Friday, June 29, 2018

Walking Right By

I remember my mother saying to the five of us when we were young, "You just walked right by!" Usually it was a pair of shoes someone was looking for, or a book, or a paper.  If we were looking for something in the fridge, she would say, "Look with both hands!"  Usually that was my brother looking for the ketchup or something, and he would just stand in front of the fridge waiting for the ketchup to appear from behind the milk instead of moving the milk!  Or looking for socks in the sock basket, that definitely takes two hands.  Now I find myself, and of course it's very cliche, saying the same things my mother said.  You can't find the barbecue sauce, Look with both hands!  You can't find your backpack, You just walked right by!  You can't find the keys, You just walked right by!  And sometimes the kids say this to me too - MOM, You just walked right by!  (I can never seem to find my shoes- I never outgrew that.)  It's funny in our house because we have the black table and the brown table and the brown drawer and the black drawer.  The keys are on the black table - and you just walked right by!  I think I should put labels on the tables and drawers because inevitably the thing my kids are looking for is on the other table or in the other drawer.

I think we walk right by a lot in life if we aren't paying attention.  I walk right by when there's a chance for an encounter that I should take.  A neighbor calls out, "How was vacation?" and since I'm going for my run, I just say, "Great! Thanks!" and walk right by, instead of saying that I can't believe we're back already and thanks, by the way, for watching the dog, and when are you going on your vacation?  A grocery clerk asks how I'm going to prepare my cube steak for dinner, and I just say, "Oh, I don't know," instead of engaging, telling her I was wondering how to make aioli sauce and I would have to look it up when I got home and does she think that would be good and how long does the steak have to cook?  A salesperson tells me they like my necklace, and I just say, "Oh, it's old," instead of saying it was my grandmother's and I love it and I love to wear it.  It doesn't take much to go one extra step toward an encounter, but I just walk right by, sometimes running in the opposite direction.

I heard a priest tell a story of a time he was picking up pizzas for his high school students.  He ran into an old acquaintance at the pizza shop, but he was so distracted by the task he had to do, so eager to get back to the students, that he quickly shut down the conversation that could have ensued and he returned to school.  Once at school he realized there was no urgency to the pizza.  The kids weren't ready to eat yet anyway, all still busily working on their projects.  Yet it was too late to go back to find the old friend in the pizza shop.

I tell myself I'm going somewhere, I have places to be, too.  I say I have to get going and I walk right by.  I know we all say we're busy, but what are we busy doing?  Five extra minutes here, an extra smile there, instead of walking right by, could go a long way.  In Positive Psychology they promote having 3 genuine encounters with others, even complete strangers, each day.  It takes practice if you are shy, or rushed, or busy, or whatever excuse we might use to get out of the room.   I have to slow down and recognize the person who I am talking to.  I have to take a breath and stop moving at warp speed.  Maybe there is something to the other phrase my mother used, "Look with both hands."  Of course she meant to move the milk out of the way.   I think it also means to look at each other with both eyes, a little more closely.  Maybe we have to move ourselves out of the way, to step aside and let the moment unfold, let the relationship take precedence, and let a little love out.  And maybe, if we look with both hands, we'll find a little love behind the milk.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Ready for Summer?

Sometimes you want to get away and escape!  Just for fun, we can go shopping!  (I am not paid to advertise nor am I sponsoring any stores or products, I just felt like looking around for stuff I have seen or enjoyed... ) Here's a list of little surprises to help entertain you and help you entertain and enjoy the summer, whether you are headed to the beach or the mountains, to the swim club, or your own backyard:  (Trust me, I'm mostly just window shopping:)  

Pineapple Matches $5 - to light up (without those plastic torches)

Blue Seaweed Wall Art $36/4 - in case you have to stay inside one day

Peach Feta and Pecan Salad

Green Valley Kitchen Peach Feta Salad $ - after you go peach picking!

Aventurine $298 - it's fun to have one new piece of jewelry

Perfect Dress $88 - I don't know where you couldn't wear this

A Stay by a Lake $300/night- we almost booked it for our trip to Indiana

Amiya Folding Side Table

Folding Table $125 - for iced tea, UNO, and your book


Blue Hydrangeas $19 - order now and next year, just wait!

Politiko Buoys Outdoor 100% Cotton Lumbar Pillow

Buoys Pillow $36 - love the colors!

Dr. Scholls Originals $24 - because vintage is so better

9' Market Umbrella

Green Umbrella $65 - automatic sunscreen without the goop

Cover up $34 - to keep my nieces looking cool and feeling warm
Vineyard Adirondack Nautical Trestle 5 Piece Bar Set

Bar Height Adirondack Set $2000 - we sat at this at the shore house, like all day and night!

String Lights, Lampat 25Ft G40 Globe String Lights with Bulbs-UL Listd for Indoor/Outdoor Commercial Decor

String Lights $15 - to surround you with stars

Everyday Objects terra-cotta flowerpots, set of three.

Flower Pots  $95 - for all those hydrangea blooms!

Rainbow Stripe Crewneck

Fun Sweater $78 - for a walk after dinner

Image of Conversational Drink Hugger in Go Fish Dot
Girl Koozie $9 - who says the boys have all the fun?

Books! $16 - because you have to keep reading

Mini Tote  $18 - to carry your sunglasses and phone and nothing else

Holiday Dog Collar  $48 to get him in the spirit!

G128 American USA US Flag 8x12 Ft Embroidered Stars Sewn Stripes Brass Grommets 210D Quality Oxford Nylon (8X12 FT, US Flag)

8x12 feet American Flag $60 - go big or go home! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Being In Person

I recently facilitated a workshop on Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating the art of being present, breathing, living, thinking in the moment.  It also has a lot to do with being available to the people we are with at a given time in a given place. I have been a student of mindfulness for about 12 years. When I walked into the room where I was to present, the table around which we would sit was far away from the computer screen, almost across the room.  The director offered to move the table closer to the screen for me, but I said no. I wanted space for us to move and sit and be separated from the technology pieces of the workshop. It worked. We all had space to sit and breathe and write and move back and forth.  We also had space to sit together when we were practicing our meditations. When it was time to share we all naturally gravitated toward the center of the floor where we could see each other and be closer. It is important to be “in person,” to be close. It worked well to see each other face to face instead of having our focus forced on staring up at a monitor screen.  Being in person is natural.

That afternoon I had paperwork to take care of at school as well.  I could easily have printed and scanned and emailed, but I decided to walk around.  Walking the halls of a vacated school when summer vacation has just begun is a meditation in itself.  There is still a hum in the air of all the excitement of the last few days. It is quiet now, and the halls are darkened, but there’s an aliveness in this cocooning stage.  The artwork still hangs, if a bit crookedly. The remnants of the final events give evidence that it is a school. The halls say, "Yes, children live here, they are home now, but they’ll be back." The halls hold the goings-on, saying, "The teachers are exhausted, and so had to go refill themselves on beach days and time to reflect and professional development and books about the newest trends in education."  As I walked the halls I ran into two people who I dearly treasure. We were able to talk in person, without distraction and it was such a treat. We had no clocks to tell us it was time to stop, no needs except to see each other and share a few minutes. I would have missed them entirely if I had sat at my computer. Being in person is vital.

Later that week I headed to the shore.  I saw family and cousins that I hadn’t seen in so long, some in almost a year!  We sat and rocked on the front porch that gathers us all in when we return each year - for the last forty-five years!  At some points there must have been 30 people sleeping in that house! Now we come together briefly. We sit and rock and gaze out at the ocean and share stories and laughs and food and drinks. There are never enough seats, only about 8 rocking chairs, but when more people show up,  they sit on the long front steps, a Victorian double-sided staircase that can hold at least twenty more people. The little ones climb over legs and sit on knees and laps and we blow bubbles with them.  Why? Because we all want to be in person. We don’t care how comfortable we are, the comfort is in knowing we are together. We want to be with each other and hear and listen and chat and laugh. All the generations in one place.  Even the teenagers. Being in person keeps us alive.

Last night I was in person at a rally.  I hesitate to even use the word. It was for families who are being separated from loved ones.  It was beautiful to be there. A young high school graduate spoke. A rabbi spoke. A lawyer spoke.  And a politician spoke. And I listened. It was bittersweet to be there, with friends and like-minded people, while thinking of those who can’t be where they want to be.  And I was happy to be there - in person. We all need each other. We need our colleagues. We need our friends. We all need to be with our loved ones and families that hold us dear.  We need to be free to be “in person” - free from the technology that threatens to come between us, free from pseudo-laws that are contrary to natural law, free from the threats that break the bonds we have with each other.  I hope you find time this summer to be in person with those you love. And keep in mind those who can’t be.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Changing Time Zones

Last week I drove to Indiana to pick up our oldest from his first year at college.  While I was driving, my youngest son served as co-pilot, offering me snacks, navigating the Waze app, teaching me Spanish, and generally keeping me focused and entertained at the same time.  It was a long drive.  We broke up the 680 mile drive by first driving to Youngstown, Ohio.  We left mid-afternoon on Thursday, before rush hour hit.  We were traveling west, tracking the path of the sun set.  The further we drove, the lighter it seemed to be.  Even by 8:00 the sun set still seemed to be far off.  The sun beckoned us on, assuring us of safety and hope and making it feel that it hadn't been six hours of driving in the car.  We had a nice cozy bed waiting for us somewhere - we just didn't know where. Thankfully the sun lit most of our trip no matter what time it was.
The next day we woke easily and drove the remaining 6 hours to South Bend.  We never crossed the time zone line between Eastern Daylight and Central Standard, that was a few miles away, but we were quite close. When we arrived on campus, Jay still had one exam to take.  The time slot was 4-6 pm - on a Friday night!  I know that is the last place a college kid wants to be on a Friday night and it was certainly the last place I wanted to be waiting around for him.  I was ready to head out again, to try to get a few hours under our belts so we wouldn't have the daunting drive all the way home on Saturday.  But the funny thing is, Jay wasn't ready to leave.  Even before he began his exam, he was suggesting he wouldn't be ready to go just yet.  He had friends to say goodbye to, things to pack (like everything), and places to wander around - just to capture one last time.  He did not want to leave - to change time zones.
Honestly I could see why.  Being back on a college campus and feeling the energy in the halls, the smiles, the hard slaps on the back, the high fist handshakes and man-hugs, the questions, the answers, the silliness, the laughter, the philosophical discussion that lasted until 3 in the morning, reminded me of when I existed in this time zone - one of nominal real-life responsibility, but incredible potential, where everyone you talked to might be your friend for life and every discussion you had might change your life.  That night we ate at a little restaurant on campus with Jay's friend. I was trying to be aware of the fact that they were both still soaking everything in, not ready to switch to talk of summer and summer jobs, but also not ready to discuss the hard exams they'd prepared for so long and so continually over the past few days and had survived.  So we made small talk and chatted about family stuff and funny stuff and I tried not pry into too much.  They wanted that extended daylight.  It was 9:00 at night by the time we ate, but that didn't matter.  They were not ready to switch time zones.
As I get closer to 50, I feel like there is a new time zone I'm approaching.  It's not just with my kids.  I try to have discussions with my kids about normal things, or what I think are normal things.  Then I hear that the arguments aren't just about alternative energy vs. geothermal, but which is better, wind or solar.  I hear a new lexicon that I'm not privy to, not because I'm ignorant but because I'm of a different age.  It happens everywhere.  I find myself proud that I know what "skins" are, even though it's from a video game.  I just happen to know this because of my boys being of a certain age.  Then I find that there is a new lexicon among all different sets of people, one per each generation perhaps.  I don't mind it - I love learning the new words, new ideas.  I'm super curious about it.  I want to know what sparks these changes in thinking.  But I don't know now if I'll ever keep up.  I might try but each shift creates its own thoughts, leaders, and followers.  Try as I might it's a lot to learn.
So we found a hotel room in South Bend that night.  We didn't leave until 10:00 the next morning.  We luckily made it home in less than 12 hours.  We weren't trailed by the sunset, we lost daylight as we drove, partly because of the rain that was following us too.  We made it home, back to a familiar  zone.  Back to a bed, a sky, and a light that was comforting.  Back home.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Under Construction

About 8 years ago, we found ourselves outgrowing our house.  We had four little children and a little Cape Cod with a big family room.  I had prayed for that little house "with small white beds up the stairs" but the time had come for a change.  The three boys were in one room with two bunk beds, a single bed, and one dresser.  And they were getting bigger.  And their clothes and their stuff were getting bigger too.  We needed another room.  We hired an architect.  He showed us plans with everything we had asked for.  We sent them out to contractors.  But no one quite knew where to put the heating ducts.  What?  No heat in the new room?  So we found another house.  A perfect house with four bedrooms and lots of old amenities.  Linoleum walls in the bathroom.  A light with a red swirly plastic cover over the fireplace.  Metal cabinets in the kitchen, circa 1950.  We moved in.  We gradually made changes. The first thing to go was the red light over the fireplace, plastic and all. The bathrooms were next.  Last year we decided to tackle the kitchen.  Goodbye metal cabinets and old sink.  Goodbye linoleum backsplash.  Hello new.  We didn't hire an architect.  We used the online design center from Ikea and worked it every which way.  I felt like Joanna Gaines.  We found cabinets and a farmhouse sink.  We found flooring that matched the old wood floors.  We drove two hours each way to find a scratch and dent stove that wasn't so scratch and dent.  My brother taught me to use a nail gun.  My husband painstakingly tiled the backsplash tile by tile.  And it worked.  And we had heat.
But during that time, the 6 weeks that stretched into two and a half months, our house was in complete disarray.  We had moved the refrigerator onto the back porch.  We had hoped to use the grill to cook our food.  We had a microwave set up in the living room and a table in the office.  We had a hot pot for oatmeal in the morning.  I was determined to use our regular dishes to save the environment from all the plastic and paper plates we would have had to use.  I was determined to give my kids three square meals and not order takeout every night.  I had a little tub set up in the living room, which eventually moved to the bathroom where we could wash our utensils.  But all of this was necessary to execute the great change we saw in the Ikea plans that were tacked onto the refrigerator.  Eventually we broke down and bought all the paper products we could fit onto a little tiny table.  We ordered every other night, not every night.  But it was necessary for our sanity.  We went to my mom's for dinner and cooked spaghetti.  My mom brought us Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee in a crock pot.  (Not kidding.)  I don't think we used the grill, partly because we couldn't get out the back door and partly because it was rainy and cold like everyday.  I'm not trying to say my first world problems were any more than that, but we needed to do what we could to make life bearable.

I feel that need for change coming again, but maybe not in the structure of the house itself.  Our house is now outgrowing our family, as one has gone off to college and two more will soon have their driver's licenses and are out of the house more than they are in it.  Perhaps it is in my heart where the biggest change is coming.  It is a time of transition for any mother as she watches her children fly the coop, leave the nest, settle into their own lives.  Again, I am not trying to be dramatic, no one is off on their own yet, but there is a shift going on in this house and this heart that is hard to recognize, yet hard to neglect.  The little babies who were here ten years ago who needed everything done for them are gone, and the cute kids who ran around just five years ago playing games and laughing and being silly are growing up.  I have to grow with them too.  I have to figure out how to be a mom to a kid who is twelve hours away, yet still calls when he is feeling down.  I have to listen and not overreact because well, he is twelve hours away and as much as I would like to get in the car and go, he is twelve hours away!  I have to figure out how to be a mom to a girl who is dating and as much as I have about 18,000 questions about what this means and what the hell is going on, I have to listen and not overreact because she is a teenage girl and really wants to be twelve hours away most of the time.  I have to figure out how to be a good wife, a good coworker even when I'm just not all that interested, and I'd like to be twelve hours away from all of it.  Try as hard as we might, we just can't do it all.  So we change, we sacrifice our old plans and scrap them out for new ones.  Then there are the real-life transitions, a birth of a baby, a death of a loved one, a new job, a new town, a parent who is moving in with your family of six.  The loss of a job.  The fateful diagnosis.  The big things.  We are in constant flux and we don't know how to settle things back to where they belong.  All we know is that things will never be the same again.
But there are also the small moments where we look in the mirror and notice a little more puff, a tiny slant. Maybe a little more spackle?  The moments when we sit quiet and realize we are different.  How did I get here?  Perhaps we go through this shift more often than we think.  While we don't hire architects, we ask friends, spouses, God, what is going on?  What's wrong with this picture, this story?  How do I fix it?  What is wrong with me?  How is it that I am of this age and I am still haunted by questions of who to be and how to live?  How is it that something can happen that makes me feel like I am back in the fifth grade again, or even worse, tenth grade?  So I ask around, trusted friends mostly.  But I'm not past asking the hairdresser or the bartender or the security guard who I have bus duty with, what do you think?  What should I do?  What would you do?  Why did this happen to me?  I suppose it's all part of growing and I just haven't stopped yet, which is a good thing, right.  Everything is out of place, the refrigerator out on the porch, my heart 12 hours away, my mind really just needing a nap.  I'm discombobulated.  Nothing is where you expect it to be, but there are plans being drawn up somewhere.  Somehow you will figure out how to put the pieces, the phases of your life back together in a way that makes more sense.  And you will need to figure out how to make the transition bearable - a glass of wine and a pedicure go a long way, especially after a good run or a long walk.  It is just that, a transition.  No one wants to change you, or wants or expects you to change.  You are who you are, just evolving into a better version of yourself.
We moved the refrigerator to a new spot after knocking down the dining room wall - that was not in the original plans, but when the time came, it was the right thing to do.  Now we can't imagine going back to how it was before.  We lost two closets, but who needs all that closet space?  It's open and airy and we love hanging out around the large island that took the place of the old cabinetry.  There's lots more light and a great view of the backyard.
As for me, I may be on the way to having a wall knocked down and losing some closet space.  But what do I need to store in there anyway?  I need to hold on to the memories and moments that keep me smiling.  I need to remember the kids are still kids, my kids, and they still need a loving, doting mom who asks too many questions and sends prayers and inspirational quotes to kids who are far away.   I need to say the things that make their eyes roll.  I also need to keep those around me who love me and can help me design the kitchen of my dreams, or tell me what parts need to go.  Just as long as we don't lose the heat.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tomorrow We Will Make Coffee

We are all searching for guarantees.  The guarantee on shipping from our website order, the guarantee on the newly-purchased mattress, the guarantee that when we wake up the electricity will still be on, the guarantee that the weather will get nicer soon, the guarantee that my car will still be parked where I left when I get back, the guarantee of a healthy pregnancy, the guarantee of an easy child.  All the things we expect at the beginning of the day to go our way, the meeting, the conference call, the sales pitch, the ruling, the game, the score.  I see people searching for schools, looking for a guarantee that the choices they make, the selection of this school over that school, will guarantee that their child will thrive, be successful, and maybe happy.  They want the guarantee.  They expect it when they walk in, as if they were going to a car wash, that the car will be perfectly cleaned when it comes out the other end.  As if kicking the tires will guarantee the purchase they make.  
The thing is, it doesn't work that way.  I'm still learning this, although you'd think I would know better.  There are days in my life that I am completely shocked by a phone call, an email or text, an encounter with an acquaintance, a new demand that is placed on me.  It truly turns the world on its side when we are faced with a diagnosis or a prognosis that we couldn't see coming.  I went to the doctor for an ear problem and here the problem is my nose!  What?  (Not a big deal, I'm just saying, What?)  
Then there are the days that true tragedy strikes, and we can't even look.  We feel so lost.  So unsure.  So broken.  Utter sadness.  It consumes us.  The pain that takes over and guarantees that we will never be the same again.  We are changed.  For days we cannot see the sky or feel the sunshine.  We float through our days feeling like we haven't landed yet.  The ground is no longer holding us up the way it was before.  But here is the guarantee - tomorrow we will make coffee.  The sky is still there behind the clouds.  The sun will shine after the rain.  The earth is turning.   It will get easier again.  We will land again, maybe in a different spot, a different time, but we will land.  
There are actually a lot of guarantees in life.  You will scrape your knee, and you will bleed.  You will heal.  You will get a splinter under your nail that hurts for days.  You will run faster than you ever thought possible.  You will lose something special.  You will never forget your first backyard.  You will struggle learning something new, whether it is the alphabet or puzzles or knitting or Honors Abstract Algebra.  You will create something that amazes you.  You will fail a test.  You will be the best!  You will lose a friend.  You will have a day where the sun shines so brightly you never forget the light!  You will hug someone and feel like you can never let go.  You will be talked about behind your back.  You will make people jealous.  You will feel betrayed.  You will betray.  You will make mistakes.   You will make yourself proud.  You will cry for your own lost innocence.  You will handle it with maturity.  You will miss someone.  You will be missed.  You will meet someone who changes everything in your world, and you may stay with them and you may not.  You will talk all night.  You will cry yourself to sleep.  You will get your heart broken.  You will cry in pain and you will cry for joy.
So, new mother holding your five-year-old's hand, and experienced mother, with your hand on your eighteen-year-old's shoulder, please remember this:  You have chosen this life for your child.  You have chosen to be there.  As for every other choice, there are no guarantees.  When you choose the bunk beds, because that's what he really wants, over the double bed that is so much safer, he will fall off the top bunk, or maybe not.  But go for the bunk bed!  When she swears she wants to go far away to school, but you fear she will be homesick, she will.  But go for the adventure!  When you are unsure about ordering the sea bass with habanero chiles over the pasta with white sauce, go for the gusto!  When you are tempted to drive to the beach just to get away, do it!  There are no guarantees, except that life is a wonder.  When you are going to bed and you cannot sleep for worrying about where he is and how she is feeling, and what they think, and what he said, and you are lying there with regrets, or sadness, or pain, or true sorrow for what has transpired, or you are actually crying yourself to sleep, just cry.  And then sleep.  And tomorrow we will make coffee.  Or tea, if you like tea.  And you will feel better.  That is a guarantee.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Art of Conversation with a Teenager

For several months now, I’ve been noticing a new word in my children’s lexicon.  Stop.  I can ask the simplest of questions and the only response I get is Stop.  If I ask one question too many, like “How was Physics?” the word that I hear is Stop.  It means I have crossed some invisible line of communication, some term of agreement we had that I can only ask two, maybe three, questions when the kids get in the car or we are sitting at dinner, or maybe at breakfast the morning after they have been out with friends.  “So what did you eat?”  “Stop.”   I even try to follow their lead.  My son will explain to me something about a car that he knows a lot about, but if I ask that extra question to show my interest, he looks at me sideways, and “Stop.”  It’s become a joke, because I can predict when it’s going to happen and we all laugh when I say, “Can I just ask one more question?”  Then they usually just walk away.   It’s funny because I know I used this word a lot when they were little, for things like picking their nose, or playing with their food.  “Stop,” I said.  Maybe it was too much.  

I get it.  I know that there are many things pulling for attention in the mind of a teenager.  They have an incredible, almost magnetic draw towards being independent and they don’t feel the need to fill their mother in on the goings on of their lives.  They want to forge their own way and make a claim on their own territory of life.  I see.  I know.  In the teenage life there is a veil of privacy through which their moms cannot dare to trespass.  I won’t ask personal questions.  I won’t ask who said what.  I won’t ask about how you are feeling or who is this person or that person.  I’ll quiet keep a tally of names that I can reference when you bring them up again, but I won’t delve into their home lives or their relationships with everyone else.   My daughter can’t believe the questions I ask my college-age son and the fact that he answers me at all.  I know.  I’ll stop.

But seriously, “So what did you eat at the restaurant last night?” Is that so bad?  Is that too personal?  I’m confused because usually you want to tell me.  You go to a friend’s house and come home and tell me that their mom made the best French toast you’ve ever had!  Really?  I think I make good French toast.  So I just want to know what you ate.  Period.  But you end the discussion with a sudden, gavel-dropping “Stop.” 

The sad thing is one of the things I miss most at the holidays are the conversations I overheard in my grandmother’s dining room.  The entire family would gather after Christmas Midnight mass and then again on Christmas night.  All the aunts and cousins and sometimes friends.  The conversation never seemed to end.  We paid no attention to the clock, even though it was well past 2 in the morning!  Gathered around the table, everyone would share in the joy of catching up and sharing stories as we ate a full buffet breakfast.  I have no idea what the stories were about now, but as I grew up I recall sitting there around the large square table and listening.  Listening to the lilt of the conversation, the laughter that spread quickly to everyone, or the quiet lull after something sad had been revealed.   Then the changeover to the happy news or the amusing story. The memories galore which taught me the lore of our family. From the other room I would hear my uncles clinking glasses of scotch on the rocks, toasting a Merry Christmas and then telling their own stories, the laughter filling the halls and the house.  I savored these moments.  I treasured the time that I could sit and listen and learn.  And I was learning.  So much.  When I was old enough I could venture to join the conversation, trying on the complexities of the art.  Do I tell a shortened version of the story or a long one?  Do I leave out many of the details or do they add to the story?  I do remember using the line, “You had to be there,” after most of these attempts but it was a safe environment in which to learn.  My grandmother is gone now and my mother’s table sometimes serve this function, but not in the same way.  The mothers in our family right now are too busy chasing toddlers and we don’t have as much time to sit and chat.   The great aunts are far away and busy with grandchildren too.  And of course, there has been the invasion of the phone. 

The cell phone.  The funny thing is that the phone doesn’t work like it used to when I was little.  Even if my mother was on the phone, I was still privy to one end of the conversation.  I heard how her tone changed or how she reacted to some news.  I heard how she questioned and extended the conversations, all the while cooking dinner or overseeing homework.  Today no one is privy to anything.  Everything is radio silence.  All conversations are conducted via a screen and fingers.  No one can hear anything.  I wonder what we don’t hear when we are staring at our screens.   And we bring these devices to the dinner table.  When I was little we took the phone “off the hook” so we eat without interruption. 

Which takes me back to my teenagers.  If I dare to call one of my children when it’s not an absolute emergency, they freak out.  “Don’t call!” my other son says.  “He won’t answer!”  And then I begin to leave a message.  “NO!  Stop.  We don’t ever listen to messages!”  What do they listen to?  Not much apparently.  Headphones?  Videos?  Maybe anything but their mother. 

Were we the same as teenagers?  I don’t think so.  We used to replace our 15 foot phone cord every few months because we had twisted and untwisted it so much trying to take the phone down the basement to have some privacy for our phone conversations.  Yes, that’s true.  Today it is different.  I even see it in the youngest of children.  Language is not the same.  There has long been evidence of a 30-million-word gap in children who are not privy to conversations in the home, whose parents speak to them with simple questions and answers but don’t take the time to explain or elaborate or pose new ideas to them.  Now I believe the gap is widening in this generation of cell-phone kids.  They do not hear the language, they are not expected to speak, they are not engaging in the give and take of communication.  We have lost the art of conversation.  We have lost the beauty of how to listen and interact with each other.  The art of conversation.  With or without teenagers.  We give and receive one-word answers.  Stop.  I am going to start with my own kids. 

My daughter’s high school recently banned cell phones.  I can’t ask too many questions about it, but recently she asked me for a pack of Uno cards.  Apparently without cell phones kids have reverted to playing games with each other at lunchtime.  Imagine it.  A cafeteria full of teenagers playing cards. Don’t ask too many questions though.  But if she’s asking for these cards, I am definitely listening.  And finding them.  What if we all did this?  Banned the cellphones?  Set limits?  And I don’t mean one hour or two hours or whatever, but maybe from 5-7 there are no cell phones.  A Spanish siesta of phones.  Two hours of screen free time?  I think it could work.  I’ll let you know.  After all, it is an art to raise a teenager, and it is an art to converse.  I’m trying to do both well, but it’s a juggling game.  Do I ask him to turn off the video games or take the trash out?  Do I ask him about his test or about his friends?  Maybe I can just listen and see what he wants to talk about.  Just nod my head.  There’s an art to that too.