Real Connection

img001Even in her mid forties, my mom was still the classiest mom on the block, and she could still jump the chain link fence around the back yard and dance the jitterbug. She was petite boned and svelte and sported a short, salt and pepper hair-do. In a time when hippies were wearing headbands and beads and dungarees, mom still dressed in coordinating colors and carried handbags that matched her shoes. She connected with everyone, even strangers, and took opportunities to pass on her little tidbits of knowledge, interjecting “Did you know…” or “I read somewhere that…” into every-day conversation.

Abandoned with three small children by a lout of a run-away husband, mom continued to carry herself with pride and dignity. With the help of her sister Agnes (another strong and dignified woman), we were a happy family in a quiet suburban neighborhood. We gathered as a family every night at the dining room table to a warm, home-cooked meal. We had conversation, shared our days, and we connected face-to-face.

Now, in 2015, we seem to have nothing but shortcuts, but those shortcuts don’t cultivate curiosity, learning, or personal connection. We google whatever we want to know about. We don’t pour over the encyclopedia or atlases. We don’t congregate over the dining room table with newspapers or newsletters or school papers. We tweet, FB, blog. When I was a young child, we had none of this electronic interference.

My mom always created one-on-one and relationship connection time with me and my two brothers. I remember one special event during the summer of 1966. Mom was taking me – just me! – to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for a week. This special get-away bonding time with my mom is a cherished memory. Though a horrible storm in March of 1962 had destroyed the boardwalk, beachfront businesses and homes, and eroded the beach, by ’66 most of Rehoboth had been restored in glorious fashion. During the storm, waves were reported at 40 feet and this nor’easter is touted as one of the 20th century’s worst coastal storms. Mom and I were going to visit the renewed and rebuilt Rehoboth of 1966.

Mom, dressed in pedal pushers and a sleeveless summer blouse, backed the mint and cream- colored monster of a car out of our driveway. We waved good-bye to my brothers and Aunt Agnes and started on our way out of suburbia and into the countryside of lower Delaware. I think mom was as excited as I was. For one glorious week, she wouldn’t have to listen to arguments over F Troop or Daniel Boone? nor complaints about her meatloaf or tuna noodle casserole, nor would she have to vault the chain link fence to catch my brother after his latest prank or pre-teen mischief.

Our journey started quietly. Mom navigated our way out of Wilmington, moving south, as I watched unfamiliar landmarks and farm lands. We listened to WAMS on AM radio and sang along with Bobby Darren’s “Mack the Knife” and some guy named Elvis.

Mom was never one to pass up a teachable moment or an opportunity to help us learn new things. Along the road to the beach we saw cornfields (Is that where our corn on the cob comes from, Mommy?), passed the Dover Air Force Base and the John Dickinson House. She’d explain landmarks as best she could, and if she didn’t know the answer, she’d say we’d have to look that up.img001 (3)

I asked friend and associate Kim Leatherdale, LPC, for her take on how parents can better connect and foster relationships with their children. According to Kim, “Always live congruent to your message and your [children] will learn daily.” Mom was the perfect example of “learning by example” and was she never too busy to answer our questions. She was kind, curious, and intelligent. She paid attention to people and asked them questions. She made me feel special by her attentions and questions about my day, my homework, my friends. Mom inspired curiosity in us kids by encouraging us constantly to, “Look it up.” We would look up the flag of Germany for a school paper and find the flags of the world and spend an hour engrossed in all the majesty and colors of hundreds of nations. We could look up San Francisco and spend an hour hunched over maps of California in the atlas.

With the advent of TV and TV recording devices, computers and laptops, iPads and smart phones, there seems to be a growing trend of connecting online at the loss of personal, face-to-face bonding and one-on-one time. Everywhere I go – dinner at a restaurant, a work break room, sporting events – I see people staring into their devices and who pay no attention to their coworkers and parents engrossed in what’s happening on their device while they pay little or no attention to their children. This disconnect did not happen decades ago before all these devices were available and popular.

Arriving in Rehoboth, we cruised Rehoboth Avenue, past the bandstand next to the boardwalk, past the grand sign of Dolle’s salt water taffy and candy store. We smelled pizza from Grotto’s and heard the raucous music of Funland with its merry-go-round, bumper cars, and rocket ships. People on fat-tired bikes weaved in and out of pedestrians on the boardwalk, and a rainbow of colored umbrellas polka-dotted the beach. The heat shimmered off the sidewalks, and the sun glinted on the blue water of the Atlantic.

At our room rental, the lady of the house was a vision of grandmotherhood, with the constant apron, her gray hair fighting her ministrations to keep it in a bun. I remember the old man who would bang through the kitchen door every morning with a bucket of oysters. He’d stand over the sink, shucking one after the other, sucking them out of their shells. I was fascinated, though I thought they looked gross, like so much snot on a shell.

According to Delaware Today magazine, beach goers would still have been able to see the remains of the shipwreck of the Collier Thomas Tracy (which had stormed ashore in 1944 and got stuck on top of a previous shipwreck, the Merrimac) at low tide. On the beach, I would occasionally build majestic sand castles under her watchful eye and her encouragement. We would walk and collect seashells and Mom would explain what would have been in the shells. Mom and I would carouse at the water’s edge or read quietly in our beach chairs.

The love of reading books in our family often led to more conversation and learning, as well as more connecting. This was evident on our summer vacation as well. Between Charlotte’s Web, a Nancy Drew mystery, and whatever mom was reading at the time, we would discuss what we’d read, sharing thoughts about quirky characters or interesting events in the stories. About instilling a love of reading, Leatherdale says, “Read to your child every day; make it a loving ritual,” and “Read things yourself and let your child see you enjoy reading.” On this wonderful beach trip, mom and I read the newspaper together in the morning and would relax with our own books throughout the day, either in the living room of our rental or on the beach. I felt comforted and happy either reading together or reading my own book with mom just a few feet away.

Elizabeth H. Cottrell of Heartspoken.com – where she connects with God, nature, others, and self – relates her own feelings on connection: “I have been studying the role and impact of personal connections on our life for several years, and there’s no doubt in my mind these connections nourish our soul and renew our spirit. There is also evidence that in otherwise healthy individuals – those who enjoy regular and healthy personal connections – have an edge in mental acuity as they age. It is surely ironic that while technology has provided us with an unprecedented level of connection, it is no substitute for personal relationships and can, in fact, foster isolation.” I think often about my special connection week with Mom. We had no special phones or electronics. We had newspapers and books, home libraries and reference books, and we had conversations face-to-face.

According to HumanKinetics.com, “…some technological advances cause people to be distracted, overly stressed, and increasingly isolated. Many people are involved in an abundant number of relationships through technology, but sometimes the quantity of these associations leaves people feeling qualitatively empty. Obviously, technology has had a profound impact on what it means to be social.” I never felt empty with mom, or my childhood friends, or my family. On a recent outing with my family and friends, we used the placemats and napkins to play Hangman with the kids. During this outing, I spied a couple with a small child at the end of our long table – both mother and father looking at their phones, “connecting,” while their daughter sat ignored. I felt angry at this couple for ignoring their child during what should have been a family outing, and I wonder would my mom have spoken up to this distracted, disconnected couple.

Computers and electronic devices have opened up the world to us, but at what cost? Instead of tales of spider webs, we sit alone attached to the world wide web; instead of putting a 5 cent stamp on a hand-written letter, we punch a few keys and shoot off impersonal LOLs, OMGs, and ROFLs; instead of watching Disney as a family on Sunday night, we sit alone, with our own TVs, watching the latest series on cable; instead of sharing the corded phone that hangs in the kitchen, we each huddle over our own devices, devoid of real conversation.

Chaplain Rick Wilcox talks about his dad’s parenting gift: “Dad had many gifts and I didn’t comprehend or appreciate most of them during his life. One of the finest was the gift of presence. Dad knew how to sit quietly with me and his silence quieted my restless heart.”

In this century it has become harder and harder to bond, have real face-to-face time, and one-on-one time with our children, our families, and our friends. I remember the beach week as a real connection, significant personal face time, fostering and cementing our relationship, though at times Mom and I would sit quietly. Now, our hand-held electronic devices guide us to a false sense of “connection.”

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24 Comments

Filed under Personal Articles

24 responses to “Real Connection

  1. A lovely tribute to your mom with wonderful memories. You are one lucky daughter. Your message is apt in this electronic world. Society is finding it harder to interact when people are face to face. We are losing this skill and, as a result, we are becoming lonely without the sense of being loved by family and friends.

    • karenrsanderson

      I am lonely sometimes, though I do appreciate my “alone” time. But when I am with people, I wish they could put their devices aside, pay attention to me and others and what’s going on. I love that my son and my DIL enforce limits on the boys’ electronic time and make them play games. And, once they get into the games, they REALLY get into it.

  2. Wonderful piece, Karen. Takes me back to times spent with my father and sister when young. The sharing of time, talk, and stillness. I pity this new generation, all wired up and internetted. Walking down the street with earbuds in and eyes glued to their phones, oblivious to the world around them. So much being lost.,,

    • karenrsanderson

      I sometimes feel sad, too, Shawn. But we (as grandparents or older generation people), must instill the old world stuff. Ask questions…even if you hover over Google, at least you are doing it together. I realize that us older folks must adapt, but still ask questions…and then “Let’s Google it.” I guess we must “google” together.

  3. Great piece, Karen. It’s good to have you back in the blogosphere, or whatever this is. You just inspired me to do a related piece. It will show up as soon as I get a round tuit.

    • karenrsanderson

      I love it when I inspire someone! You made my day, Esther. Can you send me a “round tuit?” I lost mine.

  4. My grandson just had his 5th birthday party. He is solidly into Lego building. Hopefully he will be much less into technology than I am. 😀

    • karenrsanderson

      Legos! I started my son on these when he was past the age of “swallowing everything.” I still give him Legos for Christmas…and he is 35.

  5. Sigh. What you say is true. Even my granddaughters (7 & 11) have their eyes locked on small screen, too busy to even talk to each other. The best they manage at times is to fight an I cannot imagine how they find time for that. :-

    • karenrsanderson

      When we are going out as a famiily, I insist on putting the devices aside. Unless, as we did yesterday, we used the iPad to play Hangman.

      • My daughter does the same with her kids to make sure they engage one-on-one with humans. 😀 😀 Their electronic toys are always taken always as punishment for misdeeds and the kids feel the ‘pain’. 😀

  6. Thanks for sharing these happy memories with us readers. How did you deal with emerging technologies with your son? As a mom, I embraced technology for my own two girls, but in addition to, not replacing face-to-face conversation or gardening together in our urban backyards, or trips together to discover nature or culture in our city’s museums. It’s how you use technology that makes it a blessing or a curse I think. I look up at the sky for the weather more often than at my phone App. Yet, added to our lives in some small measure the connections the Internet brings can become a gateway to new ideas and friendships. It’s how I discovered your blog too!

    • karenrsanderson

      When my boy was young, no internet in our home (he’s 35). I embrace technology now, though I am reluctant to let it take over. About the weather…I check my device and then open my front door to feel what’s really happening. And, yes, I bless the days that brought you and Elizabeth and Barbara and Pamela and Susannah and Jessica and so many others into my life. But I also like to reach out, in person, to people right here in Minot.

  7. Karen,
    Nice post! I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had the “technology talk” with my couples. It gets harder and harder as the people who grew up with tech in their hands end up in my office. They take tech for granted and don’t have the understanding of the wonderful depths relationships can reach if they were just with their partners/kids/friends (instead of kinds with them while tuned into tech.) That’s why I teach my new couples how to step away from the tech or use it together to enrich each other rather than create distance.
    Thanks for the mention.

    • karenrsanderson

      I have been having an argument with myself over my connection with tech…I connect so much online, but not enough face-to-face. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t blog for so many months, that’s one of the reasons I insist that my grands put away their devices and “Play Games” and why I avoid people who are too connected to their devices. Thanks again for your insight, Kim.

  8. What a wonderful Sunday afternoon slow read. It’s so luxurious to chew up a wonderful piece like this in reflective, savory bites. Your gift is a gift to us all.

    • karenrsanderson

      Thanks, Rick. I love your blog too…how you make the scriptures real and so easy to relate to situations in the world. I am not a church-going person, but your blog and your insight helps me connect with Him. I appreciate that.

  9. Karen, I agree with Rick…reading your piece was a deliciously rich and wonderful way to spend my Sunday evening, and your fabulous writing took us right along with you and your mother on that memorable trip to the beach. You connected us with the sights and sounds and smells, and even more to the point, you connected us with the feelings of warmth, love, and security that you felt in that special time with your special mother.

    I am very concerned about the impact of technologies on our social well-being and our ability to develop healthy and meaningful relationships. I’m not ready to despair, however, because as J.J. said, it has created new kinds of connection that never existed before. Our upcoming writer’s conference would never have happened without this technology.

    As always, it’s a matter of balance, and you have raised an important warning to all of us to be aware and make sure the addiction to our phones and computers doesn’t take the place of quality time with those that matter. I’ll definitely be sharing this, and I’m honored to have been quoted.

    • karenrsanderson

      You mention balance – I think that’s the key. It’s nice to have Google to look up everything we are curious about, but it’s not good to stare into the device hour after hour, day after day, without truly connecting with what is going on around us. And yes, looking forward to the weekend we will share and that would not have been possible without our connection online. But that’s just a weekend. We have shared so many hand-written notes and actual phone conversations, and that is what makes a relationship,

  10. Ahhh Karen, you’ve done it again. Another thought provoking piece. A lovely read before retiring for the evening.

  11. Karoline Stock

    I enjoyed your article. True and very representative of many of today’s relationships. Some of my favorite times with my grandson are when we’re in the car. I’ve heard many interesting stories.

    • karenrsanderson

      Many of my best conversations with the boys are when they are first up in the morning, when I sleep over. Before they are permitted to pick up the iPads!

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