Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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The Day We Took Away Screens



Photo by Lucinda Higley


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I was in the tub when Mel stepped into the bathroom and said, “I need you to stay home tomorrow morning.”

I was on a one-week vacation. I had to use the time or lose it, but we have a new baby, so Mel and I decided not to travel. More or less, I was planning to have a relaxing week at home. Perhaps take a few day trips. Nothing spectacular. However, I was still writing in the mornings. But the next morning, Mel wanted me to stay home, and I had to assume it was because she wanted me to help bring into motion some brainchild she’d birthed.

“Why?” I asked.

She was holding the baby.

She was up to something.

“Tomorrow I’m planning to take screens away in the morning until the kids eat breakfast, do their chores, get dressed, and finish their summer work books. I’m probably going to be up late doing homework, and I’ll have to feed the baby in the night, so I need you to get up in the morning and help enforce this new rule.”

She smiled at me.

Mel does this a lot. She comes up with a brilliant new way to run the house, and then expects me to enforce the changes. In a lot of ways, it makes me feel like the kids see me as an asshole. Like I’m some enforcer of rules and obligations, while Mel is seen as the loving nurturing one.

“Have you told the kids about this?” I asked.

Mel thought for a moment, her lips twisted a little bit, then she said, “No. I don’t think I did.”

“Awesome,” I said. “So I get to break the news at 6AM.”

I had to assume that most of this was based on a comment another parent made on my blog’s Facebook page. A woman said she doesn’t have fits in the mornings from her kids because she took away screens until they finished their chores. And indeed, we had been having a lot of early morning fights recently. Norah screaming because Tristan wanted to play a game while she wanted to watch DocMcstuffens, or some other crap.
Also, because it was summer, the kids had been playing games or watching shows in their PJs until noon or later. All of this reminded me of a frat house.

I was fine with this new rule. It was a good idea to bring an end to the early morning fights over screens, and this lazy late morning lounging. I just didn’t like the idea that I was to be the sole enforcer of the new rule, while she got to sleep in. And yes, she had good reason to want to sleep in. But in the throws of an early morning fit, it is very difficult to look at a closed bedroom door, think about your partner slumbering, and not feel picked on.

We chatted for a moment more. I told her that this wasn’t going to end well. And I went to bed, expecting the worst.

Around 5:30 AM Norah called for me. I went into her room, and she was kneeling down on her bed, wearing pink PJ’s with hearts on them, her hair smashed into her face.

“I want to get up,” she said.

“Great,” I said. “Then do it. You don’t to tell me about that.”

“I want some cereal and I want a movie,” she said. She said movie long and whiny.

I exhaled. I knew this wasn’t going to go over well. I was faced with a decision. Tell Norah about the new rule, and be faced with a hot steaming fit. Or just let her watch TV, and deal with Mel later in the morning.

“We have a new rule. No screens,” I said. I went to explain to her that she could get screens by doing her chores and getting dressed, but before I had the chance, Norah went limp. Her arms spread out on the bed, and she moaned. Then she started banging her feet and hands. “I just want to watch My Little Pony!!!”

I tried reasoning with her. I tried telling her that she could get screens by doing just a few simple things. But it was no use. We were having a four alarm melt down. Suddenly I felt someone tap on my leg.

Tristan, our seven-year-old, was next to me. He was in Skylanders underwear, his quilt wrapped around him. “Where’s the iPad?” he asked.

I told him about the new rule, and how he needed to earn screens in the morning. I expected him to shit. But he didn’t. He thought for a moment. Then he said, “If I get mine done first, can I have the iPad?”

Tristan has turned into a real negotiator. Sometimes it drives me nuts, like when I offer to buy him a treat and he tries to hassle me for a treat AND a soda. But in this situation, his negotiation skills showed him really growing into a mature little man.

“Tell you what, dude. You help Norah chill out and get her stuff done, and I will let you have the iPad for an hour.”

It’s not too often that I think this clearly at 5:30 AM. Tristan went up to Norah, and he whispered, “Norah. We can get screens by doing some stuff. I’ll help you.”

Norah calmed down for a moment, and then she said, “Okay!” in a chipper, top of the morning to yah, voice. It reminded me of how a horse whisperer calms down a wild animal. It was amazing. Mel had made lists of chores for each child on note cards. I showed them to Tristan, and he read them to Norah. I helped them get some cereal, and then I went back to bed.

I slept until 8AM. This was the latest I’d slept in weeks.

I didn’t hear one fit. And once I got up, both kids were dressed, fed, and sitting quietly at the table finishing their summer workbooks. Their beds were made. Tristan had cleaned the bathroom sink and mirror. Norah had cleaned the tub. I looked at all this for a while, and thought about Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Aliens taking over my children was the only way to explain what just happened.

Mel got up about 30 minutes after I did. The kids were dressed, their chores were done, and they were now playing games because they’d earned it.

“Wow!” she said. “You’re amazing.”

I went to open my mouth. I wanted to tell her about Tristan, and how he did most of the work. But I didn’t. I just gave her a kiss, and winked.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.  
Photo by Lucinda Higley


Katerina Palmer said...

Take credit for anything is my motto. I enforced a 1 hour computer time daily for each of the younger kids. Now they ask me to start the stove timer and promptly get off when it beeps. Sometimes kids just need solid boundaries. Though I have been known to negotiate with them for an extra 30 minutes of computer screen time for better behavior..lol

Lucky said...

Screens are great incentive at bedtime too. We let our 2 year old use the tab for 15 min if she goes straight to bed. (It has a timer.) It has eliminated hours of potty, water, lullabies, tucking her foot back in, picking up her Luvie that "fell out", etc. Not to mention all the warm fuzzy home video propaganda she watches on that thing...see, you really do like your sister, and we do fun things with you.