Our Journey Through Technology: Or, Getting Rid of Screen Time

There are a thousand thousand reasons to love this life, everyone of them sufficient.

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Most everyone in southeastern Virginia is watching for the leaves to begin browning around their edges and preparing to fall into our yards as we start settling into new autumn routines and daylight rhythms. This is one of the things I love most about Virginia. We have such beautiful changes of seasons. I have grown to really appreciate the turn and the tilt of the earth as we move from summer’s extreme heat to winter’s blistering cold year after year. Our home life has turned away from the traveling, leisure, and late evenings of summer and is now more focused on new house projects, routines, and instruction. The beginnings of turning inward and spending more time in our minds reading, practicing, learning, and creating always start in the fall, continuing through the deep winter when we’re all tucked tight inside, hibernating. After the busyness of spring and summer, this time of year is always welcomed. This is actually the first time that we’ve put our older boys into any after school activities. They started both cub scouts and piano lessons this year. I’ve always been wary of over scheduling my children and structuring play out of their lives, but this feels slow paced and reasonable for our family. It also makes them seem older to me, which is a welcomed gift.

I’ve been watching my oldest son, Myles, a lot recently. He’s 7 and in second grade, quickly growing out of the innocence of young childhood and into an older child, rounding the corner into adolescence. Sometimes it’s tough watching him lose his innocence and navigate the world. This age is a particularly awkward as he gains more social awareness, constructs his peers and the world into hierarchies, and is yet still so clumsy and emotionally fragile. I can only imagine that it will become more and more difficult as he continues to grow up and we navigate through my and Jason’s parenting. We all have lots of learning to do, and still more failures and successes to accumulate over the years.

The most recent topic that we are navigating through is our children’s use of digital technology. As they all get older their love for and immersion in so much technology is always a struggle for me. It’s something that we try to monitor and keep boundaries around, but often it almost feels like an impossible battle. And what are we fighting? At times it seems so benign and harmless. They love to play Minecraft and watch YouTube. It’s what they enjoy. And yet, so quickly it becomes all that they want or know how to do. I find that they even become more agitated and bored the more that they are connected to their games and television. When it’s turned off they pace around the house, become agitated at each other, and oh, do they whine. It’s as if they forget how to play and use their imaginations. They need something to stimulate their brains and flash across their eyes in order for them to function and participate in the world. And obviously, this concerns me. There’s a slew of research out that argues against so much digital technology for our kids. But there’s also a slew of research that supports it. Some would even probably argue that our world is becoming increasingly more digital so we should all rethink and restructure how and what we consider to be normal social interaction and play. Though, I do become wary when my children, and myself, need constant stimulus to function and interact with people.

Since the summer’s heat has finally lost its grip around here, I’ve been pushing the boys outside every day. And wouldn’t you know, they have no idea what to do. Jason and I set up their micromachine trucks and soldiers outside in the dirt and rocks and showed them how to play, attempting to spark their imaginations. While it takes a few minutes, they finally latched on and began to play. But as soon as another kid comes outside, the same fight ensues trying to keep them outside. They all want to immediately go in and play on a tablet or watch YouTube. Then it’s a hoard of boys pestering you to go to someone else’s house and play the xBox.

Well, over the weekend I had enough. I went through our house and unplugged every television. I put away their Leap Pads. I took out the Wii. I banned Minecraft and all access to the laptop. For the sake of my sanity and the health of my kids. Do you know what happened? The world continued to spin into autumn and my boys played outside. They spent hours building Legos. They drew on construction paper. They played on the swing with their sister. When a kid came over that wanted to take them to their house to play video games I said NO. I put my foot down. Yes, they whined a little bit. Yes, it was harder parenting. But they got over it.

Somewhere along the way this no-shame, no-guilt, parenting culture has turned into a game of survival that often overlooks what’s best for our kids and families. Sure, I feed my kids frozen chicken nuggets and turn on the television when life gets out of control and hard, but it easily and increasingly morphs into our daily lives and routines. And then out of nowhere I have a brood of digital addicts who don’t want to leave the house. And for what? So that my life is easier? Parenting is easier when your kids are staring at a screen. But that doesn’t mean it’s what is best. At least not all of the time. That’s not to shame parents who do it! We’ve all been there. But we can encourage each other to press into parenting when it’s difficult. We can set rules, limits and boundaries that teach our children how to use their imaginations and interact with others in the physical world. That is, I guess, if you value the physical world. The world that has natural rhythms and cycles and is moving our family into fall. And we’re not going to miss it.

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Real Talk: Cultivating Kindness

Surely by now we all are friends. At least the distant digital kind that give a listening ear and kindness when we need it. Right now I need a real talk moment. Parenting has been quite a struggle for me recently. I find myself so easily agitated at my children, even the littlest one, barking orders at them, wishing the day away until it’s time for bed. It’s such a shame because I see how it affects their tempers and attitudes. How they’re treated is often reflected in how they treat others. These days it’s mostly with annoyance and anger. Sigh.

What’s the most difficult is that my two boys are absolute turds. I say that in the most loving, motherly way, but holy shit, they are so loud and fight so much. And you know, Jason and I try to teach them kindness and gentleness, but out come the punches and cries that someone took something that they were looking for and will neeeeever give it baaaaack, despite all of our modest attempts at guiding them to loving others. That’s about when I drop my head and wait desperately for 8pm reading, toothbrush, pj, and bed time. Okay, honestly, they could go to bed in jeans and cavities at that point. Just please, for the love of god, close the door and fall asleep. And there you have it. A vicious cycle of anger begetting anger, and more anger, and a heaping tablespoon of annoyance. No wonder my kids are just so lovely to be around.

I think that it was, oh, everyday this week that the boys were squabbling when I pulled them aside to talk to them about kindness, about honoring others with our words and our actions, loving others, treating them how they would like to be treated. They both darted their eyes around the room, squirming to get away from their nagging mom, and told each other sorry, now give me back boy toy, you thief! 

You know, cultivating kindness really is difficult. Everything in our flesh rejects it. It is a discipline to think of others and not yourself. To forgive when you have been wronged. To love when others hate. Selfishness and pride rule our bodies and minds. Well, at least in our family. And that’s really what I have been struggling with. My own selfishness and time. I want to do what I want, when I want it. So, naturally, that causes conflict between me and my toddler when she’s hungry right when I want to, oh, go to the bathroom or check my email. It also causes conflict when I don’t want to read or play games with my son after he’s been asking for an hour. And I get annoyed. Then he hits his brother. Like I said, it’s a vicious cycle.

But you know, I could go off and read a list on how other families have worked to cultivate kindness – writing encouraging letters to each other, baking each other cookies, shooting rainbows from their… I’ll stop – but those lists always leave me feeling like a pretty big failure. My kids don’t donate their allowance money to starving kids in Haiti. Hell, I can’t even get them to loan me $5 for a coffee at Target. They have Minecraft paraphernalia to buy! But what we can do is cultivate forgiveness. When they do wrong they can confess, ask forgiveness, and be forgiven. Maybe that will cultivate more kindness in the long term. To know that you’re forgiven and loved would motivate anyone to be kind to others. Even me.

When You Accidently Expose Yourself For Who You Really Are

When was the last time that you had one of those embarrassing moments where you did something wrong or acted in a way that exposed a part of yourself that you’d rather not have other people see? Perhaps you acted rudely, or said something mean to someone publically, or acted selfishly when you didn’t get your way, or you spoke too quickly and revealed that you are jealous. There are endless ways that this can manifest itself and it almost always leaves a pit of despair and desperation inside of us. We then conjure up ways to defend ourselves, make our reputations right again, shift the blame, gloss over the wrong that we have done, and do anything we can to take the blame and attention off of ourselves. If you’re anything like me, this happens far more than you’d like to admit.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if when you were found guilty, caught in a corner, completely in the wrong, that instead of talking and impressing your way out, you could just confessapologize? ask for forgiveness? All while knowing that you are already loved and forgiven.

This weekend, my husband went on a surfing trip with some of his friends to the Outer Banks. I can already see the smirks on some of the ladies’ faces reading this. You know what’s coming next. I was awful to him about it. I didn’t want him to go without me, leaving me home alone for the second weekend in a row with all of our kids. After the long, hot, tiring summer with all three of our young children, all I wanted was a weekend away with him. No fighting and whining kids. No cutting chicken into little bite sized pieces before every meal. Some personal space to breathe and be alone with my love. I was so jealous of his friends, that they got to spend the time away with him that I wanted so badly. And I let him know it through my passive aggression: on facebook, in texts, and in person before he left.

Naturally, when he came back home he was hurt. I had acted like a child and forced him to not have a good time on his trip from worrying about me. And there it was. I was backed into a corner with nowhere to run or hide. I had hurt him in front of his friends and had done wrong. My very first reaction was to throw blame back into his face. But we both knew that he had done nothing wrong. I was jealous and hurt that I couldn’t go along, so I punished him. Seeing the hurt on his face caused me to pause and stop running the solutions to my problem of having hurt him. And I told him how sorry I was for hurting him, for being so selfish. A death to myself. My body almost wanted to physically run away from admitting that I had done wrong and asking him to forgive me. And do you know what he did? He forgave me. He told me that I am always his. There is not much else in this world that draws me to love my husband more than when he forgives me or asks me for forgiveness. In those tender moments of honesty and grace, where wrongs are forgiven without a record being kept, I am captivated to him.

Oh, to be loved and forgiven.

Bed Sheets and Black Holes

 

This morning at 6:30, Myles crawled into my bed and snuggled next to me. Jason was already downstairs drinking coffee and answering email, leaving me alone in our dawn soaked room with the fan whirring and cooling the air. Bundled under the comforter Myles asked, “Where are black holes?” We started the day in bed together slowly uncovering the universe. He used his hands to demonstrate the earth’s orbit around the sun and how days end and nights begin. His little imagination and curiosity eager to wrap around the workings of time and space.

Colin Kaepernick takes his place in a long line of oppressed American patriots

Okay, class! I think it’s time for a history lesson. With our country having emerged upon a very important and timely intersection of blackness, Americanness, and football, I think that it’s high time for us to uncover some of the truths and unfortunate historical contexts that have brought us to this very poignant moment. I’m taking my cue from the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has been silently kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem at his games in protest for the unjust treatment and oppression of black people at the hands of police officers. He has recently inspired many athletes across our country, professional and amateur, all the way to elementary students during the morning pledge of allegiance, to kneel in silent protest. A noble cause.

What we cannot ignore but rather must confront is our country’s history of racism, misogyny, and oppression. It has infected every area of our nation, from the first boots of colonialism that stepped onto marshy banks to knees that are bent on football fields. To ignore and to insist that this history has either been left behind or that this history is over exaggerated is to see history from a blind and ignorant lens of privilege. But the reality is that you don’t have to look far to find it.

Let’s go to 1781 when Thomas Jefferson, one of our country’s most honored founding fathers, wrote Notes on the State of Virginia only five years after he wrote the declaration of independence. In this text, Jefferson gives breath taking overtures on the separation of church and state, individual liberty, the richness of America’s natural resources, and the inferiority of “the blacks.” After describing black people as having no mind to write or learn, having a foul smell, being designed as an animal for hard labor and little sleep, being incapable of loving their women and only desiring their bodies, he concludes “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” It should be no surprise then that when we look at the the creation of the constitution in 1787, our other founding fathers decided that black slaves were considered to be only 3/5ths of a whole person. Property to be haggled over for taxes and representation, more seats in congress.

Though we are two centuries away from these inaugural decisions at the birth of our nation and many if not most of the institutionalized systems of racism have been dismantled, the remnants of these systems ring in our ears and in the lives of black people if you choose listen and look around. From the war on drugs, to the repeal of the voting rights act, the mass incarceration of black youth, the labeling of “super predators,” the new Jim Crow, antagonism against the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and on and on, this system of racism was bred and incubated in our country’s revered historical documents and founding fathers. This festering racism that is found in most of our founding documents has interwoven into the American consciousness. And how couldn’t it? The same documents and historical figures who we revere as the ancestors of our freedoms and patriotism are the very inscribers of racism and misogyny into our systems of governance, legislation and culture.

Recently, Boami Jones wrote an article in the Undefeated titled “Kaepernick is asking for justice not peace,” where he poignantly suggests that “While the major party candidates for president spent the week pointing at each other with charges of who is or isn’t the real racist, Kaepernick pointed at the flag and, by extension, every person who takes pride in the American flag.” This suggestion naturally ruffled quite a few feathers. But if we consider for a moment that you lived in a country where your founding fathers considered you to be 3/5ths of a person, a smelly, unintelligent, lustful person, property, that perhaps you would have a difficult time revering it as much as your white countrymen.  Especially when you witness firsthand the racist imagination that your fellow countrymen have inherited from our founders. It may often be much subtler and undetectable to some, but it is also very obvious when videos of murdered black citizens scroll across our screens every day.

To deny the very obvious historical racism that Kaepernick is protesting is not just ignorant, it is wrong. The work that he is doing is only un-patriotic to those who hold our country up to an infallible esteem and who ignore the very problematic and hurtful history of racism that many of our brothers and sisters in America experience daily. There is nothing noble about forgetting and ignoring that history and present reality.

That is why critiquing our country is important. It’s what moves our country forward and away from its dark beginnings of slavery and genocide, and towards a hope of more equality, freedom, and liberty. This is a freedom that has not solely been fought for by soldiers. It has been fought for by generations of oppressed people. People whose backs were striped with whips and held by chains. Necks that have hung from trees. Women who sat on bus seats. Children who first integrated into schools. Indigenous people who stand at Standing Rock. Football players kneeling on the side lines. Those are the patriots who demand that their country respect them and move us towards a greater freedom. A greater equality. A greater happiness. Kaepernick is actively participating in the National Anthem not by standing, but by kneeling in remembrance, reverence and in protest against the legacy of racism that has and continues to affect him and his ancestors. God bless America and the patriots who demand better.

The Ways of Changing the World

Heavy lids heaving down and back up again over giant round eyes as glassy orbs
with every blink, lying and praying that maybe this time they’ll stay shut and
bring me sleep. Gears grinding and winding images of words across my mind’s eye
I continue to think about the gloom that knows my soulful cries and long to not need
my eyes to see. Maybe tomorrow after I wake and brush my teeth the new day will
bring me closer to learning the ways of changing the world.

Restless

There are things I want to tell you
but I don’t
because the world gets uncomfortable
when women are restless.
Only women are told that
what they already have
is more than enough.
So be happy.
And thankful.
And don’t ask for anything more.
Be patient and kind and gentle and meek.
Watch your tone, always smile,
and don’t ever offend.
When ideas and creations are trapped in the walls
of your head with no way to escape
just remember that you
are the Lord’s and your dignity
is bestowed upon you by Him.
Just be thankful that you are His and that He has saved you from your
sins.
What more could you ask of our Father in heaven?
Besides to not have to sit and watch everyone else
pass you by and leave you
restless.