It went badly.
I told all family members that for one hour on this Sunday afternoon they had to turn off their phones, computers, television sets at 3:15 pm. They could do anything they wanted — nap, eat, clean, anything.
At 3:15, they begged for, “Five more minutes. Just until I finish this episode.”
Hayden’s hooked on reruns of Prison Break and the girls on How I Met Your Mother. So I relented. At 3:20, I collected their phones and laptops and put them in a sealed, secret box.
My husband (who may have some OCD tendencies) began counting playing cards to get a Gin Rummy game going. The girls began to clean their room. So far, so good. Then my son began foraging in the fridge for something to eat and came up short. It’s true we’ve been gone a few days and the cupboards are pretty bare.
“You can go grocery shopping,” I suggested.
“No,” he said, flopping on my bed. “I’m hungry.” I began making him some frozen Trader Joe appetizer thing, left-overs from a party months ago.
“Mom, I have to turn on the computer to check what homework I have,” my son said.
“No,” I said.
“I think he should be allowed to do that,” my husband piped in.
“No,” I was not going to give in. “He knows he has to read the Odyssey. Just crack the book open.”
“I already read it,” he said.
“Then do something else,” I said.
“You’re such a jerk,” he said. Nice, right?
“You’re not allowed to call me a jerk. Or say I’m crazy,” I said. Last week, he called me crazy. Yes, I’m crazy. But a good kind of crazy. And that’s not what he meant.
Then the girls started bickering about a shirt they both claimed. And Charlotte was goading Catherine to quit lying on the floor.
Charlotte was exasperated. She said, “I’m the only one who does anything around here.”
And that naturally, got me yelling. Because that’s my line. I’m the only one who does anything around here.
My husband asked, “Who wants to play cards?”
“Not me!” the kids said.
“Get up off the floor,” Charlotte told Catherine.
“I’m hungry, Mom,” Hayden said.
I tried to keep it together by remembering the article on sibling rivalry from today’s NYTimes by George Howe Colt. He points out that when kids argue over food maybe what they’re really arguing over is mother’s attention.
That idea that mothers are powerful got me through the awful hour without technology. The other realization that pulled me through was knowing our social media sabbath was only going to last another 15 minutes. I served the kids that appetizer-y thing. People calmed down.
At 4:20, I went into the secret box and handed them back their phones and laptops. Okay, I didn’t hand them back. I threw them back. I said, “Here you go! Now we don’t have to talk to each other any more today.”
But we did talk later — at dinner. I suggested that we try this brief digital sabbath every week. They didn’t argue.