Technology-free weekend: How my family survived

Ian Mendes takes his family on a no-tech journey. Will they live to tweet about it?

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I admit I was flattered when my Today’s Parent editor contacted me for a special assignment. “We thought you would be the perfect person to write about spending a whole weekend without technology,” the email read. Wow—the Today’s Parent team thinks I would be perfect for a mission! What an honour. What a privilege.

What a crock. I was only hand-picked because nobody else wanted to do it. But I bravely took on the task.

People told me we should have some fun with this; it would be like spending a weekend on Little House on the Prairie. The major difference is that Laura Ingalls never knew the pleasure of doing her banking online while simultaneously playing Subway Surfers. But our two daughters, Elissa and Lily, don’t truly grasp the concept that the world once existed without Netflix and at-your-fingertips entertainment. They are often terrified by the ghastly stories of my own childhood. Car trips without DVDs. Cartoons that were only on Saturday mornings. And phones that had massive coils attached to them. So maybe this weekend would give them a reminder of how fortunate they are to live in our current era.

We were all a little apprehensive, but on Friday night I changed my Facebook status: “Going without technology for a weekend. If you need to contact us, call our home phone or ring our doorbell.” Then I gathered up all the forbidden gadgets—the smartphones, tablet, laptops and TV remotes—and hid them in the basement next to my collection of Hootie & the Blowfish CDs. And with that, we embarked on our quasi-neo-Luddite odyssey.

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On Saturday morning, Lily bounced down the stairs and had completely forgotten about our mission. She was searching for the TV remote when I reminded her. Within five minutes, she was using the super-annoying “I’m boooooored” voice that only a six-year-old kid from a middle-class suburb can pull off. Fortunately, the kids had a bunch of activities starting up to keep all of us on the go throughout the weekend: baseball and soccer practices for Lily and swimming lessons for both girls.

One of the nice things about having a smartphone is that you don’t have to watch every moment of your child’s activities. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s important to support your kids, but have you ever viewed an entire swimming lesson from start to finish? This weekend was a real eye-opener. At times it was mind-numbingly boring to watch my daughter cling to the wall while another kid had the instructor’s attention. The stream of batters at the plate during T-ball was like watching a series of blindfolded kids swinging at a piñata. Without my Twitter escape, I was the one saying “I’m boooooored.”

Read more: Soccer mom: The boring truth>

Things did go smoothly in other areas. I enjoyed the minor adrenaline rush of grocery shopping without a cellphone. Would I get the right ingredients without a constant string of text-message reminders? While I was at the store, I bought the newspaper so we could get caught up on what was going on in the world. At one point on Saturday afternoon, I was reading the sports section in the living room and noticed that Elissa and Lily were reading the comics pages on the floor. It looked like we were posing for a Norman Rockwell print, and the silence was a nice escape from the pinging, blaring sounds of video games and TV shows that usually fill the room.

Then on Saturday night, we dusted off some old games to play as a family. There’s nothing better than crushing the dreams of a six-year-old girl in Uno or the thrill of a mild electric shock in Operation. The girls had a great time and completely forgot about screens.

On Sunday morning I came downstairs to find my wife sewing some Brownies badges on a sash for Lily—who was suddenly showing curiosity in how the needlework was done. I highly doubt Lily would be interested in learning how to sew if Angry Birds was competing for her attention.

When we woke up on Monday morning, nobody was screaming for the return of technology. The kids barely watched TV, and I wasn’t in a rush to check my email—knowing that I was likely just going to sift through several spam messages from a Nigerian prince.

In the weeks since, we’ve gone back to our old habits, but it was good to realize that unplugging wasn’t as painful or impossible as we imagined. We even kind of enjoyed it. But here’s hoping the next time I’m approached for a special assignment, it’s about spending a weekend in the Caribbean.

A version of this article appeared in our July 2014 issue with the headline “Screen-free”, p. 44.

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.

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