Screen time? Okay.

©careerusinterruptus

I was never going to be a parent who fretted about screen time. After a decade working in various university Media Studies departments, I was pretty jaded about the dire warnings regularly dripping into the public domain.

For a start, media consumption has always worried someone. In the 1700s, novels were supposed to inflame the senses; newspapers fed ‘lurid tastes’; movies would terrify gullible people; Batman made boys gay; rock’n’roll was lewd; my generation’s brains were ‘rotted’ by television. Et cetera.

Such fears help powerful groups justify controlling access to media: authorities (doctors, aristocrats, teachers, parents) are forever condemning some dreadful text adored by weak-minded ‘subordinates’ (workers, women, POC, children) and calling for restrictions.

And children are the worst. For 200 years, adults have painted them as our opposites in every way: Vulnerable, tasteless, irresponsible, parents were morally obliged to protect them by controlling – well, everything, because whatever they like is harmful. Especially screens. Doctors said so.

Trouble is, screen-effects studies often mistake correlation for causation, and they medicalise social issues. Consider, for instance, a finding that kids who spend more than X hours a day on their screens do less homework, have fewer friends, are more overweight, and are more depressed. Do the kids struggle because they watch ‘too much’ (or play too many computer games, or listen to death metal) or, do they watch/play/listen because they’re already struggling in our deeply flawed school and social systems? Like other ‘addictions’, the vice itself is never the whole problem; simply taking it away won’t solve anything.

Meanwhile, media studies researchers who actually interviewed kids, found that far from mindlessly absorbing the messages drilled into their putty-like brains, children were discerning viewers, critiquing characters, stories, production values, and themes. Some screen consumption facilitates social interaction; some improves spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination; studies of older youth and adult fans show gloriously creative communities.

With all that under my belt, articles like this made perfect sense, because rather than controlling access, Baranoski created connections pulling the childrens’ interest into other realms. When I read about radical unschoolers allowing their young son unlimited screen time – which he gorged for three months before moving on – I thought, yes. Enplace basic safety precautions, talk talk talk about content, but let them figure it out themselves. So many of us rebel, the minute we can, against parental controls, and it can take years (and damage) to find our own balance. If I could spare my kids that detour, I would.

I did not decide, ‘no limits’ from the off, you understand.

I had my fears, like all parents, about doing The Right Thing. I know we all need to move, our bodies need sunlight, and that screens’ restricted worlds don’t really teach us how to deal with hot, crowded, loud, smelly, reality.

But for many years, my and my son’s shitty health (on top of our particularly hot, humid, and buggy environment, and a lack of close friends) meant we were frequently not up for all that.

But as our screen time expanded, whenever I felt “OMIGOD WE’RE DESTROYING THEIR BRAINS”, my professional background called for calm observation.

And sure enough, I could see that my kids’ engagements vary widely – just like mine. Sometimes we’re learning from content; sometimes we’re learning from activity – and what we learn might be content, or it might be how to follow instructions, correct, plan, and persevere, yea, even through failure and boredom. Sometimes – gasp – it’s boring, and we switch off voluntarily! Sometimes we are creating. Sometimes they’re in the middle of something, and ‘screen time’ doesn’t end when we planned. (Sometimes I’m in the middle of something, and they’re on my case.) Sometimes the screen is a background to other activities. Sometimes screen time is social time. Sometimes we’re vegging out, recovering from outings or meltdowns, waiting for bedtime. Sometimes it’s all that in the one day. Sometimes it’s a refuge; simply knowing that it’s there for later, helps us keep calm and carry on. Dropping that battle means we’re all more relaxed about the other ones.

I know some families for whom the opposite is true: their battles begin and end with screen control (hint: it isn’t always the kids’ problem). I absolutely respect their choices: control here isn’t for the sake of it, it’s about wiring, and recognising their own needs and abilities.

And that, I think, is the crux of it. Every family is different. Wiring, health, mental health, and circumstances (not to mention socio-economic factors) vary so widely – not just within and between families, but also over time – that blanket guidelines need to be taken with a giant pinch of salt. So often, the issue is not what and how much is watched/played, it’s about what else is going on: is the space outside the screen – home, school, outdoors – safe and welcoming, where the kids’ interests and needs are met, valued, and managed in a way that works for them? Because if it isn’t, the environment’s hostile push compounds the screen’s beguiling pull, and that battle’s lost.

Oh, my wordy lordy, it’s been hard to write this post without turning it into another phd. Both the question of screens’ impact, and the question of management are really complicated. But they are unnecessarily complicated by discourses that foster parents’ fears and the urge to control. Reality is more nuanced than that. Children are more nuanced than that. Give them – and yourself – credit. We are all doing the best we can where we are.

There. Soapbox stowed. Enjoy your weekend.

As this is a blog post, I’ve left off the references a scholarly paper would require. If something I’ve said tweaks your interest, do ask. I’ll try to unpack the ideas or see if I can retrieve a reference from the hard drive for you. R.

Back on track

Remember a couple weeks ago, when I accidentally created a new project for myself? Well it’s done, and it’s AWESOME, and best of all, it’s WORKING.

My brain, you see, swings dramatically between complete inability to find two neurons to knock together, or firing like the Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve. Some days I have so many ideas, I’m almost paralysed; other days I’m paralysed by having no idea.

While writing that other post, I realised I have two problems with lists: one is overwhelm – all those tasks with their little expectant faces, and a limited window of time/energy/weather – how do you choose? The other problem was keeping track of the lists themselves. Ruined, lost, buried, left behind, scribbled-over, forgotten. And that was just yesterday.

Then there’s the issue of detail. Say the dishwasher needs fixing. Put that on your list. Now find an appliance repair company, preferably this side of town, without a $150 callout fee. Three calls. Two don’t do dishwashers, one’s busy so you leave a message. He calls back while you’re cooking. Eventually you connect, make the appointment. That must go in the calendar – but your phone’s died, so write it down and hope you remember to transcribe it later. At 8:30pm you’ve made five calls, the job’s still staring at you, and you can’t do squat about it, now. But wait, there’s more! When Dishwasher Repair Dude finally arrives, the machine won’t make the grindy noise. But, two visits later (all the foregoing, again, twice over) DWR Dude has identified the problem and leaves, promising to send a quote. When you get that (and hallelujah we can afford it) he has to order the part …

For me, a process like that constitutes approximately 12,496 opportunities to forget where we’re at, to lose the list or the phone number, or to forget to put it in the calendar. As it happened, this time, although I didn’t actually forget, I still managed to let 24 days slide by while waiting for DWR dude to call to say the ordered part had arrived. And that’s just the immediate, today stuff – imagine amorphous long-term projects like trying to write, edit, and sell a novel, or figure out keeping the chooks off the grass. Where and how do you put those on the list? And where is the list, anyway? Someone’s yelling at me because apparently we’re out of ketchup.

My friend Jen calls it, “Adult-Onset Child-Induced ADHD”. I developed it in my 40s and I’m at the point where there is literally not one single habit I can rely on. Let that sink in for a second. Not. One. Habit. (We can talk about the grief of losing one of a central pillar of my identity, another time.)

Yes, I know there are literally millions of memory aids, tips and tricks, but the catch is – after you research and find what works for you, you have to be able to remember where you put them *and*, to use them. And even then, sometimes you’re just so frelling tired, so overwhelmed and fed up, so up to your eyeballs in mini house-fires and tornadoes, that you just don’t give a rat’s, even if you could find the damn bit of paper.

Enter, my new, beautiful, to-do book.

It’s an old gift from my sister, an A5(ish) notebook from what used to be Wyly Art Center (in Colorado, USA). It was hand-made by stitching little booklets into a rubber-flooring cover (cooooool! durable!), so it naturally divided into ‘subjects’. The pages are completely blank – no times or dates, which is fine since I never know what day it is, anyway. All I had to do, was divide my life into domains.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to play around with that – and to create the art. I don’t do a lot of art, but I should because it’s profoundly therapeutic. Besides the flow of creativity (and the freedom of allowing myself off-leash), the visual tickle of colour and texture produces a deep, cortical ecstasy that is better than meditation. Looking at it brings joy, every single time. That’s gotta help, when you’re trying to remember to send the audiologist’s report to the insurer, right?

Now I can flick through and find a job that fits. Sun shining? Look in Out, find something to do in the garden. Raining? Look In, or do some Admin. Got an arthritis care plan from the GP? Put the recommended rheumatologist, hand clinic, and anti-inflammatory in Vita – and make a note to check emails for the scan and X-ray referrals. Got some time online? CareerusInterruptus isn’t just about writing, you know – there are things to read, menus to tweak, connections to make. Word reminds me of each step. But if it’s 8:30pm and the kids are happy, maybe go Create, because there are places I want to go with that, too – and I don’t have to be distracted by a reminder that I still have to call DWR Dude. Making stuff is just as important.

It’s big enough that it’s hard to lose; it’s durable enough to survive living in my bag. I’ve been writing in it using glitter gel pens because why not? But it doesn’t matter; I can write (or draw) in it with any old thing, any old time, and the info’s there whether my phone is dead, pressed against my ear, or it’s post-screen o’clock. I love it.

And now I’m going Out into the garden, so I can cross some things off after yesterday’s rain.

The analysis-paralysis is a PITA post

©careerusinterruptus

On Friday night, I thought the contents of the fridge seemed a tad…warm. On Saturday morning – yeah. No cold coming out of the fridge, and no heat coming from the back of it. Bugger. And oh, HELP. Because there is nothing – nothing – on God’s green earth that kicks a giftie’s brain into stupid roaring overdrive, than a problem that needs solving.

And if that problem comes gift-wrapped in the need for urgent solving, because, say, you’ve got a couple hundred dollars’ worth of groceries in there and it’s 28 degrees out here – ahhh. Lookit those purty headlights. Gee, they’re coming fast. So. Purty… Head lights… Fast… Coming… Purty…

When I tell the Skeptic, who is blessed with a normal brain, he asks, “So, we’re buying a new fridge?”

I don’t know. How should I know? I’m in the grip of a massive, irrational, existential over-think. Welcome to Analysis Paralysis!

Maybe I’m imagining it. I turn up the dial. When I check again, the fridge seems a little colder. Maybe? Maybe not.

I NEED DATA. I put the thermometer in the fridge and issue an embargo on cold things. An hour later, I realise I didn’t get a baseline, so I check. Fuck. It’s 21 degrees in there. And an hour later, no, it isn’t going down. Maybe we do need a new fridge.

This fridge has already been limping for about a year. When the drinks tray broke off, Electrolux wanted nearly half what we originally paid, to replace the whole top door. And they’d only supply it with a matching bottom door (“because otherwise the finishes mightn’t match”), which is a) idiotic (because children, FFS, the finishes haven’t matched since five minutes after we bought it, when sticky handprints spontaneously covered the entire lower half), b) outrageously wasteful (I don’t NEED both doors) and c) ethically reprehensible, because making me pay for something I don’t want, and adding unnecessarily to landfill. Or am I supposed to keep the extra door lying around, just in case it comes in handy when hell freezes over?

My heart rate’s quickening, and that’s just recalling an old problem that we already resolved by, uh, yeah. Failing to make a decision. Drinks live on the fridge floor, in front of the crispers, and my god that’s tedious –

But a new fridge! That could cost up to two grand. I wasn’t planning to spend two grand this week. And it’s only eight years old.

Maybe it’s the seal. I check. It’s not the seal.

So maybe we should get a new fridge.

Oh, no, OH, NO. That means —

WHICH FRIDGE?

Because gods forbid, I should (whisper it) get the WRONG FRIDGE, and blight our lives through catastrophically-ill-informed decision-making for the next eight years!

Yoga breathing, I get online, searching for the excellent website that helped me buy this fridge. Gee, it was useful. So, naturally, it’s gone. I try Canstar, Choice (curse you and your locked reports, Choice, I NEED INFORMATION), and AppliancesOnline. All I want is the most efficient fridge that will fit in the stupid fridge niche.

What’s this? Canstar give its most efficient fridge 5.5 stars, while AppliancesOnline gives the same fridge 4.5 – and neither says which energy-efficiency rating system they’re using. Fuckers. I’ve a mind to write to them and – no, concentrate. We’re buying a fridge, here, not fixing websites.

Oh. Here’s one. Height and width are perfect, 4.5 stars energy efficiency, wow. But … how is it 75l bigger than our current fridge? Oh yeah, D. (You know, V=HxWxD?) D means it will stick out of the niche by … with some comedy ‘help’ from the kids, I pull the old fridge forwards … yeah, no. We can’t have a fridge sticking out that far.

Huh… Choice says that fridge care involves cleaning the coils annually. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. (And now I’ve discovered something I’ve not been Doing Right, and ohmigod this is NOT the time to hyperventilate over that.) Maybe cleaning will fix it. That’d save a LOT of grief. So…

Nope. Even with my comedy helpers, we can’t get the fridge all the way out of its stupid niche – and now I smell like a cart-horse. Noice.

Maybe we should just call a fridge-repair dude. Although, COVID-19. Maybe he could trouble-shoot over the phone. Probably not. It’s a Saturday.

Maybe I should wait til the Skeptic comes home – he’s working 7-day weeks (gee it’s hard to ignore COVID-19) – and see if we can move and clean it together.

Although, the fridge IS eight years old. And if cleaning it doesn’t work, I’ll have lost 24hrs getting a new one. Plus, the tray thing.

Maybe we should just buy a new one.

Three. There are three choices, when I put in all the dimensions. And we will lose over 100l of storage space on all of them. I can’t lose 100l. It’s a stupid hot climate and my kids eat like bears, I need my 100l! (First-world tantrum, much? Yes. I know. Shh.)

Maybe we could rip out the built-in over-fridge cupboard and have a taller fridge, would that give me my 100l back? I’ve been thinking about that project for years. Maybe this is the time.

Although, how would we remove the cupboard’s bottom, anyway? The Skeptic is not blessed with handyman skills and I can’t call a handyman, because COVID-19.

Hello? Hello, Rebecca? IT’S 21 DEGREES IN THE FRIDGE, YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR THE BACTERIA REPRODUCING. JUST BUY A NEW FUCKING FRIDGE THAT FITS IN THE FUCKING NICHE ALREADY, OKAY.

Right. It’s what people do. It’s okay to buy a new fridge when I need one.

Do I need one, though? Millions of people in Africa –

RE-BEC-CA.

A table! A table will give me some clarity. I will make a table comparing the three fridges that suit, then choose the right one that way.

Now, imagine that between getting on with my usual job of feeding the bears and keeping them occupied, visiting Mum and this circus in my head, an entire day and night have passed, only I didn’t sleep because

  1. parts of my brain were still doing that dance, plus
  2. is a German fridge shipped to Australia really sustainable? Possibly yes, since six years ago the washing-machine technician said he was constantly repairing stuff made here, and never repairing stuff made overseas – I wonder if there’s a website that can clarify? Also,
  3. what happens to the old fridge. Landfill? Or is this my chance to set up a free library? Would the Skeptic be happy with me putting a fridge full of books in the front yard? Possibly not. and
  4. the freezer’s still working. Why is the freezer working when the fridge is not? Maybe I should call a repair dude, after all.
  5. I wonder if our insurance covers the loss of food when the fridge dies; I could call them and ask, although
  6. I still haven’t answered the bloody question and might as well admit,
  7. a teensy idiotic part of my brain is hoping someone else, perhaps the Great Refrigerator Fairy, will have solved it by the time I get up.

Now imagine it’s lunchtime, Sunday, and I’ve made no further progress, not even compiling that table, because I was writing this and my head would’ve literally exploded if I didn’t let some of the words out, and now I’m hungry.

It looks like over-thinking, right? I guess it kinda is. I don’t like that term, though, because that sounds like something I do, when this is just what it’s like in here. All the thoughts. All at once. All the time. (To be completely honest, even this doesn’t fully represent the zinging four-dimensional web that is this issue, packed in alongside similar webs for all the other issues, simultaneously zinging.) I don’t “do” anything, except try to squash it down so that I can do things. It’s just wiring. (Webs… wiring… nice, unplanned metaphor, there.)

When I was younger, trying to move through the webs gave me terrible anxiety; now I’ve learned pretty well how to breathe through it. Those skills wobble when anxiety rears its head, so I’ve learned – no, wait. Not going down that rabbit-hole, either.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to buy a fridge.

Stupid gifted.

One

©careerusinterruptus

Hoo boy, you know it’s Interesting Times when you don’t know what to write. Where to start? Where in the mid-cyclone wreckage of March 2020 to even begin?

On the one hand: COVID-19. Jesus. You don’t want to hear any more about that. I sure as hell don’t.

On the other hand: #theKindnessPandemic. #teddybearhunt. Adopt A Healthcare Worker. Brilliant stuff, all of it. Genuinely giving of hope that there may be a chance humanity isn’t as fucked as I tend to think it is. Look at us, reaching out. Look at us, giving. Helping. Jacinda freaking-god-love-her Ardern. It’s out there, people. It’s our job to breathe life into it, and people are stepping up.

©careerusinterruptus

On the one hand: staying at home. This one actually doesn’t suck, for a bona-fide, card-carrying introvert. Except…

On the one hand: being quarantined with 2e kids, one of whom thinks this is the perfect opportunity to prove he can live on Minecraft alone, while the other one is extremely extroverted and rocking a serious nosophobia.

On the other hand: Operation Ouch, Horrible Histories, Steve Backshall, Mark Rober. Look how the latter have stepped up, bless them. Darlings. Our viewing cup runneth over. Online libraries, concerts, audiobooks being made available for free. Extra plugs for Hardball and Mustangs F.C. You know your kids’ viewing is brilliant when the household adults are keen to watch, too. Thank all the stars above for the ABC. Science and the arts – the finest endeavours humanity has ever produced – are keeping everyone alive and afloat, right now. Pray they all recognise and remember that. No, stuff prayer. REMIND THEM.

Hardball. Image Source

On the one hand: trying to care for 84yo deaf, demented mum, who still lives alone, whilst maintaining social distancing. She can’t hear if you’re a llama away, no matter how you bellow. Bellowing is no way to communicate, anyway. And she needs hugs, dammit.

On the other hand: my wonderful sister, connecting Mum to the internet, lending her an iPad, showing her FaceTime with the grandkids. My kids putting chooks on their heads for her amusement. (The chooks, tolerating this and not pooping in the house!)

© careerusinterruptus

On the one hand: the ramifications of the global economic recession that surely will follow. This one… god. This one is going to be hard.

On the other hand: the forced slowdown, the unprecedented technological connections (see above), the immediate evidence of environmental improvement, the slow seeping public awareness that we can be – no, we must be – a society, rather than an economy. Citizens rather than consumers. The chance, as a society, to rethink our entire value system. To recognise this for the test-run that it is. To cast aside any leadership that sees us solely in terms of our economics in favour of one that sees us first and foremost as humans. To remember what it is we actually, truly, need, and be content.

©careerusinterruptus

I’m not as angry, right now, as I was at the start of the year. (Although, bloody hell, if you talk to me about how our government is handling this…!) I’m still scared; only a heartless fool isn’t. Every afternoon, about 4pm, I’m flooded by a horrid visceral dread and the need to go lie down, hide, cry.

But this is not more than it was before, it’s just more acute. More obtrusive, more in-your-face, more, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, but – and this is really fucking important – it is no different to where we were before. We’re in dress rehearsal for the real shit that’s coming and so far, we’re doing okay. You’re doing okay. Go. Use your strength, your intelligence and your creativity, and practice kindness like your life depends on it.

One love, one blood

One life, you got to do what you should

One life, with each other

Sisters, Brothers

One life but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other

– U2, One