I've realized the last few weeks that everything my four children do is done in anticipation of how much media time they'll receive in exchange. "I played outside for an hour. Can I play the Wii now?" "I read five chapters this morning. Can I play 'Lord of the Rings' now?" "I cleaned my room. Can I have the GameBoy now?"
The use of "can" where they're supposed to use "may" would drive my older sister nuts. But I put aside my grammar notions and instead find myself shaking and sweating over the frustration of how focused they are on screens. Several months ago, my youngest asked if the window was media. "It has a screen," he said. He was joking, but I've thought about that question a lot since then, because, really, what is a screen? It's something that separates us from something else, right? I was watching 1776 a last week, and the men in Congress are all fighting about whether to open the window. Some say yes because it's hot and they could do with the breeze. The others say no because of all the flies. Screens are marvelous inventions to keep out things we don't want: flies, mosquitoes, moths, pollen, birds, goats. Whatever.
But sometimes they keep out the good things, too--like real life. Try to have a conversation with anyone (adult or adolescent or child) who is focused on Mario or Gondor or Madden, and they don't hear you, they don't see you. They are completely in that game which means they're out of reality.
This summer has been a constant of, "Mom, can I . . . ?" And it's been enough to drive me absolutely insane. When I was a kid, my mother worked, so I don't recall asking her for permission to do much of anything. And even when she was home, I don't recall asking. I didn't ask my father either. I just did whatever it was that I wanted to do.
I also ate whatever I wanted to eat. That's been the other half of my summer insanity. "Mom, can I have a cookie? Can I have a lollipop? Can I have a Pop-Tart? Can I have some chips?"
This morning, I cracked. I finally said, that's it, I'm done. Fed up. Finished. No more media, no more cookies or candy or junk.
And that's when I realized one of the huge differences between being a kid 30 years ago and being a kid now. Or maybe it's one of the huge differences between being a parent 30 years ago and being a parent now.
I didn't ask my mom if I could play the computer, because there was no computer to play. There wasn't a Wii. There wasn't a Leapster. There wasn't a GameBoy or a DSL or a Play Station. There was all the wonder of the world that was outside and there was what was inside: board games, art supplies, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and Legos. If I wanted to play with any of that, I could. No permission necessary. It was all good stuff!
As for all the junk food? My mom made cookies occasionally, and we had dessert every night--root beer floats, steamed chocolate pudding, coconut cake--so it's not like I was starved for sweets. But chips and candy and soda and every gummy product available from worms to snakes to bears? No! Absolutely not. The drawers and cupboards had food--real food. If I wanted something to eat, I didn't need to say, "Mother May I?" I grabbed an apple or a slice of cheese or a few crackers, and I was out the door again.
I'm not just letting my kids down by filling the house with screens and with all sorts of food they have to ask for permission to eat. I'm letting myself down because I'm setting myself to be a screen. They have to go through me to get to what they want, and what they want isn't good for them anyway. So what am I doing? Seriously. What?
Truly: I'm done. The junk food we have left in the house is all that the kids are going to see in here again. When they open the cupboards or the refrigerator in another week or so, they're welcome to have whatever they find, and they won't have to ask first. And Sunday through Thursday, all electronic games will be in hibernation mode. (I'm not a total party pooper.) And I'm looking forward to not hearing "Mom, can I . . . ?" every five minutes. I can feel the peace coming over me already.
"Someone oughta open up a window!" --"Sit Down, John" 1776