation, and what a conversation it must have been, because again, she was on the phone the entire time we were eating and never once said a single word to her son. Not even when his head seemed stuck between the protective guard rail.
You might be thinking that I spend way too much time judging, staring, and otherwise involving myself in the business of others. You might be right. I know my daughter Olivia thought I was obsessing a bit. I just couldn't help but think how lonely a feeling it must be to lose a parent to a video game, a cell phone, the Internet, TV soap operas, or the numerous other mind numbing distractions out there. I remember being young and at times our Mom telling us to "find something to do" or "go outside and play", but it wasn't so she could spend time playing Farmville on Facebook or talking for endless hours on the phone to friends. It was usually because she was busy doing something for us, whether it was cooking our next meal, putting the groceries away, changing our sheets, you get the idea. I just remember that when we were in her presence, she was present. And I'm not against parents having their own time, I just don't think there "own" time should be spent while in the company of others. There really is enough time to take care of all the trivial things but the time we have to interact with our children, to engage in a conversation no matter how simple it may be, is time both precious and fleeting. There will always be a new Farmville to play.