Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out. Sometimes I look around at my family and my father channels through my brain.
Dad was “lace curtain Irish” when it came to appropriate behavior and etiquette, for the most part anyway, but he was known for a few ‘shanty’ moments throughout his life.
As I remember, he was fascinated with emerging technology as long as it didn’t interfere with dinnertime and gathering around the table. In the days of one single telephone and one single television to service an entire household he held his ground that there should be nothing to interfere with dinner. At meals the television was turned off and should the telephone ring during dinnertime, you had two choices – don’t answer it or answer the phone, announce ‘we’re having dinner’ and hang up. There was no voice mail or answering machine. There would not be any telephone conversation while we were having dinner.
Watching television was a shared family activity and there was only one television. We sat together, in the same room, the parlor. The best seat was usually on the floor, leaning against the sofa, with a dog right next to you, because if a sibling was sitting next you that usually ended up being a nudgey argument with something like, “WILL YOU STOP TOUCHING ME” or “MOVE OVER, YOU’RE TOO CLOSE”, as if an open floor was not enough space. Those were good times.
Recently, I looked up from my own dinner and saw that four out of six members seated at the dinner table each had an active electronic device sitting just to the left of their dinner plates and one of them is only nine years old. While they shoveled food with their right hand they scrolled screens with their left. I felt Dad coursing through my brain and out came, “Turn off those phones and put that tablet away.”
As if I woke them from a nap, their foggy response was, “Huh?”
“ I said, put your phones away and no tablet at the dinner table.” At first, they all looked at me as if I was kidding. Then, I really had their attention with, “No more electronic devices at the dinner table.”
They patronized me and put them away. Then there was actual conversation for a few minutes.
Later, while cleaning up I noticed two people multi-tasking clean up and dishes and each had a phone either in hand or at their ear.
I posted it strategically at all four corners of the room.
The first reaction was, “Seriously? You’re really doing this?”
“Seriously. I did it. Do not take those signs down. There will be no electronic devices in this kitchen or else I will stop cooking for you.”
That gets them every time, gotta hit ‘em where it hurts. The stomach is needier than that phone.
Dinnertime is once again a chance to recap our day and conversation is actually the spoken word and not a text. There is also sometimes a nudgey conversation between sisters, “Will you move over, you’re too close to me,” or “That’s my seat. MOMMY, she’s sitting in MY seat.”