WARNING - I'm going to do something here I try very, very hard to never do - judge other parents - but I've seen 2 instances of a certain behavior in the past week that I can hardly hold myself back from going up to the parents or kids and giving them a piece of my mind... so, with goal of saving me from said behavior, I'm going to let it out here. I apologize in advance. I've just got to get it out of my system. (And don't worry anyone with kids who I've been with in the past week... said behavior occurred with complete strangers!)
Okay, so here are the scenes:
1. Last Tuesday night I'm waiting in line at Chipotle. It's around 6pm and the dining area is filled with families. At most tables Mom and/or Dad are asking kids what happened at school, cutting tiny bites for tiny kiddos, or listening to whatever it is little kids talk about at dinner. As I watch from the line area I think it's pretty cool these kids are experiencing this food and dining experience. Don't get me wrong, Chipotle's not exactly fine dining, but when you come from a town where all you've got is McDonald's, Dairy Queen, or Pizza Hut, it seems special.
2. Tonight we stopped in at O'Donovan's for $2 burgers. Since Elynor's birth we go out a little (a lot) earlier... which means we're now exposed to the family hours at the bar. Rye & I were commenting on how before the "bar crowd" arrives, the place is like a little neighborhood family gathering. Grade school kids roam about looking to see what friends are there, and parents catch up. And who can blame them, we concurred. The meal is less expensive than McDonald's and the scene is far better.
Here's where both scenes set me off - In the midst of many families sharing food & conversation was one table with one child eating to the tune of their iPod and "sharing" conversation with someone via cell phone text messages. These kids were not sitting at a table all alone. Nope, at Chipotle said child was a girl in her early teens at a table with a similarly aged sibling and a dad. Sibling & dad were talking and eating as if said girl wasn't even there! At O'Donovan's a mother sits down with her teenage son at the table right next to us - he across from her. Only the two of them - and he NEVER takes out his headphones. Not to speak to the waitress. Not to watch TV. Not to talk to his mom. And I don't think they were just in his ears without music coming out. From my close vantage point I watched them order and eat in virtual silence. At one point she asked him to take out the headphones and said something to the effect of, "I didn't come here to eat by myself.". But he completely ignored her. Maybe he couldn't hear her. Or see her... since he was also texting the entire meal.
Wow! I'm getting fired up again just writing this post. I realize I probably sound old fashioned, or like I'm becoming an old lady by sharing this. But really, where have some basic manners and respect gone? I'm all for technology and I do my fair share of iPod listening and texting - and in different circumstances (like the el, a plane, or the gym) I use them to help create my own space and block other people out... but where do we draw the line?
Both instances caused me to think about the idea of having a meal with other people. A meal always involves food. And at the most simple level, we eat food to be nourished. But with others, is it only about nourishing the body? I happen to think when having a meal with others the food becomes a backdrop for nourishing the spirit and relationships. And when young people are involved, the meal becomes an incredible training ground for sharing and teaching. I suppose the iPod and cell phones aren't the first distractions from a meal bringing families (or other groups) together... but with their widespread accessibility and portability, it makes me wonder if they will cause an even greater decline in dinners together... and if such things as respect for elders, table manners, and the basic skill of making conversation will be lost with the generation of youth today (yes, i sound old using that phrase, i know).
So I wonder where those parents most regret spending their money - on the meal spent in silence? Or on the iTunes and unlimited text messaging cellular plans?