We’re taking a vacation next week! It will be a whole week with no animals to feed, no gardens to worry over, no grass to mow, no screens to dull our minds! Or mostly no screens.
When I was a kid we spent two weeks at the beach every summer. I loved those weeks. We rose with the sun, surf-fished endlessly, played in the water, and lay on the sand reading. We always arrived at the shore with a stack of books we’d selected the week before when Mom took us to the Bookateria, a local used book store that let you trade in old paperbacks for credit. We each got to fill a grocery bag full of books for our vacation. I loved the possibilities of those books and the long days and quiet evenings spent turning the pages. Some nights we played Hearts, Parcheesi, Risk, or Rack-O. We basked in our parents’ undivided attention. On afternoons when the sun burned too hot for the beach, we’d tramp across the dunes to Newman’s Shell Shop and spend hours studying the shells sold by the pound and savoring the air conditioning before picking out that year’s hermit crabs. Some nights we’d hunt ghost crabs and study the stars. Other nights Dad would build a bonfire on the beach and we’d fish through the tide change. We’d come home from vacation just in time to start back to school with our coolers full of fish, our skin bronzed, and our books crackling from the sand still left between the pages.
The one thing that was never a part of our beach vacations was a television. Amazingly, every cottage we rented was without one! After I grew up, my mom confessed that each summer when we pulled in to our rented cottage, Dad would demand that we all help him untie the car top carrier and stow the beach chairs and buckets under the house while Mom would hurry in, locate the TV, unplug it and hide it in the Master bedroom closet where it would stay for the duration of the vacation. Pretty clever, my parents.
These days the houses we rent at the beach come with WiFi, cable, games systems, and generally a large library of DVDs to choose from. Even if my husband could distract my kids with unloading the car, there’s no way I’d have time to hide all that technology. So this summer, as in summer’s past, I told the kids right up front – the week is screen free. The moment the words left my mouth, eyes rolled and protests began. My daughter made her case for the homework she’ll have to do as part of her online class before wailing that there was no way she could miss the Tony’s.
To my oldest’s son annoyed sigh, I said, “But this may be one of our last vacations all together at the beach! I don’t want to spend it with everyone’s face stuck to a screen.”
He shook his head and replied, “You’re not really making your case here.”
Truth be told, there’s no way I’m missing the Belmont on Saturday. I want to see California Chrome make history.
So you can see I’m already caving. I retreated to my office to berate myself and my lack of resolve. It’s the same reason why my kids don’t clean up after themselves or fold their own laundry. I don’t follow through.
Maybe it’s because I never wanted to be a militant parent. I appreciate the well-trained, well-mannered kids I encounter, but I’ve never been able to figure out how you make them. I think my kids are pretty nice. I think they know how to use manners and do use them when they’re motivated to, but they’re certainly far from perfect and don’t strive to be. I’m okay with that because truth be told, I’m not always the most considerate or well-mannered person even though I mean to be. Intentions don’t rule the day when it’s late or I’m crabby or tired. My husband is a bear when he’s hungry. So, I cut my kids slack, maybe more than I should. We won’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing until they’re launched. But I digress….
So it will be a reduced-screen week despite my decree. I’m sure I’ll have to turn off the WiFi at the beachhouse as much to keep my husband and I off of it as the kids. Still, I’m packing the puzzles and games with high hopes and the kids have already loaded up on books. (Kudos to the wonderful new principal at the high school who is allowing students to check out unlimited books for the summer!)
I don’t want to spend my week arguing about the screens. It’s my vacation, too. So I’ll say my peace and lead by example, and hope for the best. That’s my parenting mantra. I’ll also count on the fact that my kids can’t resist a good game of Apples to Apples or ghost crabs in the moonlight.