“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” (Thomas Campbell)

Last year I didn’t put up a Christmas tree because everybody said they didn’t want to do it and they didn’t care. And then on Christmas Eve they all pouted. Imagine my surprise when Ari, 20, announced he would be getting a tree.

“Taryn and I are going to put it up and decorate it,” he said. Ah. Taryn is his new girlfriend, and he’s still in that mode where he asks her if she likes a jacket before he buys it, watches movies she picks out and lets her steal all his sweatshirts. I like this phase, and I make the most of it. If you want your sons to do something, you just ask their girlfriends to ask them.

As the two of them went off in search of a precut Canadian Tire forest, I hauled the decorations up from the basement. I’ve bought the boys a decoration each year since they were born, something my mother did for me. I also still have the remaining ornaments my Mom brought from England in the early 1950s, and each year I realize how fragile they are as I try to ignore how faded they are becoming. I’ve kept all the primary school art, made with as much macaroni as love.

Yet each year there are fewer; a couple get jostled and shatter, glue gives way or glass parts snap. It doesn’t matter how carefully I wrap them, I’m reminded that nothing lasts forever.

Christmas dinner will be at our home. I will make a giant turkey and my sisters, Rozzy and Gilly, will do everything else. The three of us grew up here, and while it’s been lovely going to their places the past few years, I’m also reminded the remaining Christmases here are probably numbered. As the kids get older I notice almost daily this will soon be too much house. I can think of no better place I could have raised the boys, but nothing lasts forever.

I’ve been sorting through boxes of old photos, trying to put some semblance of order to nearly a century of pictures. With some, I am absolutely clueless as to whom I’m looking at; I’m reduced to matching a year to a car in the background, or vegetation to a prairie. I wish my parents were around to solve the mysteries, to knit the tenuous connections to people I’m sure I’m related to. My heart flips a little when I find one of Mom or Dad, years before they met, in a picture taken by someone I’ll never know.

I’ve become a censor of sorts. I hate the pictures of both of them when they were sick. I don’t know who this broken down old man is; my father was robust and loud and strong. My mother somehow filled a frame with her softness, and I understand why children were drawn to her. These later pictures are like those faded ornaments, those broken treasures that I can’t part with because my memory sees them whole. Nothing lasts forever.

As we decorated the tree, I fell into my Mom’s pattern of telling the history behind each piece. They’re new to Taryn, and Ari pretended to be embarrassed by things I know he’s glad I’ve hung onto. Like those photos, these ornaments are the true spirit of this family; each one, no matter how damaged, is still important. The best thing I’ll ever give my boys is words. We need to tell the stories over the years because so much gets torn from you; you pretend there will be a time you will be ready.

Nothing lasts forever.

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Telling Houston to solve its own problem

“We have a problem,” the giant standing next to my bed was whispering. Well, as much as a giant can whisper. I squinted at my clock. 12:45 am. I quickly surmised that we didn’t have a problem so much as my son had a problem and couldn’t solve it on his own. As I was about to roll over and ignore him, he said the words that strike fear in the heart of every homeowner:

“There’s water in the basement.”

“Oh, my goodness, son, I’ll be right there!” is not even close to what I yelled at Christopher, 23. He’s set up an area as his mancave in the basement, with the lovely new bathroom I had installed a couple of years ago. He’s in charge of flipping laundry over when it bings, but other than that, it’s his domain. I raced down the stairs to see what he’d done to it.

“I have no idea why the toilet stopped flushing. But now….” I peered into the bathroom. My favourite bathmat floated by and came to rest against several towels.

“Are those….?”

“Don’t worry, I used cottage towels.” Cottage laundry sits on a chair nearby. I delicately looked toward the toilet, water at its brim. I sighed, and told him to get the plunger. I staunchly refused to ask any more questions, though I might have found Atlantis.

“No! It’ll go over even more. I have to figure out how to get the water down first. But look! The washing machine has water in it!”

I’d already given the main floor drain a sniff, and it was fine. The front loader indeed had some clear water in it, so I leaned over and flipped it to drain. The drum spun for a minute or two, and emptied. I opened the door to a clean machine.

“How did you do that?”

“For crying out loud, Christopher, it’s plumbing! It’s all connected. The problem is the toilet backed up, but it was water from the tank that pushed toward the washing machine on the other side of the wall. Everything on the bathroom floor is garbage now. I’ll sanitize the washing machine in the morning but the drain is fine. The problem started in there.”

“It’s all connected? Well, how am I supposed to know? I’m not a plumber. It’s not my fault.” Now, this was the wrong thing to say to me at 1:15 am.

I stared at the large man in front of me, holding a plunger with one hand and his nose with the other.

“Deal with it. I’m going back to bed. Figure it out, throw out anything that you use to do it, discover the problem, and fix it. Same as I’d have to. Water shut off valve is over there.” I pointed out bleach, rubber gloves and sponges. I explained white, grey and black water to him (I worked for a carpet cleaning place once upon a time; now, those calls were interesting), and I went back to bed.

I pretended to go back to sleep, but my basement sounded like it contained a cast of thousands. I heard outside doors open and close, garbage bags being snapped open and much thumping about. I eventually drifted off because it was nearly 2am and I knew he’d never let any water reach his precious computer setup. Just after 2, I heard another whisper. I opened one eye to see my son, full of victory, flashing me two thumbs up.

At least Plungerman has discovered his superpower.

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Greater living through pharmaceuticals, and helpful cats

It was just after midnight and I was peering under my bed hunting for a very tiny pill. It’s a sleeping pill, and I dropped it. I have a very large bed and a hardwood floor. When something gets dropped, even a very tiny pill, it skates across the room like Kurt Browning. It usually comes to rest in the centre of the floor beneath that huge bed, meaning I have to scrabble under on my belly to reach it. I come out looking like Pig Pen because the vacuum doesn’t reach, either.

The sleeping pills are beside my bed. I am very, very careful with them not because of the kids, but because of the cats. Cats think you are playing when something goes skittering across the floor, and think it is even better when you’re down on all fours and it’s midnight and Mommy never plays with us at midnight isn’t this awesome.

I live in terror of one of the cats eating a pill. I’m not sure why; whenever one has to take a pill for the vet, getting the pill down her is like trying to jam a pin back in a hand grenade as it’s exploding. JoJo essentially believes we are trying to kill her. Though she has led a charmed life, she believes if we pet her we’re just getting ready to kill her. Ari says it’s like petting a bag of knives.

As I tiredly stared under the bed, it was, of course, JoJo who was helping me. Maggie and Little Pea were serenely snoring away on top of the bed, and JoJo, the one cat I can’t pick up, was helping me look for the pill. If she got to it before I did and swallowed it, I was scared because she sleeps for 23 hours a day, anyway. How would I know if she’d taken a sleeping pill?

I wanted to go find a flashlight but didn’t want to leave the pill, wherever it was, unguarded. I’d rather look for something in a dark room with a flashlight, an old trick I learned during the war. The war was when the boys shared a room and I couldn’t put the light on to hunt for something. It’s especially good for contact lenses and earring backs; they glint in the light.

My glasses were sliding down my nose as I looked beneath the bed. JoJo’s head was right beside mine, helping. Because it had been more than 90 seconds, I’m sure she had no idea what we were doing anymore. I have a cat I can’t pet that bites me if I pick her up and she has the IQ of a rock.

I thought about waking Maggie up, because she’d at least take a look, point to the pill, roll her eyes and go back to bed. I thought about throwing them all out of my room, but I knew there would be much lonely wailing, and the cats would be upset too.

Unable to find the pill, I knew I was in for a long night. I figured if I stayed up long enough, JoJo would probably start playing with it if she found it, and I could swoop in and stop her. Within minutes she was snoozing with the other two, and I was staring desperately at the prescription bottle.

Giving up, I finally turned off my laptop and turned to put it on the side table. In the middle of the far pillow sat the pill, like a small chocolate left by turn-down service.

No more white sheets for me.

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Worrying about our next door neighbours. In Buffalo.

I felt terrible when all that snow fell on Buffalo, New York recently.

I don’t actually know anyone who lives there anymore, but for a great deal of my life, Buffalo seemed closer than Toronto. The cartoons of my childhood mostly came through Rocketship 7 and Commander Tom; these were the people who were in my home daily, and I’m sure there was a time I believed that there was no border between us.

It was Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot who announced my sister’s 13th birthday on air because my other sister had mailed in the request. I didn’t know why she was so mortified; I would have been thrilled to be acknowledged from the spaceship. I used to mail in my drawings, certain that one would be good enough to be held up for the camera. I had a crush on Speed Racer, and Davey and Goliath and Buffy and Jody and Gumby and Pokey were all interchangeable and real.

I mailed away for the kit to hold a Muscular Dystrophy Carnival in my backyard, thinking that would definitely get me on TV. I never held the carnival because it turns out the kit didn’t include a Ferris wheel or clowns and I thought a carnival would be a carnival, not a printed list of instructions and ideas. For many years, I was worried that they kept track of who had requested those kits and hadn’t sent in any money. I worried that someone would call my mother and tell her I’d kept the money for candy necklaces and rolls of caps that we’d set off with a stone until we realized they were far more fun to light on fire.

I learned my emergency response drills through Buffalo TV stations. In the event of a real emergency, I knew they would tell me what to do. If we were up before the station kicked in, we would leave the striped test pattern on as a backdrop to whatever else we were doing, knowing the programming would eventually come on. I doubt my kids know what a test pattern even is, or can conceive of a channel that ever goes off the air.

I learned that fires could be four or even five alarm fires, and the number of alarms indicated how many stations had to respond, not how many people had pulled a fire alarm. I worried about emergencies in Lackawanna and Tonawanda and Cheektowaga, uncertain where these places actually were, but greatly concerned at the number of fully involved fires and car crashes they seemed to experience.

I knew the phone numbers of Buffalo’s personal injury attorneys almost as well as I knew my own. I knew who to call in the event of a slip or fall. I learned that wrestling was fake and bowling was real, but you could get paid either way. American broadcasters we watched for Disney and Wild Kingdom were all routed through Buffalo networks, so there was a consistency in the ads that made a blurring of the line at the border even easier.

I follow Buffalo WKBW news anchor Keith Radford on Twitter, because his name popped up and I recognized it. A Canadian boy made good south of the border, he’s old school Buffalo newscaster with enough of his Windsor roots peeking through to remind me of the unvarnished newscasts of my youth.

“Please let your viewers know that we Canucks are thinking of them,” I said to Radford on Twitter in the height of the storm. His reply?

“You have already sent snow plows, please send beer next.”

An American now, but still a Canadian at heart.

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Be one of somebody’s good people

I began my fall cleanup because I saw snow.

The huge maple tree out front has finally taken leave of its leaves, so the boys have been dispatched to do the raking. Ari asked if the tree was finally empty. I see no point in doing it until it’s over, regardless of what my leaf blowing neighbour thinks. Turning on one of those irritants for hours every day is ludicrous, especially when the wind just picks up and undoes all your work; nature thumbing her nose.

I’ve pulled out all the skeletal remains of my tomato plants. I waited too long to put them in, and when I got to the tomato plant selling place I was faced with the dregs that everyone else had rejected. I felt bad, and bought them knowing they would probably never produce, and I was right. I don’t think I got a handful of tomatoes off the dozen or so plants I put in, but I feel that I gave them a chance and maybe I’ll get extra tomato karma points for next year. Voting for the underdog may give you fewer tomatoes, but it still felt like the right thing to do.

I never paid much attention when my father put this yard to bed each fall. It was never as much fun as turning new earth in spring and boosting seedlings to life. There are two huge walnut trees in a neighbouring yard, and they fling down their green coated missiles in high winds. Dad used to pay us a penny a piece to pull the acidic things from the grass and throw them in a bushel barrel; there are photos somewhere of me holding onto one with two mittened hands, too small to be much use but wanting my pennies just the same.

I went to gather walnuts the other day, and was surprised to see there weren’t nearly as many. Usually I can’t keep up. I went to the shed to get the rake, and discovered why. Squirrels have filled every nook and cranny of my shed with walnuts. They’ve overflowed buckets, they’ve filled a grass catcher, and they’ve balanced them along shelves. Stacked wooden baskets are full of them; the top of a jerry can is wreathed in them; a bucket holding twine is now holding walnuts. I wondered how I would get rid of them all, and then I didn’t. I acknowledged the industry of these creatures, and decided my fall rituals didn’t top theirs.

I think my roof is finally leak-free, after an exasperating year or so. The roofer who returned three times to help turned out to be a brother of a high school friend; as we spoke of the neighbourhood all of those decades ago, I finally stared at him. “You used to play piano. You played Billy Joel. You were amazing,” I said, stupidly. He laughed, and said he still plays piano. So if anyone is wondering, Kip Weller still plays piano and he also fixes roofs that others have scratched their heads over and given up on.

A friend recently asked me why people were so good to her. Smiling, I told her that you get what you give. Anyone who keeps score would never ask me such a thing; they would be busy keeping score. I understood her confusion, because it took me many years to grasp why I have so many good people in my life: I’m one of their good people.

Be kind to the squirrels and the tomatoes. The rest will take care of itself.

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Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys

I found a man in Oatman, Arizona, who sang me a song as he sat on the deck of the Oatman Hotel. Oatman is a tourist trap, a corny dusty street lined with places with names like Jackass Junction and Oatman General Store and Fast Fanny’s. It’s in the middle of gold mining country, though the Wild West establishments that line the downtown are for show. Donkeys walk up to you in the street, as tame as kittens and just as demanding.

I was on a work trip tracing the old faded glory of Route 66, that iconic highway built in the 1920s to connect Chicago clear through to the coast past Los Angeles. In due time, the country outgrew the boundaries of such a constricted artery, and of course was replaced with a ribbon of expressway that is little more than a soulless version of what you can find anywhere. The best way to travel, it seems, is to make sure you never experience anything you couldn’t find at home.

Diehards and historians, the curious, the aimless and the bucket listers still look for evidence of the original highway every year. Most of it is still visible if you look out your window as you blast past at 75 mph; it weaves on the right and then the left, crisscrossing its usurper. Sometimes you can follow it for an hour, other times you hit a dead sign a few minutes in. If you’re determined, you can spend more time on it than off.

Oatman-Hotel-singerThe 15 of us who pulled in that day probably doubled the population of Oatman. I traipsed in and out of shops and bars, told over and over I was free to purchase any of the genuine local handicrafts, a preponderance of leather and silver on offer. I was shocked to see a picture of a woman the town is named for sporting a Native tattoo on her chin; kidnapped as a child and held, this was how they’d marked their property. A character in the show Hell on Wheels has the same marking, and my pretend world and my real one collided once more.

The Oatman Hotel features dollar bills, signed and stapled to all the interior vertical surfaces. Many yellowed with age, guesses put the total between $100,000 and $200,000, and I could believe either number. I dutifully signed my bill and went back out into the scorching Arizona sunlight.

I heard the guitar before I saw it, and a strong voice singing like Willie Nelson. Sitting in the shade of the porch, Michael Fox cared little whether we heard him or not. No collection cup, no open guitar case, just a man who could have been 50 or 70 with a clear voice and a soft guitar. We hauled out cameras and recorders, because that is what we do.

I asked him to play something else. I asked him for more Willie Nelson, and he smiled and said he didn’t know all of them. He’d never met Willie, though he’d played with several of the legend’s band members over the years. Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, I said. Once again that true voice tilted against the contrived scenery.

If you once were, you still are, even if nobody can see you anymore. All of these towns, many of them ghostly deserted, have watched progress snuff them out. And yet for all that I saw in days on the road, it was a man with a guitar singing for everyone and no one that defined the trip.

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Sexual assault builds its own prisons – for the victims

Jian Gomeshi is finally the household name he already fancied himself to be, but for all the wrong reasons. As I write this, nine women have come forward relating their nightmares of being choked and punched by the man while on a date. He pled his case to his employer, the CBC, by producing graphic videos, resulting in his firing with a side of WTF. They were reportedly long aware of his penchant for sexual harassing women, and did nothing.

Statistics Canada reports only 6% of sexual assaults are ever reported. Why? Women know they won’t be believed, they’ll spend years having to publicly relive it, and they probably knew their attacker. It’s not the dark alleys we should be afraid of; it’s the guy beside us in the car or on the couch. How can we still think abusers can’t be charming and smart and attractive?

Unless we emerge bloody and beaten, we must have deserved it. In the process of an assault, women are playing a chess game with the goal of getting out alive. Don’t think if we stop fighting it’s because we’ve changed our mind. Sexual assault is violent, and to report it is to risk it happening again. Women are torn apart in courtrooms and when a man has already stolen one part of your life, you’re loathe to let him have the rest of it. False reports can destroy a man’s life, but only 2-4% reports are unfounded, meaning 96-98% are telling the truth.

“Date rape” is a watered down term. It downplays rape, so women believe they’re at fault and men believe it’s a form of courtship. Stop telling women to not drink, to not be alone with a man and to not wear provocative clothing. We don’t tell men that. How about men shouldn’t rape, period? Tell your daughters to be vigilant and smart, but tell your sons consent should be verbal and enthusiastic. Remind them consent tonight doesn’t mean consent next week, or next year.

32 years ago I was raped on a date; I later learned I wasn’t the first. I’d run from his house when I finally could, lost and in shock; it was a cab driver who drove me home though I had no money. All I could think was that my parents would kill me. Why was my humiliation stronger than a rapist’s fear of being caught? I blamed myself for what he did. This is what women do.

We teach our girls to be polite. We should instead teach them to trust their instincts. Leaving a bar alone months later I saw the bastard again. There’s the chess game – if I run, he might chase me. Instead, as I tried to leave I was slapped in the head and pushed into his car. Terrified, as he slowed in a construction zone I jumped out. I hid behind trees as he drove along yelling for me. I knocked at a house with a light on, and like that cabbie, the man who answered got me home. There are many good men out there. In five decades, this was the Bad One, the Dangerous One.

I should have reported him but even at 18, I knew my life would be derailed and nothing would happen to him. There are abusive men who hate women. I don’t give a damn whether their mother loved them too much or too little or if they were dropped on their head at birth. What I do care about are the women who are forever changed while these bastards move blithely forward safe in the knowledge that they will get away with it.

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Would you want to know what your genes predict?

I went to a psychic once. For $100 (ask the twenty-something me, not the me before you), I learned lots of benign things that made for good dinner conversation in the following years. Now for just twice that amount, I could find out far more information in a whole new arena. A California firm, 23andMe Inc, is set to start selling genetic test kits here in Canada.

Until recently, you mostly associated this kind of testing with who-yo-baby-daddy on bad TV. As medical science offers up bounties of new discoveries, it is now about taking that information and predicting the future. Send back a little spit, find out if you have genetic markers for over 100 health risks. Now, that would be interesting dinner conversation.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has placed restrictions on the kits, saying they need to be regulated like any medical product. They’re concerned individuals receiving such information would not necessarily understand the implications and may freak out. That’s not the technical term; but finding out you are conceivably at risk for a whole host of scary health issues is something they urge you to consider alongside your doctor. They’re right. Genetics are a starting point for healthcare, not an endgame.

If you have the benefit of knowing your family’s medical history, you’re lucky. Some people don’t, and some of us might be surprised to learn we are relying on faulty memories or dated medical knowledge. Both of my grandmothers died young, and their genetic stories died with them. Because these tests also mark ancestry patterns, there is the chance of discovering secret adoptions or cuckoo’s nest babies. Opening those results could be ushering in a lot of serious discussions.

So far, Canada is not set to place any restrictions on these tests, unlike their American counterpart. The company is distributing worldwide and nobody would have a hard time accessing the kits regardless of government barriers. Like most things, when you bring the cost down to attainable levels, people will respond. Is knowing this much about your genetic history dangerous?

I doubt it. Most of us watch our genetic future play out in front of us. We see what parents and grandparents deal with, and hopefully adjust our lifestyles to best prevent the worst while preserving the best. A genetic marker isn’t always a guarantee, just like not having a marker for heart disease doesn’t mean you can’t deep fry your heart into cardiac arrest.

I knew a woman who spent 20 years preparing to die. She wasn’t old, and the energy it took for her to track what she was certain was going to take her was exhausting just to watch. If someone like this gets genetic testing done, it will definitely give them more ammunition to make themselves crazy. While restrictions are no doubt being drafted up with someone like this in mind, most of us are seeking better ways to stay healthy, not an express train to the end.

I won’t get the kit, because I’d start over-thinking everything as my imagination ran around like a wild stallion. I don’t want a crystal ball because if I’m not already living my life in the best way I know, if I’m not already loving who I love and doing the things that matter and taking care of my health, then I’m an idiot. I’ve lost too many people I love to think you get a do-over. It shouldn’t take a mail-order spit test to tell you that.

Wouldn’t mind finding that psychic again, though. I have a bone or two to pick with him.

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Yoga: quiet time with my to-do list

I have never taken a yoga class in my life. I always believed I would be too loud, too impatient, too snarky to channel my inner Zen while folding myself like a piece of origami. Sometimes you have to slough off preconceived notions and move outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes you have to take a yoga class.

I did it for Pammy, 22, my son’s girlfriend. She joined our local YMCA and is enthusiastically embracing all their great programs. She thought I might like to embrace them with her, and her darling face looked so eager and so sweet I didn’t have the heart to explain to her I am only good at working out when I can punch things or growl swear words under my breath.

I didn’t know what to wear. I have yoga pants, but only because they were on the clearance rack at Old Navy. I do not wear them outside the house. Instead, I hauled on a pair of leggings and a t-shirt I got at an Ironman event; not as a participant, but I thought it would give me more sporty cred than a pair of 5 dollar stretchy pants.

We were a few minutes late and wondered where we would camp out. It was a beginner class and we were both beginners, but it was evident we were the only newbies. The instructor gave us mats and we plunked down in what we thought was a small clearing. Like a blob of oil dropped into a puddle, everyone around us scrambled away. I had no idea you needed room around you to yoga. It turns out you do windmill type things with your arms and your legs as well as lying there thinking calm thoughts.

With the lights initially dimmed, we were told to feel the ground. This was the part I was scared of, the mind clearing, getting in touch with your inner self, listening to your breathing part. As everyone around me exhaled gently and thought of nothing, I tried to make myself not wonder why the place smelled like feet while remembering I’d have to get the winter tires on soon.

The lady beside me soon clued in that I was copying her. I tried to give her a smile that was reassuring yet not creepy, but I soon learned that yoga involves a great deal of pretending you’re not seeing things that you are. I’ve pulled off more attractive poses while delivering my sons.

I was running a beat behind everyone else and also keeping an eye on Pammy, who’d ended up a row behind me. This was usually achieved by peering out between my legs while assuming the position they call Downward Dog but in actuality is more like Arse In The Air.

I was doing okay, for the most part. I wasn’t earning any style points, but I’m bendy enough that I could fake most of the poses once I’d seen someone else do them. Towards the end of the class, however, we were instructed to sort of squat. I looked at my neighbour who was perching herself delicately in a squat. I attempted to duplicate it. I fell over. And over. And over. I looked back at Pammy, who smiled and waved to me, like a small bird sitting on a fence.

I kept trying until they mercifully dimmed the lights, announcing the yoga closing ceremonies. Many of my neighbours pulled blankets over themselves, lying on their backs as the instructor’s dulcet tones ended the session.

I don’t know what they were thinking about, but I got home and called about my tires.

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Can’t get your kid off their phone? It’s your fault

Tired of only seeing the top of your kid’s head every time you’re at the dinner table or in the car? Wondering what text conversation could possibly be more important than a family dinner or some one-on-time with Mom or Dad?

Conservatively speaking, we’ve now had about a decade of societal saturation with cell phones and computers. Ten years ago, some parents were still debating if they needed the internet in their homes, and whether schools should be integrating computers into their curriculum. How quaint.

When my kids were small, it was Super Mario luring them away from riding their bikes and wrestling. I fretted over studies that said if I didn’t limit their screen time my sons would grow up stunted and fat, emotional cripples who would live out their lives in a dark room staring at a glowing screen, and that room would probably be in my basement.

Fast forward ten years, and the reach our children has is extraordinary. The world is literally in their hands, and that world, in turn, can send grappling hooks right into their developing brains. But I’ve noticed a subtle change in the response of parents. Back then, stymied parents admitted their children knew far more about computers than they did, that they were at a severe disadvantage because they were struggling to learn something their children had always known. They wanted to curb their kids’ enthusiasm because they didn’t share it.

Now, you’re upset that your kids are addicted to their electronics, but they’ve probably learned from the best: you. If you take calls outside of work during time you’re spending with your children, you’re still at work. You are not with your children. If you’re chasing your timeline on Facebook or Tweeting while you’re kids are in the room, they know exactly what matters most to you.

Don’t think that if you’re all watching a show you’re exempt, or if you’re walking along a street. Your primary focus is elsewhere, and they know it. We interact with our kids on many different levels and taking in the world as they process it requires you to be there with them, not randomly engaging between calls.

Sound harsh? It’s meant to. I’m indicting myself as well. I flinch when I see another person wheeling a stroller down the sidewalk, yakking away on a cell phone. It’s great that you take your kids to the park, but if you’re sitting on the sidelines with your nose buried in your phone, who are they going to be yelling, “hey, look at me!” to? And they do yell that and you yelled that and kids are supposed to yell that. And you’re supposed to be looking.

Car speakerphones are awesome, but the only thing that comes across to those with you is there are other people who are getting your attention. Once in a while? Sure. Every time? It’s up to you. Don’t think I’m only talking about toddlers and primary schoolers. Your teen might need those unoccupied gaps in a conversation, those lulls in the car, to finally bring up a difficult subject. If you’re always busy or distracted, there is never a good time. They will find someone to listen; you might not like who that ends up being.

I don’t know many people who haven’t been sucked into a vortex of wasted time on the internet, either on occasion or regularly. Our kids are no different, except they are even more suggestible than we are. You can lay down all the rules you like, but they will learn by watching you.


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