Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

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On Becoming an iPhone Addict

photo credit: Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun

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Mac and the boys mix a seaweed soup off the distant jetty.  I gaze into a misty horizon, body limp; Yingling nestled in the sand.  The rhythm of the waves at low tide aim to sooth.

Poing.  A hand twitches.

Ding.  Temples throb.

Whoooop.

The allure of mommy solitude is not enough for me to ignore the sound.  I reach for the iPhone.

Whose texting me? 

Who shared my post?

How many friends “liked” my status? 

Did a literary agent send an offer email at long last?

It’s the final evening of our family vacation.  It shouldn’t matter.  And yet my brain sizzles with curiosity.

Outsiders observe.  An intervention ensues.

Crash.  The waves argue their case.

Ring.  The ice cream vendor shakes his bell with disgust.

Whistle.  Even the diving kite overhead has something to say.

Nature’s hum is no match for the cocaine colored Otterbox clutched in my palm as I tap and swipe and stare.

Bubbe is wise to my growing affliction.  “Mom, you’re always on the phone.  Didn’t you say no electronics at the beach?  We are on vacation, you know.”

“You’re right,” I nod, tweet discreetly, and drum up an excuse.  “I only use it to take pictures.”

Skootch is convinced the world’s problems can be solved and the universe’s questions answered with a search engine or app.  “Why did my bucket float away?  Where did the wave take it?  When is it coming back?  Mom?  Mom?  Mom?”  He lifts my chin.  “Type it in.”

Many of my peers seem in control.  A walk on the beach with a childhood friend revealed her reasoning behind a quiet Facebook presence.  Upon stowing her iPhone in my fanny pack she shared, “Years ago, I found myself sifting through a wedding album of a friend of a friend and thought, what am I doing?  It was then that I made a conscious decision to stop.”

Tongue tied and stupefied, I rationalized a half-assed reason why, as a writer building a platform and in search of representation I needed to be savvy with social media.

There was a time when I sneered at the mother who looked at a smartphone in lieu of my face during a conversation at a preschool birthday party and rolled my eyes at the texting parent who barked orders from the playground bench.  Now I am that mommy.

And I know better.  I follow Hands Free Mama’s Facebook page.  I Pinterest technology articles.  I even held onto my Blackberry and a flip phone before that until recently because I prefer not to be plugged in.

I teach my children moderation.  Bubbe survived an electronic free sleep away camp, Deletion Day, and is painfully aware that a phone in his immediate future is unlikely.  Skootch doesn’t ask for technology at restaurants, in the car, or on vacation.  Both follow usage rules at home.

But my do as I say not as I do approach will not last much longer.

The sun is setting.

Skootch giggles up the dune chased by Bubbe who lizards across the sand.  Mac brings up the rear.  I stash the phone in the pocket of the Tommy Bahama lounger, pretend to scribble in my journal, and mindfully confess – I am an iPhone addict.

Quick.

Someone point me in the direction of rehab.

The Day I Deleted Minecraft; a letter to my son

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Dear Bubbe,

I never intended to do it; really.  One second it was a quivering icon, the next it was gone.  Just. Like. Magic.

Honestly, it brought on a smile.  I’m not trying to be mean.  Chalk it up to a Mommy epiphany, a moment of clarity.  The day I deleted Minecraft, I liberated myself and you of a virtual, addictive burden.  Pressing that shaky, little X ushered you back to real life.  That made me happy.

In the beginning, I was a fan.

Compared to the other choices the video game world has to offer, I could see why you wanted to tap the piggy bank to invest in one that requires players to scavenge for resources, earn survival treasure, design landscapes, construct villages, and defend against intruders.  As a lifelong rock collector, forager of sorts, visual thinker, and creative designer it appealed to many of your natural sensibilities.

A popular topic of discussion at summer camp and later in the school cafeteria, Minecraft was also something to bond over with friends.  Game play and conversations led to art projects, dissecting handbooks, sharing song parodies, and pretend play.  It was a vehicle to stretch your imagination, apply ingenuity, problem solve, and socialize.  So like organized sports, enrichment programs, and play dates, this Mommy approved video game quickly became outsourcing I could justify.

Not only did I feel like I was doing right by your development; it kept you busy, safe, in an earshot and out of my hair all at the same time.  My afternoon was still my own and I didn’t necessarily have to entertain or engage with you all that much.

Then I began to notice screen time and giving up the screen made you cranky and angry.  You responded less to Dad and me, ignored guests, and blew off friends playing outside.  Preferred downtime was spent in the basement; alone in a Minecraft cave.

Even with the game shut off, I was living with a one note Bubbe on Enderman autopilot.  It was all you wanted to talk, draw, write, and think about.  And when The Skootch got access, twice the misery ensued.

So in an effort to find balance, we set up a schedule to earn and limit play time.

It didn’t work.

The timer chime was drowned out daily by your pleading, sometimes screaming voice, “I wasn’t done; I just found iron, I need a diamond sword, a creeper destroyed my supplies and all I have left is a raw chicken!”

It was only after the drama escalated to the point where I found myself ripping the IPad from your grip and yelling back, “Who cares; it’s not real!” that I knew we needed a big change.

All craziness combined led me to Deletion Day.

In the future, I’m not ruling out screen time completely; that would make me a hypocrite but Minecraft was sucking wind from your childhood and it needed to go away.

Proof of my decision came the morning after Deletion Day when I read an article about Steve Jobs; the man who invented the tablet on which you play.  He was brilliant for many reasons, particularly in his choice to limit his own children’s access to technology.

A few hours later, you played with months old Minecraft Legos for the first time and said, “Mom, this is fun.  I never would have known if I kept playing video games.”  I then knew we were heading in a better direction.

Your Lego comment got me thinking more about fun and parent approved outsourcing, both today and when I was your age.

Like you, I kept busy after school and like you, my mother gravitated toward outsourcing.  She didn’t have insight into child development or the value of play, I’m just pretty sure that when she came home from work, she didn’t want to see my face until dinner.

But I didn’t play video games, do gobs of after school activities, or have scheduled dates to see friends.

I was let out of the house and off the leash; in an earshot of only the person on the bike next to me and left in an unstructured and by modern standards, unsafe environment to play pickup games with neighboring kids, defend myself against obnoxious villagers, explore the nearby pond, collect crystals from a stream, build forts, and roam through the woods.

Call it my own, private Minecraft.  No IPad needed.

And it was good fun.

Listen, growing up isn’t easy but parenting isn’t simple.  You can’t always get what you want when you want it, and I can’t always do what makes my life easier.  In an effort to raise you to be a thinking, well adjusted, connected, kind, happy, independent human being I sometimes have to check myself and then love you enough to say

Enough.

Your childhood is just out of my reach, but it is not yet out of yours.  Embrace.  Enjoy.  Experience.  Take time in the real world to discover uncharted lands, dig caves, build cities, mix it up with the villagers, and have adventures.  You’ll be glad you did.

Now go.  I’ll see you at dinner.

I Love You,

Mom