Monday, April 19, 2010

Parallel Play

Help me with this. Sometimes...well, often actually, I convince myself of something that may not be true. It's only true for me. So, before I even drag you along in this conversation, my pre-reading question is, "Is this true or is it just me?" So, today I was back in line at the drive-thru at McDonald's. Here was the scene: I was on my cell phone and was listening to the radio. McDonald's now stations a real-live attendant (person) just before the "Order Here" Intercom. Anyway, the outdoor waitress (sans roller skates), had on headphones and communicated with another employee also with headphones. So, my question is, was there any real, one-on-one conversation taking place at all here? You might be thinking, "Marianne, get out of those drive thru lines." But, that's not it---totally. Oh, no. Read on.
     I was at a nice restaurant last night. A family of four sat next to me. Both kids were on their hand-held whatchamacallits. Mom was texting. Dad was checking his email on his iPhone. They were paying about $100.00 to sit at the same table for a family outing---and not talk. Everybody was ostensibly there for the same reason, but nobody was interacting with the person next to them.
So, here's where I drag you in...It's like we're all sitting side-by-side, but to cross over into another person's emotional air space is almost rare. Is this just me? Do you experience this or am I just not adapting quickly enough to ......ersatz?
I know that when we fly, the flight attendants always do that instructive song and dance that none of us pays any attention to. But, what I do take away from it is, "Put your own oxygen mask on first and then assist your child." The gist there, of course, is if you can't breathe, it is hard to help the person on your left--even if you love them. But, in real life, after we have all of the oxygen we need, what if the person on our left needs something besides oxygen from us? What if what they really need is our ear, our attention, our looking them in their eyes when they talk? What if that person to our left---that loved one--that child, that friend, that spouse, that sister---doesn't need the oxygen mask but would really come alive if we "hung up" and paid attention to them---hands free? Phone free? Gadget free?
I imagine this is how my own parents may have felt when they experienced the world changing at lightning speed right before their eyes. Basically, I just got rid of my rotary dial phone. I barely know how to text. Even though I consider myself relatively techno-savvy, I am already behind the curve. I was about to say I am lost, but I caught myself. Because, who, or better yet, what is being lost in all of this distracting we're doing? We are...or are we (?) all involved in massive parallel play? Refresher 101: Parallel play: Doing an activity right next to another person but not interacting with them. It's what toddlers do at an early stage of development. Play...but with no connection, no interaction, no cooperation. Side-by-side, but not with.. So we stand next to each other in line, sit across the table from one another, walk down the street together----but all the while....parallel.  And, as we learned in the 3rd grade, parallel lines never intersect. Is that what we never intersect?  To not connect?
Lord knows that we all need time to process, download and regroup. I stay inside my own head so much when I'm with Taylor, that it's sometimes like being alone. But the gift that Taylor gives to me is that he forces me not to live a life parallel to his. Taylor literally takes me by the face and makes me see him. He forces me into his personal space by wrapping my arms around him, by putting his nose up against mine. Nothing parallel about that, huh?
My own guts tells me that we've moved  beyond cell phone etiquette into a way of non-communicating that will eventually cut us off from our own oxygen--spiritual, emotional, social.  What do you think? Are we regressing away from cooperation and "real" play---and moving back a step to not much real stuff at all---living parallel--not seeing the real human beings standing right before our very eyes---next to us, beside us,  across from us.  Is it way too early in the morning to be reading stuff like this?
You've seen that bumper sticker that reads: Hang Up and Drive.
What about: Hang up and Listen? And touch? And See?