Last week, my 10-year-old son Daniel asked me to pass him some 7 Up in a kind of different way. It went something like this:
In between gulps of robust butternut squash soup, I suddenly hear a little beep. I check my iPhone. Daniel texted me in WhatsApp: “Mom, pass me the 7 Up.”
OK, so he’s sitting there right across from me at the dinner table!
“Daniel,” I ask (using my old-fashioned mouth—not WhatsApp), “why did you text that to me?! Why didn’t you speak? Do you have a sore throat?!” (Benefit of the doubt here!)
He sighs. A deep sigh. “Oh, Mom…”
One sigh speaks a thousand words. It reminds me of my teenage sighs when my mom just didn’t get internet chats. Or Napster.
And suddenly it hits me: Have I become an Old Fashioned Mom?! I hope not! I think I’m totally legitimate in wanting my dear son to speak to me. I’m not even asking for eye-contact—I’ll satisfy myself with just sound waves.
That episode got me thinking and reminiscing. My abuela and abuelo were typical Moroccan immigrants to Israel. Their home was filled with tapestry-bedecked walls, an orange velvet sofa, Arabesque-tiled floors, and a large ornate map of Morocco hanging above the TV.
Abuela would host daily or weekly family gatherings in her kitchen, featuring a tablescape of tiny homemade cookies, delicate Moroccan teacups, and a beautiful silver teapot with simmering mint tea. I remember sitting around the table with my dad, his
brothers, and my grandparents eating pumpkin seeds, spitting out the shells, and listening to them tell joke after joke in Spanish (which I don’t even understand). My cue to laugh was that split second when I’d see all their eyes wide open, surprised, followed by hysterical laughter. Repeat.
I couldn’t really pinpoint it then, as a child, but I thrived on those feelings of togetherness, of being part of a group of people who care deeply about each other, who laugh and at times cry together. I’m sure that much of the emotional security I felt then and still feel today stems from those family gatherings.
Fast-forward to when I will one day be a grandma (yikes!). I can see it now: My children and grandchildren will sit around my kitchen table… texting.
I must try to put an end to this.
So what should I do? Confiscate all electronic devices in our home? No. Adopt the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to help me raise healthy, well-balanced, emotionally-sound human beings? Is that even possible?
Setting my sights on the upcoming Yom HaMishpacha (Family Day) here in Israel has given me renewed hope for my children’s use of their vocal chords.
A bit of history about Yom HaMishpacha: Celebrated on the 30th of Shvat (February 9, 2016) this national holiday was instated in 1947 under the mushy-gushy name of “Mother’s Day.” The day marks Zionist leader Henrietta Szold’s date of passing. Childless, she played an important role in helping thousands of youngsters move to Israel, hence she is known as “The Mother of the Children’s Aliyah.”
I’d love to try to recreate my Moroccan grandmother’s kitchen table for Yom HaMishpacha this year. Maybe not the tacky tablecloth, but the awesome family vibes reverberating around it. I’ll make family time “electronics-free time.” I’ve even come up with this mini-song: “If you’re hungry and you know it, clap your hands and hand over the iPhone to Mom.” OK, I’m bad at rhyming but you get the idea.
My hope is to turn Family Day into Family Year, when human beings will speak freely to the human beings who brought them into the world—with their words, or at least with their laughter—every day of the year.