Eating out together yet alone


My family does not eat out often, so it’s a treat when Karen and I leave the kitchen idle and take the kids out to dinner.

We use the time to talk with each other in a relaxed atmosphere, and often color the placemats with the kids while waiting for our meal. (The host never gives us crayons when it’s just Karen and me. Go figure.)

The time not only makes us feel closer, but it also teaches the kids patience.

I do my best to ignore people at nearby tables, but doing so is not always easy, especially when the tables are close enough together to share the salt shaker.

We went out the other night, and I noticed a family of four next to us that did not appear to be enjoying each other’s company. The dad would not take his eyes off his phone, and the two elementary-school aged daughters stared into their own phones or iPods as though they were powering them with mental energy instead of a rechargeable battery.

The mother sat silently enjoying a glass of wine as her eyes darted around the restaurant and landed on the devices periodically.

I didn’t stare, but it was hard not to steal a glance every 30 seconds or so, like staring at a car crash on the interstate. You know you shouldn’t do it. You know you should just mind your own business and keep your eyes on the road ahead of you, but something inside you needs to keep looking because you simply can’t believe your eyes.

This nice-looking family was eating out together, but each member was on their own little island.

I felt a sense of relief in knowing that our kids do not have handheld electronic devices that allow them to live in their own reality when they are surrounded by others. My daughter is saving up for a Nintendo DS, but we will not allow her to escape into it.

I realize that judging a family’s dynamic based on one moment is problematic at best. Perhaps the members of that family were so engrossed in their phones or iPods because they don’t use them elsewhere.

Maybe they weren’t ignoring each other, and instead simply taking a break from each other. Who doesn’t need a break from family every now and then?

But something tells me that was not the case.

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