Writer Karen Brenner disconnects to reconnect

January 18, 2011

By Karen Brenner

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(AP/file)
Karen Brenner asks parents to put down their gadgets and spend more time connecting with their kids.

There are times when a little bit of disconnect can actually bring you closer to what really matters. With a memory of such a moment, "Eight Forty-Eight" heard from writer Karen Brenner:

On a warm summer afternoon as the Chicago traffic buzzed down Clark Street, we sat under the umbrellas of a sidewalk restaurant watching the world stroll by. Next to our table was a young family, mom and dad and two little boys. While the boys enjoyed their handmade ice cream cones, we couldn’t help but notice that both of their parents were completely immersed in their hand held devices. Both parents were turned away from their children, and turned away from each other, staring fixedly at the small screens in their hands. This moment: the lovely summer sky, the colorful people walking by, the yellow and green umbrellas of the restaurant, the flower boxes in full bloom on the sidewalk railings, the ice cream, and the little boys’ enraptured faces, all lost to the two people staring into their hands.


We live in a marvelous age of great leaps in technology, almost a renaissance period of change and growth. But if we surrender moments of engagement, moments of relationship to this technology, we will begin to lose pieces of our lives. These moments are usually just ordinary things, a family dinner, a run by the lake, a child in our arms. But these are the moments that matter; these are the moments that make up our lives.


When I was a teacher of young children, every September I gave the parents of the children in my class one assignment: spend five minutes each day talking with your child. I told the parents that this conversation needed to take place while they were doing nothing else; they could not be driving, or cooking dinner or working on the computer. I encouraged the parents to look directly into their child’s eyes and to have a real conversation with give and take and real listening. Every year the same thing would happen; parents would nod in agreement, smile at me rather patronizingly for being such a simpleton; of course they talked to their children all the time, why was I making this such a big deal? Inevitably, a few weeks later, parents would begin to stop me and ask me for more details about this assignment. Could I recommend some topics to discuss, did I have some ice breaker questions? I will never forget the panic on one father’s face as he grabbed my arm and told me in hushed tones, “I found out that I don’t know how to talk to my own kid!”

As the year progressed, the parents and the children usually found a way to talk to each other. I encouraged the parents to speak to their children about their own childhood experiences. This type of reminiscence usually opened the door for their children to start to tell them what was really going on in their lives. I was a parent of young children myself in those days, and so I knew how hard it could be to make the time (even five minutes) to just talk to your child one on one and to really, really listen. But those five minutes, those quiet talks, those little moments are how we build and grow relationships, memories, our lives.

So, here is your assignment: Pay attention; look at the faces of the people you love, listen to the music of your life, feel the wind on your face, taste the ice cream. These moments are the jewels of our lives strung on the necklace of time.

Music Button: Four Tet, "Circling", from the CD There Is Love In You, (Domino)