One Hour Without Technology

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.”

at the airport yesterday, my kids were all plugged in.

“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.

 

Powering Down

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I can’t get my kids to unhook both of their ear buds. When I come home from work and they’re lounging on the couch, I ask them about their day and they unhook one bud. They’re, literally, half listening and half answering.

If I reach over and pull out the other ear bud, they scream, “You’re abusing me. I’m calling Child Services.” (They love to joke like that.)

I feel like putting in my own ear buds. In my ear, I will arrange for a preteen to whisper, “You’re such a good mother. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for working every day. Thank you for your kindnesses and humor. Now, mother, I will go make dinner for the family. And I will set the table.” Sure, it sounds robotic and saccharine. So? What’s wrong with that?

I like having and giving my full attention. I like giving and receiving household help.

I ask for help getting dinner. No one answers. They are bopping their heads to invisible music or smiling as they look at the small screen in their hands.

At least, when family dinner is on the table and we are seated together about to say grace, they are fully present. No, wait, why is my son smiling at his lap and why is his lap buzzing and glowing? That little brat! Give me that! (I take his iPhone.)

I am writing this on our vacay on the West Coast of Florida by the pool. At this moment, I don’t really care that no one listens to me. I’m not listening either. I hear only the gentle splashing sound of the fake waterfall by secluded swimming pool. Life is good. Tune out. Power down.

A Generation of Disconnected Kids

As I was leaving work tonite, I grabbed a book from my bookshelf to read on the bus ride home. I found these notes I had written about a year ago:

I give my kids what I wish I had when I was growing up — braces, nice sneakers, designer clothes. When one of my darlings walks by me and I’m reading the paper, I drop it, I snatch them close. I hug and kiss them.

If there’s a bagel that needs cutting, let me do it. I’d rather risk injury.

I feel sorry for them. Their dad is kind of sick. Their mom works a lot. But hey, wait! That’s me! I don’t think I should feel sorry for them. Why AM I the only one who sets the table and pours the milk into the cereal bowls?

I’m so tired that it’s easier for me to do what needs to be done than have them step up to the plate. I allow them to be dependent. They need to be more responsible.

Somewhere I got the idea that childhood should be soft and warm and adulthood hard and cold. It is wearying. I am getting tired.

The book that prompted these thoughts, where I found my handwritten notes, is Madeline Levine’s “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.”

Here are some quotes near my notes: “Both intrusion and overinvolvement prevent the development of the kinds of skills that children need to be successful: the ability to be a self-starter, the willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning, the ability to delay gratification… Warmth often slides into unhealthy dependency when we turn to our children for the loving connections missing in our adult relationships.”

Wow.

I think my kids are connected, happy and have aspirations towards responsibilty. But I have to nurture them and, at times, correct them.

If I give them warmth, which they need, it doesn’t mean I am sliding into unhealthy dependency. Nor does firm guidance mean I am lacking in love or warmth.

One startling premise of the book is that children of wealthy families are unhappier than children in poor families. Tough circumstances force family members to lean on one another, eat meals together and bond.

This book was a book club pick, although I never finished it and missed the discussion. Still, the premise bears discussing. Just today at work, my friend D. and I were talking about how difficult — and necessary — it is to let kids know your expectations of them. This helps them claim and feel proud of the ways that they have acted responsibly.

There is a happy and healthy middle ground between being your kid’s best friend and being the bad guy. I am finding that middle ground.

Only Connect

Last night I saw The Social Network on DVD (Thanks, SAG!). It totally captured the irony of this connected life. The movie also questions the primacy of male nerd culture, the difficulty in small business start ups, and the ownership of creative ideas.

In a closing scene Zuckerberg is left alone in a corporate office right after a potential friend declines his dinner invitation. He opens his computer to Facebook befriend her online. It is lonely, true. Yet, the scene reminds me that when the real world stings of rejection, having an onscreen persona can ameliorate the sting.

There is a place for online meet ups. For example, today I’m hoping to meet some of my fellow NaNoWriMo writers whom I’ve only received emails from during national novel writing month. Having companions while being a lonely writer has led me to greater compassion for other writers. I am grateful for my writing compatriots’ inspiration and productivity prompts. I’m grateful for real life workmates too. I’m always IM’ing my work buddy for motivation on being more productivity (Thanks, Beth!).

Word!

The president reminds the nation to connect in his awesome inspiring address this week:

“Use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

I have written before about being wired to care and seeing my own need for compassion as a weakness and not a strength, especially on the job (which, I know, is ironic, given that I work at a Christian agency.)

http://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/wired-to-care/

I think my desire to connect and be compassionate and have compassion is okay. It is bound up with my innate and human drive to be part of a community.

I have no idea why I receive weekly emails from Rector Bill Tully of St. Bart’s Church, but I’m glad that I do. http://www.stbarts.org/bill-tullys-blog/ (I should visit this church for my church a day (week) blog https://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/ )

Tully is one of those brilliant church people who is addressing and writing about the need for connection and community.

This week he says, “…America is a hothouse of communities. In towns, cities, neighborhoods, congregations, clubs, schools, service projects, even in offices and places of work, we have a chance to practice the known virtues of love.”

Tully quotes our President too, who said:

“I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

What he said.