Today marks the beginning of the end of summer in our house. School starts in exactly four weeks. Which means we only have four weeks left to do all the things we want to do. It also means I slowly start to adjust and tighten the schedule a bit, so it feels like less of a shock when the school days roll back around. This summer has been pretty laid back so far. I don’t think either of my children has gone to bed before 11pm, and they’re both sleeping in every morning – a massive and unprecedented feat for Kaleb, who typically wakes up with bad hair and a worse attitude around 5am whenever we have nothing to do.
There has, however, been one major upheaval this summer, and it’s making everyone crazy. I took away the electronics during the weekdays. Maybe this isn’t a big deal in your house, but in my house, it’s currently the leading cause of madness. Why would I do this? When my husband and I both work from home? When the boys only get along if there’s candy or money involved? It’s like primitive torture.
I like it.
Here’s how this happened…
The first week of summer vacation was declared a universal “do whatever the hell you want just don’t fight about it” week. They spent hours upon hours plugged in. Mason simultaneously was watching documentaries about the tree frogs in the rainforest on his television while playing Bad Piggies on his tablet. Kaleb had Minecraft tutorials running on his tablet while he worked on building and modifying whatever the hell they were doing on the video, on his Xbox. It was quiet. It was peaceful. I sat outside and worked, got a bit of writing done, and occasionally snuck into the pool when no one was paying attention.
And then one day, I came home from yoga, all clear-headed and zen (and super gross because it was a hot Vinyasa class and I had actually spent 75 minutes convinced I was going to die), and I started making dinner while talking to my children. I listened, as they sat at the kitchen counter and regaled me with stories. I listened as they talked to each other excitedly, to the point where they started talking over each other, then yelling at each other, then…. Take a deep breath.
In. Out. Repeat.
I listened to my children talk for a week. They talked while I cooked. They talked while we walked through the grocery store. They talked while we drove to doctor’s appointments. They talked in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. Because really, my kids don’t actually ever stop talking, even when they are alone. Regardless, a pattern had begun to emerge, and it was starting to disturb me. My kids had spent all of this time talking. Every moment that we were together, they were gabbing and yammering on and on. And not one time, in that whole week, did either one of them say anything about anything that was real.
They spent the entire week talking about videos, games, Minecraft, Skylanders, Youtube, and Portal. No mention of chemistry (Kaleb’s current science love). No mention of the bugs in the backyard or the frog on the mailbox. No mention of going to the beach, or riding bikes. No harassing me about going back to the zoo, or the science center. Just virtual reality. Fake life. I sat there, and all I could think was “Jesus. Ready Player One really was a freaking cautionary tale. What have I done?” This is not the first time I have looked at my kids and wondered what I had done to them. Nor, I’m sure, will it be the last. But that doesn’t make the feeling any less jarring.
I sat there, half listening as Kaleb made Portal Gun noises and Mason talked about Granny (still not 100% clear on that), and I felt very, very sad for my kids. Why isn’t Mason outside making mud pies? Why does Kaleb have three chemistry sets that have never even been opened? Here again, is another glaring example of how I have let things go the easy way, because I didn’t have it in me to fight through to the better way.
So. I decided to put a stop to it. I sat them down and calmly explained that we were officially banning electronics Monday through Friday from this point forward. Even at night. Even at bedtime. Kaleb handled this like a champ. He shrugged, said “Okay” and walked away. Which was simply stunning in some ways, but also kind of expected.
Kaleb doesn’t tend to lose his shit over things like that, unless he’s actively engaged in something and I take it away right that moment. If that is going to happen, I need to spend five minutes pumping myself up in the hallway like I’m in the locker room right before the Superbowl. Bouncing on my toes, going all King Kong on my chest and telling myself “You’ve got this! You’re going to go in there and kick ass! Yeah!” It usually ends with us both in tears. Kind of like Tom Brady after facing The Eagles. Only a lot less enjoyable for me.
Anyway. Kaleb handled this concept well. Mason, on the other hand, did not. He was flabbergasted. Boggled. Disbelieving. Shocked and downright angry. It has been over a month of this, and still, Mason doesn’t believe I’m really doing this to him. Every day we have a slightly varied version of the same conversation. That conversation goes like this:
Me: “Good morning Mase-face!”
Mason: “Hi Momma!”
“How’d you sleep?”
“Good. Can I have my Roku remote?”
“No. Did you have any dreams?”
“I don’t know. Why can’t I have my remote?”
“Because it’s (insert day of the week here), and we don’t do electronics on week days, remember?”
“No it isn’t! It’s Sunday!”
“No lovey, it’s not.”
“But why can’t I have it? Why can’t we have electronics on weekdays? That’s stupid! I want my remote!”
“Sorry kid, there are plenty of other things to do.”
“No there isn’t! I’m not coloring! Coloring is stupid! And I’m not swimming alone! I can’t go outside, I’ll get bit by the bugs! The LEGOS always break and I have nothing to do!”
“Cool it, Mase. You’re not going to die of boredom.”
“You just hate me!”
“Huh. That was certainly very dramatic. I like the little foot stomp you threw in at the end.”
“Please, Mom? Please? I have an idea! Why don’t we do this instead? Why don’t I get my Roku on Mondays, and then I can have my tablet on Tuesdays, and I can have the Xbox on Wednesdays and the PlayStation on Thursdays, and on Friday I’ll have nothing. Won’t that be good?”
“First of all, we don’t own a PlayStation, so I’m not sure where that even came from. And no, that will not be good. That defeats the purpose of no electronics on weekdays. Having a different electronic on corresponding days of the week is not how this works. Go find something to do.”
“Why don’t you ever want me to have anything I want? You don’t want me to be happy!”
“Seriously Mason. You’re riding on my nerves now. Go find something to do.” He huffs. He puffs. He crosses his arms, slams his little body in the chair next to me, and audibly pouts.
**Fast Forward Five Minutes**
Husband: “Where’s Mase?”
“Outside. With his bug kit. Torturing the local wildlife.”
Mason: “Mom! You have to come see this! I caught a lizard! He doesn’t have a tail! This is SO cool!”
Me: “Looks like he didn’t die from electronic deprivation.”
Husband: Snorts a laugh and walks away.
Guys. This happens every day. My child goes through the stages of grief every single morning when I tell him he cannot turn on the television set. It’s insane. And a bit frightening.
Every morning, as Mason goes through his grief stages, that scared, damaged girl in the back of my mind pops her head out of the fog and whispers “Just let him have the damn thing so you can be left alone”. And every morning, I have to Whack-A-Mole her ass back where she belongs, because I don’t want to be left alone. That’s not the person I want to be. It’s the person I was, and I’ll carry her, and her shitty baggage around with me. But she doesn’t win. Not as long as I remember to keep knocking her back down when she springs up.
On the upside, the Legos have been dusted off. The books on snakes and reptiles Mason found in the Reference section of the library are well read. We’ve done science experiments. Mason has gone from barely swimming to the king of the pool. Kaleb has made a pretty sizable dent in his summer reading list. We finished Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Now, he’s reading me a book titled Willpower, and we are researching the failure stories of successful people for life-goal inspiration. We spent more than five hours on the fourth of July playing catch and doing crossword puzzles. No phones. No tablets. And no complaining.
As I said earlier, this has been a lazy summer so far. It’s also been loud, and messy, and dramatic. Yet somehow, my kids are happier than they were that first week of summer. The conversations that float to me while I’m making dinner now are about the similarities between crocodiles and dinosaurs. About the origin stories of the elements on the periodic table (for real, that’s really a thing that has been happening. I didn’t know the elements even had origin stories, but they do now). There’s been more laughter, more silliness, and less irritability. Also, less Portal Gun noises, and that is always a win in my book.
*End Note #1*
I thought I should add a list here of ways in which Mason has actively tried to earn his electronics back in the last week. Just for fun.
- Mason: “Mom! Come see my room!” So I do. I stand there, having no idea what I’m supposed to be looking for. It looks pretty much like it always does. “Look! You didn’t even have to ask me! It’s clean! Look at my bed! I made it!” I nod approvingly. He did make his bed. Kind of. In the sense that there is now a small space not occupied with stuffed animals that he may or may not be able to fit in. I congratulate him on this achievement. He beams at me. “So….?” I look at him questioningly. “Well? Can I have a reward? Like my Roku stick?” I left the room.
- “I am NEVER going outside again if you don’t give me my electronics! I will stay inside forever!” I shrug. This has no bearing on me. I work from the porch.
- “If you give me my tablet, I promise I’ll never pee on the toilet seat again.” Even Kaleb rolled his eyes at that one. Let me just apologize in advance to whoever ends up marrying my kid. He will likely pee on the toilet seat for the rest of his life. I am sorry about this. On the plus side, he’s an excellent toilet scrubber.
- “Mom! Kaleb is making Portal Gun noises! It’s really annoying! You have to give me my remote so I don’t have to listen to him!”
- “Mom, want me to read to you about these snakes?” I say sure. He proceeds to spend twenty minutes making up insane and utterly impossible facts about the photos of snakes in his current library book. Snaps the book shut with a triumphant grin. “Aren’t you proud? You learned so much about snakes! I deserve a reward.” I inform him that practicing reading is its own reward. I am given a death glare that would certainly make Vader proud.
- “Fine! I guess I’ll just lay here and be bored until I die!” This lasted approximately four seconds, because the dog licked him in the face.
- He asked his father at least a dozen times to intervene on his behalf. Thankfully, I married a very smart man, who promptly shut Mason down, saying “Oh no, leave me out of this.”
*End Note #2*
My intention last week was to have this post be about self-care, something I will be writing about. However, Mason’s epic grief tantrum this morning was more inspirational than usual. So, next time. Probably.