To watch a young person experience this is frightening. As a parent, I have to toggle the line between being a full-time anti-screen-time nag and having a good relationship with my daughter. I can only lecture and lay down the line so much. I have to find other ways to connect and be together as a family, to make being off the screen engaging and fun. Going out of town to remote places together, with lack of wifi is always a good way to decrease technology's grip on our brains. Swimming for long periods of time works too. And of course, doing yoga is a solid solution to reclaiming a technology free hour for our bodies and brains.
At the beginning of the summer I had the idea to bring home a puzzle to engage my family in a non-competitive, technology-free activity. The puzzle home is our dining room table. During the summer this hasn't been a problem because mostly we eat outside, but as I look outside today at the grey sky and clouds I realize those days are over. And the 2000 piece puzzle, only 75% complete, has been on our dining room for five weeks. I'll need to find another home for future puzzles if we're going to eat meals sitting down.
The first puzzle we did as a family was 500 pieces. It had a lot of color and writing, things I now know make puzzle-making easier. It was mostly my daughter Lucia and I that did it. My partner Nancy hadn't quite embraced the passion for puzzles but she'd hang around chatting, cooking, puttering while Lu and I did the puzzle. That first one was easy. We did in in a day. The second one was 1000 pieces and was a bit more challenging but we finished that one as well. My plan was working. We were spending time together, slowing down, engaging and connecting without the distractions of screens.
This most recent puzzle is 2000 pieces. The image is of three hot air balloons floating above a lake with trees and mountains in the background. Each of the balloons has a reflection in the lake and their are vast swaths of solid green and blue. This puzzle is a beast. One night Nancy and I were home alone and I was working on the puzzle. "Do you want to try this with me?" I asked her.
"Sure. I'll try it" she said, surprising me. I was so excited to have her on board. We spent a couple of hours and managed to finished to frame of the puzzle. We felt like geniuses, puzzle masters, incredibly psyched and proud of our accomplishment. The next day we went out of town and our friends Simon and Nadine came from New Orleans to stay at our house. We left a note, "Work on me" sitting on top of the puzzle with the hope that they would know to at least not put the puzzle away. When we got home, there was significant progress on the puzzle. They shared that, every night for the four nights in Seattle, after eating at a great restaurant, instead of going out to hear music or have a drink at a bar, they'd come home and work on the puzzle. When they left, they laughed, pointing out the huge piles of solid green and blue that they'd avoided during their puzzle-time.
Simon and Nadine left over a week ago and we are now finally inching our way through the solid greens and blues. Yesterday, home alone, I spent three hours on the puzzle. Three hours I could have been planting bulbs, taking a walk, riding my bike, doing yoga, having coffee with a friend, cleaning my desk, binge watching Shameless. Several times, I really wanted to abandon the puzzle, to storm away from the table and yell in frustration, but no one was home and my dramatic outcry would just echo back to me, amplifying my angst.
So I stayed seated, tethered to the puzzle by some invisible, unbreakable puzzle force. I sat in front of the spread out pieces-- solid blues on one side, solid greens on the other. And as I looked at the pieces, minute after minute, I slowly began to notice the details that I hadn't noticed before. The tiny spot of red on the corner of an otherwise totally green piece. The unusual jagged cut out of another piece. The thin, almost undetectable white strip in the center of a blue piece. I sat there, moving only my arms and my eyes for three hours. When I finally got up it looked like I'd made no progress at all. But it didn't matter. I felt like the static on on my mental TV had finally been tuned. My mind felt dialed in, focused, and clear. The app on my phone that I use to record my screen time said I'd used 7 minutes for the day.