When I was a little girl, around 5 or 6 years old, which is the same age my son is now, I decided that I wanted to be a dancer. One morning, after watching my Saturday morning cartoons on TV, my mother took me to the dance shop, and we bought a black leotard, pale pink tights and pink ballet slippers. I had long, brown hair, and my mom practiced putting it in a bun in anticipation of my first ballet practice. Usually, I fussed when she tried to put my hair up, but I sat still on the cold toilet seat in our bathroom as she formed my hair into a pile on the top of my head.
We lived very rurally, and it was 1984. Because the cable lines didn't reach that far outside of town, we got one television channel, and only with the help of an antenna. I was only allowed to watch cartoons for 1 hour on those Saturday mornings, and I waited all week to watch my favorite characters spring to life on the screen. I would make blanket forts on the floor and just lay there, while my two older siblings were still asleep upstairs. Usually, after a little while, my brother would wake up and come to join me on the floor of our living room.
On the Saturday morning of my first dance class, I was confused. What about my cartoons? My mom calmly and gently explained to me that dance would take the place of my cartoon watching. Since we only had one television channel, the cartoons would be over by the time I returned home from dance. I remember bursting into tears, and my mom, the advocate of choice (and I have greatly appreciated this quality in her), gave me one of the first choices I can remember: "Kara, you can go to dance class, or you can stay here and watch your cartoons. It's your choice." As a little girl, the cartoons seemed so important, and because of that, I stayed home.
I'm not sure what other solution my mom could have given. Maybe she could have offered a movie at another time during the week or allowed me to watch something else at another time. I'm not sure what the options were, and I don't blame her. She certainly did what she thought was best. She offered me a choice, and I made it. I never did dance, and really, I don't think I ever would have been much of a dancer anyway. But I have always wondered: what could've or would've happened if I didn't have to make the choice? Because my exposure to technology was so limited and restricted, I allowed it to become too important, and it caused me to miss out on a valuable experience.
Because of that memory, I've made certain decisions with regards to electronics and my son. I will allow my son to watch TV. I will allow him to play his iPad. I will not make him choose, and quite honestly, he doesn't have to. With DVRs, Netflix and all the other options we have today, he hardly ever watches "live" TV at all! His realty is different, and I'm happy for it. Of course, he is supervised, and of course, I don't allow him to sit blindly in front of the television all day. But I do encourage his quiet time. Sometimes, that's playing Legos or reading his book. Sometimes, it's lying on the sofa with a snack and a movie. He plays games with his dad on the iPad; he watches "Star Wars" with me. But he takes piano lessons; he plays baseball; he's in Boy Scouts; and he's an avid reader at 6 years old. He rides his bike, plays outside in our yard with his cat, and loves to draw with sidewalk chalk. But technology is here to stay, and it's my choice to be sure that he knows how to balance technology in a healthy way in his life, just like I had to learn to do much later. Of course, he loves to build forts, just like I did, and lately, I've seen his little sister joining him, if only for a second, to watch his favorite show. It reminds me of my childhood, over 30 years ago, snuggled up on the floor with my brother, enjoying my hour of TV.
Kara Lawler is a mother, wife and teacher. She writes about the divide that is mothering our children while also mothering our spirit and the sacred on her blog, Mothering the Divide. Kara writes for the Huffington Post and has been featured on the Today Show's social media sites. She's been published on Scary Mommy, Club Mid, and Mamalode. Come, join her tribe on Facebook.