I gently ushered Lydia into the room and closed the door behind us. Then, as an afterthought, I locked it. We had some important things to talk about and I didn’t want her brother and sister interrupting with nonsense. The little girl rushed across the room and threw herself onto the bed, burying her face in a pillow. I pulled up a tiny green chair and waited for her to finish crying.
“You are not in trouble,” I assured her.
“Well, it feels like I am.” she wiped at her face and took a deep breath.
“No. We are not taking away your tablet because you did something wrong. Your mother and I are just concerned that the three of you are becoming too dependent on electronics and we want to protect you. We want you guys to go out and actually do things, and build things with your hands. Be creative and read books and talk to people,” I shifted in my small plastic chair. “And you know, we aren’t just taking things from you. We are returning Clara’s laptop to the school soon, and we told Gideon he can’t play on my computer when I’m not home anymore.”
She sat up and stared out the window.
“Look here. Let me explain.”
She folded her hands in her lap and looked at me, legs kicking off the side of the bed.
“You see… Okay, so the internet is like a forest. Can you imagine if we had a great big forest in our backyard? If we did, there would be a lot of cool things that you could do in that forest, right? You could explore and learn and build forts and pretend. You could meet with neighbor kids and makeup games. Your mother and I would love that. But what if your mother and I also knew that there were animals and traps set up in that forest? As much as we would love to have you play in this forest and explore and have fun, it wouldn’t really be very nice of us to let you play it in, would it? Because what if we weren’t paying attention and you fell into one of these traps? Or what if you were hurt by one of the things in that forest? We love you too much for that. So, a lot of the fun things that you do on the computer might seem perfectly fine, but your mother and I know that they can actually be quite dangerous. Do you understand now why we decided to take away your tablet?”
She just stared at me, obviously deep in thought. Maybe I had actually broken through to her.
“I would make a maze starting from our front door,” she said finally.
“It would go like this,” and she wove her hands around in the air.
“What are you talking about? Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes,” she nodded emphatically, “I was listening. You said to imagine that we had a big forest in the back yard. And if we did I would make a maze starting from our back door, and it would lead to our raspberry plants if you went one way, and to our shed if you went the other, and there would be toy guns at each of those and the neighbors would come and pick teams and we would play games in the maze.”
“Um, okay, but did you hear anything other than that, or did I seriously lose you with the first sentence?”
“No, I love it, Dad. Thank you. I love imagining a forest in our yard. We should plant one.”
“You would be a grown woman before it even was big enough to-“
She cut me off, “Not if it was a MAGIC forest!”
This was a good point. Because of course, it would be a magic forest. Without taking another breath she went on for fifteen minutes explaining what she had designed inside of her head while ignoring my entire two-minute lecture about forests and traps and the hazards of the internet. She told me about friendly animals that would live in this forest and what their names would be, and which of the neighbor kids would come and live in her part of the forest kingdom and which ones would come to live in Clara’s part. She told me about a feast she would throw once a year, high up in the treetops, on tables set on wide branches and the salads and pasta and breads she would bake inside the trunk of the tree and what her friends and other forest creatures would say when she brought it all out steaming in baskets and on shiny platters. But then a jealous wizard would show up and try to destroy everything and she would grab a sword that was hidden under the table and fight him, swinging on vines and riding on the backs of brave birds.”
I’m convinced she would still be there, explaining everything, if there hadn’t been a violent knock on the door. Gideon had discovered he was locked out of his bedroom and he wanted to know what was going on inside.
I frowned at the little girl and she rolled her eyes.
“I am still sad,” she said as I stood up and moved toward the door. “I usually get on my tablet in the morning and now I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow when I wake up.”
“Oh? I think I know. I think you are going to go down to the dining room table and you are going to draw me a map of everything you were just talking about. I want to see the entire maze and all of your animal friends.”
She nodded and placed her head back onto the pillow and smiled strangely.
The next morning I was woken up by an excited squirrel that bounced into my bed and launched five sheets of paper into the air like an explosion of confetti.
“What in the world is all of this?” I said, picking one of the papers up off my head and squinting at the meticulous swirls and bizarre shapes.
“This is the world, I made. Remember, you said to imagine a forest in our back yard? This is what I invented. I couldn’t wait to get up this morning so I could put it all on paper!”
She bounced once more and came down with her legs crossed beneath her. Then she began pointing to various shapes on the paper and giving them names.
I sighed a tired sigh of relief. She may not have heard any of my grand lecture, but I still think everything is going to turn out alright.