Monthly Archives: June 2014

How A Screen-Free Week Became A Limited-Screen Summer

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

“No TV,” I said. “No computer. No videos. No LeapPad. We are going to have a screen-free week.”

“Hooray!” my daughter shouted. “I love that idea! Can we start today?”

And no, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited about having a screen-free week—so much so that enthusiastically shared this news with anyone who would listen and suggested that we make it two weeks, not just one.

Her reaction surprised me. A lot. You see, she was one of the main reasons I decided we needed a little break from the screen. She is the kid who always wants to watch something or play video games. Recently, we went to a nature fair, and at every tent, we stopped to learn more about animals and their habitats. At every tent, my daughter engaged the naturalist in conversation by spouting off what she had learned from Wild Kratts and Animal Planet.

I felt a little embarrassed. I was certain the naturalists were all looking at me and thinking, “Lady, your kid watches way too much TV.” Their judgment was probably all in my head, but I always feel a little judged when in the presence of people who are crunchier than I am. I wanted to defend myself against the imagined accusations. I wanted to yell, “But at least it’s not junk TV! My kid isn’t watching all the usual kid-crap! She watches educational stuff! PBS!” And I wanted to tell them that I read that the average child spends about eight hours in front of a television every day. Mine don’t. My kids watch far less than the average—and it’s still too much.

I admit that the imaginary judgment I feel come from my own convictions and persnicketiness. I believe the most boring people in the world are those who talk about what they have seen on TV. I don’t want my daughter to be a boring person.

You know who else is boring? People who write about television—like I am doing right now. And that brings me to the second person in our household who really needed a screen-free week—ME.

I don’t watch much TV. I watch Downton Abbey for the eight short weeks that it is on, and I occasionally tune into Sister Wives or My Five Wives. So, it’s high-brow British, period drama or low-brow American reality shows for me. Nothin’ inbetween! And I never see these shows when they air. I watch them late at night on-demand while I am folding clothes. In fact, my cable carrier dropped Sister Wives from their on-demand selection, and now, I am behind by several episodes. And I don’t care. That’s how little the boob-tube means to me.

No, my vice isn’t television. It’s Internet. And yes, I see the irony in every on-line, anti-Internet opinion piece I read, and yet, what am I doing? Using the Internet to post my own rant. I get it.

Unless I make a conscientious effort to stay away from the Internet, I will get sucked in. I’ll post a status on Facebook–or perhaps a picture. Then, I have to return to it a dozen times to see if anyone has “liked” my one-liner or photograph. Did they comment on it? Should I comment back to the commenter or just “like” the comment? And while I’m here, let me “like” this picture of a grumpy cat, a new recipe for salsa, and all these vacation photos my friends are posting. Bible verses, inspirational quotes, and memes that make fun of people who are as addicted to Facebook as I am. Oh, what’s this? Let me click on this blog about archaeology. Maybe I will share it.

I’ll purposefully avoid anything political or otherwise controversial because if Facebook has taught me anything, it’s that Americans believe in Freedom of Speech—provided they agree with the speaker. No one posts anything with the intention of stimulating meaningful conversation. We all just want the calming reassurance of being “liked.” I think that’s called “agreement” in face-to-face interactions.

The point here is that I get sucked in, and Facebook isn’t my only on-line time vacuum. I’ll read celebrity “news” and poorly edited articles about horrific crimes. If I comment on these, I then will return to the comments to see if my comment generated any comments. The desire to read the comments about my comment is an ego-thing. I really don’t like that about myself. And I am painfully aware that I’ve used the word “comment” a lot. That’s what too much Internet will do for you–reduce your vocabulary.

I’ll go to the Community Board of Baby Center and chat with a group of women I befriended on-line when my daughter was a newborn. We’ve “talked” almost daily for almost seven years, and I love these gals. I don’t consider my interaction with them to be a waste of time since we are scattered all around the country and don’t have the opportunity to get together in person. However, once I’ve posted on our forum, I tend to log in again and again to see if anyone else has posted. Doing that—the checking of one website 16 times in one day—is a waste of time.

Recently, I discovered blogs about Sister Wives and a couple of forums on reality shows. No, I’m not watching Sister Wives this season because I can’t get it on-demand, but that hasn’t stopped me from reading about their antics. Yeah, that’s an excellent little time-waster. As my on-line friends might say, “Klassy.”

Yep, I’m wasting time, getting fat, and setting a lousy example for my children. When I spend hours staring at a screen, I am not living my own convictions. I feel guilty about that. And so, it’s got to change. I’ve got to change.

And so, I announced our family’s week-long no-screen commitment. My daughter was on-board 100%. My son isn’t much of a screen-addict and if his sister isn’t staring at a television or a computer, then, neither is he. My husband only watches old movies in the wee-hours when he can’t sleep. So, it should have been easy, right?

When I shared my intentions with my friends, I told them that I was going to have to unearth a phone book. I don’t know when I last flipped through yellow pages of advertisements and small print to find a number or an address. And directions? When is the last time I had to look at a map? Still, I know how to use a phonebook and I know how to read a map. And it’s only for one week. One week.

The real complication comes from the need to communicate with others who aren’t having a screen-free week. Sure, I can put an out-going message on my email telling people to call me because I’m not answering email, and I can do something similar on other message boards, but will anyone listen?

And I have agreed to host some club events. Those events have to be posted on a website.

Girl Scout registration? On-line.

Library book reservations? On-line.

Vacation-planning? On-line.

Blood-test results? On-line.

Summer camp-information? On-line.

Clearly, for me to be truly screen-free for an entire week, it’s going to take a little more planning than what I had first considered. And it’s not going to happen this week because I’m ill-prepared. And now, instead of a screen-free week, I think I might prefer a limited-screen summer. Monitoring the time I have in front of a computer and keeping my children too busy to watch much television may be more productive than going cold-turkey for just one week. I’m not ruling out the cold-turkey approach. I’m just saying it won’t happen right now, and in the meantime, we will be prudent with our limited screen-time.

My first challenge will be to post this blog entry and NOT come back to see how many hits I received. Yeah, who am I kidding? If you leave a comment, I WILL be back to read it.



The Highly Experimental Nature of Life: Polygamy, Yoga Pants & Money

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

So, have you seen this show My Five Wives? No? Let me fill you in. They were Fundamentalist Mormons, but then, they left their church, and so, now, they are just polygamists with no religious affiliation. One man. Five women. And their 24 children. One big happy household—only they don’t seem all that happy to me, but that’s beside the point.

I watched an entire season hoping they—the Williams Family–would reveal the reason they left their church. I wanted the dirt, but even in that end-of-season tell-all, they only touched on it—by their account, they are socially more progressive than their former church. That’s it. I find that a little anti-climactic—and pretty normal, don’t you?

People frequently leave the churches they grew up in because they discover the church is either too liberal or too conservative for their taste. It happens all the time. What’s interesting to me about this particular family is that they changed their collective mind—or collectively changed their minds—about their church, but now what? Where do they go from here? Can they end a 20 year marriage just because they are no longer a part of a church that condones and encourages polygamy? And what about all those kids? “Sorry, kids. You are only here because we used to believe that polygamy leads to Salvation and birth control leads to Hell. We’ve decided that ain’t true after all.” Actually, I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I’m sure they love all their children, and that’s what makes everything about their situation even harder.

The dilemma of the Williams family has me thinking a lot about the highly experimental nature of life. You try something, and if it works for you, you keep it. If not, you move on. Of course, this works better with experiments that require less of a commitment than five marriage and 24 children. I was thinking more along the lines of buying a different brand of dish soap because it is on sale. You try it and if you like it, it replaces your old brand. If you don’t like it, you just don’t buy it again.

I am currently engaged in some experiments that lie somewhere between polygamy and dish soap. Okay, everything—EVERYTHING—I might try is closer to dish soap than polygamy. Everything.

And I am sure the Williames didn’t think of polygamy as an experiment when they committed to it. Still, jumping from their situation to my own is simply how my mind works. I don’t really consider anyone’s religious beliefs to be an experiment—even if they are subject to change.

The first of my experiments involves work-out clothes and a theory. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing what I consider gym-clothes while running errands. Target. Grocery stores. Gas stations. Doctors’ offices. And maybe—just maybe—they are on their way to or from the gym, but I have a theory based on the appearance of these women. They all seem to have great posture—like they are standing up a little straighter and are more conscious of their movements. And they all seem a little more energetic than the general population. I think that wearing gym-clothes makes people feel healthier and so they behave healthier. I have no scientific proof to back that up—it’s just a general observation.

And it’s an interesting observation coming from me because it’s well documented that I hate exercise: Here. And here. And I have a tendency to compartmentalize my wardrobe. My going-out clothes are reserved for going out. My church clothes go to church only. And that black dress I wore to my mother-in-law’s funeral? It’s hanging in my closet and will likely remain there until I go to another funeral.

If you see me wearing sneakers, yoga pants, and a sports bra, I am exercising. Expect me to start running laps or break into an aerobics routine. I know. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, but that’s just me. Since forming this theory, however, I’ve spent entire days in my gym clothes, and I was right. I stood taller, moved faster, and ate less.

At one point, I thought I might want to wear nothing but gym clothes for an entire month, but vanity and fear of complacency got the best of me. I don’t have a lot of cute, trendy workout clothes. I have old cross-trainers that need replacing; faded, black yoga capris; and sports bras that I wear under t-shirts. I look a little sloppy in this outfit. Sure, I really did feel healthier and more athletic when wearing it—until I passed a mirror. Even if I had a lot of cute, new exercise clothes, I’m not sure that I will ever be the woman who can pull it off.

As for the fear of complacency, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty would wear off and eventually, I wouldn’t get that bounce from the clothes if I wore them every day. I’d do better to make a smaller commitment—maybe twice a week. Around the house.

My next experiment is all about money. My husband and I have gone to an all-cash budget for the summer, but we used May as a test. Basically, I get a lump sum every two weeks and I divide it into envelopes—Groceries, Gas, Kids, Household Misc., Childcare, and Me. If I run out of cash in any one envelope, that’s just too bad. There’s no whipping out a credit card or going to an ATM. We just have to wait until the next payday.

I am surprised that I like this system, but I really, really do. Why?

  • We are talking about money for the first time. Here’s the thing I have noticed about couples—they either talk about money OR they don’t. They either fight about money OR they don’t. We were a don’t-talk-about-it and don’t-fight-about-it couple for the first eight years of our marriage. I think we both feared that talking about it would lead to fighting. Since starting our all-cash budget, we are talking AND keeping those conversations about money up-beat. It feels like we are a team and we are tackling the same problem, and since we are being pro-active, the general mood of the money-talks is hopeful and optimistic, not combative.

  • I have Me money. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve felt self-conscious about spending money on myself. I know that not every stay-at-home-mom feels that way and spouses are entitled to each other’s paychecks, but put yourself in my shoes. I was 40-years-old when my first child was born. I spent a lot of time in the work-force and I was used to having my own paycheck. I’m allowed to feel a little awkward about spending the money that doesn’t have my name on it.With the all-cash budget, I have an envelope with my name on it. So, if I want something for me, I go into the envelope and get the cash without thinking, “Oh, gee, I can’t spend money on myself.”

  • The all-cash system is a very visual way to teach kids about money. The other day, my daughter asked me to take her to get her hair cut because if she could get 1/32 of an inch trimmed from her hair weekly, she would. I pulled out the envelope marked Kids, showed her the contents, and said, “Okay, this is ALL the money you have until next month. If I take you to get your hair cut today, it will cost this much,” and I removed a $20 from the stack. “Do you still want a haircut?” And ta-da! The lightbulb went on! She understood that money is a finite resource.

  • This budget is experimental. We’ve committed to it through the summer. At the end of August, we will revise it as needed or move onto something else.And there will be revisions! I’ve already discovered some flaws in the plan. For example, I don’t have an envelope for gifts. We were invited to a birthday party, and I had this big internal debate about which envelope to use for purchasing a water-bazooka for the birthday boy. I made an unconventional choice—Groceries. Why? Because I had plenty of overage in that envelope and they would be feeding us at the party. So, we were exchanging a toy for food? No, not really, but the Kids envelope was getting kind of thin.

The third experiment is something I am still contemplating: A screen-less week. That’s right. No computer, no Internet, no television, no LeapPad for a full seven days. Will our family of four survive such a week?

I don’t watch much TV—only Downton Abbey and reality shows about polygamy—and so I would not go into television withdrawal. I’m not so sure that the rest of the family would fare so well. If I can get my husband to go along with this plan, he will likely do more reading. The children will likely do more home-demolition—‘cuz I don’t watch TV, but I do use it as a babysitter. Just ask me about the PBS morning line-up.

The Internet? Ew. That’s trickier.

I post on Facebook almost daily, and I have a group of friends from Baby I chat more with them than I do with people I see in person. Still, I’m sure I could go a week or longer without that interaction. After all, I have given up social networks for Lent successfully.

No Internet at all, however? Geez. When is the last time I used a phone book to find a number or an address? Do I even know where my phonebook is? And e-mail! Mostly, my email in-box is filled with ads—everything from preservation organization memberships to Viagra—but sometimes, occasionally, someone sends me something worth reading or seeing, and just sometimes, those messages warrant a response. I guess the thing to do is to tell everyone I know that if they need to get in touch with me, they should pick up a phone and call. An out-going email message stating that I’m taking a little break from the screen is probably a good idea, too.

So, it’s do-able and it might be interesting to see what I learn about myself and my family. And really that’s what all this experimentation is about for me—learning.

Hmmm…it has nothing to do with polygamy after all.