our evenings used to be filled with the glow of many screens. then, five years ago, we gave away our television. As if that weren’t enough, almost one year ago we quit social media. so much good has come from unplugging in these simple ways, I couldn’t help but sketch out some of my favorites lately. the more time and distance separate us from the glow of a screen in a dark room, the more we feel like prisoners freed from a hostage negotiation.
work hours are for work.
non-work hours are for the family/friends.
we love working from home. I can’t state that enough. sure, we gripe about it now and then but then we get over ourselves, look each other in the eyes, and say, “seriously?! we get to do this for a living!??” In the days of counting instagram followers, Facebook likes, and trying to keep up with our “image” it was really easy for the lines of work and family to get blurry, especially in those evening lulls. These days, when it’s work time, we get down to business. When it’s not work time we are lovers, parents, friends, and family who don’t talk about anything even closely related to the business. On the rare occurrence when it’s time to work overtime to complete a project, we clearly state it to the family as a whole as to not let the lines get blurred again.
that changed our lives.
I love my friends and family. I even love that they love me enough to want to text me at all hours of the night or day. But I don’t always love the immediacy with which we interact on our phones. I am basically an old granny now, but I remember the days of landlines and answering machines. I remember the days of waiting to call someone back until you listened to their message and carved out the time. I remember the days before call waiting! Yes, there were days when this thing called “call waiting” and “caller ID” were new and groundbreaking technologies. I lived dat shit. These days, we know when our friend received our message, read our message, and we know we are going to be pretty hurt if she doesn’t respond to our message with similar urgency.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t focus on anything with care or intentionality when my phone is constantly telling me to pay attention to it. I can’t create new things in a space where my sly and squarely train of thought is bombarded by tiny “dings.” I can’t cook the dinner or give my son my full attention as he tells a story or, or, or .. It’s not you, it’s me. So to fix the problem, we have a basket hanging in the upstairs hallway for our phones and tablets. When we aren’t using them, they go immediately back into the basket and in the basket they stay until we think it’s necessary to use them again. In the evenings, they live there. And because they live there, we have our nights back, to do what we wish with them. I also firmly believe we sleep deeper, and wake with greater purpose because our phones are no longer the last thing we touch as the day ends or the first thing we see as it begins.
ladies and gentlemen, I give you..
a good majority of our evenings are now filled with what our boys affectionately deemed our “reading square.” After the youngest goes to bed, the brothers look at us and say, “mom, dad. can we do reading square tonight?” we all pick our favorite chair in the fireplace room where our four chairs face each other. We bring a book we are enjoying and we read in silence. This time has been known to end in Micah reading aloud to all of us, as we all laugh at some scientific or hilarious story he’s wrapped up in. I love reading square because we all get tired at the end of the day… reading! No glowing screens, no adds or overstimulation. Just the slow, steady flipping of four pages at once, and the winding down a day in thankfulness all together and close.
music . .
the old school way.
the longer we abandon the new school, we can’t help feel the pull to the old way of doing things. gone are the nights of digital noise and non-stop commercials, in are the evenings of the echoing, imperfect scratch of a good record, or the pickin’s of Jeremy on the guitar. Chet baker, ella fitzgerald, sufjan stevens, and andrew bird serenade us on vinyl as we settle into our evening. Jeremy plays old gospel songs and we sing in harmonies as the boys sit in the room listening. Tyler likes to listen with his eyes closed, which makes it feel all the more special.
It sounds like the title to some lewd show after hours. or maybe the name for my memoir? any who .. just because the day is over doesn’t mean it’s too late to make something that brings you joy. I have a habit of pulling out the microns and watercolors in the evenings to sketch, play, and paint my little heart out. Sometimes the brothers join in and we make it a family art night. sometimes it’s just me, a slew of candles, and a wet brush mixing colors. sometimes after a day of working hard to make beautiful things for other people, this is a chance to make something beautiful just for me. When it’s not paining it can also be writing, although I have made a practice in the past year of transitioning that into the “real job” hours of the day. But sometimes I hide away under a blanket and write things that are just for me or the family.
always a hot cuppa.
as silly as it may sound to mention this, it’s a valuable part of our rituals each night. we make hot drinks and we savor them slowly together. The nights used to end with a bit too much wine or beer and not only was this unkind on the waistline, it was unkind on everything else too. when we went “paleo”/obsessive workout people last year we got in the habit of ending our days with mint tea. Nowadays, we still savor the delights of the vine and the grain in moderation but the evenings are typically accompanied by mint tea, cider, homemade hot cocoa, or the occasional hot toddy. It’s amazing how this one small ritual can go with us in our carry ons and give us the comfort of home when we travel together for work.
we end each evening
with a proper goodnight.
we have rituals that we honor every night. We sing secret family songs to each of the boys that no one else will ever hear (probably for the best). The older brothers always put on some type of theatrical scene or pose immediately before falling into bed. Zion loves to have his two songs, a prayer, and his back rubbed in just the exact same way. As for Jeremy and I, we sip our tea and leave only a dim light light on in our bedroom and, well .. read some more. or something like that.
the point being – screens are not involved in the making of our goodnights. They have been safely tucked away in the technology basket for hours and in the basket they shall stay. after all, why would we ruin all of that other good stuff by having screens in the bedroom?
I don’t share these sentiments with you in hopes that you will feel guilty about your own screen usage or the ways you spend your time. I share it because of the joy and connectivity that has graced our home since we started making these seemingly small choices. Even further, the sense of calm and rest that has graced my spirit in the nights when we practice these routines has been so very good. We never set out to be some hipster version of the amish, (although a lot of this did come on the heels of reading a book called “better off” five years ago) we simply wanted to end our days with a greater feeling of contentment and purpose. We don’t do it perfectly but we do it with as much fidelity as we can muster.
These days and nights we take a lot of joy in asking ourselves not “how much technology can our family get away with?” but “how little technology is necessary for us to enjoy our lives and one another?” or in the words of Eric Brende, “what is the least we need to achieve the most?”