About a month ago, my students were wrapping up Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. To stir up trouble, I gave out this article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic. It’s all about how our attention spans are shortening, at first by imperceptible, and now very perceptible degrees with the prominence of search engines and Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, etc. It’s a cool article that opens and closes with Hal, the computer from “2001 Space Odyssey,” so how can you go wrong? It’s also about ten pages long. You should have seen them struggle to get through the end…psychological experiment at its finest.
I mostly used the article as a circus trick to get them to think about how much they use technology and how little they read real books. But it got me thinking about my own life. I don’t teach full time right now. A four-year-old who needs all the therapies in the world plus toddler twins are greater than, not equal to, a teacher’s paycheck. So I find myself having conversations as follows:
“Charlie to you want to watch trains?” Shakes head “no.”
“Buses?” Shakes head.
“Wiggles?” Shakes head.
“Baby Signing Time?” A verbal “uh-huh.”
Or if I’m talking to the twins…
“Cora, why did you take off Jonas’ clothes?”
“Jonas, where is your diaper and why did you put that ball down the air vent?”
Both questions illicit, “I don’t know” before they run off, naked and crazy.
Last week I received this picture from Jonas’ teacher at school:
Why? My brain cannot compute.
I find myself picking food out of their hair like an ape rather than giving them a bath and singing “Elmo’s World” when no one else is in the car. My books are now stepping stools for tiny people. I am not my former self.
But here’s the thing. My kids are doing something for me that books cannot, at least not in real life. They’re growing my heart like the Grinch. The conversations are weirder, but they are keeping me in the present, something books do not. Life is messier, figuratively and literally (Jonas just wiped his nose on my knee), but I’m in it. That’s the thing about kids, they don’t let you check out. Even when all you want to do is read a good book or take a long shower, they are there to remind you that you are not mistress of your domain and that’s okay. And your brain will come back to you when you need it. It’s just in sleep mode.