I feel like I need to mention that one of the (very few) positive side effects of being mildly (but not quite destructively) sick for most of January was that it gave me an excuse to sit prone in front of the television most evenings (all in the name of cooperating with the mucous-based intelligence that had taken over 47% of my cranium). As a result, I was able to find the many, many, many hours necessary to finish binge-watching all nine seasons of The Office, front to back, fully and completely, concluding last night with the finale. There is something to be said about enjoying a show over the span of nine years, letting it quietly become part of the background noise of your life, growing and changing with characters and watching their story play out in a believable timeframe. There is also something to be said about watching (about) 75 hours of that same show compressed into the timeframe of about 7 weeks and let those same characters become your only source of passive entertainment, filling your mind, heart, and dreams, and causing you to view the world through their perspective. Whatever can be said about that is probably not very positive, though. Now, can anyone recommend a good detox program(me)?
The Twenty-First Century Child’s Rebellion: Find the most annoying show available on Netflix and then binge-watch it on a Sunday morning while their parents are trying to sleep in.
It would have been obvious to nearly any parent: something was bugging her.
“You look so sad.” I nudged her to chat while she sat slumped in her seat and staring vacantly out the truck window. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you sure?” I prodded. “How was your day?” I had just picked her up from her summer camp, an all-day-care program offered by the same folks that ran her after-school daycare. Participation in this filled her days and meant that she got to spend the summer going to parks and field trips and swimming pools while we worked, all in the company of many of the same kids with whom she spent the rest of the year in more focused curricular activities. Many of the same kids, yes, but some extra staff meant that they took on some new kids as well.
“It was bad.” She said finally. “I had a bad day.” And I could almost hear the tear welling up behind the words.
And then she proceeded to tell me the tale of her dramatic friendships torn asunder by the complexities only understandable by the minds of children: new friends, old friends, bad friends, and blue friends. It seemed that in an effort to be friends there was a disconnect between method and result. Tears did indeed follow, and by the time we arrived home, parked in the garage, and clambered into the house she had found her room, slammed her door, and accused me of both (a) failing to listen and (b) having so many friends that I couldn’t possibly understand.
I let her pout for a few minutes alone, and while I pondered I also thumbed through the remote on the television. An idea had struck me and in my temporary genius I searched YouTube for the term “how to make friends for kids” and scrolled through the results, landing on a curious selection that seemed to be either (a) a spot on parody of a 1950s film reel or (b) actually a 1950s film reel.
“Come watch this.” I called to her room, wagering on its quality before I could preview it.
building integrity, rule 022
some good advice never goes bad: be old fashioned
As much as we try to be modern and sometimes frown down on the advice of the past in fear that can be irrelevant or crosses lines of attitude and opinion that are no longer socially acceptable, there is often still value to be found in the cracks of where antiquity and serendipity collide. The video we happened to watch pointed out some basic yet classic rules of “being a friend” –smiling, saying nice things, and just talking to people (to be specific)– all in that saccharine feel-good, suburban glow of a black-and-white-toned 1950s reel-to-reel film, rescued and posted online. We looked past that, and as fundamental and obvious as the rules it offered may seem, as parent to a kid in the modern world its easy to forget that old fashioned advice is not necessarily so bad or so plain… especially for a seven year old. A few days later I found her “making friends” checklist stuffed under her pillow.
Making friends doesn’t go out of style, it seems, and our great-grandparents generation may have still have a few things to teach us, even if it means hunting through the Internet to find it. Parents still need to find that balance between modern norms and antique insights, but whether it is the advice itself, or just the notion that some good ideas never go out of style, digging up gems from the past can occasionally pay off.
June continues! And onward we push through those thirty posts that I’ve been writing every year this month. For the fifth year in a row I’m back to a month of daily blogging: each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be about something that I am:
Doing… Incentivizing Summer Fun
As it turns out, Claire is (a little bit) addicted to screens. Big ones. Little ones. Glowing ones. Touchable or watchable. Games. Apps. Netflix or YouTube. And it’s starting to go a little too far.
We’ve been trying to fight her on it (like true rational economist parents) by both disincentivizing her use and incentivizing other non-screen activity. Still, the glowing glass demon is a jealous beast: she’s been sneaking time here and there, bending the rules, and facing the consequences with stoic abandon while she holds out for her next hit.
I’m not huge on the punishment option — at least not as a Plan A. In the long run I neither want to (a) demonize the technology with which she will need to eventually nurture a mutually beneficial and hopefully positive relationship nor (b) administratively control access (read: disable or password protect) which would be both a significant inconvenience for us and would do little to build trust and responsible behaviour. It may yet come to that, but not as Plan A.
Instead, I’m doing something more incentives-based this summer: I’m trying my damnest to provide some adventure, experience and creative opportunity. This means that among some of the more standard fun, we’re also….
1) Creating an Adventure Journal
Last week I brought home a thick, bound journal of lined paper of the kind any hipster might use while sitting in the park and writing poems about beards and craft beers. We’re going to use it to record our adventures this summer. Words and pictures. Things glued and taped to the inside. Colours, images, scribbles, and descriptions. It will be a chronicle of our summer and if it works out maybe even a family tradition spanning many more years and building on a lifetime of recording memories and seeking inspiration through adventure. And you can’t have an adventure while watching yet another episode of Full House on Netflix… so: our book becomes an incentive to get outside and do something.
2) Getting Artsy
I inspired her to think about art and the thought that almost instantly popped into her head was painting. I told her that if she really wanted to try something with art that she could pick a couple projects and I’d buy the supplies and create the experience. She chose landscape watercolour painting… though almost not in those words. It was more like: “Dad we need to get a blank sheet and those paints that you need to get wet and go find some beautiful nature to paint.” Yes: pursuing new skills becomes another incentive to go explore our parks.
3) Learning More About Nature
Thanks to the final science topic of the grade two curriculum, we’ve had a sudden uptake in the interest in bugs this spring. She’s been learning about insects and in her inquiries has been made keenly aware that her father not only shares that interest but actually took enough university level entomology courses that I should have probably declared it as a minor. As it turns out, broadening our scope from just bug to all of the local ecosystem, having a dad that is technically qualified to teach high school biology is going to pay dividends for my daughter this summer whether she likes it or not… Another perk: keeping the momentum on her interest in nature may become another incentive, I hope!
4) Stepping Up Her Photography Education
Readers of this blog are likely aware that (along with real bugs) I’m a bit of a shutterbug, too. With kids it’s always a kind of monkey-see-monkey-do, so it’s not surprising that Claire has shown a kind of passive fascination with taking pictures. Well, as it turns out (having bought a new dSLR last summer) I have an extra camera. And it also turns out that while there are a number of opinions on the topic, there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that an alomst-eight-year-old is mature enough to have some supervised lessons with a powerful SLR camera. So, I’m planning some father-daughter photo expeditions and thus: her interst in technology rolls into incentive-land!
Will it work? Time will tell. Patience pending…. I’ll be reporting back over the summer and we’ll see where it all lands: or if we just need to turn off the WiFi after all.
a mash-up of mental (health) & crime
Disclosure. I’m neither a doctor nor do I have much actual experience dealing with mental illness in real life. In some ways that might mean I’m the wrong person to be writing an essay on the topic. In another way, it might just make me the right one to shine an amature perspective on notion that our perceptions of the same have been negatively shaped by modern media, specifically TV.
First let me just note that I consider myself a storyteller. I write and compose what could loosely be defined as literature. As a storyteller, I find myself prying apart the elements of stories when I encounter them, deconstructing plots in books, unraveling the nuances of film, or poking through the mesh of narrative in a television show. Thus, when I state my claim that I’ve observed a scale of diminishing complexity in stories, with the lowest, least complex of them usually lingering in the company of sitcoms and television dramas, my anecdotal evidence at the very least has a vague reference to back it up.
I doubt anyone would disagree. Of course there are those rare exceptions, the nuanced stories that emerge from the most modern of fare, based off of novels mostly, that twist and turn with a little more nuance. But to suggest that perhaps television writing is, well… simple… is not exactly a stretch.
a mash-up of television & cooperation
A number of years ago we were one of those families who helped decide what television shows lived or died. Sure, it was just one little vote in a vast sea opinions. But each night we’d plug our little electronic monitors into their phone-terminals and they would transmit our day’s watching habits back to the ratings mother-ship to be added to the collection of metrics.
We stopped participating because it was a hassle. Yet, it occurs to me again that not only would my participation in such an ongoing data gathering exercise be virtually worthless, but also that the time we spend watching our screens today is gathering that exact data (and likely so much more) without the need to wear a little electronic gadget on my belt.
It has probably occurred to nearly everyone who subscribes to streaming media services (such as Netflix) that someone or something cares about what we watch. My role in this process is little more than that of a consumer –or perhaps, a data point– yet I think it would be naive to assume that the metrics that I leave in my wake from what I watch, when I watch, and the exact point when I stop watching whatever it was I was watching, that these data are ignored by the corporation serving me that content.
Dad, my life is so busy, I barely have time to watch TV.
I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up comedy on Netflix.
So last night: Netflix + #HIMYMfinale … I actually like how it ended. #controversial?
Claire’s recent interest in reality television has meant that I’ve been a nice dad and recorded (and with her, watched) a small variety of cooking shows, lately. She seems to like the extreme-theme competition shows, like where they bake themed cakes, or concoct crazy ice creams. The latest has left me craving a doughnut, something I’ve been nearly unanimously resisting for the summer. “Donut Showdown” –sponsored by Tim Hortons, of course– has been haunting our television for the last few days, Claire sitting and with pen-in-hand making notes and artwork… for future reference, I suppose. It just makes me hungry.
The sound of canned laughter on the tv show I’m also watching.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (13/100) …watching Red Dwarf for no particularly good reason. #BecauseRedDwarf