Saturday, April 16, 2011

Five Days in 1978.

It really wasn’t her problem, it was mine.

It was more about me than it was her.

If only she could look at things from my perspective, I thought; if only she could observe the facts through my eyes, just for a little while.

And that’s when I got the idea.

My sixteen-year-old daughter, by most accounts, is a typical adolescent female. She values her friends far more highly than a great parking spot; she embraces technology with a far greater aptitude than being able to program a VCR.

To wit, her modus operandi is to engage in as many forms of simultaneous technology as are possible. During her evening homework, her workstation resembles an intensive care unit: Ear buds plugged into an iPod, cell phone placed on the desk at three o’clock for easy access, the trademark blue glow of Facebook reflecting off of her freshly washed forehead.

Oh, yeah. She’s also got some school books and papers scattered about.

After wrapping up the academics and disengaging from the homework ritual, my teenager often retreats to the family room for some television/ texting time, the cell phone accompanying her like an emphysema patient’s oxygen tank.

As weeks of witnessing this behavior turned into months, my wife and I had discovered that entire evenings would pass where nary a word was spoken between either of us and our woman child. We, the adults of the house and exchequers of the home entertainment and technology accounts, resolved to make a stand.

Our daughters (the other is eleven) quickly dubbed it “Amish Hour,” an electronics-free sixty minutes every weeknight from seven to eight. Although not mandated, three of the four of us would often congregate in the living room during this period. As a bonus, our younger child would frequently linger with my wife and me, while the elder fled to Cyberland at the stroke of eight.

The family dynamic improved, but not enough to make a dent in our teen’s surly attitude of entitlement, her irritation obvious whenever confronted with an actual conversation by her sister or anyone over forty-seven.

And that’s when I took it a step farther.

I thought up the idea while in a high level of discomfort aboard the elliptical trainer. It must have been some sort of pain-induced moment of clarity, and I couldn’t wait to get home to propose it that Monday morning.

I heard the shower running as I entered the house. Perfect. For whatever reason, she was always most attentive in the shower or the car.

I opened the door to the steamy bathroom and addressed the sealed shower curtain through the haze.

“Hey, Zoe, how’s it going?”

“Hi, Dad.” She answered in monotone that would put Ringo to shame.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea, and I just wanted to see what you thought of it.”

No response.

“How would you feel about, for five days, using only the technology available to me when I was sixteen? So that would mean no cell phones, digital music, computers…that kind of thing.”

“What’s in it for me?”

I knew this was coming. Since I wanted her to enter this agreement without undue influence or duress, I felt compelled to sweeten the pot.

“Fifty bucks.”

“Do I have to do this all the time or just at home?”

“Just at home. It’s nice to for us to have access to your cell phone when you’re not here.”

“Make it sixty and you’ve got a deal.”

My wife stood in silence. I could tell she wasn’t happy about the money, but if I got the kid to buy off on this, who knew how much things could permanently improve in five days?

“Okay, sixty. And we start now. This also means no ear buds; you can use our big headphones, since we had those in 1978. Oh, and you can watch TV, but only channels 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13. And you can’t use the remote. You have to get up to change the station, like I had to.”

“Oh, come on. That’s ridiculous.”

“That really is ridiculous,” was my wife’s first comment.

“Okay, fine. You can use the remote, but if you use the phone, it has to be the one with the cord by the bathroom. No cordless.”

“Whatever.” I took that as a yes. “Dad, you should do it, too. You’re constantly on Facebook and doing your blog. You’re just as addicted as I am.”

My wife glanced over, giving me that rare “Your child is correct” look.


And just like that, for half the family, Amish Hour had turned into Seventies Week.

I returned home from work that first day to the din of hip hop music from the living room stereo. She sat at the kitchen table, her school books spread around her.

“Hi, Zoe. How’s the experiment going for you?”

“Good. When I got home, since I couldn’t get on the computer, I just turned on the radio and danced in front of the mirror. You know, what else was I gonna do?”

I could think of a few things, and none would be that.

“Good for you. I see you’re already doing your homework.”

“Actually, I’m a day ahead. This is tomorrow’s homework.”


This seems to be working just fine, I thought. We’ve already exchanged more words than we would in two days, and I just got here. Plus, it’s not that bad for her. At least clothing isn’t part of the 1978 agreement. I could just hear myself saying, “Young lady, you are not leaving this house until you turn around and put on something far tighter than that.”

We reminisce, we discuss the future. We talk about boys and friends and boyfriends.

I think we've reconnected, if only a little. I'm hopeful that, although this moratorium expires on Saturday, she and I can find a little time between her texting and Facebooking, between driving around with her sparkly new driver’s license and pursuing her active social schedule, to chat...about anything...or nothing at all.

It's a small chunk of time we discovered in 1978.

No comments :

Post a Comment