Screen Time for Ludites

You may have noticed I’ve been posting quite a lot lately, especially considering my ages ago decision to write only on Saturdays. Slowly, over the almost year since that cleansing fast, I’ve crawled back off the wagon into the deliciously wicked addiction of The Blogger. Oh, but isn’t it glorious down here in the dirt!

I have lately given myself reprieve though. After many months of fighting, not just the writing addiction, but also what I can only describe as an addiction to myself, I have given in. I survived a year of incredibly intense mothering, the lips above water kind. Now, things have evened out a bit. My job is still crazy hard, don’t get me wrong. But I am not losing my mind. My Man can sometimes look me in the eye when he gets home from work and still want to ask how my day was.

And as life has become more possible, survival more definite, I have found myself sometimes becoming bored. The typical desperate housewife syndrome I guess. Where is the me outside of the mother? What do I have to show for myself? Where is the space that is mine? All the same regular bullshit.

What of my grand epiphanies? My submission to the noble cause of motherhood, my neo-feminist punk housewifery? Wendell Berry’s pride of home economics; frugality and responsible action and the independent spirit; the garden, the kitchen, the homemade laundry soap? Kids swirling in my undertow, me the brave heroine, brandishing my homegrown parsley.

Despite all that very good stuff, I’m bored.

Fuck. I hate it when I find I am suffering from the same pedestrian maladies as the general population, which I apparently thought I was better than. But there it is.

I am not in my homeplace. In case you are new here, we are in New Orleans for My Man to go to school. Next year we’ll return to Alaska, our little blip of a town in the enormous maw of coastal wilderness. There I have much more to do, much more to focus on, much more that belongs to me. It is my element, the life I spent the other 32 of my years learning how to live. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been desperately homesick, in fact I’ve just recently started to feel homesick at all. This move has been wonderful in many ways and if life were rewound, I would choose it again unhesitantly.

But considering this is a time in life when women are classically groping for what of themselves is left after the tsunami of small children, being out of my homeplace is a bit extra extra.

I realized recently that, for better or for worse, writing has stepped into that place for me. Given me a thing to do that is mine own, and it’s no wonder I find it devilishly addictive.

I am a person who needs an all encompassing project, a kernal to fold my life around. I am happiest in the midst of an Obsession. And mothering… It’s all encompassing for certain, and my life is quite origami-ed around it. But it’s not like it’s my project. The work is very challenging on all levels, but the outcome does not belong to me.

I think that’s what we need as mamas, an outcome we can own. Maybe it’s self-indulgent. Maybe we would be better spending that time meditating, releasing our grip on ego, submitting to the universe. Not to belittle spiritual practice, but friends, if I couldn’t meditate in my 20s– alone in the woods— that shit just ain’t gonna happen with two kids under 5.

So. Outcome it is.

And with that in mind, I have lately given myself permission to write more.

Accepting that my obsessive alone habit involves staring at a computer screen has been hard enough. I spent the majority of my 20s living without electricity, quite passionately in fact. I am a Ludite by nature, skeptical of anything with a cord or battery pack, but especially scorning of what I consider The Era of the iBrain.

But if that’s hard to answer to, here’s the next question. Where do you think a mama of two littles can find the many hours required to indulge in an outcome based activity such as blogging? Some mornings I get 30 minutes or more in the wee hours to glom my face onto a screen, all alone in a quiet room. But other than that, I have to steal my time from my 4yo’s brain, by plugging her into her very own screen during the Babe’s nap.

Just typing that out hurt. Because unlike the more reasonable opinion of most parents, I do think that any little bit of screen time, on a regular basis, is bad for developing brains. I never, ever thought I would have kids who watched tv. I mean, we don’t actually have tv, we have dvds, so that cuts out my biggest beef– commercials. And of course I try to cherry pick from the enormous onslaught of hideously bad children’s programing. But, that still adds up to my daughter’s face slack jawed in front of a glowing screen.

For… (deep breath)… an average of… (deep breath)… 1.5 hours per day.

Wow, is that hard to admit.

I spent a long time fighting it. Really I’ve been fighting from the beginning– when I was 6 months pregnant, packing up our entire house for a move across country, and my MIL sent some childrens’ books on dvd which I found would hold the (no longer napping) 2yo in one place long enough that I could slide my eyes closed for 15 or 20 minutes. I fought it, but then– I did it. So, not a very strong fight I guess. The fight was all in my own heart, and has continued to wage right there. Her mid-day dvd watching became a daily thing and over time an almost unshakable habit, my internal wars notwithstanding.

What is the difference between submission and giving in? How do you know when to fight and when to let go?

This parenting job is tough, and I don’t believe our world is set up to support us right now. I want to choose some moral high ground, to make The Right Decision for my kids. I want to practice no compromise ethics. But this is not a single variable equation. If my girl stares at a screen for 1.5 hours of her day and has a happier mama for it, where is the moral high ground?

I am rolling over that old submission a lot lately, like a pea under my mattress. Sometimes I feel like I tried and failed to submit to motherhood. But really what happened is that I did it, and it really helped for some time, my hardest time. Now I have moved on, we are in a new phase. My job as mother is (perhaps imperceptibly) loosening, and I am looking around, taking a breath. There is a little space for me now, not much, and I can’t help but want to run in there and muscle it open. It’s intoxicating, and confusing.

If I were a better mother, perhaps I would take this opportunity to ween my 4yo off of the afternoon movie. We could spend that time on the floor inventing elaborate pretend play, and she would lap it up like a puppy. I wish I were that mother sometimes, that I could annihilate my ego, truly and absolutely. Become Budhamama.

But here I am, so very human. So very pedestrian. Instead of seeking motherhood nirvana, I think I will leave the housework undone and get in my own 1.5 hours a day.

Here’s to us humans.

12 thoughts on “Screen Time for Ludites

  1. I find myself frequently thanking you for writing! I can’t be the only one finding a benefit in your time to yourself. As for children and screentime, I am not sure what to say. I cling to moderation and hope I am teaching that there is a time for escapism and a time to engage. These days, I may fail my daughter with that more than I might wish! Beginning of July, I wish I could pour the margaritas for all the mamas out there balancing the needs of so many, including their own!

  2. hi. i have been reading you for ages and super duper identify with you – i’m also raising two small children far away from my home community and may be considered little suzy homemaker by contemporaries if not for my radically alternative approach to the whole thing, but that is an aside.
    I too have had the inner screen battle and am thoroughly grossed out that my four year old recognizes pop children’s characters. but i too have the 1.5 hours of her watching dvds while my baby sleeps so i can do something else, for myself. i don’t do housework during that nap, not usually anyways and if yes, only for 30 minutes of it. the rest of that time is mine. and the four year old loves loves loves to watch a ‘show’ during the nap. occasionally she doens’t want to and we do something else together, but it has become a routine and when i read you post today it was like reading something i think about my self, about my life.
    i’m with you, i like your thinking and you are total great inspiration
    to happy mamas :)

  3. Hey, give yourself a break! It’s not like you left her in a cupboard and went to the pub. Some DVD time for your own sanity? Good exchange if you ask me. I think you need time for yourself to be a better mother, it’s just the guilt that gets in the way (again)! Being a mother, yep, it’s like a realisation, “Gee, I don’t feel unique anymore, I’m just doing the same thing & having the same struggles that everybody else is” but do you think your kids care? Nope, they still think you are one in a million!

    I am glad you realised you are human, because I am not quite sure what you were aiming for! ;)

  4. You gotta take care of yourself to do a good job taking care of them! Besides, as your kids get older it will be great for them to have as rolemodel a mama who had her own identity. You’re modeling balance and compromise for them.

    I don’t have kids, but I sure do know some crappy mamas, and you are definitely not one if them.

  5. My husband sits in front of a screen for a living, and makes a tidy living for us so we can homeschool and adventure all ov the place. So it’s a bit high and mighty of me to say to the kids “hey! You can’t just sit around in front of a screen all day, it’s bad for you” bla bla bla. But my man was programming since he was a kid, albeit, at the time, uber simple programming, and he wasn’t conscious he was going to work in computers so early on. He actually trained as a furniture designer, but the programming stuff kind of just got a grip on him. His job can have very intense periods when there are mega deadlines punching us from every angle. And he produces websites one of the man that we’re all trying to stick it to, a multinational corporation, against our ideals and yet…… We get to have daddy work from home and eat lunch with us every day – nice family ideal, huh? He gets paid good money, some of which we spread around, share and lend and give to those in our lives who might need it more than we do. When the chips are down we’re the first to get our wallets out. Our lifestyle means that I don’t have to work, that we can be close and spend a lot of time together. We can go on holiday, pay for things breaking down, pay for a houseful of interesting stuff for the kids to learn from ( since we don’t get a cent towards the children’s education from the government) and he pays a shitload in taxes which helps the rest of society. And he finds the work enjoyable when it’s not crazy busy. Being a techie, he has to test apps on different machines and he likes gadgets and computers so we now have a whole bunch of macs, pc’s, iPhones, all that stuff. And naturally the kids also want in on that. My two year old is fluent in iPad, and we have a computer in nearly every room in the house, except their bedrooms, the bathrooms and the kitchen. I can’t say that kids shouldn’t play on computers or screens since we all love them. We also love nature, we’re always out in it, and we try and give the kids a really rounded education, including lots of nature walks and so on. The world we live in cannot go backwards. Technology is a tool, a means to connect beyond the confines of our tiny locale, a means to earn a living, a means to earn one kind of freedom, whilst there is always some slavery involved in any job, and a screen based occupation is just one form of that. As long as kids aren’t playing violent games, being unsupervised with computer nasties, and they become isolated and separate because of it, then I say it’s absolutely fine, as long as they have a mixed diet of other activities, including something a bit intensely physical. Computers give all of us some headspace, and a hey without it, I wouldn’t be able to read your brilliant, inspiring thoughts CJ! I know I don’t comment on here often, but I read and digest everything and I love you for writing it. Thank you.

  6. Thank you! Everyday I wake up and think – no tv for the 3yo today. Every day I feel like a failure when I press the on button. And at the end of every day I feel so guilty I wasn’t that budhamama who let my babe help me with all the chores and then played fab creative games with her.
    We might be on the other side of the world but it looks like the struggles are the same!
    Lindsay, from London

  7. Seriously we must be twins (but I cannot write like you)… I HEAR you so loud and clear – We have to let go of our expectations and ‘shoulds’. They just make us feel bad. I agree – society is not set up to support parenthood. They try – but it aint working.

    I feel what it boils down to… is we love our children and they feel loved and safe. We also offer them the best we possibly can then that is all we can do.

    We aim for our children to grow as well rounded adults. We fear they wont with the way they are here!!! But people out there say to us how lovely they are and etc etc and so forth so I think we are on the right path – but hey there is always room for improvement in what ever we do.

  8. CJ, I fucking truly love you. Honestly, if you even just released your writings by the month by hand-written and photocopied out stamped envelopes, I would sit by the mailbox for 28 days of the month.

    Good on you sister, and I seriously I cannot imagine this creature you call the Better Mother. You are the perfect mother, that’s why you were sent these kids to love.

    Kylie.

  9. Isn’t this the topic that hounds us blogging mamas the most? Well – it should be. By most standards I don’t even blog very often but I struggle with this issue, and I am amazed it is rarely discussed. Here we are finding benefits in the computer-world, yet not discussing how best to balance this time with the rest of our overloaded lives, or how to model it for our children. I can’t see myself stopping computer time, so I need to keep tabs on how I’m doing it. And re-making decisions I slip on (like not reading blogs whilst in the throws of parenting!)

    You, ma’am, are a most excellent role model of a real mama taking on the world!

    Oh – and that bit you said about screen time for you (and them) giving your kids a sane mama? – remember the reverse is true; What good is a no-screen time mama if you’re a grumpy unfulfilled git. I can’t imagine you’d be a good mama if you had all your big thoughts clogging up your brain with no way out.

  10. I really enjoy your writing so want more of it. I avoided all screen time for my kids, but gave in when I realised it was a way for them to have a little down time. Stimulation in a passive way, that time when you dont really want them to nap but some time to wind down a bit, ready to last out till bedtime…. well at least that was my justification for it!

  11. If I wasn’t in a big scramble to jury rig a chicken waterer for some birds I expect to own come tomorrow, I’d probably sit and read your entire archives. As it is, I’ll have to content myself with just two posts before I comment, which is something I ever so rarely do that I’m astounded with myself halfway through this sentence, and fly back into the basement looking for plastic tubing. As a want-to-be mother and permanently unemployed physics teacher of the “radical homemaker” variety, I suspect when I have time later to read everything you’ve shared here, I’ll be comforted by the experiences of one who has walked this path already.
    Gods I sound so corny.
    Hi! Thanks! Gotta go screw a vinegar bottle to an old dog house now!

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