We have a long back porch that runs the length of the house and is covered by the roof overhang. When we moved in 12 years ago, we didn’t have much in the way of porch furniture but we did have two old creaky rocking chairs my husband and I had bought for about 60 bucks at the Lambertville flea market.
My son, then four, and I fell into the habit of sitting in one of the rocking chairs during a spring or summer rain shower, with him on my lap.
As the rain poured down on the roof above us, we would revel in that warm, dry, cozy cocoon of mother and son, saying not a word but just listening to the rain — a solo instrument occasionally punctuated by the bassoon of the bullfrog that lived in our neighbor’s pond.
Every time it rained, we’d assume our same quiet stance on the porch; even when he got too big to sit in my lap, Mackenzie simply pulled the other rocking chair close to mine, and we’d sit in silent communion, just listening.
Last weekend, my husband and I decided to try the brunch at Teresa’s Cafe on Palmer Square. In the middle of our meal, my husband leaned across the table and whispered, “Don’t look now.” I waited the obligatory .075 second and turned my head around and saw a mother and father with their little girl, who looked about five years old.
While never once looking down or at her daughter, but rather at her husband directly across the table, the mother reached into her tote and pulled out a small hot pink portable DVD player. Continuing to chatter to her husband, she set the DVD player in front of her daughter, popped it open, reached back into her tote, pulled out a DVD, slipped it into the player, and hit the play button.
I felt I was witnessing an all-time low in the wired world in which we now live. That a meal out with the family was no longer a time to enjoy something special, and actually talk to your kids, while surreptitiously slipping in a lesson or two about good manners while eating out, like how to order from a menu, not to speak too loudly, or when to say please and thank you.
I miss Chianti’s, the now-closed Chambersburg restaurant. Everyone who worked there loved kids and treated them just like members of an extended Italian family. After a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, kids could quietly play with a toy truck under the table, happily hidden as if in a tent under the tablecloth, and nobody cared. At age six, Mackenzie used to climb up on a bar stool and talk to the bartender, who’d give him ginger ale in a real wine glass to make him feel like a grown-up. If he got lost on his way back to us, a waiter would show him the way. And then we’d listen to Mackenzie’s “report” of all the goings-on.
Last spring, while standing on line at the concession stand at my son’s Babe Ruth game, I saw a young mother talking to a friend, while holding a hot pink leash in one hand, a rather long leash, actually. I love dogs, so my eyes traveled down the length of the leash but it was partway wrapped around a tree.
In a moment a toddler emerged, a hot pink harness across her chest. She held a leaf in her hand, examining it, turning it over and over. I waited for her to show it to her mother. But she didn’t; she just kept wandering in different directions until she reached the end of her leash. The mother never once looked at her or asked her those natural questions that bind parent and child in a world of their own: Do you see those patterns in the leaf? Let’s touch it and see how soft it is. Show me where you found it.
No, instead of holding her child’s hand to keep her from wandering or gradually teaching her to stand near and not wander too far, she delegated those parental responsibilities to a leash. Talking to her child wasn’t even on her radar screen.
Seeing those parents in Teresa’s, that mom at the ball field, and countless parents yakking on their smart phones or doing the forefinger-slide to find the next app, while their children walk silently beside them, abandoned next to a physically present but completely inattentive parent — I wonder how those kids will turn out, growing up without the verbal, cognitive, and emotional connection that builds slowly, over years, from doing simple, sensory-driven things with their parents, like watching a giant crane building a skyscraper in the city, making something to eat together, or feeling gritty wet sand slide through their fingers while building a sand castle at the beach.
The other day, I picked up my son, now 16, from the library, and as we drove in the driveway, a light rain began to fall. He walked a step ahead of me down the slate path to the house. He suddenly stopped, and I bumped into him. “Mom, stop,” he said, putting his finger to his lips. “Close your eyes and listen.”
I closed my eyes. “Do you hear that?” he asked. I stood and heard nothing for a moment, but then there it was: the almost imperceptible tap-tap-tap as the raindrops hit the blanket of wet winter leaves on the ground. “I love that sound,” he said.