Monday, March 1, 2010

A shell, a cup, a shoe

My youngest daughter is 18 months old. She walks around the house tapping on a coaster, pretending it's an iPhone. She holds a shell, a cup, a shoe to her ear. 'Hi!' she says, 'yes, yes, yes, bye!'. My not-quite-four year old places a book face down on the table. 'This is my laptop,' she says, and taps away on the cover. She draws little circles on sheets of paper, and types on those too.

My six year old watched my husband closely, figured out his passwords, and now uses the iPhone whenever she can find it. She has, on occasion, quietly shut the study door, booted the computer and found her favourite website, hoping I won't notice her absence for a little while.

I worry about my children growing up in a world of bells and whistles and zippy little gadgets. I worry that they won't play and instead will rely on electronic toys for entertainment. I worry that they will forget how to be quiet, and how to drop into that perfect space where they are unaware of anything in the world except the story they are telling themselves as they move small twigs around. I worry that they will be infected by acquisitiveness, always wanting the latest this or that, always wanting more. We're already fielding requests for video games and Wii and all the other things owned by kids at school.

Perhaps one of the attractions of travelling is that it gets us out of the house, out of the city, and well away from most gadgets. Last week, we were visiting friends in rural Maine. Our house overlooked the vast Passagassawakeag River; the yard sloped down to the river bank. On a typical morning, we'd watch the tide ebb. As the shore became exposed, the gulls drifted in. They floated down, carried mussels up into the sky, dropped them onto the rocks, then swooped back to pick out the flesh. As more land appeared, my girls climbed down the wooden steps at the end of the garden and collected pretty stones and shells. They arranged them in patterns on the damp driftwood for us to admire; choice specimens were brought inside.

Around the river bend we found a lobster pot, washed up in a tangle of ropes and netting; we found a faded oar. We clambered on rocks, and in an act of glorious giggling destruction, smashed up slabs of ice the size of coffee tables beached by the receding tide. My girls sucked on the shards. The shore was covered with loose shale, and the flakes of stone were perfect for skipping across the water – and the more rounded rocks made a satisfying splash.

All very simple, all utterly glorious. There's something about wind and water and rocks and seaweed and the infinitely changing landscape that keeps us endlessly entertained. Life feels so simple when travelling. We have five people and three bags, and want for nothing. Our entertainment is the world outside; or, when it's wet, a few pens, a bit of paper, a book. But next week we go home, back to the phone and the telly and the desktop, back to work, school, kinder, volunteer jobs, back to crazy traffic and crowded lives. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

But last week, I saw a loon glide past, surprisingly low in the water. A seagull bathed, arching as it splashed. As I watched, I congratulated myself that my kids are still absorbed by the simple things: rivers and rocks, waves, seaweed and gulls. Snow to throw, ice to slide on, puddles to jump, rocks to climb – such joy! Here, I think, we don't need the iPod, the laptop, the telly, the DVD player. Here, the world is enough.

Smugly satisfied, I wandered inside. Framed by the picture windows, the mighty river flowed, the snow lay in drifts in the yard, the shore beckoned. I found my not-quite-four year old curled into a corner of the couch. She started, looking guilty. 'I have a screen,' she said with a big embarrassed smile, 'I stole it from dad when he wasn't looking.' I glanced down. She was playing on the iPhone.


  1. I absolutely love this post. I feel the same way about traveling. I used to live in New Hampshire. My favorite way to spend a weekend in summer was to drive up the main coast. Those were some of the best memories of my life. Your beautifully written post brought that all back. Thank you.

  2. My kids are all grown but I often wonder what it would have been like to navigate through all the technology that is at their fingertips today. Probably one of the best things I did as a mother was read to them every night from the time my oldest was 10 months old until she was 16. I think it must take a lot of on purpose decisions nowadays. Not that it didn't then. It did. But I feel for you because I really do think it is a trickier path to navigate now.
    The thing to have been worried about though, really was if your daughter hadn't looked guilty that she took the iphone. That would be of greater concern in the whole scope of things. That she did says something really good about your parenting.

  3. Navigating the gadgets is certainly constant. It's too hard to give up our adult tools / toys: my laptop, the iPhone; they are so useful, and enable much more family time especially for my husband - but then they can be so distracting.

    By the way, a friend just gave us some cookies she found shaped like mobile phones. My kids 'chatted' on them for ages before eating them. Hilarious.


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