Change is cathartic even when we don’t like it.
For the most part I have been flying high ever since we returned to our beloved Santa Barbara in 2016. Two weeks ago we took the children to Spain and Greece, an experience replete with ups and downs, the latter, I assume due to modern day society in which families ostensibly live separate lives under the same roof.
As a child, I spent most of my free time with my brothers, riding bikes, jumping rope and playing jacks, later spending it with friends and absorbing new cultures for I had lived in three continents by the time I was sixteen. Television was enjoyed alongside my siblings and/or parents, daily family dinners were never optional, and on Sundays my father would usher us into the living room to share new discoveries from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For better or worse, human interaction was the norm as my life unfolded.
Cut to the Computer Age.
Never in the history of humankind has man experienced such rapid change. Gone are the days of continuous sibling interaction, spontaneous bike rides, jump rope and jacks. Instead parents carpool their children all over Timbuktu for exercise and social interaction. Now that our teen twins and their friends drive, that lifestyle continues to keep them entertained, though more often than not, the interaction between a half dozen kids in the same room is usurped by their iphones. We strive to follow weekend brunches with board games which our youngest has wittily dubbed “bored games,” her fingers itching to tap, type, and scroll. We encourage the children to sit with us in the library to read, but I find myself getting irritated with their inability to stay focussed and end up insisting that they place their phones in the kitchen. Our three television sets take a back seat to laptops which lure them away from us and each other with infinite on-demand entertainment choices. Sunday family movie nights have become increasingly challenging as we all struggle to agree on what to watch. My husband and I are no exception. Hard-wired with “Encyclopedia Sundays”, I desperately seek educational or inspirational content from which the children might learn while my husband wants them to simply have fun. (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who is the first to get outvoted.) In an effort to keep the peace our Sunday movie nights have dwindled down to bi-monthly movie nights, and even then the five of us are rarely, if ever, present.
Our aforementioned trip presented its share of challenges. Being together in tight spaces (airplanes, taxis, hotel rooms) with intermittent internet access meant that we were obligated to interact with one another continuously, something that modern life does not foster. Furthermore we were scheduled to visit friends and family in Barcelona, including my elderly mother who is in an assisted living facility. Less freedom of choice was tantamount to conflict. Images of my childhood and adolescence surfaced leading me to crave a roadmap for present day child rearing. But all I could think of was: “We are the guinea pigs of digital age parents,” while trying to remember that so too are our children.
I am infinitely grateful for the sometimes arduous trajectory which brought me to the present, life overflowing with love and abundance. Notwithstanding, excessive scrutiny of modern day parenting coupled with the fascinating book I am reading, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, led to a myriad feelings which may have been responsible for my melancholic mood today, lending credence to the aphorism “ignorance is bliss.”
On my way home from dropping our daughter off to her city college class, I decided to take the beach route home for some respite. Listening to I Know by the Gypsy Kings, the Spanish band which saw me through my thirties, with the morning sun and palm trees in view, I was disappointed to discover that my somber mood did not ameliorate, quite the contrary it deepened. Rather than fighting the feeling I decided to embrace it, parked the car and set foot on the ground of my beloved Santa Barbara, owning my melancholic mood.
Feeling calm with a renewed perspective, I returned home and reached out to our tween daughter with whom I had experienced the most friction on our trip. I encouraged her to come to my room, where the Gypsy Kings belted out a tune, and we ended up dancing to my music and hers (Billy Eilish) to our heart’s content.
The true value of introspection is clarity. It is important to slow down, to step away from questioning and judging ourselves, especially in today’s inattentive world. My job as a parent is critical, and while my parenting skills (and those of my husband) are far from perfect, I am certain that we are doing our absolute best. That should be, and is, good enough.
Today’s events left me with the realization that I may have been confusing melancholy with nostalgia, a desire to revive, not my own past, but that of mankind, despite knowing that I am happier today than ever before. And because the present cannot be fully appreciated without the past, I will continue to exhibit deference to all the feelings (melancholic or not) that life brings, cognizant of the fact that the ability to feel is life’s greatest gift.