Being Here Now

  • Print

one Dad discusses the small victories of being a Parent.


Sneaking one last peek at the iPhone before school lets out

 

My cousin Anne recently posted as her Facebook update a line she’d just heard: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Impressed as she was with her friend’s cleverness, I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was from The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai. Nor did I point out that, while it might have been true back in 1984 when the movie was released, it certainly wasn’t anymore. Today, of course, we’ve got all kinds of alternatives to being where we are. So many screens, so little time—a glowing alternate reality of digital media and communication is always just a twitch away (all the better to read all those articles lately about how Internet addiction, multitasking, and device dependency are destroying our minds and our families, unless they’re actually making them better).

I’m not terribly concerned about my own brain at this point—after seven years and counting of in-the-trenches early parenthood, how much can anyone expect to focus anyway? But the lessons our kids learn from us aren’t always the ones we’re hoping to teach them, and a nagging awareness of the example I’m setting has me trying to work up the strength of character to stop using the iPhone in front of the kids.

As a freelancer, I do need to be available, or at least responsive, at any given time, and the ability to hop on email at Five Guys or the Audubon Center allows me to spend more time away from the office with the kids. But who am I kidding? If there was nothing new ten minutes ago, I hardly need to check now, much less poke around Facebook while I’m there. And yet, at any given idle moment—early to the pick-up, sitting on a bench at the playground, wallflowering at a birthday party—out comes the iPhone like a pack of the world’s most expensive cigarettes. Anything but remain within a moment of such stillness.

As a child, I was a pro at idleness. I had to be—with academics for parents, I passed endless hours in faculty lounges, libraries with no kid’s sections, living rooms buzzing with political theory or theology and not a TV in sight. More often than not, my dad would be buttonholed in his office by a student just in time to leave me stranded at school long after my last classmate was gone. This being another time, another place, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be left in the car at the mall during short errands that always seemed to run long. Needless to say, I would have given anything for the kind of resources today’s kids take for granted—a DS, a smartphone, even a Didj.

And now I’ve got it. Steve Jobs has put miracles in my pocket beyond my wildest childhood imaginings, all ready to be tapped at a moment’s notice. No more hours of forced contemplation—hell, two minutes is plenty of time for a dive into the mobile Web! But (here it comes)—Think of the Children! What kind of message does it send when I’m constantly checking out to log on? Take your pick:

At much as I enjoy spending time with you guys, my mind’s not really in it right now.”

 

“Pay attention, kids: Whatever you do, don’t ever let yourself endure a moment of boredom or—heaven forbid—daydreaming.”

 

“Sure, the meadow’s nice, but the trees, ponds, and kites can’t possibly compete with this little screen I keep looking at!”

It goes both ways. How would I feel if they kept disappearing into digital media any time they encountered a momentary pause in the action, rather than risk boredom? (Psyched about the alternative to whining, admittedly—but also sad and dismayed, I think). Perhaps I can somehow insulate them from the always-on onslaught of short-attention-span content and compulsive sharing that can make it so hard just to be and nothing more.

But maybe I’m kidding myself again. These kids were born in the 21st Century, not the Johnson Administration. Technology will be central to everything from their social lives to their education to their work. It makes no more sense to try to raise them in some simulacrum of my childhood world than it would have for my father to recreate the fishing hole (and hard Depression conditions) of 1930s Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. Especially when I no longer live in that world, myself—working alone for clients based everywhere but here, I spend my days in virtual space: the disembodied chatter of conference calls, the interleaved email threads, the social network that serves as my water cooler. It’s all the harder to hold back the tide when you’re already engulfed in it.

So where does this all leave me? At the moment, writing on a laptop at the kitchen table and giving monosyllabic answers to the kids’ endless questions. And still striving, and falling short as usual, to set a good example for the kids—to show them that it’s possible to live mindfully, in the present moment, even while accepting the prominent role of technology in our lives and embracing the good things it makes possible (a freelance career that accommodates a childcare-intensive schedule, digital media bridging the many miles to their remote grandparents, even the chance to reconnect with “there-you-are” cousin Anne, whom I hadn’t seen in more than 25 years). I may not manage to instill as much Zen in these guys as I’d like, but each time I stop my hand midway to my pocket counts as a small victory. And parenting is all about the small victories.

Dan Janzen