MY ELECTRONIC BABYSITTER

Jordan's 11 Birthday-2013 003 (This sign does nothing to keep the kids away)

Every summer I write a post about how much summer bites–when you have kids, that is, and no relatives to pawn them off on. My sanity can handle one month of summer vacation—no homework or projects due, no waking up at 7am. Any longer however, and my inadequacies as a mother become blaringly apparent. I don’t like having day-to-day reminders of what a crappy job I’m doing as a mother. It slowly chips away at my already precarious self-esteem.

I haven’t always been a crappy mother. In fact, I was the greatest mother back when my son was a baby. Too bad he’ll never remember all the things I used to do with him. I had more energy, I wasn’t working, he wasn’t talking—all these factors contributed to a much more harmonious relationship between us. We’d go walking with the stroller or baby carrier, play ball or Hot Wheels. I’d hold him in my arms and dance around the living room to Enrique Iglesias. We’d nap together, eat together. Life was so much simpler.

When it came time for me to go back to work, my son went to day care in the summers. $500 a month x 3 months. Well, Mommy works from home now and doesn’t have $500 a month to spend on daycare, so Mommy bought son an Xbox instead. Yes, an electronic babysitter, because all the single moms have one!

I’m well aware that my son’s brain is atrophying, but I’m at a complete loss for alternatives. Most of the kids I know either visit relatives for a while, or the entire family goes on vacation to break up the monotony that excessive summer leisure can bring. Cancel those out for us. My son’s father didn’t even remember to call him on his birthday a few days ago, and the grandma who lives in the same town flaked on his party due to her booming new business, so you can see where their priorities lie.

If I knew how to entertain children for 8-10 hours, I’d be a preschool teacher, instead of a writer. Most writers just want to be alone with their thoughts. Or their Facebook. And while I can take my son swimming and shopping, and to the occasional movie, it’s Just. Not. Enough to fill an entire summer.

Last night I awoke at 4 in the morning to find my son still playing video games. My head almost exploded in disbelief. I stayed awake for 2 more hours trying to decide punishment. Do I take away the Xbox? But that will punish me. How bad do I want to be punished? How bad do I want a paycheck for the work that needs to be done?

Well-meaning folks are so quick to give advice. “Take away all the games,” they say. I’ve done that before, and guess what happens? Every 15 minutes or so, my son wanders in, claiming he’s bored and doesn’t know what to do. Without looking up from the computer screen, I tell him, “Read a book, play with something, wash my car.” He scoffs at those ideas. Because my son is borderline obsessive-compulsive, he’ll continue to interrupt me for hours until I finally lose my temper, then feel guilty and agree to do something with him, which in the end, results in me not getting any work done. So, unless these well-meaning folks plan on paying my bills, they all need to stfu.

The sad thing is my son’s not doing anything different from what I did at his age. I started flying from New York to California to spend summers with my dad when I was 8. He never had a babysitter for me, so while he was away at work all day, I’d watch TV for hours. If you’re in your 40s, you’ll remember shows like Love American Style, Hogan’s Heroes, Love Boat, Fantasy Island. As I got a little older, those shows were replaced with soap operas. Almost 5 straight hours of ABC soap operas a day. Yes, indeed, I was one of the privileged to witness Luke and Laura’s historic wedding on General Hospital.

I’d like to think all that romance watching contributed to my present vocation as a romance writer, but the jury’s still out on that one. The only positive data I’ve read on video-game playing is that it promotes intrinsic motivation, concentration and cognitive effort, and requires a cumulative effort over time to achieve a goal—which could also be loosely translated to mean my son will grow up with the skills to help him be able to score drugs if he wants them, and be successful at doing whatever it takes to continuously score drugs.

Anyone have any suggestions on how to keep a preteen boy busy in this age of technology?

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Damien
    Jul 24, 2013 @ 00:42:17

    Hm…I know it’s a bit deep into summer, but maybe some sort of day camp? I thoroughly enjoyed day camp as a kid with all kinds of cool outdoor activities, and there should be virtually no technology. I don’t know, is there an outdoor club, hiking club, or something nearby? Maybe do a little research into that, you never know what you might stumble onto.

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 25, 2013 @ 21:44:46

      Ha! When I first mentioned camp to my son, he yelled, “Nooooooo!” Now whether this response is to the newness of it or the thought of being away from his Xbox, I’m not sure.

      Reply

  2. Menopausal Mother
    Jul 24, 2013 @ 05:13:53

    I could relate to EVERYTHING in this post! I hated punishing my son by taking away his video games because it was more of a punishment to me. The only thing I can suggest is that you try to get him to spend more time with his friends. This means you will have to allow them to come over and visit, but it also means you’ll get some quiet time to write as long as the friend’ss parents are willing to reciprocate. It’s worth a shot!

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 25, 2013 @ 21:50:26

      My son is the only one with an Xbox, so they all come over to my house (the ones who live in the complex, that is). Just yesterday, one of the boys who doesn’t come over all that often walked in, went straight to the kitchen, pulled out lemonade from the fridge, searched the kitchen cabinets for snacks, and pretty much helped himself without asking. I was like, “WTF, who are you and what are you doing raiding my kitchen?”

      Reply

  3. Cie
    Jul 24, 2013 @ 07:25:21

    Something that gets him down and dirty with Nature. Real nature, wilderness stuff, where he can touch, observe and really get into the miraculous things that are going on all the time under our noses. Not the organized, structured stuff, like crafts or the zoo, that is removed from what’s natural. It’s the only game more interesting than what he’s doing, because the real-ness of it is more interesting. Worse comes to worse, take him on a hike/picnic/swim in a lake for the day in the mountains. Bring a flower, animal/bird guide to start out learning to observe. He’ll resist, but the power of nature will overcome at some point. Of course that means you’d have to pull yourself away from your computer for a day. A little nature wouldn’t be so bad for you, would it? It might start a lifelong interest in him in some aspect of nature that uses those qualities video games enhance. God forbid, he might even develop a love of nature and want to work with it. That wouldn’t be so bad would it?

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 25, 2013 @ 21:52:38

      He loves nature and doing things like that. But that only takes care of one day in the big scheme of things. Little outings here and there are just not enough stimulation to sustain him for the entire summer!

      Reply

  4. Sam
    Jul 24, 2013 @ 16:46:32

    A couple Playboy magazines should do the trick. This will also keep his friends occupied if they stop by, nothing like glossy newsprint and a young male mind. This might lead to problems in the future but you can always deal with that at some other point.

    Reply

  5. Crazy. Kinda.
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 13:33:56

    I second the day camp option. I know you basically said funds are limited, but some may offer scholarships, or financial aid, or a payment plan. Here we have a YMCA that has a day camp and I know they have some of these plans. What about a church camp? (I know, gag.) But it may be cheaper and he’d learn to not be an a$$hole. =)

    Sounds like he needs to get outside a bit and off that X-box. Easier said than done. He’s likely to view camp as a punishment. I have a 35 year old kid that was just bitching the other day that he’s only turned his X-box on once since our son arrived. I seriously looked at him and said “f%&@ing wah.”

    Does he have friends in the neighborhood? Could he go to their house for a couple hours a day? Put together a “What to do because I’m bored bucket”. Write down ideas, like take a bike ride (if your neightborhood is safe enough), shoot some hoops (if you have a place to do it), write a story, read a book. I’m sure you could come up with some ideas. So maybe instead of bugging you each time he’s bored, he can reach into the bucket and pull something out. (This idea works in my head, but I can completely see how it could be a complete failure.)

    It’s a hard age we live in. Kids don’t know what “outside” is. I’m wondering what technology holds in store for me when my son is your sons age.

    I wish you luck in your endeavor to find entertainment for him!

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 25, 2013 @ 22:01:22

      Lol to your 35-year-old kid! And my condolences. My son’s dad was one, too. Whenever he got a new game, he’d stay up night after night until he passed the damn thing. I have been looking into summer camps at the YMCA, so that’s a distinct possibility. I like your bucket idea. I’ll throw in a few more like, “If you bother Mommy again, run 60 laps around the pool” and “One more bad word outta your mouth and you will need to eat a snail.”

      Reply

  6. Jen Anderson
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 06:50:11

    I’d take a look at the specific Xbox games he’s playing. Read online reviews–maybe those specific games have more merit than you think. There’s a lot of geometry in Angry Birds, and other games where you have to hit something at just the right angle. Then see if you can find some more games that have something educational going for them–there’s probably a few articles online that list a few games.

    And if his friends are coming over, he’s socializing.

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 15:56:12

      I definitely try and steer him away from those awful war games. Am trying to get him more involved with the fantasy quest ones. The socialization aspect is a plus, although sometimes he plays online with a bunch of kids and I wonder if that generation will experience a complete lack of being able to socialize in person. Sort of like how dating is all done through texting now.

      Reply

  7. RisingSong
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 21:16:05

    This summer my kids have been going to the YMCA for the first time…and they love it!! The best piece of information that I heard at the beginning of the summer is that no electronic devices are allowed at the camp (because everybody in my town over the age of 6 months has some kind of hand held device to paly with). It’s just good old fashioned fun and games.

    I know that your son has already expressed his disapproval of this option, but perhaps you can negotiate with him in this manner: “Son, on Mon, Wed and Thurs the Xbox will be off limits. Would you like to spend those three days at home reading, writing, playing outside, overall being a pain the…or would you like to go to the awesome camp at the YMCA with other cool kids like you?” (hopefully he won’t call your bluff).

    Sending him only part time might cost you less, while giving you just enough of a break to make it through the rest of the summer without eating him!

    Good luck, mama 🙂

    Reply

    • Tiffany N. York
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 16:04:38

      “…without eating him!” haha. So many people have good things to say about the YMCA, so I think I may check it out. I have to face the fact that he will say no to everything at first. I mentioned wanting to sign him up for Boy Scouts and he broke out in tears! I couldn’t believe the extremeness of the response. sigh.

      Reply

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