This afternoon, as I was sitting in the hot tub with Felicity, I was watching a young father keep an eye on his toddler daughter. He was having a conversation with an older woman that he ended by saying, "I don't know how you guys did it without iPads, smart phones and DVDs."
His words hung in the air, too heavy to float away. I couldn't let them go.
I watched Felicity play with the bubbles and wave her hand through the water. It's been funny to me that the more babies I have, the fewer toys they have. I've found that with age comes a little wisdom, and I've realized that babies don't need much at all to be entertained.
I remember when I had Mackenzie, people would ask me what I do all day. They wanted to know how I entertained her. Funny, even as a teacher, I never felt the need to entertain my kids. As babies, they all just followed me around the house while I did what needed to be done. Of course, half of what I did was clean up from them undoing what I was trying to do.
Don't get me wrong, they played around my work. There were rides in the laundry basket and loads of fun crawling through the sorted piles of clothes. There were boxes to be emptied as I gathered recyclables. There were numerous pieces of Tupperware to be emptied from cabinets as I cooked. There were so many things to look at as they rode in the shopping cart. There were faces to smile at and people to chatter to. There were also songs to be sung, books to be read and paper to be colored on.
Felicity's current favorite kitchen game is to take down the towel that hangs on the dishwasher. She takes it down and carries it everywhere. I trip over it eventually and put it back. She immediately crawls over and takes it down again with the guiltiest grin you've ever seen. This happens multiple times a day. It NEVER gets old.
Right now, she's tugging at my shoelaces as I type. This is after I opened a bucket of Lego Duplos for her to rummage through. Apparently, I'm much more interesting than a bucket of blocks. I'm happy about this (not usually in the moment I need her to be occupied, but always in the long run).
It makes me sad when I go out in public and see kids of all ages (adults included) attached to an electronic device. We have been in restaurants and seen entire family units looking down at some screen in lieu of any eye contact. We have all (I am as guilty as the next person) become so concerned with social networking, we've forgotten the value of social interaction.
None of my kids (including my 9th grader, much to her chagrin) have a cell phone. They don't have iPads or iPods. They share a computer at home for homework. This has been a very deliberate decision on our part. We hate the idea of them being so plugged in that they tune everything else out.
We realize full well that there will be a time when it will be unavoidable. We struggle with our decision the older they get. It becomes an issue as Mackenzie babysits for people with no home phone. Her friends text her on my phone. We're trying hard to hold off until it's more of a need than a want.
Our kids operate old school style. If they walk to a friend's, they have to call when they get there. If they leave that house, they have to call first. They don't leave without knowing exactly when they need to be home.
Let me also say that we have a DVD player in the car that we use on long trips (after we pray the Rosary of course). All of the kids get sick when they read in the car and they don't watch a lot of TV at home so we felt like a road trip was a fine time to do that. Also, it makes for a very peaceful drive and lots of good conversation for Nelson and me.
However, if we go to one of the kid's sporting events, we go to support that child. We make the kids watch the game being played, not a game on a video screen. If we're driving around town, we talk to each other. When we're waiting at a restaurant, we play games, practice math and solve the world's problems together. We're teaching them social skills and encouraging them to entertain themselves with things that keep their minds active (we hope).
At the end of the day, our hope is that if they meet you, they will be able to look you in the eye, shake your hand firmly and say hello. If they're letting you in on a joke, they'll know how to wink using their eyes instead of an emoticon. They will learn new things from their conversations with you. They will also probably have Facebook and Instagram accounts (that is, if they're still around when they finally get a smart phone). But hopefully, those accounts will pale in comparison with their friendships and interactions with the real people around them.