Saturday, December 12, 2015

Parents, share with your children

I was studying Scripture readings for Sunday and watching CNN while waiting for the oil to be changed in my minivan last week.

There was an elderly man and woman in the service lounge with me. Slowly a conversation grew around the terrible events that were being covered in San Bernadino, California by a multitude of experts on terrorism, Middle Eastern affairs, firearms and homegrown extremists.

The elderly lady said that this news of mass shootings now hits about once every two weeks.

"They're breeding each other, inspiring each other," I opined.

The skinny, auburn-haired woman and the older, rotund man with half moon eyes that disappeared in his smile began to talk about how the world has changed. They spoke of where and how they were raised, she on a farm in the Midwest and he on a farm in Appalachia without running water or electricity for a good portion of his childhood. He mentioned how he told his grandchildren that as a boy his family didn't have television, and they asked him, "What did you do, Grandpa?" He began to shrug...

"We chased each other on our bicycles," said the woman with conviction, finishing his story, adding that her family also didn't have television for a lot of the time.

"Kids need those stories," I acknowledged. "It's great that you share them with your grandchildren."

I told them how I grew up in the boonies of Tennessee and how my children don't know anything similar to what I experienced as a child. They both nodded.

"We ate meals together every night," said the gentleman then. "That's when we talked about things like, 'Do we buy new carpet for the house or take a vacation?' And it was almost always the vacation," he added, laughing.

The gentlewoman nodded her head. "We came home every night to a hot supper. Kids nowadays are always rushing."

They talked about their children's families. The gentleman said that if his son's family sits down to a meal together once a week, it's a miracle. When he visits his son, he almost has to make an appointment to see the whole of his son's family at one time.

The gentlewoman nodded. It was similar in her own children's lives.

I - probably a little overzealous - shared my view that kids need that interaction time within the family in order to learn how to be people. They can't learn that well from YouTube, their phones or any other screen (except for Sesame Street, perhaps).

After that they began to talk about prayer in schools and the Pledge of Allegiance and solid moral instruction and etiquette in the workplace, and I just listened intently to two people who probably had more than a quarter of a century on me.

Yes, the topics were similar to what every older generation bemoans in the new, but they were right about family. Humans need family. They need familial love and attention, dinner table conversations, and chasing friends on bicycles. We were not made for our phones or any other alluring screen. That interaction will only ever go so far, and it does very little, I believe, to develop our emotional quotient. We need the human touch, so to speak.

Listening to my elders talk was a pleasure. I enjoyed their tales. It helped me forget the big, scary, inhuman world for a bit.

Stories can do that.

Just recently at a Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Geraldine's house, our friend Kim shared scenes from her childhood in Colorado, tales I had never heard of times that she still considers some of the most fun in her life: growing up under the mountains in a small apartment, sledding often, going without some things but not missing them one bit because of the adventures she relished as a youngster in that beautiful part of the country.

I joked at my friend's Thanksgiving dinner that my kids know all my stories, that I tell them over and over. If I start to talk about our dog Reuben and his good but annoying friend Mandy, they respond easily with, "Oh, yeah! Mandy was always bugging Reuben!", and they even know the color of their fur.

For my part I still remember many of my dad's stories from his dangerous, exhausting days of working on the power lines in the West, and the laughter and gasps they produced in us children. I can tell you the names of his powerline buddies. And I cherish the memories shared of how, when and where Mom and Dad courted as teenagers.

And this is part of what I think those two lovely people were saying in that service lounge while we waited for things to be fixed in the world. Family dinners at the table and slower times with mostly each other's company for amusement generated and gave room for sharing stories, stories that lightened the mood, that told of hardship and recovery, that comforted, that warned, that guided and enlightened, that communicated values.

That spread joy.

Stories are important. Not as vital as family, but they are our heritage, something precious we have to pass on. Yes, I know I'm biased, but tell stories to your children. Tell them to your friends. To the people in the car service lounge if it's not too awkward. Tell them to the world! No one else can share the memories you have. And you can only share them if you slow down and unplug over a meal or even something as simple as a cup of cocoa.

Especially at this time of year, I hope we don't forget that one of the best things we can give to our children and each other is these unique stories.

And may we ever find new opportunities to weave each other into new and pleasant ones.

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