Charlotte wakes us at 4, something about her fan. It’s the first night of the 10 o’clock screen curfews and she still can’t sleep. She says she’s thirsty but doesn’t want to have to pee because there’s a spider in her bathroom and she just wants to watch Nickelodeon. I get back in bed and hear her voice-command Alexa. From down the hall it sounds like the Thursday night concerts I remember at the lake. The lake is so close you can hear bands playing there in the summer. I joke that in all the years we’ve lived here I never actually went to the concerts, I only listened from our house. Now I wonder when I’ll be able to again.
We’d gone three months without imposing screen limits on the kids. They weren’t seeing their friends or talking to anyone besides us and the pets, so it seemed cruel to limit them that way. For some reason Charlotte moved down to the family room and set up shop on the sofa, falling asleep in the wee hours to microwave popcorn and banal TV. We were all looking for an escape, and that seemed normal to me if you’re 12.
But then I started worrying about their mental health and realized we were being neglectful. They can’t impose their own limits. It’s like Charlotte and the Nutella: she only gets one jar a month. That forces limits. Today when I came downstairs the kitchen was littered with spoons. It’s part of her coping, to get over the loss of screen time, to fill the void with something else.
The idea of curfew is something we can all understand now and possibly accept as some kind of external, executive order. So that’s how I delivered it over dinner. Starting tonight I’m going to collect your devices at 10 and you won’t have access again until 10 tomorrow morning. Charlotte fought us but Lily saw the logic.
I lay there at 4 to the sound of Charlotte flipping through voice commands with Alexa. And started thinking about work, a final presentation I had to give. Our graphics team in India would be ending their day now, uploading the PowerPoint. The sound of the birds came on strong. I put the fan on to drown it out, remembering that guy who started Earth Day, and how he warned of a “silent spring,” the risk our climate could become so damaged that one year the birds wouldn’t come back. Some times that thought comforted me, when the bastards won’t let me sleep. It’s what I love most about fall, when life quiets down and settles into wood chopping and spider catching in the girls’ rooms. Of all the things I’ll be known for as a dad, that ranks high: the non-violent catch and release, a small lesson in grace.
The stream of consciousness is real, our perception is sharpened by stillness. You can drink from it and feel refreshed.
I come downstairs at 5 in the morning and already the house is filled with pale, gray light. That sound last night of a military helicopter, so ominous. I was in the backyard and it rose from a distance, that warped, subsonic, cutting sound. Like that first scene in Apocalypse Now, the helicopter blades flattening the grass…and how I wished I’d had my phone on me to record it but I left it inside for a few minutes, trying to give myself a break.