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On February 17, after enjoying having my three kids off for four days for Presidentâ€™s Weekend, I was ready for them to return to school, and for me to get a lot of work done. But by 5:45 am I learned that their schools were cancelled because of snow. By 11:30 am, as I was trying to respond to work emails, my daughter Tali was complaining that she was bored and wanted to me to play Rummikub with her. My two sons each had friends over, and all of the boys were playing on various electronic devices.
I wrote down what went through my head for the next ten minutes. Here it is:
Really?Â A snow day after theyâ€™ve been off school for the last four days. Why not just a two hour delay? The streets donâ€™t look so bad. How am I supposed to get my work done today? I have 22 emails to respond to already.Â How on earth could I play Rummikub with Tali now? I feel guilty that I donâ€™t have time to play with her (and it would be fun)â€¦did I really just tell her to go watch TV?
Ugh! Now the phoneâ€™s ringing. Who is it? Oh, itâ€™s my friend. Iâ€™m not picking up. Should I text her that Iâ€™ll call her later? Now I just lost my train of thought. What was I thinking about?
Seriouslyâ€¦there are four boys sitting in the family room all on different electronic devices. My oldest son Benji is watching a movie on his laptop while his friend is playing a game on his phone. My middle son Noah is texting his friends as part of a â€śgroup chatâ€ť (boy do I hate the â€śpingâ€ť sound that goes off every time he receives a textâ€¦didnâ€™t I ask him to disable that sound a hundred times yesterday?) while his friend is texting from his phone. Why do they even bother to have friends over if theyâ€™re not going to interact with each other? Should I make them go sledding outside?
No!Â Theyâ€™re old enough to figure out what to do themselves. And I need to get back to work. Now I have 26 emails in my inbox. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one long to-do list. I feel like that woman in the commercial from when I was a kid who said: â€śCalgon, take me away!â€ť She had lots of chaos at home, and she probably didnâ€™t even have a job. I want to relax in a quiet bath like she did in the commercialâ€¦or at least not have to answer 26 emailsâ€¦and not feel guilty that Iâ€™m not interacting with my daughter and instead sent her to watch TV.
I wish I could just shut down my computer right nowâ€¦and my phoneâ€¦and turn off the TVâ€¦and go take the various devices out of all of the boysâ€™ handsâ€¦.and we could all just hang out and play Rummikub.
OK, I canâ€™t realistically do it right now. But I CAN unplugâ€”and I can encourage my whole family to unplugâ€”as part of the National Day of Unplugging on March 6-7. We already do things differently on Shabbat than we do the other days of the week. I love it that as a family we always say the blessings and have Shabbat dinner on Friday night (no phones at the tableâ€”thatâ€™s one thing I insist on every night!), even if I do have to rush off at 7 pm to get to services at my synagogue. And though itâ€™s not always easy being a family in which both parents are rabbis, I do especially enjoy those Saturdays when my kids and I go to my husbandâ€™s synagogue for services and weâ€™re all together. Wouldnâ€™t it be great if I didnâ€™t use my phone or computer at all on those days? Could I really do that? Not check my email, voice messages or texts, before leaving for services on Saturday morning? And not check them when I get home?Â
I could just put my phone in a drawer Friday before sundown and not take it out until Saturday after sundown. I remember when I went away on a Jewish meditation retreat last year and I had to put my phone away from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. It felt weirdâ€¦even scary. And refreshing. And nice. It was humbling to realize that everyone I know (in that case even my husband and three kids, because they were home without me) would be just fine without me. And they were. And I had two days to just BEâ€¦to appreciate lifeâ€¦and creation. It was hardâ€¦really hardâ€¦not getting that dopamine rush I get when I get a text or email for two days straightâ€¦not having anything to distract meâ€¦but it was also wonderfulâ€¦really wonderful.
I could recreate that wonderful feeling on the National Day of Unplugging.Â That feeling of being more fully present in the moment.Â Rather than emailing, calling or texting people and making plans for when Shabbat is over, I could be more truly in the moment of Shabbat.Â Rather than playing my favorite game on my phone as a way of relaxing after services, I could finally play that game of Rummikub with Tali.Â And the boys would probably play too.Â We always have a lot of fun when we all play games together.Â And we really donâ€™t do it enough.
But for now, back to workâ€¦.there it goes again, the annoying â€śpingâ€ť letting us all know that Noahâ€™s getting a text. And now I have 35 emails in my inbox. How many more days until March 6th? I donâ€™t need Calgon. For me, it can be â€śNational Day of Unpluggingâ€¦Shabbatâ€¦take me away!â€ť And by â€śtake me awayâ€ť what I really mean is: â€śTake me away from technologyâ€¦and let me be present right where I am.â€ť
Do you plan to unplug on March 6-7? What will you do with your tech-free time?