November 16, 2008

Although it’s certainly not the route I’d consciously choose to go, sometimes the best things come from punishments.  Harper Lee, in her infinite wisdom, is on a kick recently that involves ignoring specific instructions if she deems them unworthy of her consideration.  In other words, she has been blatantly disobedient.  She’s not done anything particularly mean-spirited or malicious, but if I say, “OK, get off the bed and let me put the clean sheets on now,” she becomes overwhelmed with a desire to jump around on the mattress “just one more time” before dismounting, or if I say, “Don’t run through the living room yelling,” in the middle of a Pampered Chef party at my best friend’s house, she will most likely, within a two to three minute window, run through the living room again, laughing wildly and barely missing toppling a tray of chocolate covered pretzels and an elderly woman.  And when something bad does happen, she’ll feel genuinely sorry and say so repeatedly.  However, these little episodes of “small infractions” create images of larger issues down the road—things like possibly stepping out in front of a huge UPS truck simply because she didn’t see it coming or think my frantic screams were a good enough reason to take notice.  

That’s why she has spent the past two days with no TV or computer privileges.  My kids, who really don’t use the computer or television much at all, especially compared to recent statistics, still really love to put in some couch time if left to their own devices, and though I’m ashamed to admit it, they have watched a few extra episodes of “Curious George” and “Arthur” when I have papers to grade or deadlines to meet.  The removal of mindless entertainment is a simple punishment, but it works.  Here’s the thing I’ve noticed most often though.  When I do break bad and banish the television for a few days, miraculous things begin to occur.  

This afternoon, for instance, produced not only a kitchen full of Easy-Bake culinary delights and an interesting Pollock-like dry erase creation on the board in the playroom, it also made my children play together.  I know that sounds ridiculous.  Right now, you’re saying, “Well, no kidding, lady,” but this is not always an easy thing to produce in my house.  Unfortunately, despite my greatest aspirations to have two happy little playmates who love and adore one another, what I have is two completely different kids who, on good days, often just tolerate one another, and on all the others, eventually break into all out fights.  However, when there is no “provided” entertainment, creativity and the camaraderie of mutual boredom takes hold, and hilarious storylines and games begin to emerge.  It is as if I’m watching the birth of our own little community in the Libbert house.  Without the outside influence of technology or an adult leader, they are made to depend on one another for their fun.  It occurred to me today, as I watched them take their stuffed dogs on “walks” with various ribbons from my sewing basket that by removing artificial entertainment, I had forced them to interact with one another.  

It was exactly what we had just discussed in our adult Sunday School class earlier this morning.  The title of our actual lesson was “What Would Jesus Drive?,” which my friend Kate found immensely amusing, and I had to agree.  The topic, of course, was how our faith directly ties into environmentalism and ecology and how, as stewards of God’s creation, we need to take steps to reduce our “footprint”.  The conversation at one point turned toward how our lives have so drastically changed over the last several years with the ability to travel across the country and world so easily and the “virtual reality” that many of us have created through the Internet.  One of the guys in our class made the point that with all of our technological advances, we have very little need, at least perceived need, of other people, and because of that we have lost our sense of community.  His point was that we no longer depend on one another because we don’t have to and what a great shame it is to have lost that sense of mutual dependence.  

In removing my children’s access to television and computer, I was forcing them to build their own community, to depend on one another for companionship and play.  I guess my question now is are we going to continue to search for fulfillment from things that aren’t even real or are we going to wake up and recognize the need to rebuild our communities?  Or do we, like children, need to be forced to do without in order to see what’s truly important?