Are We Connected?

The Next Family

By: Brandy Black

child modeling a parent's behavior

I deemed February’s theme “Connect” because I’ve been thinking a lot about the many people in my life with whom I’ve reunited through Facebook, LinkedIn, and various other online resources.  Although I feel more in touch with the masses than I’ve ever been, in a lot of ways I have been feeling very disconnected.  I rarely talk to my colleagues anymore because email is so much more efficient. My usual long-winded phone conversations with friends have become one-line texts.  Computers and various other accoutrements take up space on our dining room table more often than I want to admit and I feel like we are constantly distracted.  The other day my daughter was playing a game with me and she grabbed a piece of paper and pretended to type on it and when I asked her what she was doing she said

“Wait a minute Mama, I’m working on my computer.”

It broke my heart to realize that I do that to her so often that she has begun modeling that behavior in her play.  I thought of the song Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin.  I used to cry every time I heard it; I knew when I had a child it would be important to me to build a life that allowed me to spend time with her.  I have done just that –I have set myself up in a way that I consider lucky: to have a delicious balance of work and parenthood. But often my work bleeds into my time with our daughter and I find myself negotiating with her daily. I feel guilty for it and then begin negotiating with myself.  The other day I sat down and thought about how often one of the three members of our family are in front of the TV, computer, phone, ipad, ipod, or anything you can plug in and it threw me into a depression.  We find ways to disconnect all the time without even realizing it.  When Sophia has a toddler meltdown it is likely that Susan or I will flee to a computer just to take a break from the madness.  When she has a meltdown in the car, I will turn on the radio and escape into the music.  When Susan and I go on a date we will choose a movie rather than good old conversation to “relax”.

Why don’t we choose to be present, to fill the noise and space and tension with laughter and conversation that bring us closer together?  Why is it that I have to plan a “no technology” day?  How is it that I choose the company of a flat box with rapidly moving images and redundant plots over my beautiful wife and her lovely stories about her day? Am I that busy?  Am I that worn out?  Am I addicted to over stimulation?

I understand technology is important.  I see the value of staying abreast of the ever-changing modern world –knowing that if I don’t, I will ultimately be left behind. But there are days in our house when I want to get off this digitized train. I strive for balance in my life always.  When I was in my early twenties my father told me that if I did everything in moderation, good or bad, I would likely be happier than punishing myself for wanting and not having.  I have taken that advice to heart. I have allowed myself the freedom of frivolity, understanding there is a time and place for everything in my life.

I realize in this time right now as I am 12 days from celebrating another year on this earth that I want contact with humans, connections beyond keypads, conversations that keep me up too late, dinners and dim lights, card games, debates, walks. And I’m willing to put up with the uneasiness of not being “connected” to the outside world at every hour to make it happen. This to me is what being “connected” is really about because if I’m not careful I may disappear into a little avatar on a handheld screen that can’t find her way out.

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talkin’ ‘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”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home dad?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day

He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play

Can you teach me to throw?” I said “Not today

I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”

And he walked away but his smile never dimmed

And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah

You know I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day

So much like a man I just had to say

“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”

He shook his head and said with a smile

“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys

See you later, can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away

I 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 can find the time

You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have 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

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

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