Ten days ago, we took the kids out to dinner to belatedly celebrate Benjamin’s 20th birthday. When we asked him where he wanted to go, he chose Italian in Tel Aviv and let us do the decision making. We left Raanana with the girls, picked up Benjamin near his apartment in Herzilia and headed to what I have begun to call The City for our 8:30 reservation at UNO, a slick kosher dairy Italian eatery.
“OK, so we’re going to play a little game at dinner,” I announced en route. “Just like they do in Manhattan. We read about in the New York Times, and it’s called something like Stacking.”
“Seriously?” one voice said from the back.
“Are you kidding?” said another. It must have been the girls, who had brought back that section of the paper with them from their trip to San Francisco.
“It goes like this: as soon as we sit down to eat, we stack our phones on the table. First one to look pays the bill.” I glanced at Philippe, who was smirking behind the wheel. We had already discussed it and agreed it was a great approach to dinner with three teens. We also knew it was an empty threat since we’re obviously the bill payers.
Someone balked again. Another one huffed. I tuned them out as much as possible. Acceptance, or more like resignation, something like “Mommy and another one of her ‘games'” settled between them in the backseat.
Philippe parked in the public lot below the Opera House since the restaurant is across the street, while the kids and I walked up the short flight of stairs to the entrance. Large overhead lamps hung down from the ceiling and tables wrapped around a bar in the shape of a half moon. It was dimly lit, crowded and exuding with chic.
The hostess led us to the table and before Philippe even arrived I pointed to the perfect spot for the phones. “Put ’em here,” I said with maternal authority. Since the table was rectangular the phones would be perched at the end near me and across from Daniella. Everyone, myself included, took a last peak to make sure no one had rung, texted, emailed, Facebooked, What’s App’d or who knows what to reach us. We stacked them one atop the other, face up.
Our waiter handed us menus, Philippe arrived and I indicated that his phone should go on the pile too.
“Wait,” Benjamin said. I wasn’t sure if he was serious and couldn’t not be connected or kidding just to rile me. “I want to check the restaurant on FourSquare, see what’s good here.”
“No way. I sent you the TripAdvisor review when I invited you to dinner last week. You’ve had about a week to read up on this place. No phones!”
“But we haven’t even ordered yet. Didn’t you say it starts after we’ve ordered?”
“Benjamin,” Philippe said with that same soft J in the middle of his son’s name as the one that begins my own. The sound that makes me melt. “Mommy’s right. No phone.”
The five cells—two Samsungs, two Nexus, one LG—were placed on my left. Still. A lit. Tantalizing.
“Are you going to take a picture?” Benjamin asked. “To blog about?” I was tempted but picking up the phone to take the picture put me in a hypocritical position. I resisted and shook my head no.
The article on phone stacking in the Times had caught my attention mostly because I’ve had some disturbing movie-going experiences lately. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen “We’re the Millers,” (never watched Friends and had no idea how hysterical Jennifer Aniston really is) “Jeune et Jolie” (disturbingly French) and “Don Jon” (Philippe laughed all throughout) with friends, a couple of whom have been checking their phones and even texting during the films. Not only is the cellphone light distracting but so is the act; why can’t we turn off? Are we really that important or popular that we have to check our egos, see if someone is looking for us? Or maybe we’ve all developed ADD or ADHD to some degree so we can no longer focus on one thing at a time. Why do we feel compelled to know everything that’s happening in the moment or answer or comment or respond to people who are trying to reach us immediately?
Turning off my phone is easy, something I do on an almost daily basis. When I practice yoga I put my phone on mute, in my purse, on the other side of the room. When I teach, I don’t even bring it downstairs to my studio. Disconnecting, for me, is like a mini-cleanse. Time off, to go inside, to think or better yet, the opposite, to clear my mind.
Once our pizzas and pastas arrived, the five of us ate and talked, perhaps looking at and listening to each other more intensely than usual. We teased one another, told stories and laughed. We discussed our food and shared a little. During the meal, I felt a slight vibration, heard a faint ring, saw the blue light on my phone flicker indicating a text or email and each time turned away. Instead I turned toward my kids. So grown up and mature in some ways, still growing and immature in others. I never imagined that we’d be here, in Israel, again, now, together.
Amazing, I thought to myself. Benjamin was born in Haifa on our third-year anniversary, an occasion we tend to overlook because of or thanks to him. Then, a few years later and on the other side of the world, the girls arrived. Twenty-three years have passed and I am wowed by the three of them, these people who are beginning to separate and go out in the world. To stack–turn off or tune out–allows us to then turn toward that which is meaningful and it is truly something to celebrate.