Is This Really Progress?

A couple of weeks ago, three of my granddaughters were over for the day. I was tidying up in the back of the house and they were all in the living room. My ears perked up after a little while when I realized I heard — nothing. No sound at all.

Now if they were under the age of five, that would be alarming, indeed, but since they are eleven and older, I wasn’t really concerned. I kept cleaning, but became more and more curious, as there continued to be an absence of laughter, conversation, or even arguing.There wasn’t even the sound of Saturday morning cartoons blaring from the television. Just quiet. That may be natural for a mausoleum, but in a house with three girls, it didn’t feel right.

So I went to investigate. One was on the couch, one in the recliner, and one in the swivel rocker. The common denominator was the presence of electronic devices. Each had ear phones; and one was using a kindle, one an iPod, and one a laptop.

I gently suggested they do something physical and was greeted with astonished stares. I checked to see if I had bats flying out my ears, but no, it was my suggestion that had rendered them, well not speechless since they were already there, but utterly disbelieving. Since my fairly recent resignation as Keeper of the World, I decided it wasn’t my job to channel their energies into healthier avenues. Grandmas get to be the good guys, right?

I went in to the kitchen, but stopped in my tracks when I heard one of them speak. And it was like real live conversation, not Skype or FaceTime. I wanted to enjoy this, so I peered around the corner. The headphones were all off and the youngest, Courtney, looking immeasurably sad, was saying to her sisters, “I feel so bad for ‘Suzanne.’” We all knew Courtney’s friend, and immediately asked in unison, “Why? What happened?”

Had the girl’s parents had a tragic accident? Did her aging Chihuahua say Adios to this world? I had almost made it to the phone to call my daughter, when Courtney answered, “Her Chromebook charger broke.” The other two girls nodded in apparent sympathy, empathy even. They understood the depth of this loss. There was a moment of silence, then they all put their earphones back in. I just stood there with my mouth open.

Her computer charger died? When did we reach the point where these devices became our best friends? It was bad enough when they became hobbies, recreation, and entertainment instead of tools and conveniences. Do we now mourn the death of a charger? Will there be services? Will the child go into therapy to learn how to cope with her grief?

I was indignant on behalf of the entire younger generation. Then my annoying sense of fairness kicked in.

Lately I’ve been wondering why I have such trouble maintaining a healthy weight and fitness level. I have read books and articles on every theory from high carb to low carb diets, to eat for your blood type, to reset your hypothalamus,and on and on all the way to miracle herbs that melt off fat while you eat Butterfinger bars and watch Bones marathons. (Personally I would vote for the Butterfinger diet, but all that did was add to the cushioning over my own bones.) I used to be slender and fit, effortlessly, and despite Butterfingers.

Confronted with this computer dependence, as I watched the children sitting on the couch, motionless except for their eye movement and rapid keystrokes, I had an epiphany. Effortlessly? Really? Back in those effortlessly fit days, I cared for children, kept my house, worked in the yard, did laundry, hung things out to dry, ironed a little, kept flower beds, grew a few vegetables, occasionally did some canning, cared for and played with the dog, played with the kids, went swimming or hiking through the woods from time to time, played badminton fairly often, went to the kids’ school and sporting events, did the shopping, and for a time rode and cared for horses. When I added a job to the mix, I didn’t stop doing those things, I just added in doing interviews and going to the newspaper to type in the articles. I would have an occasional sit-down break during the day and a couple of hours in the evening were spent watching television, playing board games, or reading.

Over time, as the kids left home and my duties lessened, my routine evolved to get up, make coffee, and sit on my backside drinking it and planning the day. Then I shower and go to work, where I sit on my backside until lunch. Then I move to the table where I sit and eat lunch then go back to the computer. In the evening, I sit at my home computer and write, then move to the recliner where I sit for a couple of hours reading or watching a movie. Where I used to try to fit in a sit-down break, I now try —and usually fail —to schedule in stand-up breaks. I think I see a connection.

Accordingly, I have devised a five-week fitness plan. First you start with how much you are taking in, then work on your output.

  • Week One: Byte Reduction. Unplug the Internet modem. You may have some fatigue and depression. Just work through it. It will lessen as you get stronger.
  • Week Two: Family Fitness. Build a fire outside. Gather hotdogs, buns, relish etc. Throw all large electronic games onto the fire. Go inside and eat the hotdogs with your family. All at the same time. It may be a bit awkward, as conversation skills have atrophied. Again, work through it.
  • Week Three: Upper body strength. Pick up all the small electronic devices you can hold. Game Boys, DSs, IPods, cell phones, etc. Lift them over your head. Lower them. Repeat: lift, lower. Then hurl them as far as you can, preferably into a lake or river.
  • Week Four: Lower body work out. Gather computers, modems, laptops, tablets. Place these devices into a hopscotch pattern. Young people will need to ask a grandparent what a hopscotch pattern is. Then with all the force you can muster, jump on these electronic hopscotches until the devices are non-functional. You will note that the ending point in hopscotch is called heaven. It may not seem accurate at first, but work through it.
  • Week-Five: Stretch and Tone. Gather land-line phones that plug into the walls. With feet hip width apart, lean forward, stretch, and plug the phones in. If missing phone calls is a concern, pick up an answering machine that is a comfortable weight, lift, stretch, hook it up.

Keep in mind these are just the basics. As you get comfortable with this program, begin to add age-appropriate and/or health-appropriate activities. Young children may try playing outdoors (chase, ball, tree-climbing, etc.) Older children and adults may walk, bicycle, swim, play tennis, garden, etc.. This part of the program may be individualized, as long as you have to make a real effort to find time for sit-down breaks.