As a belated birthday treat for our eldest boy, Ben, we took him and 4 of his school mates to a well known pizza establishment yesterday lunchtime.
I must admit I’d been looking on it with a mixture of pre-event exhaustion and extreme trepidation ever since the plan was hatched and the invitations sent out. Ben on his own can be a hand[grenade]ful. But with 4 mates along as well? Plus our 2 and a half year old, Tom? Were we totally crazy?!
For the best part of a week I’ve been plagued with visions of food fights of National Lampoon’s Animal House proportions. Pizza’s flung like Frisbees. Lightsaber fights with the pepper mills. The disapproving looks from the other diners as the banter reaches atomic bomb sound levels.
But I had reckoned without modern technology. I had not taken into account the personality nullifier that is the Nintendo DS Lite.
When I was a kid a DS was a Detective Sergeant on The Sweeney. Nowadays it’s a portable electronic gagging device.
Our dining table consisted of the wife and I and Tom at one end, chatting quietly and enjoying the ambience. And the older boys at the other end; heads bowed to a man over their Nintendo DS’s. Ironically we had not allowed Ben to bring his, preferring him to make some attempt at playing the perfect host to his guests – you know the type of thing, making introductions, instigating polite conversation, ensuring all ran smoothly. Plainly the parents of his mates had decided we needed all the help we could get and so had issued their sons and heirs with various pacifiers that went by the names of My Sims, Sonic and Mario.
And it worked. They were as good as the proverbial gold. They even took turns sharing their DS’s with the birthday boy so he wouldn’t feel left out. Conversation seemed to revolve around stage levels and monsters and bosses.
Were they speaking in code? Were there bonds of loyalty being forged between the lines of game strategy and talk of power-ups? Their conversations seemed so unlike the ones I had with my mates as kid.
Or are they? What did I talk about but cartoons and Star Wars... realities as fake as those on those little electronic screens the boys held in their mitts for the duration of the meal.
But part of me can’t help thinking they were missing out.
It’s all very well having an electronic policeman in your pocket to keep your kids quiet in public places but isn’t it better for them to deal with the reality of their surroundings? To learn how to behave properly in the real world? Aside from the food I don’t think they were aware of their environment at all. We could have taken them absolutely anywhere – a landfill site – and it wouldn’t have made any difference to them.
Convenient in a way, I suppose.
But convenience sometimes short–circuits the learning of important lessons and life skills. Doesn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong; I was thankful it was all so easy.
It just didn’t feel right.