I can’t believe I actually look forward to it, but first let me explain the beauty of one night a week…
It’s just one night! Gone are the days of unrealistic expectations. I am not a conspiracy theorist and I am also not anti-technology. I didn’t come here to shame or judge anybody for using it. I use it every day, I love it, and my kid has an ipad and a switch. We have about 7 computers. We have an XBOX and a PS5 in our house. My husband and I both work from home in tech/IT jobs that literally keep us alive, fed and sheltered. If you appreciate entertainment and technology and convenience, you’re safe here, I promise. That’s why one night a week is so great. It’s a perfectly doable goal. It’s not too much- it’s just one night, and it’s not nothing either. It’s not an empty promise of “we should really role model reading in front of the kids…” loosely tossed out in conversation never to be seen or heard about again. It’s hard enough that it’s challenging and requires commitment and changes in our behavior, but it’s not so hard that our weekend is ruined, or that nobody can get in touch with us.
We chose Wednesday nights because they are 1. not on the weekend and 2. not on Thursdays when new She-Hulk episodes come out or 3. on Tuesdays when my husbands’ regularly scheduled running club hangs out.
When it comes to screens, especially my phone, I am very glad that if there’s an emergency, help is within reach and I am reachable. I am very glad that information is accessible. I am thrilled to pieces that I never have to get lost again trying to find a nearby dry cleaner, and I am delighted to be more in touch with what friends and family are doing across the country. As somebody who has lived in 4 different states, without social media and the internet, I would have a very hard time keeping up with lifelong meaningful friendships that really mean the world to me. I also highly appreciate the ability to plan events, book trips, work from home, and the list goes on.
However! I think most people would agree that we could spend less time on our phones, tablets, tv, gaming consoles, whatever. I especially understand how addicted to my phone I am, and now that I work from home and sit in front of 3-4 screens all day long… this feels even more true. The problems associated with excess screen time for me, are disconnection-related. Screens are addictive and easy and they have a tendency to get in the way of what most of us really need, which is time to sit with our feelings, be present in our relationships, think our uncomfortable thoughts, use our imaginations, get bored, and use our creativity. Screens are often a convenient excuse not to engage in healthy behaviors like cooking a beautiful meal, going for a walk, talking to your family, reading, journaling, sleeping, the list goes on…
But they’re also really great when you don’t have the bandwidth for that, and you just want to relax for a little while. One night is the answer!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard. I reflexively look for and physically reach for my phone all the time, even when it’s not there, because we have put them on the charger in the back of the house for no-screens night! I frequently want to check something or look something up and I can’t and it gets frustrating and I have to sit with that discomfort, but I am learning not to hate that. I pay attention to it and it is a wake up call that we are doing the right thing by taking a break. We need to simply not know things sometimes. We need to learn patience and how to wait. We need to not immediately gratify every impulse.
But here’s what I love about it: It kick starts us doing things we ignore. The first night we did it, my family played one of my daughter’s favorite games and my husband and I finished a 500 piece puzzle together.
That puzzle had been sitting on the shelf for about a year and that game had been hidden away in the closet even longer. We used to play it all the time and it’s still sitting out because we haven’t stopped playing with it since we brought it down. The role modeling worked and my daughter finally opened the puzzle I gave her for her seventh birthday, back in february, a few days later. Another big goal of spending time doing these ignored activities is re-discovering a love for reading that I miss.
One of my favorite things to read is a magazine. Before I got pregnant, I used to sit in the Barnes & Noble cafe with a stack of them and spend a whole evening after work reading articles in BUST or New York Magazine, looking at fashion in Vogue and Marie Claire, dreaming of where I’d travel, how I’d decorate my home, finding recipes in Bon Appetit and finding out what movies and shows were coming out in Entertainment Weekly.
For the last few months I’ve been getting Vogue in the mail and not reading it. I have no idea where I got the subscription but I suspect it was some sort of free offer I got when I was planning my wedding and buying tons of stuff for it last spring or maybe a fundraising thing for my kid’s school. I get so excited when it comes in the mail and then it sits on the coffee table and looks nice and I forget about it or am wholly too preoccupied with my phone to flip through more than the first few pages. Since no-screen night started, I have read the September Issue and last week, I finished the October.
I also finished a book for the first time in a year. It was Ali Wong’s memoir Dear Girls, a collection of essay style letters she wrote to her daughters about her life, upbringing, relationships, culture, family, career and experiences with pregnancy and motherhood. It is one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. I really related to her on a lot of her experience being a mom and also an outspoken loud woman. I also really enjoyed reading about her experience as an Asian-American woman. My own daughter is half-Filipino American, and as a white woman, I know there is simply a limit to how much I can understand what my daughter’s experience will be as an Asian American girl growing up with a white family. I try my best to celebrate her culture, and be as conscious as I can that I have a responsibility to protect her and empower her, and keep her connected to her culture, but it’s so helpful to read and learn from Asian-Americans what their feelings and experiences have been in their lives and careers.
My husband is reading books and flipping through cookbooks for old beloved and new fresh recipes. We make sure to sit at the table and share dinner. We do that anyway sometimes, but we’re also guilty of parking it in front of the TV on the regular.
Last week my husband and I took a walk and really talked to each other, not just about our household schedule and to-do list, but about ideas.
I started a book about Mister Rogers called, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s an easy quick read and I got through a third of it in an hour. It features the article that inspired the movie about Mister Rogers starring Tom Hanks, which is one of the best contemporary pieces of writing I think I’ve ever read, and the rest of the book is quotations and songs that Fred Rogers wrote in and out of the voice of Mister Rogers that are so profound and stimulating to me, I was in tears.
When I woke up the next morning I told my husband about a story from the book where Mister Rogers visited Koko the Gorilla and took off his shoes. My husband looked up the video and we were both tickled and charmed watching the story unfold in front of our eyes.
I went to Spotify and listened to a playlist of songs from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and was filled with joy and nostalgia and shared it with my daughter on her iPad. Fred Rogers was not just a tv star, he was a composer and a student of child psychology. He wanted to use television to give something meaningful to children.
It was just one night, and the next morning we returned to our screens with all the beautiful things they can do, heads full of ideas and positivity, connecting us, and bringing us happiness and curiosity because of one night without them. That’s what I love the most, we aren’t just enjoying no-screens night, and reading and thinking and feeling and talking to each other more on that one night. It bleeds into all the other nights. I probably could have finished a book over a few weeks of reading one night a week, but I didn’t. I finished it because I took the one night to get it started and read more on screen time nights as well, and it didn’t require me to get a flip phone or throw my iphone in the river or miss out on She-Hulk.
It was just now that I realized where Mister Rogers made such a profound impact on children, and the world, and me… a screen.