Monthly Archives: May 2014

Screens, Glorious Screens

KathyWarning: Loooong post ahead!

This morning, Doodlebug crawled into bed with us forty-five minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off and mumbled, “Screen-Free Week is over!” iDad and I didn’t appreciate the early wake-up call, but we both shared her sentiment.

Screen-Free Week is an initiative from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages people to unplug for seven days each spring. I thought it would be an interesting challenge – could I last a week without TV, without blogs, without Facebook? Lately I’ve felt the pull of the internet a little too strongly, and I thought a break might be refreshing and enlightening. I convinced iDad and Doodlebug to try it with me, and we were off. Literally. Ha.

Each of us planned to do the week a little differently. Doodlebug gave up TV, movies, and iPad and phone apps. iDad, as you might imagine, uses computers and other screens extensively for work, so his plan was to skip TV for the week and to put his phone away for three hours every evening. I also went TV-free, cut out all non-work-related internet use, and pledged to check my email just three times a day.

I am proud to say we all survived.

Doodlebug happily wrote stories, drew pictures, played with ponies, rode her scooter, read, listened to audiobooks, played games with us, and made an epic Perler bead house. She did miss her videos, but not at the times she usually watches (after school and on Saturday and Sunday morning) the way I expected her to. I especially liked having a snack and hanging out with her after school, since she wasn’t dashing off to the basement. iDad and I tried to point out how much more time she had to play and suggested that she might want to cut back her TV time a little – she was not into this idea, but we’ll see how it goes.

For myself, I noticed the biggest change in the evenings, when I often watch TV with iDad or go online to “just check a few things” and close my laptop, slightly dazed, hours later. I read more this week than I had in a long time, which is definitely a win. iDad and I finally tried out Carcassonne, a game we’d had sitting around for ages, and realized it would be fun to play with Doodlebug. And I got a little more sleep, but only a little. (Books. Too. Interesting!) All of that was good, so I’m going to try to incorporate 2-3 screen-free nights into each week. When I do go down the internet rabbit hole, I’m going to start cutting myself off at 10:30 instead of 11:00. Baby steps, people.

During the day, I was surprised to notice that I didn’t miss much by not checking my e-mail as often. Maybe it was a light week, but it was perfectly fine to reply to messages three times a day. I didn’t miss anything crucial, I didn’t leave anyone in the lurch. It made me realize that a lot of the time, I’m checking messages (and Facebook) because I’m bored. I should cut that out.

But I also noticed that I use checking in as a motivational tool – I’ll tell myself that I can go on Facebook after I finish editing a chapter or writing a draft of a blog post. So I’m going to try limiting my check-ins to five times a day, which I think will be plenty. Also, I loved not feeling tied to my phone while Doodlebug was at home. iDad reports that he didn’t mind being unplugged for those few hours every evening, either, and that he thinks he’ll keep it up. Yay!

All that being said… I didn’t really enjoy this week. Not that it was hard, because overall it wasn’t too bad. I just didn’t ENJOY myself that much. The evenings especially were kind of dull, because they were repetitive. Yes, reading and sleeping are two of my favorite things, but variety is good. I like watching TV. Sometimes I just need to laugh at Mindy Kaling or Jon Stewart. I like Mental Floss and Young House Love and Forever Young Adult because the stuff I read there is interesting, or gives me cool ideas, or leads me to great books.

Also, I work at home. We have zero water coolers. I did see some of my friends and family IRL last week, but many, many more of them don’t live nearby. Facebook lets me talk to them and hear what they’re up to and feel connected. Maybe that’s just a sign that I’m addicted to screens. But to me, it says these things serve a purpose in my life.

Maybe you’re thinking, what about your family? Shouldn’t less screen time translate to more family time? In our case, no. Maybe this is the ultimate proof that we’re all introverts, but we basically used our extra time to do our own thing. Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But the experience pointed up ways in which screens actually bring us together as a family – movie nights, or checking out photos of the beach house we’ll be staying in this summer, or watching videos like this seriously cool drone orchestra. Again, I think that’s a good thing.

So will we do it next year? Maybe not – I think this week has shown me that our screen-life balance is not so out-of-whack that we need a whole week to recalibrate it. There are definitely spots where we can cut back, but we don’t need to go scorched-earth. Still, it was an interesting experiment and I’m proud of us for trying it out.

[Finished my post. Off to check in on Facebook. BECAUSE I CAN. Woo-hoo!]

— Kathy

Tripped Up

KathyIt’s not like I thought our two-night trip to New York over spring break would be relaxing. We hit the Empire State Building, took a ferry ride past Lady Liberty, and fit in visits to Grand Central, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Central Park, plus Books of Wonder (awesome), FAO Schwarz (crowded but fun), and Toys R Us (insane). I knew we were going on a trip, not taking a vacation.

Vacations are about slowing down. Trips are crazy, fun, busy, hectic, stressful, memorable. I like trips if they’re short, which this was, or to somewhere interesting, which this was, and if they’re surrounded by plenty of downtime, which this… wasn’t. Once we got home and switched back to our school routine, I realized that our entire spring break had been filled with trips, even though we’d only spent three days away from home.

iDad was trying to finish up several work projects before we left, so I took Doodlebug out of the house as much as possible. This meant playdates with friends we hadn’t seen in far too long (yay!) plus lots of errands and shopping (ugh). Without meaning to, I’d packed the week full of draining outings with too little time to just chill out at home.

All of this has gotten me thinking about summer, and, once again, that tricky fun/structure balance that I’ve struggled with for, oh, the past eight years. Summer is a chance to do things we can’t while we’re in the grip of school-year busyness, but spring break reminded me how easy it is to fall into a pattern of too many trips, not enough vacation.

School ends super-late this year (thanks, polar vortex), so I’ve basically got July and August to work with. The end of our summer is pretty locked in with camps and (low-key!) trips. But we’ve got several open weeks, and this year I’m leaning toward a more structured routine.

I would like to:

  • Work at least two CONSECUTIVE hours a day. And I’d like this to be a formalized, scheduled arrangement between iDad and me (possibly with an assist from our babysitting neighbor). Call me a control freak, but I can’t stand the catch-as-catch-can aspect of grabbing time here and there all summer. Too often it results in my productivity grinding to a halt, and I’m not willing to go there this year.
  • Make time for family outings or projects. iDad and I are lucky enough to work from home, and while Doodlebug is still willing to spend time with us (sniff!), we need to do Fun Stuff together. I know some families make a summer bucket list, or pick a theme or a project to last them until school starts again. I’d love it if 2014 could go down in history as “The summer we…” Tried 15 popsicle recipes? Read all the Little House books? Found a geocache each week? We’ll see.
  • Guard our downtime carefully, although I want to do it in a free-flowing way. Sounds easy, right? I don’t want to skip fun things that pop up unexpectedly, or turn down a friend’s invitation because it’s Tuesday and we only do playdates Monday/Wednesday/Friday. But I am vowing to keep the vacation in our vacation this time around.

What about you? What are your summer strategies? If you’ve got any tips (or popsicle recipes), do tell!

— Kathy