The week we all unplugged

We are guilty of using too much technology in our house.  We adults check our social media, email and texts too often, our tween is busy texting, playing video games with his friends or listening to music with his headphones on and our younger two kids like to watch other people play video games, watch vlogs of people pranking each other and other mindless stuff.

I admit that I am too lenient about letting the kids use technology because it gives me a break from parenting and allows me to do other things, whether it’s necessary but not fun things like cleaning the house or having some time doing what I want to do.  Because parenting is great but it’s hard. And exhausting. And I’ve been doing it for over 12 years. So sometimes we just need a break. I’m not going to say that I am wallowing in guilt about it because I am doing my best to get by and technology is one way I cope.  

All that said, it was amazing recently when we went on spring break and decided that we would all unplug during the vacation.  We were going on one of those “bucket list” trips that we have always wanted to go to (Turks & Caicos in the Caribbean) and we didn’t want to waste our time and money by doing what we would do at home.  The trip there was long from the West Coast and we had to spend the night ½ half way.

My wife and I each had to do some work on the plane there so we both had our computers but we didn’t bring any technology for the kids and we had our son leave his cell phone at home.  I had put that I was “out of the country” on my work email and voicemail to emphasize that I really was not going to check in and not just pretending to be on vacation but actually checking my work email and voicemail occasionally like most of us do.

One thing I did in anticipation of the trip was to load up on books.  I love the public library- I don’t think I could survive without one- and I checked out at ~15 books for me and the 3 kids.  A bit of overkill but I knew I’d read ~3 and didn’t want the kids to run out of books either. I had so many books that I had to repack one of the checked suitcases in both directions because the books were putting us over the weight limit.  I personally think that if it’s books that put us over the weight limit, life is not so bad.

We did let the kids watch movies on the long flights but when we arrived at our destination, all technology went off.  I was so used to carrying my phone, that is also my camera, that I came back from the trip with very few pictures because I didn’t have my phone on me like usual.  I spent less time recording life that week and more time enjoying it.

Once we shed our devices a funny thing happened, everyone found new ways to entertain themselves.  

One of the most memorable ways the kids entertained themselves was by playing chess.  The resort had several of those giant chess boards where the pieces are almost as big as my 7 year old and I can’t tell you how many times we played.  We all play chess (some better than others) and so it’s a fun thing to do as a family. When I said that some are better than others, I mean that my 7 year old and I play about the same, which is not saying much, and she also cheats (which I promise I don’t), so the two us us were usually eliminated early on.  

My 9 year old, Lucy, is an amazing chess player. She has the kind of mind that loves puzzles and riddles and can think 5 moves ahead in chess so she usually wins. I beat her one time (not one time on this vacation but one time ever) and I’m still basking in that glory. Lucy started playing chess in kindergarten when we couldn’t get her into the afterschool program that she really wanted to be in (I can’t even remember what that was now) and chess was only of the few options left.  It was serendipitous because she took to chess right away.

I remember when she was learning how to play, my son (who is 3 years older than she is) sat down and started playing chess with her one day. He was still at that age when I thought I knew everything about him and I remember being shocked and asking, “How do you know how to play chess?”. He casually said, “Cousin Bridget taught me”. (Thank you, Cousin Bridget!) I bet Lucy played 8-10 games of chess a day on vacation with whomever would play with her and it was great to see her so passionate about it.  

We had this amazing deck outside our room on the 3rd floor and I just loved sitting out there reading my book and relaxing.  The deck overlooked the giant chess board so the kids loved their independence of going out by themselves to play chess and I loved that I could look up from my book occasionally and glance over the deck to make sure they were ok.  When weren’t reading on the deck, we were playing cards.

My 7 year old, Ellie, loves to play cards. My mother-in-law has always played cards with our kids and whenever I play with them, which isn’t as often as it should be, I always have to have them remind me of the rules.  I had brought several types of card games- Old Maid, Go Fish and regular cards- and Ellie and I had tons of fun playing cards out on our deck.

Since she’s not reading yet, she would want to play cards or be read to when the rest of us were reading. I would try not to get irritated about playing another card game when I really just wanted to enjoy my book on the deck but I would put down the book and we always had a great time.

She loves it when she beats me, which is often.  I’m noticing a disturbing pattern here about my children beating me at games. Since returning from the trip I’ve pulled out cards several times and said, “Ellie, do you want to play cards?”. She always does and we have played some mean games of Go Fish or Old Main (she usually wins and only sometimes cheats) and it reminds me of vacation.

One reason we traveled so far is that we were meeting some friends from the East Coast on vacation.  They also have 3 kids and their oldest is a year younger than our youngest (also boy, girl, girl). Our kids are the youngest on both sides of our family so it was fun having ours be the oldest ones for once.  We had so much fun catching up with our friends and I loved watching our kids play with and entertain the younger kids.

My son, Jackson, has always a special bond with their 6 year old son and it was so fun watching them interact as a my son is twice his age.  Jackson is a character and a storyteller and he is really into movies and reading screenplays. I loved hearing the funny stories he made up all week their son and the rest of the younger kids, including his sisters. One night our kids wanted to leave dinner before us and go back to the room.  I assumed they would realize we had a TV in the room and we’d come home to them watching TV. I was pleasantly surprised that when we returned when they told us that Jackson had been telling them stories to entertain them until we got home.

Our days that week were spent mostly in water at the pools or at the beach.  There were lots of pools so we would go to different ones each day and our kids soon discovered the beauty of an all inclusive resort that had swim up bars.  They got so used to asking for Strawberry Daiquiris and Pina Coladas (virgin ones for them, of course) that when we got home and went to a restaurant our 7 year old asked the waiter for a Strawberry Daiquiri.  We had to explain to her that was just a treat for that vacation and, sadly, vacation was over.

I’ll always remember the day on that trip that we took our kids snorkeling and when little Ellie discovered it was one of her passions.  She’s always been a swimmer and when she got into the beautiful water and discovered she could snorkel and see fish underwater, she was hooked.  Sadly, the big snorkeling boat ride was cancelled twice our last 2 days because of rough water and we didn’t get to take her out to a farther reef to see more new and beautiful fish.  

We are excited to find another place to take her in the future to explore her love for snorkeling and, hopefully, some day, we’ll get them scuba certified and we can all go scuba diving together.  I’ve now got dreams of taking them to The Great Barrier Reef some day, maybe the next bucket trip.

Of all of the things I’ll miss from that dream trip such as the beautiful turquoise water of the Caribbean, the all inclusive amenities of never having to pull out money for a week, seeing good friends, spending quality time with my family, I’ll also remember how nice is was that we all unplugged that week and just enjoyed our beautiful surroundings and spending time together.  

When we came back home and arrived at our house 12 hours later in the middle of the night after the airlines had lost our luggage (of course) and the next morning everyone was back to their technology, I knew vacation was over. I’ll just have to look at the few pictures I have of that trip, remember that our 7 year old kept her Caribbean braids in for a month after we got home and remember fondly the week we all unplugged. 

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