We were packed into the car on our way to a long awaited holiday at Mt. Tremblant. It was my turn to drive and at about the halfway point, I was struck by the peacefulness in the car. In fact, it had been forty-five minutes since anyone had uttered a word. Something was wrong with this picture.
I glanced around. To my right, my husband was deeply engaged in a chess game on the iPad. In the back seat, pixie girl had her headphones on and was listening to music. Lazy boy had his noise canceling headphones on, while simultaneously texting his girlfriend, and my eight-year-old, Dirvish, was being entertained by Nemo on the portable DVD player. I should have been happy with the scenario – my moment to reflect and relax - but I was too busy wondering how five people confined together in this small space could be so quiet. I contemplated this strange feeling I was experiencing and realized it was loneliness.
I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid and the long car rides I spent in the backseat with my sister. True, there were arguments over whose hand was across the imaginary line on the seat and hours of “Are we there yet?” but I was also flooded with memories of car games, silly songs, imaginary games, stories, and endless conversations. When we used our imaginations, the backseat was transformed into whatever we wanted it to be.
After pondering this for another few miles, I decided to suggest that we all unplug. I gave my family a few minutes warning. Despite the initial protest and the discussion of what one could actually do on a road trip without electronic devices, the rest of the trip consisted of crazy camp songs, a license plate game, I spy, and hours of laughter and ridiculous stories.
While electronics are nice—necessary even on a long car ride with little ones—it’s important not to rely on them too heavily. If we do, we miss moments. We miss memories.
On one of our pit stops, unbeknownst to all of us, my husband had stepped into a toy store and purchased five Nerf launchers. When we arrived at our hotel, instead of the kids plugging in or watching a movie, we enjoyed a two hour Nerf battle. Diving under couches, hiding behind chairs, reloading our Nerf balls - we enjoyed our real-life video game. It was hilarious! And, long after we had stopped playing, we continued to talk about how fun it was.
After a long day of skiing, I sat down in my comfy chair, ready to relax and wind down, only to be hit in the forehead by a Nerf ball launched from across the room. From my head, it bounced into my tea. I was reminded that life is indeed about balance and that sometimes electronics do have their place!
Coming home from an early power walk, I can almost taste the cool, fragrant air of relaxation as the spring break, well, springs upon me.
Wait. That fragrant air I mentioned? It actually smells a little bit funky, sort of like old pizza crusts crossed with mouldy gym socks. Like a good hound, I follow my nose, up some stairs, through the hall and into the kitchen where I discover the foul lingering odour plus a variety of open jars and containers that ought to be refrigerated. I continue to the family room where I am faced with a tableau of such multi-sensory repugnance that I shudder in my slippers. There, on my newish, classically modern, modernly classic, sofa, lounges a dirty, stinky, super-sized spud shovelling potato chips into its maw as if eating its young in some perverse potato ritual.
No, this is not a scene from “Scream 77,” it’s my teenage son, Lazyboy, living up to his nickname on the weekend before our nine-day siesta.
At the onset of a vacation, some people, especially adults, take a while to wind down from their daily routines. But, Lazyboy, behaves as if he has been practising his relaxed routine for months now. The potato comparison is apt. My son appears to have been recently pulled from the ground, the dirt clinging to his feet and inside his fingernails, the ground around him littered with his personal mulch: granola bar wrappers, empty milk cartons and a plate so calcified with egg yolk and ketchup, it will probably take one of us two hours to get it off—guess who that will be? I feel compelled to drag him into the shower, over to the washing machine and back up to the kitchen sink, but instead I stoically smile and wish him a good morning. “Everything good, Lazyboy?” I say.
“Yep it’s all good, Mom.” He smiles.
When Lazyboy first embarked on his adolescent journey of slothfulness and general disregard for the environment he shares with his family, I went slightly nuts. Even while on a break, there was no reason to lounge around the house all day doing absolutely nothing of value. There were drawers to first find and then clean out, yards to tidy up, larger clothes and shoes to shop for and younger siblings to entertain. One morning, after my husband had taken our other two kids out for the day, I became so incensed that I decided to give Lazyboy a taste of his own medicine.
“Mom,” said my son, bursting in to my bedroom in the late morning. “We’re out of milk and there’s only one egg.”
I was sitting on my chaise-lounge reading. Calmly, I looked up and smiled, “That’s unfortunate, Lazyboy,” I said. “Maybe you want to walk to the store and buy some.”
“But, don’t you usually go shopping in the morning?” he asked with a quaver. “How come you’re still in your pyjamas, Mom? Are you sick?”
“I feel terrific,” I said, stretching. “I’ve simply decided to try being a couch potato for the day—like you.”
Lazyboy furrowed his unkempt brow. “You? The Type A Queen?”
“Yep,” I said.
“Cool.” He smiled. “You chill. I’ll have Lucky Charms with chocolate milk.”
He left before I could protest and when I came downstairs, I found my son, splayed on the sofa, munching his breakfast and watching cartoons. After making myself a bowl of yoghurt and fruit, I returned to the family room and asked Lazyboy to shove over. He did so, happily, and we happily spent the morning watching Bugs Bunny out-manoeuvre his various nemeses. After a couple of hours, Lazyboy grabbed a deck of cards and we played “Crazy Eights” and “Texas Hold’em”. After a couple more, we ordered pizza. As the day progressed, I began to realize that I felt as delicious as the gooey cheese crust I had eaten for lunch. There was a good reason to lounge around the house all day. There was plenty of value in vegetation. Both my son and I were letting go of our regular stressors, resting our minds and souls.
As hard as it is to accept a messy, somewhat unclean teenager laying around your home this break, make a commitment to try, and make a promise to join him. Often, kids have the right idea and they are definitely more plugged in than we are to exactly what they need. Hanging out with your teenager also allows you to get close again and maybe engage in some baby play like tickling. Even adolescents sometimes need to be loved like they are little, precious children. And releasing one’s inner spud allows us all to reconnect with the very roots of our foundations.
Enjoy your holidays. Enjoy your kids.