A part of it—a big part—is who we spent the time with. A wonderful, close friend and then someone I recently reconnected with: O, I’ll call her. She’s this awesome, strong, tattooed, sweet woman, with a husband who’s all wry humor and carefully-bestowed eye-contact. We ran into them at our CSA a couple years ago, our kids are in preschool together and, it turns out, we played soccer on the same team when we were youngsters—miles away and decades ago. And now, our children are pals, at the same school.
There was a sort of ecstasy in the kids’ playtime tonight. A starry-skyed, firelit, costume-clad joy, fueled by late bedtimes and ghost stories in an unfamiliar backyard. There were lightning bugs and mosquitoes and a swingset and parents happy just to watch and stand around barely talking—not needing to talk—while the kids entertained themselves. I remember those parents, when I was a kid—unhurried, unworried.
My folks really were just there for the ride, whereas I? Oh, man, today, I’m worried about making memories for my babies.
Why? I keep asking myself. Why were my parents so laissez-faire and yet I’m convinced I’m bound for failure?
It's so different today, I think. That must be it.
I remember using a computer for the first time. Logo, they called the program back then. It is the least important of my memories. I remember when MTV aired ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,’ and you know what? That made no difference in my life. What did make a difference, at the time? Fireflies in jars, holes punched in the lids. Running free with neighbors, kids I barely knew whose faces take up more bandwidth in my memory than entire presidential terms. Trailing sparks and hot dogs and the oddly pleasant smell of DEET. None of my fondest recollections involve smartphones or apps or movies geared towards kids. The books we read were on paper that was rippable, the stories never-ending, imagination the magic ingredient.
What strikes me the hardest is how badly I want my kids to have what I had. I see parents all around me, doling out screen time like popcorn and all I want is for things to stay special—as special as they were for me. Not the magic of technology, but the magic of real life, which feels rare today—precious.
So, for now, and as long as I can make it last, here is what I vow to my kids (no matter how much they may hate me for it in the short term):
I’ll keep you from the screen, though it’s so damned hard. I’ll point you to the page and to real-world adventures. I’ll give you memories as strong and as real and as lasting as mine. And, all the while, I’ll pretend I don’t notice when you’re having a blast—I’ll be nonchalant and laissez-faire and lazy. It won't be easy, but I’ll stand by and watch and pretend I’m not there while you’re making your life’s best memories.