I love my backyard. The grass, I know, is getting too tall, and the one shade tree is shedding bark that it will never grow again because it's slowly dying of some viral or fungal infection. Yet, the grass is green and the tree is too, mostly. There is a healthy pomegranate in its pot and a few other hardy plants in the border, and between the branches of the African Sumac tree, the sun rises each morning as we sit outside a little after 6 am.
In the desert that is when you want to be outside - very early morning. By 7:30 or 8 am I gather up my paper and the remnants of my breakfast from the patio table, call my children, and retreat inside. Shortly after, I close the blinds and curtains against the heat to save on the air conditioning bill. But until then, I enjoy the newspaper, real paper in my hands, spread out before me at my white patio table. I eat homemade bread and tea or toast with cocoa, dipping the golden wheat bread into the milky brown of the hot drink that I have, fair weather or foul. My children steal some toast and dip it too long in the communal cocoa, and then they run off to play, shedding shoes in defiance of the army ants when I'm not looking.
This most honored summer morning ritual has been marred this year, however, by my intelligent eldest son who sits and sulks in one of the patio chairs at my side. Worse than the silent sulking, he eventually launches a speech about how there's nothing to do outside, his sisters won't play the games he wants, and he should just be allowed to go inside and play video games (at 7 in the morning) while his siblings get their exercise.
I tried suggesting things he could play, even offering to pitch him some baseballs. I tried telling him to kick a soccer ball with his little brother, run from fence end to fence end. I even hinted that he could just sit and read a book. My suggestions were all discarded, and he wore me down with pleas for video games and whines about our backyard until, sadly, I let him go inside to turn on the TV to amuse himself nearly every morning.
Last summer was different. I played energetic games with my kids, took them for bike rides out front, and pitched balls to them in the yard. This year, I had outpatient surgery and couldn't do any of that. I still enjoyed going outside with them; I just couldn't participate in the games. My three youngest barely missed my involvement, but my eldest found an excuse for boredom in my sedentary preoccupation with the newspaper.
Eventually, it was going to come to a head, because I believe in nature, in the health-giving, calming...well, nature of it. Technology, on the other hand, is getting on my nerves more and more, eating up people's time and money and robbing them of real interaction with their fellow human beings, God and Mother Nature. (Ironic that I have a blog.)
Of course, there are people like me in every age. Technology is evil! It'll ruin our lives, take over our existence. Destroy the health and minds of our children! It should be no shock that we are still around. After all we spend a good deal of time outside; we're a healthy stock.
A few mornings ago the storm came. My daughters chose to do a puzzle instead of begging for TV upon their arrival indoors, and when I told my impatient son he should come help them, he came only to pester everyone to hurry up so they could watch something. My tirade came like water rushing through sand bags, and it flooded the plain of discontent with fearsome force. It blindsided my son.
It went something like this: If you are already so addicted to technology (ie video games, television) at nine, just imagine how you'll be when you can have your own smartphone or iPad someday or whatever crazy device is invented in the future that can read your mind and suck your energy! There are people who can't look up at those talking to them because they have to stare at their phones. Do you know how many older people I've heard complain that their niece or grandson won't even look them in the eye during a conversation because they're texting? It's rude. Parents ignore their kids or let them play on their phones when they're barely three-years-old! People don't just interact anymore. If they hear their friend make a joke, they say, "haha...that's great! Let me post it on Facebook." They go to dinner or a movie or have a thought, and they have to update their status. They can't go camping without their cellphones. They don't go outside and enjoy nature because it stretches their technological umbilical cord too far! They can't even sit quietly in a dark room and talk to God without the light from their phone providing its addictive glow! And they watch TV while playing games on their phones - ridiculous!
I looped back through those critical indictments about three more times with subtle variations. My son got more and more upset, but you must believe that I proceeded because I'm worried. I want my boy to enjoy exercise, find joy in fresh air, actually speak face-to-face with family and friends, be thrilled by new scenery - and not the new scenery in his friend's Facebook pictures from that beach vacation or some weird simulation that takes you on a walking tour through the French countryside without ever leaving your armchair. Real natural scenery. Smartphones are not Man's best friend despite what people may have bought. Trees are. And blue skies, clear water, rolling hills, grassy fields, the scent of fresh flowers or hay, animals.....and people.
My son retorted that I should yell at him after he starts doing all those things I categorically condemned. I protested that by then it would be too late; he would be an adult and stuck in his ways. I told him I am worried for him. I believe in the Green Hour. I believe in and dearly love my son and want him to be healthy in body, mind and spirit. There is no app for that.
Since that conversation a couple weeks ago when I high-dived off the deep end, my eldest boy has been playing outside in the mornings - playing tennis and tag with his siblings and trying to catch lizards on the fence before asking for TV and video games at a more reasonable hour. Yesterday, he critiqued and condemned his sisters' carefully gathered bouquet of cicada skins and ran in the long grass despite the biting ants and played with his little brother.
Looking back, I realize perhaps I went overboard with my deluge of obsessive worry, but I will do a great deal to get my son outside, make him look around, entice him to run and play like a child, and convince him that his own thoughts and reflections in a quiet room are more enlightening than a flashlight app.
And I say to you whom I may have offended, to you who adore and anticipate every technological advance, that I do realize it is all about balance and order. Technology is not evil.
But nature is prettier.