Betsy and I learned a valuable lesson about screen time these last few weeks.
Betsy and I learned a valuable lesson about screen time these last few weeks.
I went on a job interview today.
I don’t need a job. I have a job. I have two jobs. (Or 47 jobs, as one of my interviewers pointed out.) I split my time between working for myself, and as a contractor, in massage, and also real estate. And I could always be doing better at both, but I feel pretty good about how I’m doing in both right now, too.
I don’t need a new job, but I’ve always been interested in this particular company, and they posted a job opening a few weeks ago, and so I applied. A phone interview and then an initial in-person interview, and then today, I found myself meeting with the company’s area managers.
So here’s the thing: I suck at job interviews.
Yeah, I know everyone says that, either out of false modesty or being too hard on themselves.
I am all the bad cliches. I am nervous. I am clammy. I stutter over my words. I do not present myself well. The job interviews where I have been successful were ones where the job was already mine, more or less, because of the circumstances, and/or the person interviewing me really just liked to hear themselves talk, and all I had to do was nod and agree and offer up only an occasional observation or bit of information.
But this interview today was different. Because I don’t need the job. I was interviewing them as much as they were me. I don’t think I’m a shoe-in for the job by any means. They may reject me. But if they do, I’m okay with that.
And so, I relaxed today. I was easily conversational, and I am typically not one to be so with people I have just met, especially with people who’s job is to judge me.
I was upfront, and said all the things I have said in this post about not needing them, but I’ve always have been interested in them, and wanted to explore my options. When I was asked the typical “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question, I answered that I wasn’t sure where I saw myself job-wise, but did see myself working in something that I loved and enjoyed, something that gives a good work-life balance.
We went on some unsuspected tangents. They asked me what I did for fun, and I talked about my Quantum Leap podcast.
I talked about Quantum Leap in a job interview.
I have no idea if that will help or hurt me.
If it helps, that’s okay.
If it hurts, that’s okay too.
Either way, today was a success.
I’m sure there’s a lesson in here about the key to successful interviewing is to pretend like you don’t need the job. That might be true, I guess, but I also know that’s a luxury a lot of people do not have.
But I was lucky to have it today.
Today was a good day.
“We’d like him to not have any screen time, at least not for his first few months.”
Betsy said this to the owner of one the daycares we interviewed a couple of months before Harrison was born, when the owner said she gives the kids about a half-hour of screen time every afternoon. This was an in-home daycare in West Rogers Park, Chicago. We were going the in-home route because it’s ridiculously affordable, and that’s what we needed – and still do. I didn’t even realize in-home daycares were a thing.
The woman looked at us like we were naive. We ended up not going with her. There were other some other factors beyond the screen time. She had been doing this for over 20 years, but we got the sense she was winding down, and she had become a little too relaxed. The daycare we chose assured us there was no screen time.
But the West Roger Park daycare owner was right, in the end. We were naive. Betsy and I were pretty good about no screens around Harrison – at least no TV – for the first two or three months, but eventually, we caved, and began watching TV with him, often during meal times. We have a small condo, and no formal dining area, you see.
The last three or four months, we opened the Pandora’s Box wide open and began letting him watch kids videos on YouTube. Baby Shark – yeah, you know that song – may have been the gateway drug. It was under control for while. He wasn’t hooked on the videos. We could shut them off whenever, and he would instantly move on to something else.
The last three or so weeks, though, that changed. Some of it came out of convenience, especially on nights when I was still working, and Betsy needed to cook dinner. It was easy to put Harrison in front of the computer screen and let him watch his favorites, which went from Thomas, the Tank Engine to various kids’ Halloween videos, to Masha and the Bear. It got to the point that if we were home, he was pulling himself up on the desk chair or grabbing the TV remote, signaling to us what he wanted. Sometimes he would get upset if the exact video he wanted wasn’t playing.
We weren’t pleased or proud about this. We started feeling like we were letting ourselves, and more importantly, him down – especially after Betsy read in a new book she purchased that no screen time at all is recommended for kids under 2.
Damn. We really did feel like failures.
We decided tonight to go cold turkey with screens when we got home for the evening. (‘Cold turkey’. That’s such an odd expression. When I was a kid, and I heard someone say they’d stopped smoking “cold turkey”, I pictured them literally smoking cold turkey, rolled up into cigarettes.)
What we were reminded of is that children are resilient and pliable. He was upset for about five minutes. But then we happily ate dinner together, talking and listening to music. After, we went in his room with him and played for an hour, a moratorium on screens for all of us, with the exception taking these pictures. (And also me entering the daily Hamilton lottery, because priorities.)
Tonight was the best night we’ve had in a while. He was in a better mood, and so were we.
It would be easy for Betsy and I to look back on these last few weeks and beat ourselves up for letting ourselves get to the point we did and needing to do such a course correction. But the truth is, we’re going to screw up a lot raising this child of ours, and we have to learn from our mistakes and grow and not dwell on them too long or deeply.
Tonight, we’re celebrating a victory and feel committed to more quality family time in our evenings.
You’re entering a new chapter, a new stage of growth, and you’re not sleeping as well at night as you were. Which means we’re not sleeping well. A couple of nights ago was almost as difficult for your mom as your very early days.
The thing is, I sometimes have a hard time remembering my nights before you. Some nights are a challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Love you, kid.
I like to note every year, my parents met on a blind date while serving in the army, in Oklahoma.
Thank you, veterans, for your service.
One of my favorite college theater stories, apropos of nothing, other than it happened about this time of year, 16 years ago.
I was in my last semester at Murray State University, mostly coasting through my final classes, working full-time hours at Wal-Mart but not getting full-time benefits, because…Wal-Mart.
This one night, some of us theater nerds were hanging out at Heidi and Eric and Krista’s place. I don’t know how we got to this, but we decided it would be hilarious to toilet paper our theater department chair’s house. It wasn’t out of malice; we all loved and respected David Balthrop. We just thought it would be funny.
We went to the store – (probably Wal-Mart), grabbed a bunch of toilet paper, drove out to his house on the edge of town, and did what we did. I don’t think any of us had ever toilet papered a house before, and we were making up for that lost experience, giggling like school kids in the cold autumn air.
The next day, word got around pretty quickly that David was livid over our prank. It had apparently freaked his kids out when they came out of the house the next morning. He wasn’t absolutely sure, but he had a strong suspicion it was theater department people. He made it clear it was absolutely not to happen again. Later that afternoon, I got summoned to his office.
Well, here we go, I thought.
He had called me in for a different reason. He was directing the Music and Theatre Department’s joint production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, about to open in a couple of weeks. The lead actor playing Tevye was having some personal issues and may be dropping out of the show, he said. If he did, David wanted to know if I would be interested in taking the role. There were a couple of people in the cast that could have done it – and much better singers than me – but he thought that would cause even more disruption to the show, and I had a reputation for being able to learn lines freakishly fast.
I told him my only concern was being able to take the time off work. He said if Wal-Mart would let me have the time off, he would work it out so the school would reimburse me whatever time I had to take off. In essence, this would be my first paid acting job.
I told him I would love the opportunity. I went home and told my then-wife, excited at the possibility to jump in the part, and we laughed over what strange timing this was with the prank, and how I thought I was going into his office sure I was in trouble.
The next night, my wife and I were just starting to eat dinner, and the phone rang. It was David. The lead actor hadn’t showed up to rehearsal. Could I come to the theater right now?
That was the beginning of one of the most rewarding theater experiences I’ve ever had, academic or otherwise. I got to take two weeks off work at Wal-Mart (my manager was much more understanding than he had to be), and I got to be a full-time actor. The cast was warm and welcoming, of course. The person who the role maybe should have rightfully gone to – my old roommate and friend, Dustin – went out of his way to help me learn the songs. I am not a strong musical theater singer.
It was a hell of a run…all four performances. (These days, I can’t imagine pouring so much energy into a show and doing only four performances.) I can’t quite put into words what that experience meant for me, and how great it was to leave my college career on that note.
A few days after, David called me into his office again to give me my paycheck from the school, and to de-brief what I had learned about the experience and how I could take that and apply it to my future professional career. We chatted for about 20 minutes, and just as I was about to leave, David said he had one more thing to give me.
He opened his desk drawer, pulled out a half-crumpled up wad of paper, and placed it on the desk in front of me.
It was one of my Wal-Mart pay stubs.
A pay stub I had haphazardly shoved into my coat pocket after tearing the check off of it.
The coat I was wearing the night we toilet papered David’s house.
We sat there silent for a moment. David said he’d found it in the yard the morning after. He knew I had toilet papered his house the day he first called me into his office to talk about the show, but he didn’t want to deal with both issues at once.
I wasn’t in trouble. He confessed that he wasn’t ever really that mad about it, he thought it was funny, but he had to put on a display of being angry so it didn’t turn into a thing for his students to mess with him. We had a good laugh about it. I graduated the next month, and my second professional gig came a few weeks after that in Louisville.
The experience of doing the show crosses my mind often, but I had forgotten about the toilet papering incident until recently, sitting around telling stories at Betsy’s family reunion a couple of months ago. I have no idea what was said that made me remember it.
But a fun memory indeed. That was the first and last time I ever toilet papered someone’s home.
“Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.”
I’ve come across this quote a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. If you’ve seen Interstellar, you know this idea is taken somewhat literally. I haven’t seen the movie since becoming a dad, and Lord, I think it would wreck me.
Which, of course, means I must watch it soon, because I’m a sucker that way.
I was feeling this hard tonight as I was spending time with Harrison. It’s a Friday night. Betsy is at a community healing circle event, something she does three or four times a year. She acts like it’s huge inconvenience that she goes out and treats herself like this, even as I work frequently odd hours and am often holed in our bedroom doing podcasting stuff.
The little guy and I were playing on the living room floor after dinner, me watching him push one of his toy trains along the floor, his head down on the floor level with it, watching the train as he slowly dragged it across the rug.
As he gets older, becoming more a toddler, not an infant, more memories of my own at that young age are springing up. Nothing significant, really, just memories of playing around the house with my family. Remembering those occasional nights when the routine wasn’t the same as always – dad was working late, or I got to stay up later. I didn’t quite have words yet, but those nights were special.
I’ve noted before how I often have a hard time being in the present moment with my family, worried about work. I found myself not present tonight, but in a different way. I was floating outside the moment, watching it as Harrison might remember it and other moments like it some day, perhaps years after I’m gone.
Watching the moment, in a way, as a ghost of my future self.
The thought is saddening and awe-inspiring at once.
We wound down the rest of the night with a bath, and our usual bedtime ritual, at least the usual when Mommy’s not home. He was fussy when I put his fresh diaper on him, trying to pull it off. I couldn’t figure out what exactly he was unhappy about, but I took the diaper off, made a show of throwing out the offensive item, and ran the hair dryer over his body for a couple of minutes, and that relaxed him enough to restart business as usual.
After story time (which isn’t so much reading him stories as it is him pulling books one-by-one of his shelf, “reading” one, replacing it, and picking another, I picked up to give him one last cuddle before bed, and he laid his head on my shoulder as he does, but then he pulled back, put a hand on either one of my shoulders and gave me a huge smile, as if he were just noticing I was the one holding him.
That kid. He’s something special.