My grandmother and aunts had goats. We had chickens. We all had dogs and cats that wondered around at will and in the summer, my house was surrounded by trees so thick you couldn't see anything but green when you looked out the windows. But when I was very young, I guess we didn't look out the windows much at all. Mostly, I guess, we just sat in our basement and watched TV.
My dad in a fit of passion (I can so relate to him), literally picked up the TV and threw it out the door. He did not, it turns out, like how we didn't do anything but watch the BOOB TUBE as he called it.
Did this totally stop us?
I'm afraid not.
This meant we all went down to our grandmother's as a result on Friday nights to watch Fantasy Island and Dukes of Hazard and The Hulk.
We all squished on the two recliners and sprawled on the floor to watch her tiny 13" TV with at best mono sound. We ate Grape Nuts with goat milk and honey and raisins sprinkled on top out of wooden salad bowls and big sugar spoons. I can still see it, me a tiny five year old, surrounded by my seven brothers and sisters, packed like sardines around the tiny TV, utterly enchanted by the moving pictures. My parents, while we were totally mesmerized, went off on their weekly date and my blessed grandmother had her tiny house full of more than half of her grandchildren. In fact, often, our neighbor cousins, Paul and Brian came and watched with us (even though they had a huge 20' tv at their house). She had this pot bellied stove that she stoked up (well, we did) and it was so cozy and warm and she always pressed kisses on our foreheads and told us over and over again how blessed she was to have us all with her.
Eventually my father folded and we got a TV along with a VCR (in fact, one of the first in the neighborhood--all eight houses in 10 square miles). We got PBS and that was it. I know every show ever on that channel (Dr. Who haunts my dreams). My sainted aunt would record movies for us so we would have something to watch and I can't even tell you how much we treasured each time she gave us a new VCR tape filled with movies. I'm telling you, my whole life has been filled with people who love me and do amazing things for me and my family. I know it there was definitely a touch of sympathy because, lets face it, we were freaky and she couldn't help but try to educate us a little bit to what's happening in the world. But mostly, I know, she just loved us.
Every Monday night, my mother or father would take us to the video store and we'd rent two videos because it was TWO FOR ONE and who could resist that deal. But they were always due back on Wednesday or we'd incur this horrid late fee. I can remember my dad driving literally like a maniac down to Essex (all speed limits were ignored) to get to the store by 9. I remember running as fast as my little legs could carry me to slide it in the return slip before the clock turned 9 above the store. The stress! Oh the stress of late fees. And I think that every ten rentals you got one free. That was like a jackpot to walk in and not have to pay the 3.99.
Then we got a computer. I don't even remember what kind but I do remember learning how to type on it and writing up all my reports on it and then printing it out on paper that came with side wholes and was fed through the printer with wheel and you'd rip off the sides. And this is all before email and internet. In fact, when I went to college, I applied for an Honors degree so that I could use their computer labs (that had LASER printers) and email. I got my first account in the Honors Computer Lab and had only one friend, Jeff Reamer who was at West Point, who also had an email account. Everyone else I communicated with via snail mail. Yes, I had stamps and envelopes and I wrote letters to everyone. Because calling, it just about broke the bank. You called for five minutes at the most and you could only really call after 10pm because before that it was .35 a minute. Cell phone were these huge things that people who lived in big houses had. Communication was slow and hard and expensive.
I spent most of my childhood talking on a phone with a cord so long it could stretch around the house once--and most important of all, go half way down the basement stairs so you could have some blessed privacy. My number had five digits because our town was so small. I remember they changed it and you had to add the 52 in front of the 6. We called each other and talked. Sometimes for hours and we'd get in trouble because our parents where waiting for calls and no one could get through. The busy signal . . . the worst sound in the WORLD. When Call Waiting was introduced, oh the busy signal became a thing of the past. But this is before caller ID and so at 1am in the morning on sleepovers, you bet we crank called all the boys we thought were cute. Oh, the parents we enraged. I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry! But . . . it was irresistible!
I remember all this so clearly. It's like freaky that it's almost more real than this. All but one of my children have cell phones and iphones at that (they are old cast offs of ours, but still . . . ). They not only have access to calling, but they can send instant letters and pictures and movies and at their finger tips learn about literally ANYTHING under the sun. They can watch whatever movie they want as soon as they want it. There is no waiting for anything EVER . . . well except when the internet connection is slow. Five minutes at the most for something to download and they think it's FOREVER! Late fees? What are those things? Cords? Even talking on the phone? No. You just send Snaps back and forth, Mom. Duh. They all go off into their rooms and stare at their tiny screens with their earplugs in and . . .
I feel like my father.
I want to take those tiny bits of metal and glass (a lot of stupid glass) and throw them out the window/door and I want them to break into seven million pieces. I want their beautiful faces look at each other and me. I want to hear their voices. I want to hear laughter. I want to play games an go for walks. I want my family. I want life, real life to be happening here. Now. In this space. Together.
So have I?
Thrown those bits of brain melt out the window?
Because I have one too. And I have it in my hand and I'm tapping away at it and connecting and laughing at the Snaps that my friends send me.
And I can't quite live without it . . . most of all, how could I survive without Wiki or IMDB?
I mean, really?
But something must change. Something MUST change.
I've instilled rules like, you can't watch your phone in your bedroom. You have to come out and look at it on the couch. You'd be surprised how much that makes them interact. One laughs and the others gather around and watch it together. And then we're all watching and laughing and talking about other things as well.
Another one is no phones at the dinner table and we all eat together and talk. Highs and Lows for the day and I always try to tell them one or two things great I saw that day and thought and sometimes that spurs more conversations.
And my latest rule is a walk after dinner. They moan and grown and sometimes I don't even want to go, but by the end, without fail, we are all laughing together and I've learned things about each one of them I didn't know. And more times than not, they don't want it to end.
I know, this is the new way the world is turning, and I must turn with it. But I will turn with it in my own way and at my own pace and maybe a little bit slower. I don't want to give up my children too fast. I don't want what their seeing to be more important than what they're living.
Maybe it's an uphill battle with a bit of hopelessness in it, but I'm going to wage on because I believe in my little family. I believe that good things come out of all these new fangled thingies and I embrace that as much as possible, but I think as with many many things, I am like my father. I want to slow down the decent into this obsession. I will not stop it, but I know that I can put up some road blocks to make them look up now and then and see that there is this beautiful world around them that can be seen not through a lenses or a Snap or an Insta post, but felt and heard and experienced.
When Phoebe had her little sweet heart broken a little bit a few weeks ago and she cried very quietly on our bed and we held her, I thought, I am not sorry for this pain. It is showing her that nothing on that little class and metal square can help her as much as this human hug. I've seen her put her phone down a bit more and snuggle with the Littles and come sit on our bed and talk to us before going to bed.
I took this picture to send to John after a super hard week of Celia literally not leaving her room or putting her phone down for two weeks straight.
She was sitting there, her phone down, talking and laughing with Finn. I started crying. She spent the whole afternoon with the kids.
When I asked her and Phoebe to come help out in our dear friend's daughter's wedding, they came. And for three hours they didn't even look at their phones--they looked at faces and people and laughed and talked and worked their little fannies off. And they loved it. Loved it.
"That went so fast, Mom. I liked how it felt to be so needed. And seriously, Mom, those little old ladies, they can pack it away! You wouldn't even believe how many brownies they ate!"
(Look at these faces--so beautiful and so so happy!)
And then Celia spent the whole evening Saturday with us (obviously still using her phone--but this time to take pictures of what she was making with us--pizza). . .
Yes, still a few on phones (obviously including me) but we are all together in the same room . . . !!!
I'm not sure how successful I am or will be, I'm trying hard to be a Modern Mama, with the emphasis on Mama. Before anything else, I want to be a mama. I want to take care of their bodies, their minds and most of all their hearts.
So let the battle wage. I'm in for the long play. The phones are going anywhere and it turns out, neither am I.
And maybe somewhere along the way . . . we will find an angle of repose. I think . . . I hope . . . we will. We didn't give up watching TV like my dad dreamed, but as a result, we surrounded my grandmother with love and we spent time all together. I hope that as I create little spaces here and there, that like my grandmother's house, we create a place or at least times, where we gather together and learn to live and laugh and be present.