By Candace Martin
A couple of weeks ago my husband decided to pull the car over and remove our portable DVD player. Thankfully, for him, we have a makeshift set up in what we lovingly call our "junk" mobile so it was an easy "takedown." Our car manages to collect quite a bit of "kid junk" throughout the day -- the usual stuff -- papers from backpacks that have been excitedly opened before we get home, lollipops and other last ditch "please stop crying now!" efforts handed to the backseaters from me, the Car Waitress. The floor of the backseat of the car seems to be a magnet for various toys/items/french fries throughout the week until eventually we find ourselves knee deep in half empty juice boxes and soggy permission slips. Then we clean it out and start all over again. Hence the car, for no other reason, has been affectionately dubbed our "junk" mobile.
It's usually just me and the kids the "junk" mobile. So, when my husband had his "A-HA" moment the other day, I was torn between "You go, honey," and "OK, Let's see you sit in the carpool pick-up line with a 4-year-old melting down and no 'Tom & Jerry' playing on the little screen. See what happens when the Cartender Offerings wear thin and the whining begins.'
He had enough, though. Enough of the texting and the Facebooking and the email checking during family time. Enough of the zoning out to two different movies on dual screens. It may have been makeshift, but it was still able to simultaneously play "Barbie Princess Castle" and "Star Wars" at the same time, allowing for adult conversation to be had in the front seat.
So even though I felt torn, I sort of knew he was making the right move for our family.
Somehow these things that in one way have made our lives easier have also become the very things that pull us out of the moment. As parents, we know that emotions can range from sheer silly fun to cranky-town in a matter of seconds. But in order to embrace the good, we may need to find another way out of the not so great. TV's, phones and computers do allow us to engage in a digital connection, yet they deprive us of using the skills we need to stay in the present -- whatever that "present" might be.
Soon after my husband's epiphany, I met up with friends after they took a two-week trip. I completely forgot to ask them to tell me about their vacation. I was feeling badly about my rudeness, until I realized that I had followed pretty much all of their escapades on Facebook. His perspective, her perspective, photos, dinners, wines and a wide range of emotions. All at a glance of my handheld phone. It was nice to feel connected but I can't help but wonder if we all really may be losing something in the process.
I'm thinking it might come down to balance. Technology is a great tool. When my kids need some downtime, the TV feels invaluable. But, as my husband asked during the Day of the Dramatic Deplug, "Do they really need to watch it on the two-minute drive to pre-school?"
And Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch, to network, to announce, to pay tribute to and to share information. All things we'd do in person, yet sometimes time, money and distance doesn't allow us to. But I find my own impulse to Facebook can get in the way of letting an experience be what it was intended to be: An experience. Not something I need to share with 78 college friends, two Gymboree teachers and the really, really sweet cashier at Pinkberry. But the impulse is there....
Sharing is great but can the moment still be great without the share? Didn't you still run the 15-mile soft sand beach even if nobody knows about it? Or is it only real if it gets 12-15 comments and four likes? Or is that we sometimes want to reinvent ourselves in four lines or less? Why not? I'd rather tell you I was lounging at the Ritz than cleaning my toilet. Somewhere in the middle of the dramatic 'woe is me' and the extreme 'life can't get any better' is often reality. And the challenge may be to sit quietly in whatever that reality is. Without cartoons to calm the kids and without distractions like Farmville to cut the monotony that we may sometimes experience as parents. It may scratch an itch, but what does it teach us and our children?
The addiction to a response, the yearning for something besides the moment we are in.
When I am with people and they are on their "units," it does make me feel like they'd rather be somewhere else. And I'm sure that's how my kid's feel when I give them the "just let me check one more thing" line. Not only does it send the message to them that my mind is somewhere else, it sends the message to myself that the moment I am in isn't good enough. When it's exactly perfect and where I need to be. Because every moment is.
I went to see "The Social Network" the other day. It was a great movie. Three young girls sitting in front of me were checking Facebook on their phones through the entire film. The irony of what's been created is so interesting in terms of how we introduce our young children to it. I certainly don't want my future dinners or family outings to eventually become about how to engage two texting teenagers. So, I think the husband may have been right about starting on those habits now.
The point is nothing is better than what is happening outside the phone, the computer or the TV. The "idea" of what we want people to know about us and what they want us to know about them, is exactly that, an idea. Being a voyeur sometimes only takes us away from what we need to focus on in our real lives -- the moment we are in.