My six-year-old daughter asks me to come to the school cafeteria and eat lunch with her on a regular basis. Sometimes I get annoyed, thinking there is so much to I need to get done while my kids are at school. Laundry, phone calls, my own schoolwork, a quick workout…the list seems endless. But, then I remember how grateful I should be that she cares enough to want me to join her. Someday she will stop asking, so I need to take advantage of this opportunity she is giving me.
On a recent visit to the school cafeteria, I sat across the table from a dad who was there to have lunch with his son. In his hand was an iPhone, and he was madly texting away. Every so often this dad would look up toward his son and say “Love you buddy”…and his son promptly replied the same thing each time, “Love you too dad.” Then, the dad went back to texting and the son looked bored, but continued to eat his lunch. This went on for about 15 minutes until the dad says, “buddy, where do you eat when I’m not here, I gotta get to a meeting.” The son pointed in the direction of his class and then proceeded to pack up the rest of his lunch. The two parted ways…the son to his assigned table, the dad out the door. Really?! Wow.
I thought to myself, why did the dad even bother to come to visit his son for lunch in the first place? The boy tried to talk with his dad once or twice, but dad was clearly not paying attention so the boy stopped…except for responding to the dad’s short acknowledgements of love. Meanwhile I am beginning to get so distracted by this behavior, I am not listening to my own child.
I keep thinking about how often, and how easily, we as parents, spouse, family member or friend get distracted and don’t really listen to the person we are speaking with. I am ashamed to admit I pulled the same crap just yesterday during a phone conversation with my son who is over 900 miles away at college. I hadn’t spoken to him in a week, and while he was telling me about being nominated for a leadership program at his school, I was writing a thank you note! (Sorry Allen-Michael…). Am I really any better than the dad in the lunchroom?! I knew I had screwed up when I couldn’t remember half the details as I relayed the story to my husband over dinner.
There are more distractions than usual this time of year, and even more excuses as to why we don’t, or can’t, pay attention. Yet, this is also the time of year we tend to get together with those closest to us. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of presence. I’ll bet if we open our ears, our hearts will be opened as well. I plan to make that a priority this holiday, will you?