Wired

I noticed something very disturbing this morning. The kids were sitting in front of the TV.

Mesmerized.

Then I heard the same annoying episode of whatever they were watching. They DVR’d their favorite show and were watching it. Again.

I didn’t care what show it was. I didn’t care that they were on break from school. I did care about the fact that they couldn’t hear me unless I turned off the TV or unless someone PAUSED the show.

PAUSING THE SHOW? That is insane!

Brace yourself, here comes an old-timer rant.

Back in the 70s we didn’t have cable. It was a waste of money, according to my Filipino immigrant parents, so I like many of the neighborhood kids had to wait until Saturday morning cartoons.

Saturday morning cartoons. Just that phrase gives me the chills. The number of boxes of cereal I ate in front of the TV. Snorks. Thundercats. Gobots. Voltron. Rainbow Brite. Jem was truly truly truly outrageous.

Don’t even get me started on the Smurfs. Gargamel was a crazy bastard, let me tell you. Talking to that ratty old red cat named Israel and hunting blue creatures only three apples tall. Why did he hunt them anyway? Did he want to smoke their mushroom houses? Was he jealous of their socialist society?

And then Zack Morris and AC Slater and Kids Incorporated came along and I felt OLD because I wanted to watch LIVE TV with cute boys who were as hot as… duh, Kirk Cameron! That was the real birth of the tween age right there. Screw Hanny Montanny.

There was a collective groan in the air when our cartoons were preempted for sports. That was the worst. I was like, “What?! Why would I want to watch jocks play baseball or basketball?”

Of course, that thinking would change as I got older. Of course.

My kids have so many channels, so many TV shows, so many to choose from. We have movies on DVD. We haven’t even gotten to the electronica!

My point is… Where does it all end? When do we say no? Do we ever say no? Is this the new norm?

Surely, it mustn’t be. I have friends who don’t have cable. I have friends who never take their kids to eat at fast food joints for whatever reasons. I have friends who restrict their kids’ consumption of sugar and soda as in none at all. I even have a cousin who downsized her Blackberry to strictly texts and phone calls.

On the other end where most people are, every kid has a TV in their room. Every kid has their own cell phone, designer shoes, the latest video game as in bought “brand-new” not two months later “used” at Game Stop. Every kid has an organized activity every day of the week. Soccer, baseball, basketball, catechism, bible school, playdates, piano lessons, no time to breathe. No time. Period.

No, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Some of those apply to me and while you and your family may be content with your situation, I am not content with mine.

With the closing of Borders, we have picked up some board games and puzzles at a great price. The kids have been warned NOT to open any nor PLAY with any unless under my supervision. Sounds terrible, right? I just don’t want toys to get lost, tossed, broken, or missing. I want them to treat their things with care, not because they should identify with these things or define themselves with stuff but because they cost money, we need to treat them with care, and then pass them on to charity when we have played our last game.

They haven’t noticed but for the last five nights in a row, they only watched TV one of those nights. One night. They rented movies that night and wanted to make sure they got to watch them.

The rest of the nights we read. We put puzzles together. We drew in our journals. M played four Christmas carols on the piano that he learned by himself. He’s only got the melody down but it tells me that he’s learning to read music and he’s doing it on his own. One night M taught his sisters to make brownies. The only thing I did was take the brownies out of the oven. And taste test of course.

Last weekend we went to the museum because admission was free. The kids saw Monets, Indonesian headdresses, creepy head sculptures, and everything in between. We took the dogs for a walk to the park and played there for a while. We’ve packed ourselves sandwiches and brought them to the pool for a picnic several times. We’ve met with other families to just hang out. No organized sports. No planned activities at playdates. Just doing. Just being.

That is what I want. TV and the rest of the electronica has its time and place but I don’t want it to be every time, every place.

I’m preparing my children for what’s ahead. Cancelling the DVR services. Downgrading cable to basic, if any. I actually approached the topic a month ago and they were about to cry. M said, “I will give you my cell phone if we don’t get rid of our cable!” A said, “Why?” as if it were a necessity. It was a wake-up call for me that cancelling our cable package was the worst possible thing they could imagine happening to our household.

I can’t tell you the number of baby, infant, and toddler gadgets that were invented since our son was born ten years ago. There were several times after the birth of each daughter where my husband and I would see a commercial for a new toy or concept and our eyes would glaze over, thinking “Oooh! We need that!” Then one of us would come to our senses and say, “Look, if our grandparents didn’t need it, we don’t need it either!”

So join us in our journey. Or not and watch the trainwreck whining screaming adventure unfold.

Day 5: Face-bucks and a sad goodbye

I ended my week-long hiatus of Facebook and Starbucks… at the same time. I had coffee with my daughter L and two moms from the kids’ gymnastics studio while the older two were at gymnastics. I’m sure the moms laughed at the glazed look in my eyes, sipping frappuccino while updating my status. I was giddy…

And a bit bummed. After being without those two time-and-money wasters for a week, I thought I’d feel renewed and energized from using both. AT THE SAME TIME.

Then I realized that I didn’t miss Face-bucks exactly. I like the way they make me feel. Connecting to friends I haven’t seen or talked to in years, even if it’s a quick hello. Reading about funny, silly, or even sad experiences. Staying up-to-date on a friend’s health. The resignation of admitting that a break is needed and treated with caffeine.

So thank you, Face-bucks. We had a great run together all of these years and while I’m not breaking up with you forever, let’s be friends with benefits. How about a weekly rendez-vous? No more, no less. Face-bucks Fridays, it is.

Another goodbye I said today was without humor.

Walking into any bookstore brings me so much joy. I love being surrounded by the written word, the smell of expresso wafting in the air. My teacher ego is satisfied with wandering people in search of entertainment and learning through books and magazines.

But today was different. Today L and I walked into Borders.

Though we have only lived in this city for three years, my family and I were frequent visitors to Borders. We got to know the staff quite well, including one barista who made the best goddamned mocha in the world and shared pictures of her growing newborn son. One of the employees even recognized my husband with whom she went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey twelve years ago!

We walked into the store this morning and everything was different. While no one was rude, it just didn’t feel the same. I hung my head in sadness like everyone in the store.

I know there are those who feel, like in that Tom Hanks movie “You’ve Got Mail”, that these giant superstores like Borders are shutting down independent bookstores just as book series like Goosebumps or the Babysitters Club are detrimental to children. But people need to start where they feel comfortable. Borders, giant superstores, Babysitters Club… they grow readers who will shop anywhere and everywhere for a good book.

I never felt like our Borders was a chain bookstore. On the contrary, it couldn’t feel more personal. Many employees knew me by name, asked how my husband was doing, and when I showed up without my little ducklings in tow, they smiled and told me to enjoy my time alone.

And that’s how I felt in there today. Alone.

I held L’s hand just as I did every time we went to the preschool storytime and stood in the building where I spent so many hours getting lost in a mocha and a book. Where M found the first in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and voraciously read each one in forty-eight hours or less, begging to go to Borders to get the next one. Where A practiced being in school, listening and following my directions, learned to sit quietly for storytime, and found new friends. Where L packed her huge backpack that was bigger than her each week so she could carry her snack of string cheese. Where my husband and I would spend part of our alone time, looking for new authors and books that our friends were reading.

Where our family of readers and thousands of other families have been nurtured for years.

There you have it: the beginning of Face-bucks Fridays and the sad ending of our time at Borders.

NOT dedicated to the new owners of Borders who chose to liquidate everything. May you get an itchy rash that is only curable by finding jobs for all Borders employees and filling Borders-less communities with huge library grants.