Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vacationing Unplugged

Summer is winding down and the vacations we took fill my mind. If you know me well, you know that I live from vacation to vacation! So now I have a bit of a wait until December. Luckily I’m breaking up that long stretch with an October trip to Chicago and ND for a football game!

Vacationing unplugged is a common topic these days as adults try (some more successfully than others) to extract themselves from their work for a week and as parents try to pull their kids’ noses out of electronics to enjoy their precious free time unplugged.

Minus the tent and duffel bags on top. And the dirt.
I have a favorite childhood memory of a trip my family took out West when I was eleven. Let me tell you, round trip travel from Cleveland to the Grand Canyon -- 2 parents, 4 girls, a 6-man tent -- is a journey of many miles and memories. And now, as a parent, I have profound admiration for the challenge my parents embraced by taking that trip - bottle of Scotch, and all. I think when we joined forces with my uncle and his family in Boulder, there must have been a definite “there’s no turning back now” moment.

My sisters and I laugh about the memory of my dad calling very deliberately from the driver’s seat of our blue Chevy Impala station wagon: “Put down the Nancy Drew books and look at the wheat fields” (periodically substituted with hay bales/river crossing/hawk flying/mountains ahead/etc.). My parallel life finds me directing my boys with, “Put down the iPods and iPad and look at the horses.” Vineyards/valley below/cows grazing/etc. It is hard to find the balance when games and social media have become so engrained in our daily lives. Oh, to have to get a child’s nose out of a book!

I am not yet so connected with smart phones (still don’t have one!) and internet that I can’t disconnect. I love disconnecting – except when my email account gets hacked while I’m on vacation and I have to use my son’s iPad and a pizza parlor Wi-Fi to execute some damage control.

The constant connectivity is addictive, to the point where our disconnected environment (a.k.a., the world around us) sits at a distance from our physical lives. I have what may be classified as an over-zealous connection with nature and, when given the choice, I choose nature 100% of the time over electronics and social media. But I don’t think that is the way our culture is headed. I’m certainly not sure that is the way my children are headed. The New Yorker Magazine had a humorous cover earlier this summer of a family posing for a picture at a scenic overlook -- each person had a different electronic device in full use for the portrait. We are sometimes so eager to get a picture of what we are doing or seeing posted on Facebook that we miss the moment of awe or pleasure that our surroundings are offering.

I will be the first to admit and itemize the benefits of electronics and kids in a car (non-driving kids, that is) (have I mentioned that we drive round trip, Boston-Cleveland, twice a year?)! Or at the end of a long (but wonderful, nature-filled) day at the beach where I just want a beer and a crossword puzzle on the deck, in peace. And I don’t have the answer to finding the balance. But my kids know that when on vacation, there is still allocated “screen-time” and no one should assume that down-time means screen-time. 
Growing up, the big nemesis in my house was the television. So we were raised in a complete void of daytime TV and exclusively on the evening news, NOVA, Jeopardy, Little House on the Prairie, Wild Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Disney, The Waltons and The Justice League. Period. Compared to our peers, we were TV-illiterate. But somehow we all managed to learn the lyrics to Green Acres and Gilligan’s Island for the school bus rides. And as I reached babysitting age, I expanded my Friday and Saturday night viewing repertoire substantially. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! As a parent today, the nemesis is the internet, social media and games/apps. I can only control the allocation of time for a few more years. They will do what they want when they are on their own! I just hope that by then I will have instilled within them, amidst all of the techno-clutter, some value in observing and participating in the world around them.

My day is easily made when one of my boys in the back of the van says, “Hey Mom, look how many birds are on that wire!” He was looking up! And I didn’t ask him to!

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