When my son was young, I used to spend a lot of time in the car. One day, he and his friends hopped into the backseat of my van. Bottoms settled, and seatbelts clicked. One of the boys held a small computer while the other two looked on. No one noticed how tightly they were packed or how cold the seats were. All eyes held fast to the screen as I shifted into drive. If it weren’t for the occasional rustle, I could have forgotten myself and belted out a song, thinking I was alone. Instead, I called back, “Joey, how’s school going? Do you like your teacher?” Silence. I repeated the question and was rewarded with a “good.” I gave up and decided to enjoy the drive. The ride was pleasant but eerie. There were three kids in the van and silence reigned. Yes, it was restful, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was off.
At home, I would send my five-year-old son to play outside—whether he wanted to or not. Sometimes he would drag his feet on the way.
“I’m bored, Mom. Can I come inside?” He would ask.
But he just got out there. Often, I struggled to hold firm. I had to remind myself, the fresh air is good for him.
One day, after weathering the transition of unplugging him and sending him outside, I peeked out the window. As I watched, a glossy bird alighted a few feet away. My son looked up, smiled, and cheerfully said, “Hi!” The two, bird and boy, stared at each other. My son’s face beamed pleasure. The bird cocked its head. Delighted, my boy continued his play, periodically tilting his face toward the bird.
It may seem small, but brief moments like this make memories and shape our feelings toward ourselves and the world around us. They leave impressions. One thing is sure, if my son had stayed on his computer that day he would have missed the exchange. Times like these are gifts, people shaping gifts, memory gifts.
How many quiet moments and interactions like this do we miss in our electronic age? Don’t get me wrong; computers are useful tools, even fun diversions. But it’s just too easy to look to them to satisfy, entertain, or pull us through uncomfortable times. Something gets lost.
We miss the warm sun on our backs as we read on the porch, the smell of dirt in the garden. My fondest and happiest memories are full of senses: the smell of the woods after a rain, the feel of cold air in my lungs, the excitement of being outside and free. These feelings have imprinted memories that visit me again and again. Years later, a similar sensation evokes the joy, exhilaration, or peace of the memory. As much as I enjoy Facebook and surfing the net, they can never imprint on me with such texture and dimension. The human frame is designed for complexity that a screen can never offer and it saddens me to think that our children miss this.
I know parenting can drain us, and often we crave quiet. I appreciate as much as the next mom, the lull in noise and bickering that a video can bring. But, I wonder if we can find more times to say, “enough” to the screens. What a gift if this simple limitation nurtured sensitivities, memories, and peace in our children. Perhaps as parents, we can open this door for them.
In his later days, my grandpa didn’t get out much. After morning coffee at the local diner, he spent the rest of the day on the porch swing and often recalled his boyhood escapades. His days of adventure had closed, but over the years he’d crammed impressions and memories into his pockets. He spoke of growing up and the kids he ran with in town. Smiling, he told us how he shoved apples into one pocket and dropped a handful of salt in the other, and off he went for the day. As he talked, his face lit up, and we tasted the tart fruit with salt and felt the joy of a small town boy in the 1930’s. We rode with him on the train when the conductor heaved him up and wrestled in the snow with his brood of Irish brothers. I imagined those boys, when the day of romping came to an end, dropping happy-tired into soft beds. In those days, smells, feelings, and tastes took center stage while computers and television were relegated to dreams.
It was a different world then, and I’m sentimental, but I believe there’s something in it for us. We need interactions with nature and people. We also need that sense of freedom with opportunities to find out who we are. I hope my children experience these moments even though our world today is so different. If a little discomfort with transition or blank time leads to this, let it come, and let’s weather the unease for the gift it brings.
Wordsworth paints a picture of the joy of memories with their accompanying senses in his poem, Daffodils.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glass:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
It’s on the flip side of unplanned time that we learn to dance with daffodils and touch nature and the world around us. Here, something indelible imprints on us and gives us joy again and again. Let’s encourage each other and help our kids unplug from their screens more. Perhaps it will enrich them with experiences that bring pleasure both now and for years to come.