Monday, March 23, 2015

"No pressure, no diamonds." ~ Thomas Carlyle


"Terry, get your elbow off the table!"

Oops, I did it again! After school and after my homework was done, I'd run outside to play with the other kids who lived on our block, and I was tired. We were sitting at the dinner table, and it seemed to me that if I held my head up with my hand and rested my elbow on that dinner table, I was much more comfortable…

"And, Terry, you know not to talk with your mouth full!"

But, back when I was young, it wasn't what made YOU comfortable. It was what helped make OTHER people comfortable. That, and the fact that people had manners then. Everywhere we went people had manners. When a kid slipped up, there was someone older and wiser to tell him so, too. And that "older someone" was anyone older than you were at the time. It just worked that way.

Dad had gotten home from work, I had set the table, and Mom had finished making the green salad we always had before the meat-and-potatoes part of dinner came to the table. It was like nearly every other night at dinner time in our house in Culver City, California way back then…

Mom and Dad talked about their day while we sat there eating. Then one or the other always asked Jackie and I about what had happened during our day, mostly the school parts of our day, of course. I usually went first because I never got into trouble at school. In fact, I loved school, loved learning, and watched my teacher very carefully everyday because that's what I planned to be - a TEACHER!

"What did you learn today at school, Jackie?" Dad asked.

"Nuthin'," said my 10-year-old brother. He always said that, but then he'd get started on the dodge-ball game they'd played at recess, and what he'd seen on the way to and from school, and what a great hit he'd had when he got home and played baseball in the street with the other boys in the neighborhood. 

After Jackie said, "Nuthin'," Mom let Dad do the prying about his schol day, and she went into the kitchen to bring out the ginger creams she'd made that afternoon. "Terry, come in here and help me." 

I LOVED ginger creams… especially the white frosting that Mom slathered on their tops. In fact, I'd "licked the bowl" after Mom had frosted that big flat brown rectangle of cake filled with dates and whatever Mom thought would fit perfectly inside of that dessert.

Now, I'm not sugar-coating our nightly family dinners. That's what dinner was like, except for Sundays when we'd have breakfast later and dinner earlier. Dad would always cook breakfast and Mom would always put a roast into the oven to tantalize us all afternoon. We'd have two meals on Sunday with lots of snacking inbetween.

As we got older, there were times when either Jack or I would have to leave before dinner was over, and we were taught to say, "May I be excused, please?" The answer was always, "Yes, but be home by_____." (Fill in the blank…)

We did go out to dinner at an actual restaurant about 2 or 3 times a year. To prove to you that we weren't perfect, or at least my brother wasn't, let me tell you about one of those times…

We got to the restaurant and were shown to our table. Dad pulled Mom's chair out for her, and he told Jack to do that for me. Jack said, "NO! I don't wanna," but Dad gave him "The Look," so he pulled out my chair. It happened that I was talking ballet lessons at the time, so I planned to try my best to sit down gracefully without looking behind me at the chair. You know… I was trying to behave like a "lady."

Now, Jack was not happy about pulling out the chair for me, his mean, mean, big sister! I'd probably insulted him that day and he'd puched me when no one was looking , or something like that. So Jack pulled out my chair, and I mean he really, really pulled out my chair. You see, Jack LOVED baseball, and football, and basketball, too. That boy had great timing, even that young, and he was good at all sports for the rest of his school life. 

So Jack, the sports maniac, pulled out my chair, then banged it into the back of my knees, and, as I was starting my "sitting down gracefully," he pulled that chair back away from me. 

SPLAT! Yup, SPLAT! I fell on my "tail-bone" with my legs splayed and my behind hurting and my embarrassment spreading like red paint all over my face. I didn't even have the fresh artichoke on the menu that night, even though artichokes are my favorite food in this world! I didn't eat a thing. And, worst of all, I couldn't even figure out a way to get even with Jack… miserable little brothers… Why did Mom and Dad decide to have TWO kids? What a mistake!!!   

Jack knew there was nothing Dad could do right there in the restaurant, and he probably thought Dad might forget before we got home. And, maybe he did… I don't remember.   

But that was then, and now is sure not THEN…

Last week I was digging into lettuce wraps at a local restaurant we go to when I just can't wait any longer for more lettuce wraps. Whoever invented them, was a genius… simply a genius… that's all there is to it. It's a family-friendly place we go to, and that's fine with me because I love kids. Even babies that whine get a smile out of me… most of the time. But times have really changed… families have changed… In fact, the new family-dynamics scare the teacher in me to death!

I am NOT adding anything to what I witnessed sitting at the table next to us… nothing added, exaggerated, or embellished. It's the "whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God!"

We saw an empty table and we sat at it. At a table near us was a family consisting of two parents and 3 kids, one about 6 or 7, one about 5, and one about 3 years old. I was thinking to myself that it must be nice for those parents when all the kids are in bed and quiet reigns in their house. But then, I learned that a sort of quiet probably reigns every night at their house. Mom and Dad were each intimately involved with their iPads. They never once, in all the time we sat down at the table next to them until we left the restaurant, looked at anything but their iPads… NEVER! 

"None of your business, Terry, " you say. And you'd be correct, except…

"Mommy!  MOMMY! What's dis?" said the 5-year old, as he looked at the food set before him. 

No answer… No one even looked up.

Then he whimpered, "What's dis…?…" He crammed something from his plate into his mouth. Then he reached into his mouth and took the food out again and looked at it... Then he licked at it… Then he threw it at the space between our tables… Then he giggled.

"Mommy… Mommy… Mommy… Look what Bobby did!" announced the 6-or-7-year-old. But neither parent looked up from their iPads. Instead, they busily tapped out a message to a friend or played a game or something.... So the 6-or-7-year-old, like a good older sister, threw some food at the 5-year old who screamed as loud as I think he was able. 

Many of the folks eating their food looked over at the kids, but went right back to eating. It wasn't their business, after all. And neither was it mine… but I kept watching. No one seemed to mind at their table however. I drew that conclusion because neither parent looked up from their blasted iPads! And, I predict that the 5-year-old is going to be as good an athlete as my brother was, eventually. You see, he'd decided to use us for target-practice, using his food as the bullets. Thank heavens, he was still too young to have great aim, but someday, someone would be getting a "SPLAT" right in their left eye… I betcha.

Meanwhile, the 6-7-year-old had had it! "Mommy! MOMMY! DADDY!" No response from the "parents." So she got down from her chair by falling off of it, screaming for a few seconds, and then, grabbing the leg of the table, she stood up. (And you know the drill by now…) Neither of those two parents looked up at their child… or in this case, down at their child. So she wandered away...  

The 3-year-old is a future artist of the first degree, I think. He grabbed the left-over food on his siblings' plates and dumped it all on the table and moooooshed it all together. Then, with his finger, he drew in that colorful debris, giggling as he went. But, being the young artist that he was, he wanted to be closer to his work, and I know that feeling. So he climbed from his booster seat up on top of the table like he'd done it before, and he laid on top of his artful "foodie" creation. He giggled contentedly, and then he yawned.

And that begs the question… "If a 3-year-old decides to sleep on top of a table, might he roll off the table and hit the floor?" Beats me because the 5-year-old had decided he was an explorer, and he walked away to visit other universes. Finally, I couldn't see him anymore, and, when I looked at the 3-year old again, he was sound asleep on top of his very original creation.

For some reason the parents started to shut down their iPads and finish their cold food. They still had not looked over at their children, or, in this case, child because the other two had flown to galaxies far beyond our own… They might have been in the kitchen, for all I knew.

"Where're the kids…" said the mother with food spilling out of her mouth.

"Around here somewhere…" said the father, sitting with both elbows on the table.

"Oh, they'll come back…" said the mother. 

And the two wanderers did, finally. But the artist was sleeping contentedly on top of his "foodie" creation.

And the "family" left after the server brought the bill and was paid. 

If you've read all this, it's important to me that you understand this:  I don't believe ALL families are like this now, but Richard and I do eat out a lot these days, and I DO see parents customarily tapping their iPads instead of having dinner-table conversations with their children. And I DO see kids typing away on their iPads, instead of telling their parents what happened at school. Hopefully, it's just a terrible Southern California problem, and you readers never see this kind of "parenting" when you are out to eat.

But just to keep you thinking… What sort of people will those kids grow up to be, I'm wondering...  
  

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