. . . and by that I don't mean a marathon TV watching session. To the contrary, the television remote was one of the items that I bagged up and took with me when I left the children home alone for a few hours Friday night. The other items included every iPhone and iPad in this house. (Um, Mom, that one doesn't even work anymore. I don't care, I'm taking it!)
I told the kids they'd be home without any of those items, just like it was in the eighties! Let's call it a Stranger Things night, shall we?
Surprisingly, there was no argument. Maybe they thought I'd lost my mind and it'd be best to quietly agree with me (they were correct). Also, two of them knew that they had really pushed me over the edge that afternoon and best not fight. I was starting to feel bad about the middle guy but then I remembered: this wasn't actually a punishment.
Okay, it was motivated by the idea of punishments needed but ultimately it was a move I made when I had a super obvious realization.
My kids, like many, are pretty much looking at screens every single time I look them. I tell myself that this is how kids entertain themselves now (at these ages and in this culture); this is how they stay connected to friends (how many people my age would drag the family phone as far as the cord could stretch to talk to their friends for hours in the privacy of the hall coat closet?)
But I also realize they spend way more time indoors and sedentary than I prefer, especially over the summer. They are easily distracted and do not finish the tasks they are set to do--of course some of this just comes with their ages, but the phones don't help.
I was doing a little handwringing about it all, a lot of "oh what can I do about this!" That's when I had the realization: I'm the adult!!! I pay for the phones. I can take them away.
My husband was away and I had plans to go out locally. The kids here are old enough to stay home alone. What would normally happen would be that they'd show minimal effort in doing the chores I'd leave for them and then spend hours in their own rooms on their own devices.
No. You know what you're supposed to do when you're home alone with your siblings on a summer night? Accidentally set the corner of a pot holder on fire and figure out how to deal with a small emergency situation with your sibling that you normally bicker with. Create some sort of insane game that results in a mystery spot that will stay on your parents' dining room ceiling for the rest of their lives but nobody ever fesses up to.
This is the stuff of family legend.
(Hm, but what if there's an emergency and they have no phones? Quick text to my next-door neighbor to confirm she'd be home if they needed anything. Yes she would. Boom.)
When I came home:
1. The kitchen was clean to a much higher standard than it had ever previously been by this crew.
2. Little sister cleaned up her messes in four (!) rooms that were part of what had made me angry in the afternoon.
3. They had played basketball and Uno together.
4. Little sister put herself to bed early because she got bored.
5. They survived.
Daddy-O texted home on Friday night to see how things were going in his absence. I filled him in on the current status at home. First he had an awesome response that made me laugh about the whole thing and then he pointed out that they could play video games if they were smart.
I did know that but already had a bag full of electronics. I considered grabbing all the game controllers, but that was starting to feel a little too crazy somehow.
A few days passed and a little birdie told me that the boys were, in fact, smart enough to figure out how to play video games without the television remote.
So what little birdie was saying is that they were NOT each in their own rooms staring at small screens ignoring each another . . . they were:
1. Working together to conspire against Mom
2. Getting into a little bit of non-harmful mischief
3. Cooperating on how to set the scene to avoid getting caught (Clean the kitchen but leave strategically placed Uno cards on the counter!)
4. Playing together
5. Taking turns being on the lookout for Mom to come home.
Surprise, kids! That's just I wanted.