Times change. So many things about my children’s lives are very alien and different from what life was like for me as a child.
For instance, the concept of television means nothing to them. They don’t know what it means to wait anxiously for the next episode of your favorite show. Or to have to set your alarm clock on a Saturday morning so you can throw on a blanket and rush to the living room to finally see how Batman defeats the Penguin’s army from the week before. The simple joys of waiting till a commercial break to run to the bathroom, or making an Olympic event out of filling a giant bowl of Froot Loops is lost on them. All of this is nonsense to my children
Instead, my children can wander to any chair in the house and pull up any program they want just by pushing a few buttons on a tablet held on their lap. Like some kind of Science Fiction movie, I come downstairs on a Saturday morning and find my girls hanging by their feet from the ceiling, tumbled backwards on couches, laying like cats on a window sill, both of them with different devices watching different shows. They can pause it to stretch and control the volume without having to tear apart the couch looking for a remote. The future is a frightening place. We raise caged animals, bred for impatience, overstimulated, feasting on chaos, minds like blank waterlogged notebooks left out on the porch in the rain.
I worry sometimes. But then, I’m sure every generation worries. I worry, and I wring my hands and I drive the beasts outside and I force their fingers into the dirt and I tilt their chins up to look into trees and I say “Feel it! Can you see this!? Can you touch that!? It’s all right here!” And they smile and they dance like wood elves in their natural wild way, and then the next day they are blank eyed bats hanging in cages staring at the wall again.
The other day, however, I was woken up by something different. Clara had discovered a friend. She came running into my bedroom holding a tiny flat television above her head and turned it to face me. She pressed it against my nose while my eyes still struggled to focus.
“Look!” She was yelling. “Look what I found!”
“Stop,” I told her in a grave fatherly voice. “I need you to stop touching me with your mom’s tablet and settle down.”
She obediently stopped and stood smiling next to the bed. She held the tablet infront of her like a prize, pointing at a single square among the garish pink and purple cartoon icons on her personalized Netflix page. “He’s here! He’s on Netflix now!”
“What?” I squinted and leaned, “Who?”
And at that moment I realized that everything was going to be okay. I can continue to fight the onslaught of noise and the sickening flashing lights. And it will continue to push back and threaten to engulf my children, but it will never win. Children will always be more attracted to something human. Something real that understands them and meets them where they are at, instead of distracting them from who they are. I rolled out of bed and gave her a big hug.
“Mister Rogers would have wanted me to give you that,” I told her. “I’m glad you found him.”
So, maybe there isn’t that much difference between our lives after all. Maybe the interests and struggles and confusions are constant throughout time. It is the superficial part that changes from one generation to the next. It is only the package that has changed. New Coke, Classic Coke, we are all basically the same. And thank God we have Mister Rogers to water us down a bit so we don’t rot our teeth completely on Froot Loops and Batman cartoons, or english muffins and pink prancing ponies.