We sat across from a family at dinner last night that caught my eye immediately. It was a couple in their early 50s (I am guessing) with a teenage daughter who looked to be 15 or 16. Or maybe 14. I guess I am not quite prepared for the teen years that loom ahead of us…I don’t even really know what they look like, apparently.
Anyhow, this family was positioned right behind my young kids so they were in my sight line but not theirs. And this family made my heart fall. The father and the teenage daughter were so glued to their phones that they couldn’t pull them further than two inches from their face, the screen’s glow lighting up their features in that eerie white light that makes everyone look kind of crazed. The mother sat across from them, fiddling with the stem of her wine glass. She drinks white. She gazed out the open-air windows at the stunning green palms sitting just yards away. At the dusky golden hour light that bathed the air in a warm glow. I love that golden hour. It’s one of my favorite things about living in Southern California. She glanced around the restaurant at the other families, groups of happy hour colleagues, young couples…and back at her own family, a sense of sadness and detachment in her tired eyes. And I kept looking at her. I looked at her husband, who typed away furiously, his fixation never leaving his screen. I wondered what was so important. I looked at her daughter, mindlessly consumed by her device. She didn’t even really look that interested in it. She just simply couldn’t look away, couldn’t break that habit. And my heart sunk. The whole scene looked so sad to me, so disheartening. How he could be so detached, how she could look so alone, how a young girl was in the middle of it, not knowing any better. They didn’t exchange a word. Not even to comment on what they were looking at on their screens. They didn’t share a glance or an observation or even a peek at the view. They sat together like three complete strangers at a family dinner.
I looked back at my own kids. At my own phone that was sitting on the side of the table because I had been too lazy to bring in a purse and had nowhere else to put it. I had purposely sat it facedown so it wouldn’t distract me because the truth is, if often does. But not tonight. It would sit there, facedown, like a brick, for the entire dinner. I wouldn’t Google tomorrow’s weather, I wouldn’t check my work email, I wouldn’t pass it off to my 6 year old when he got tired and started whining. We had such a lovely dinner. We laughed at the kids’ jokes and listened to their stories and played games. We asked questions about school and friends and teachers. We got a little too loud with our laughs here and there and the woman with the white wine and her teenage daughter would both look over briefly and then look away. We had a really lovely dinner. My heart was full.
As we were wrapping up after an hour or so, the golden hour had passed and the skies outside were darkening for the night. The restaurant was getting a little louder as more pints and glasses of white wine were shuttled to table after table. My kids were showing the effects of their long day and our check was on its way. And I looked back over at that family. Their dessert had been served and two cups of hot coffee sat before them in standard white mugs. The daughter was leaning into her father now. His arm was around her in a warm embrace and he was looking his wife square in the eye across the table. I hadn’t witnessed the transition. The moment where he finally put his phone down, when his daughter pushed hers away. I hadn’t noticed when she leaned into him and when he decided it was time to look around at the world, the bustling restaurant, his wife. But I saw a relaxed smile on her face. The first one I had seen all evening. I don’t know what sparked it. But there it was. A moment of connection. A family that suddenly looked whole. That had let down their physical walls. And if I had been able to lean over and tell them one thing – if I had learned one thing from watching this whole interaction that I want to tell every family in every restaurant around the country, young and old - it would have been this…
You should have had dessert first. You should have found that moment from the very beginning From the moment you sat down. If it wasn't in you, you should have searched for it. Fought for it. Worked for it. And you should do it again next time. And the time after that. And during every golden hour you ever see.