They were scattered in the living room, motionless, staring blankly at their iPad, smart phone, and TV screens, drool forming at the corners of their mouths.
“What do you want for dinner?” I asked.
Not a peep.
“What do you want for dinner?” I tried again, this time clapping my hands.
The cats ran. The humans? Nada.
“Great! I’ll make fried liver smothered in mushrooms and onions. Excellent choice!”
If you knew my family, you’d know they’d rather endure root canals without novocaine over eating liver. Yet they continued to stare at the pixelated content that had placed them in a trance-like state. They had no idea I was present and asking them an important question. One that meant edible food over the “How could you do this to us?” liver option.
The moment was a wake-up call. Electronic devices had finally taken over my family, and not only was I irritated, I was concerned. Addiction runs strong in our bloodlines and I didn’t want this to become a perpetual cycle. I was worried about their eyes. And their physical health. And what about fresh air and playing outside? The concerns grew as I quickly unplugged the master power cord and the room went dark.
“Hey!” they shouted in unison. Finally.
That following Saturday, I did the unthinkable. I shut off all electronics. They were forewarned, but gravely unprepared.
First came the tears and the tiny bodies rolling on the floor. “Noooo! Please don’t do this!”
Then came the teenage rebellion. The folded arms and the scowl. The “I’ll try to guilt trip you into giving in” tactic mastered by the pubescent.
And then there was the husband. “Well, this, sucks,” he said, itching to check his fantasy baseball scores.
I was pleased. We, as a family, would go the day without the normal suite of electronics that kept our household lit and electrical meter spinning in an infinite loop.
Through the wails and the sighs, I suggested that we go outside or play a board-game or sing campfire songs. Anything to keep our commitment and achieve our goal (well, my goal). At this point, the resentment ran deep and I was shunned by each person in my presence. I was the bad guy that had turned their Apple-infused world into Little House on the Prairie.
Soon, the shock wore off and boredom set in. Boredom became irritability. Irritability became pacing. And then…
“Mom, can we pull out all the stuffed animals and turn the yellow room into a zoo?” My two youngest spent the better part of the morning playing with toys they hadn’t touched in months. For them, it was like finding hidden treasure.
My teen overcame his grumpiness and put his cooking skills to the test. He whipped us up some blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs while my husband and I repainted the bookshelves in the living room. We were all busy, yet still interacting with one another. There was laughing and stories. The sound of voices over the pings and pangs of video games was music to my ears.
The rest of the afternoon everyone did their own thing, without any prompting from me. They relearned how to keep themselves busy without electronic devices preoccupying their time. That evening, we went for a walk as a family, something we hadn’t done in ages. There was no rush to get home. No one worried about missing the start of a TV show or if Guava Juice or some other YouTuber had uploaded a new video.
What really surprised me about our little test was that it carried over to the next day. No one reached for an iPad or turned on the TV as soon as they opened their eyes. The kids resumed playing with their newly-rediscovered toys. My teen put his laundry away and vacuumed his bedroom. And my husband and I sat there in state of disbelief. It was a good disbelief, trust me. We drank coffee and questioned things like, "What is a black hole?" and "Did the chicken come before the egg?" Things we couldn’t do before with the clash of multiple electronic devices waging war in our ears.
Since that one fretful-turned-fantastic Saturday, electronics have been used less in our household. I don’t know if this is by design or default, but it’s been a welcome change. We go entire days without the TV on. We forget about our phones and iPads. We talk more and click less.
And, even though they never heard me, I haven’t had to threaten them with liver ever since.