I’m pretty sure my brain is slowly melting into sludge, and not the muddy, oily kind you might think of. No, my brain resembles a pile of sick, oozy, runny matter comparable to what you might see seeping out of a feature character on a Garbage Pail Kids card. Meltin’ Milton pretty much sums me up right now.
And don’t even get me started on my eyes. A good friend told me her eyesight went dramatically downhill when she turned 40. I was a young and ignorant 36-year-old at the time, so I dismissed her. I should’ve listened. My eyes, which have always operated sharply in 20/20 fashion, immediately started dwindling in function as the clock struck midnight on June 10th. Not only do they actually burn as I type, they uncontrollably open more widely and squint more narrowly throughout the day as I struggle to read the fine print.
While most of my forty-year-old body definitely feels slower and softer than it used to, my brain and my eyes are being attacked by something far more destructive than age. The culprit?
Screens. Bright, shiny, beautiful, electronic screens.
You name it, we have it. Phone screens. Computer screens. Laptop screens. iPad screens. iPod screens. TV screens. Nintendo DS screens. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop seeing them.
I spend several hours a day looking at my computer screen at work, at the end of which the letters all morph into little dancing stick figures who mock my inability to recognize them on the suddenly overly bright screen. I never remember changing the brightness settings, but every day around 3 o’clock, the whole thing goes fluorescent.
Then there’s my own personal nemesis – my cell phone. This is the single most disturbing distraction in my life. It pings and chimes at me ALL DAY LONG, while I work, while I study, while I write, even while I sleep. It’s not like I can just turn it off, because what if the school nurse calls, as she inevitably will, informing me of the next virus to run its course through my family? It’s no exaggeration when I say I can’t form a complete thought or finish one miniscule task without some cellular interruption. You’d think I’m famous with the number of bells and whistles I hear each day, but I bet famous people don’t have this problem – they’re too cool to give their numbers out. Those jerks. They get to be rich and pampered AND have no one text them.
There’s also the TV, which feeds us our favorite family shows on Wednesday nights, or at least records them so we can watch them when we’re actually all home together. The Nintendo DS comes in handy when all of the other devices need charging. And don’t forget the iPad, because a girl has to watch her Netflix and that candy isn’t going to crush itself. I guess you could say we have a problem.
I’m not the only one in my family who’s going blind. The rest of them just don’t know it or haven’t admitted it yet, and we all know admission is the first step. All of my children have devices of some sort, and not because we are rich and famous, but rather because we are rarely all in the same place, I like to stay in contact with my kids, and, well, it’s 2015. If you’d handed me an electronic device when I was a kid, I would’ve better followed the “kids are better seen and not heard” mantra of the 80s and disappeared and played PacMan until my little heart’s content. Not my kiddos. This isn’t such a bad thing, because they’re always there to offer techy help when I don’t know how to tweak my PowerPoint presentation or edit my photos. It’s amazing that these kids growing up in the digital age who know WAY more than I’ll ever know about technology STILL have questions about it every fifteen minutes 7/365.
No, I don’t remember your passcode. Yes, I know I created it, but that doesn’t mean I still know it. Do you know how many numbers I have to remember? I can barely remember your birthdate!
No, you don’t need another app! You just downloaded one ten minutes ago! Isn’t there an app for preventing too many downloads/questions about downloads per hour?
And no, you can’t have my Apple password to make purchases in the iTunes store. I didn’t give it to you for a reason in the first place!
That’s not where it ends. Games and apps aren’t the only problem. Did you know all of their homework is electronic and posted online? What the heck is a Google classroom? I asked my son that very question today and he condescendingly explained, “It’s a classroom – on Google. Duh, mom.”
Ok, smarty pants, just log on and do what you have to do.
Just when I got the whole checking folders and signing agendas routine down, all information went digital. Now I sign agendas, check folders, sign papers, visit each teacher’s website and online calendar daily (because you know those jokers aren’t going to tell me every assignment that’s due or test they have to study for), check emails from said teachers, check grades and pay lunch balances online. Ultimately, it is supposed to be “more efficient,” but I’m old school and I like my hard copy calendar. It’s also way too much information from way too many different directions. I’m having a hard time getting with the program, because the program is a mess.
I’ve tried to establish some house rules to keep things from getting out of hand, partly because I’m tired of getting data overage warnings towards the end of every month, but mostly, because I just want to be with and visit with my people. I even had my artistic eldest paint it on canvas as a visual reminder designed to save me from sounding like the broken record I am. The only rule I can really get anyone to follow almost all of the time is “no phones at the dinner table.” This is our sacred time together as a family, and I won’t forfeit that time because it won’t always be available. It is WAY too easy to spend an evening with necks bent, all staring at our respective screens, working on homework, texting about the business for the next day, fitting our 1010 tiles perfectly into place and besting our score, and NOT PAYING A LICK OF ATTENTION TO EACH OTHER. There is NOTHING that cannot wait the duration of a meal, and there is NOTHING worse than missing out on interaction with our loves.
Tomorrow, we will all get up and go about our business. I will turn off my alarm (on my cell phone), check the weather (on my cell phone), and take a quick glance at my emails (on my cell phone). I will wake my kids, check the time (on my cell phone), and hurry them through their morning routine and out the door for school. I will likely leave my cell phone behind because we are in such a rush, which will immediately cause me to feel naked and lost. My kiddos will let me know they made it to their destinations (with their cell phones), and my college kid might send me a snapchat of her daily events (with her cell phone). There ARE some benefits of this digital age, like the ability to have almost instant contact with the people I love, but it is a very fine and dangerous line of remembering what “contact” with the people we love really is.
It is eye contact. It is awareness. It is patience, because whatever is on that phone can wait, but when we are distracted by whatever insignificance we are staring at, we become short and snippy with anyone who dares to interrupt it. It is making an actual phone call instead of sending an emotion-laden text, because SO MUCH is lost in translation, and much like spoken words, you just can’t take them back. It is cutting all distractions out when my little one wants to share her accomplishments of the day or show me her latest short story. They are so important to her, and how cool is it that she wants more than anything to share them with ME? It is attentiveness, not just blindly “paying attention.” It is realizing holding that device in our hand while our little sweethearts speak to us tells them they are less important than the screen. They so aren’t.
Tomorrow, I’m going to get up and go about my business. I will turn off my alarm (on my cell phone), check the weather (on my cell phone), and take a quick glance at my emails (on my cell phone). However, when I wake my children, I’m going to try to be mindful of the messages I send, and more importantly, don’t send. I’m going to look directly into those beautiful blue eyes and listen to them tell me whatever it is they want to tell me, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. I will hold myself more accountable for my distractions, my lack of attentiveness, and my refusal to stop and smell the roses. I’m going to let them know they are the most important little creatures in my little world, and I’m going to reread this so I can hold myself accountable. It won’t take me, or any of us, long to forget and fall back into bad habits, but just like my loves, it is so worth the effort.