“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and there were bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know, I’m gonna be like you”
This past weekend, I accompanied my daughter on a shopping trip. I usually avoid malls, but Elizabeth wanted to check out a specific store only found in a nearby mall, and happy to spend the day together, I agreed to brave the crowds.
We parked the car and headed through the door, dodging a couple who were texting rather than watching where they were walking. We passed a cosmetic stand where a sales associate awkwardly tried to sweep the latest blush over the cheek of the client seated before her. The customer was loudly talking on her cell phone, completely unaware of how difficult she was making the task for the associate. As we crossed the mall floor, I almost rear-ended the young man in front of me who had suddenly slowed his pace so he could redial.
Finally, we reached the store Elizabeth wanted to visit. I browsed through the dresses with her, and when she went into the dressing room to try a few on, I plopped myself on one of two red wooden chairs to rest my aching back.
It was not long before Elizabeth summoned me to her door to give my opinion on the dress she was trying. As usual, she looked beautiful; tall and willowy, with huge gray eyes fringed with thick lashes. The dress, silky and black, set off the tattoos I have come to embrace. She is exquisite. And unique.
I smiled. “Lovely. You look beautiful. Do you like it?”
She nodded, relieved that I approved.
“Try the others, just for fun,” I urged. A shopping trip is not worth the time and effort if you leave after only trying one item.
I turned to sit down again, when a family of four entered the dressing area. Mom and the little girl closed themselves in a dressing room. The little girl appeared to be about seven years old. She skipped as she hugged a green and white dress and excitedly shut the door behind her. Dad and his son sat in the two chairs and each pulled a cell phone from his pocket.
“Rats! I should have taken my seat sooner. I missed my opportunity,” I thought.
The son looked to be in middle school. He was handsome and well-dressed, and sported an ace bandage on his left wrist and arm, like the kind that results from a skateboard injury. I thought of my own son, Gabriel at that age. All arms and legs, he had reminded me of a colt waiting to burst into a full gallop. He was in awe of the world, filled with questions and opinions. He was always in motion; drumming to a song heard only in his head, tapping a toe, jiggling a heel, reaching to see if he could touch the ceiling. Every moment with that child was an adventure, and although I adore the man he is now, I miss the boy he was.
The father and son never said a word to each other, each engrossed in his cell phone. Soon the little girl emerged from her dressing room. She twirled in the green and white dress as her mother said, “Show Daddy.”
She twirled again, obviously pleased with herself. Dad glanced up from his cell phone and shrugged his shoulders.
“What do you think?” asked Mom.
Dad looked up and shrugged again.
“Raise your arms,” Mom instructed, and the little girl reached toward the ceiling, presumably to see how short the dress would rise.
Dad shrugged again, and went back to his cell phone.
“Okay,” said Mom, and the two went back into the dressing room.
At that moment, Elizabeth emerged, happy with her selection and we headed for the checkout area. I was happy that she found a dress but I couldn’t forget with the missed opportunities I had just witnessed and they had nothing to do with a red chair or a sore back.
I’m sure those parents love their children. Most do. And the children are probably well cared for. They looked healthy, well fed and clean. They obviously have stuff. New clothes. Cell phones.
But they could have so much more. It was the perfect time for Dad and son to bond over the boy’s injury or bemoan the trials of waiting outside the dressing room. Or talk about how they would spend the rest of the day. Or discuss a book, or a T.V. program, or how the Red Sox are having an abysmal season.
If only Dad had put down his cell phone, he would have seen that his little girl was searching for his opinion- his validation. All children look to their parents for approval, and it’s so easy to satisfy this need. All he had to do was tell her how pretty she looked in that dress, or that it didn’t do justice to her freckles and ponytail, or that the dress looked pretty because she was wearing it. Just a few words. A few crucial words.
I love technology and social media. I check my Facebook wall several times a day, read my WordPress stats as soon as I post and take my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house. But sometimes I feel as if our love for technology does more to isolate us than to bring us together. Time with our loved ones is something we take so much for granted. Every minute we have with each other is a chance to share a slice in time. A chance to share opinions. A chance to listen. To watch. To affirm. To cherish. Let’s not miss our opportunity.
“Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
Called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time”
“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”
~Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”