Summer, Screens and Screams

I remember summer as long, lazy days. Playing outside with friends. Tag and hide and seek. Riding our bikes and building forts with the lawn chairs. Playing dress-up and putting on plays. Barbies, Legos and velvet doodle posters. Puzzles, board games and cards. Mini-golf, swimming and hanging out. Climbing trees. Reading. My mom telling us to get the heck out of the house, ring some doorbells, find someone to play with and not come back until lunchtime. And the same again until dinner. And then dark.

And here we are, halfway through summer. The weather is spectacular. We have a swing set, a large yard and a brand new pool. There’s any number of awesome parks and playgrounds within walking or biking distance. The family room shelves are packed with towers of board games. The craft cupboard is overflowing with supplies. The basement has enough toys to outfit a daycare. And what do my kids want to do?

Stare at screens.

I know this is the world we live in. But I don’t have to like it.

Another of my favourite pastimes, any time of the year, was listening to music. Back then, it was records, and oh! the thrills associated with them: placing the needle perfectly at the start of the song you wanted to hear…the cover art…the liner notes. And if the lyrics were included? Score!

I love that my kids love music too. But now, they have iTunes and YouTube for music. They know nothing about waiting for more songs by the same artist to be released so you can decide whether or not it’s worth it to buy the album (and there were always 45’s if all you ended up wanting was a particular single).

These days, if they hear a song on the radio that they really like, they don’t even need to wait for it to end, praying the announcer will say the name of the song or the band so that the next time they’re at the record store they can check it out. Instead, they grab my phone, Shazam it and immediately, at their fingertips, can call up the artist, title and lyrics, and even link to iTunes and buy it on the spot (with Mom’s OK and password of course). Instant gratification at its worst.

At least with iTunes, they can put on a playlist and listen while they do something else, like read, do a craft or play a game. It’s YouTube that drives me even crazier. Yes, they use it to listen to music, but they end up just sitting and staring at the screen (even if the accompanying image is a still-shot and not a video) while they do.

Speaking of sitting and staring, don’t even get me started on TV and videos. The hundreds of TV channels airing 24/7, where we once had a dozen that went off the air overnight. The on-demand shows they can call up whenever and however often they want, where we had a TV guide and had to plan what we wanted to watch ahead of time (and if we missed it, were SOL). The PVR with its seemingly limitless capacity to store shows, where we had a VCR that could tape a maximum of 6 hours of TV (IF you used the lowest quality recording, set it up properly, and someone else in the house didn’t inadvertently tape over it).

Yes, this has the air of a rant (with a “Back in the Good Old Days” slant). I know it and I apologize. But yesterday, they pushed me over the edge.

After their agreed-upon hour of “screen time” (which never ends up being just an hour, and during which they usually either play video games or watch YouTube videos of other gamers playing games (HOW IS THAT FUN?)), the daily negotiations started.

“Can I just watch one more?”

“I just need to finish this level…”

“She got more time than me yesterday…can I have more now to make it even?”

“He’s just going to go over to his friend’s house and play more of it there!”

No, no, no and no.

“Can we listen to music?”

Yes. Music would be lovely.

But five minutes later, they’re “listening” to a YouTube Minecraft parody of the song 500 Miles called 500 Chunks. AKA “sitting and staring at a screen.”

So no.

“Can we colour?”

Yes! Colouring is good!

But ten minutes later I check in on them only to find that they are not actually colouring in any of the dozens of colouring and doodle books that we have, but googling “colouring pages” to print off. Which, of course, means sitting and staring at the screen, endlessly (and mindlessly) clicking until they find the non-existant perfect picture to colour.

So I lost it.

I screamed. I yelled. I threatened to ban all screens in the house (TVs, computers, laptop, phones, gaming systems, you name it) for the rest of the summer if they couldn’t tear they glazed-over eyes away and drag their lazy butts off the couch and GO FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!!!

I guess they could tell I was serious and this was no idle threat. The next thing I know, they’ve called friends to come over and gathered in the dining room. The board game Apples to Apples is dusted off and the cards arranged on the table.

They’re playing. Talking. Laughing. Explaining. Discovering. Even singing! It’s the most interaction I’ve seen so far this summer. And it’s real. Not virtual.

I wish it didn’t take a tantrum, a tirade and threats for them to see that they are capable of having fun away from a screen. And I wish screens weren’t so prevalent in their lives that it’s become their go-to pastime.

But I’m glad there’s still half a summer left to convince them.



Just Call Me “Dream Crusher”

On one of our seven-hour drives to London, in one of the rare moments when the kids weren’t absorbed by a movie, a book or a video game in the backseat and I wasn’t dozing off in the passenger seat while Luc drove, the four of us got talking about nicknames.

I never really had a nickname that stuck as a kid. “Jenny-Poo” was sometimes used affectionately by my friends. Although more often I heard the less affectionate “Little Jenny Perfect” muttered in the classroom when tests were handed back or report cards handed out (yes, I heard).

I guess I just wasn’t a nickname kinda kid. But apparently things have changed. It took my children all of 10 seconds to come up with a nickname for me: “Dream Crusher.”

They howled about it then, told Grandma and Grandpa about it when we arrived, recounted the story to others, explaining how “Mom never lets any of us do anything we want,” and still, from time to time, when the moment calls for it, they bring it up and laugh about it again.

Dream Crusher.

I laugh along with them, good sport that I am…but more and more the moniker weighs on me.

Because in every joke, there’s an element of truth, and this is mine: I say no. I resist. I prevent. I always get my way. I’m a Dream Crusher.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about it. Parents (the good ones, in my opinion) often have to say no and mean it.

No, you can’t play Destiny all day.

No, you can’t have a chocolate bar for lunch.

No, I’m not buying you an iPhone just because everyone else your age has one.

Dream Crusher.

But what happens when the no’s go beyond trying to raise the kids to be responsible, thoughtful, capable adults? When the no’s aren’t just about upbringing, but about our very lifestyle? When the no’s are no longer directed solely towards the kids, but towards the family as a whole…and have an impact not just on them, but on all of our relationships with each other?

No, we’re not getting a dog.

No, I won’t trade in my van for a pick-up.

No, I don’t want to move to the country.

Dream Crusher.

Luc grew up with a dog and Vivi would give anything to have one. I’ve never liked animals and can argue all day long about why we shouldn’t get one. But what gives my reluctance more weight than their desire? Who gives me the final say? I do. So, no, we don’t have a dog.

Luc has a list of sound reasons why a pick-up would serve us well. But I’ve had a minivan for close to decade. I love it, I’m comfortable in it, I don’t see why we need to change it. So when my old one died, guess what replaced it? Yes, another mini-van. Jen wins again.

Luc and the kids would love to move to the country…a larger house on a larger lot, fresh air and room to breathe. But I grew up in the suburbs and want to stay in the suburbs. I love my house, I love my neighbourhood and I love my neighbours. Think you’ll see a “For Sale” sign on our front lawn anytime soon? Not likely.

More and more, with bigger and more complex family questions, I often feel like it’s a me-against-them situation. And obviously they do too, hence the Dream Crusher label. Funny when it’s bandied about during a game of Trouble or Sorry (“Oh! And Mom lands on your peg again! Back to the start you go! Dream Crusher!”).

Not so funny when I start to feel like I’m holding my husband and children back from things that, if it weren’t for my objections alone, they could easily and rightly have. When I feel like I’m the petulant child, crossing my arms,  stamping my foot and insisting on getting my way or I won’t play anymore.

I don’t want them to end up resenting me because of my stance on these and other issues that are sure to come.

Nor do I want give in.

“Little Jenny Perfect”? Not so much.

Dream Crusher seems about right, right now.