I love traditions. I love the routine and flow of them, the predictability, the comfort. Our family is pretty young — our girls are 5 and 7 — so our traditions are relatively new. We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade every year and usually the dog show too. Christmas morning means stockings, then breakfast, then the paper-ripping gala of presents. On Thanksgiving, we begin our celebration the night before, with a family dinner at Friendly’s. This year, our ice-cream extravaganza gave me an opportunity to think about family time and the more amorphous traditions that structure our day-to-day.
As we sat in our maroon vinyl booth, delighted with our sundaes, I noticed that every other family in the room was busy with electronic devices — cell phone, DSS, iPod. In the booth across the way, one mother and her son spent the entire meal in silence, thumbs and fingers furiously pecking at small, electronic keys. They never spoke a word.
Now, I can be a bit of a chatterbox, when I’m not busy being shy, and I love to talk with and listen to the goofiness and imagination of my kids. The idea of spending an entire meal without speaking to them made me more than a little uncomfortable. Sure, there are days when a quiet meal doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Quiet? Yes, please — but not that much, and not that kind.
We homeschool, and one of the ways we stitch the fabric of our days together is through learning, sharing ideas and the process of thinking. At Friendly’s that night, after the girls finished coloring their placements, I tossed them bits of math. Rainbow Girl — who could easily be renamed Math Girl — learned how to multiply exponents in her head. Math was always a struggle for me, but she loves it — LOVES it. It might just be her secret superpower: five to the third, Kazaam!
On dog walks or long car rides, we play Math Adventures. Boo Monkey subtracts mermaids and unicorns in outer space while Rainbow Girl practices exponents on fairy wings and chocolate bars. I make the stories up as I go . . . If mama drank four to the third power cups of coffee in the morning and two to the third power cups in the afternoon, how crazy would she be? Plenty crazy, but it hardly matters. I have princesses and Martians to keep me company. I have family time — our own configuration.
Now, I’m not a Luddite, intent on smashing up technology. I write on a beautiful desktop computer. I adore my Kindle — thousands of books in a purse! And we just got an iPad that I am tempted to marry, but it’s not quite as cute as my husband and it can’t cook or wash dishes. The kids have a host of learning apps on the iPad. They also play Angry Birds and Princess Sticker Dress-Up. Personally, I’m addicted to iPad Solitaire, but I’ve always loved a good lost cause. We don’t watch a lot of television, but that’s just because we’re usually busy doing other things.
Still, given all of that, I can’t imagine spending dinner — or swim lessons or playground time — hooked to wireless instead of my kids. My kids are funnier and brighter and more unpredictable than any digital stream. When I spend too much time in front of a screen my head starts to feel a little like a box. Sure, the box has great reception, but it also has flat and limiting sides. Every box is finite. Every box confines. There is a place for media in my children’s world but, for me, it is never front and center.
That place belongs to learning, to the process of working through ideas. It’s what we like, so it works for us. I guess, in a way, it’s our day-to-day tradition, the ritual that walks us through the flow of time, its unsteady passage. We do school in the mornings. I write in the afternoons. While I write, the girls invent — music, art, blocks, dolls, entire worlds of make-believe. At dinner, we tell our respective tales. It’s a little unruly. It’s never quiet. But it’s a tradition I hope we keep, one that knits our lives together, tighter than a keystroke.
What are your family traditions? How do your feel about the ever-presence of texting/games? Feel free to disagree with me — I’m open to learning something new! 🙂