Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Having a Ball

A couple of weeks ago I found a rubber ball.  Lost in a deserted ballroom in a hotel, it was sitting in a corner after a rehearsal, and I took it.  It didn't strike me as something that would be reunited with its original owner if it went to lost and found, and rather than have it languish there it seemed better to make sure it got played with.

This is a perfect ball, in my opinion.  How can one resist?

The next evening Quinn and I were waiting in the lobby of the Conservatory before his piano lesson.  We were early and he sat slumped in his chair swinging his feet.  Normally we do a Sudoku puzzle together but he wasn't in the mood for it that night.  Then I said, "I have something fun."

"What?" he asked, interested.

"I have a ball."

Quinn looked doubtful.  "Why is a ball fun?"

"It just is."

So I pulled the ball out of my bag and his eyes grew wide and he literally clasped his hands together with joy.

"Can I hold it?" he asked.

"Of course."

I tossed it to him and when he tried to catch it he missed and it hit the ground.  It bounced a bit until it lay still on the carpet.  He picked it up and let drop again.  Eventually after several repetitions of bouncing it on the floor in front of him he was able to catch it every time.

Then I pointed out the staircase.  There wasn't anyone else in the lobby and there wasn't much that could be disturbed by keeping the ball low to the floor, so I asked him if he wanted to roll the ball down off the landing step.  Quinn lit up and rushed to the top of the stairs.

We took turns being the one to release the ball and being the one to catch it at the bottom.  The goal was to see if we could get it to bounce on every step all the way down, because I figured that was a good way to keep bouncing a ball indoors from getting out of control in a fancy place.

After a few rounds of that I showed Quinn a handicap ramp around the corner.  I challenged him to roll the ball as far up as he could and still have it roll back to him.  He loved that.

He was disappointed when we had to put the ball away when it was time for his piano lesson, even though he was excited about playing his songs for his teacher.  He asked, "Can we play with the ball again later?"  I promised him we could.

The next day while waiting during each of the girls' violin lessons I offered to get out the ball, and Mona asked, "What's so fun about a ball?"  Quinn said, "You'll see.  It's a really fun ball."  So I pulled out the ball and Mona smiled and agreed it looked like a great ball, and she and her brother commenced some game that involved rolling it across the floor to each other, their legs spread wide to block it from going astray.

Then when Mona went in for her lesson and Aden appeared, Quinn bounced the ball for a while on the stone surface in front of the fireplace.  He wanted to know why it bounced better and more quietly on stone rather than wood.  I gave him my best guess (something vibrations something something density), and then Aden wanted in on some of the fun with the ball.  The two of them rolled it everywhere and laughed.

Now, it's not like my kids have been deprived of balls up to this point.  They have many many many balls.  But they've also been sucked into their computer more than usual lately.  And they forget sometimes how much they enjoy other things that have been out of sight for a while.

I get why they enjoy time on the computer.  I'm certainly on mine enough, and I don't like to be without it.  It's where I write my blog and novels and connect with people for both fun and work.  I like that my kids have their own little online lives and enjoy certain sites for kids and games and YouTube channels.  But next to what is considered typical in our society anymore, we are comparatively Luddites.

We don't have cable.  We don't have any kind of gaming system.  (We used to play Frogger and Pitfall II until the Atari broke.  Can people still fix those?)  We don't have a satellite dish or a Wii or any little handheld games.  We don't play music off an iPod.  (My kids play records and sometimes CDs.)  We don't have iPads or a Kindle or tons of interesting things that I'm probably not even aware of.

We don't have smartphones.

This is not to say I have anything against any of that stuff.  It's fun.  I may have to wait until certain shows hit Hulu or Netflix before I see them, but I don't feel deprived of any good programming.  I think I type too much to want to use an iPad over my laptop, but they look cool.  My phone is just a phone (not a camera or anything) and I don't text.  (The one time I tried to text I accidentally only sent the word "loom" to my cousin and that was enough of that.)  I'm always sitting next to a land line so I generally don't even know where my cell phone is.  My husband uses gadgets on his phone and has been known to text people so he's ahead of me there.  I think a tool is only as useful or wasteful as you choose to make it.  And the truth is in a few years we may end up with smartphones by some odd default.


I worry a little about how attached people seem to be to such devices.  I get it.  I resist because I don't like what I see and I know how easily I could get sucked in, too.  I have friends and relatives who I don't think could go an hour without fondling their phones without getting twitchy.  Phones and apps are fine, but being able to set them aside should be fine as well, and increasingly it's not.

When I met my (now) husband in college in pre-cell phone days everyone relied on the phones in their dorm rooms.  They were touch tone phones mounted by the door with a red light that went off along with the ringer.  Once when I was visiting Ian in his room a guy from down the hall came knocking, irritated because he'd been calling repeatedly and not getting an answer.

Ian had turned off the ringer.  Turns out every time I stopped by he turned off the ringer and I hadn't noticed.

When the guy from down the hall checked and realized Ian had shut the ringer off on the phone he looked like he couldn't fathom it, and Ian said to him quietly, "There's a beautiful woman in my room and you think I should be answering the phone?"

When Ian shut the ringer off the phone it was like saying there was no one else in the world with anything to say more important than me.  I love that.  It still makes me smile in a way I feel in my whole body when I think of it.

People checking phones under the table when we're together?  They give me the opposite feeling.  It's like anything in the world is more important than me.  I don't want to become that.  Although I'd like to think if I got a smartphone I would know better than to ignore real people in front of me for the promise of something new popping up on a screen.  But people I adore who should also know better can't help themselves much of the time.  So for now I'd rather not be tempted.

I'm not purposely keeping my kids from technology.  They can play Wii at their friends' houses and borrow their cousin's iPad when she's in town.  And as they get older and their social lives are such that texting (or whatever comes next) feels necessary to not be excluded we'll indulge them in something I'm sure.  That's fine.  Will they resent us later for not equipping them with everything earlier?  I don't know.

But in the meantime, how sweet is their delight over a ball?  They have fun on their computer, yes, and they often sing along with it and laugh (and I don't limit their time on it unless they've gone for a stretch where I fear for their eyesight), but it can't compare to looks on their faces when they are playing with a ball.  Or duct tape.  Or a board game.  Or piano.  Gadgets wouldn't eliminate those things, but would take up available time for them.

Electronic gadgets are so alluring.  I'm sure if we had video games at home I would enjoy it.  I can waste time playing Tetris with the best of them.  But I feel better if I'm building a violin.  Or reading.  Or rolling a ball down the stairs with my son.

I won't be able to keep certain distractions at bay forever, but for now?  I'd rather pull a ball out of my bag to entertain my kids than a cell phone.


  1. That is such a sweet story about Ian. Stories like that are hard not to cherish.

    1. My husband's the best. Can't believe he was only 19 when I met him. Love him more now than ever.

  2. Replies
    1. Seriously? That would be great! You are the best stand partner ever.

  3. Want a like button here!? And, I have become like one of those terrible people always on the cell phone. I am however aware of it. Perhaps because I am surrounded by balls all day?

    1. If working in a juggling store doesn't make you appreciate how to play, nothing will!

  4. Sometimes in the midst of all the media and computer gadgetry that is thrown at us we lose sight of those simple pleasures.

    I found a jump rope in the One Spot at the 'Jay and picked it up. I had it sitting on the kitchen table when Bitty and her friend came in from school--the play outside together everyday for about an hour or so to unwind before coming in to do homework. Anyhow, they saw that jump rope and you would have thought it was something magical. They played with it all afternoon. :o)

    That said, we DO have all those electronic gadgets in our house--I'm afraid I'm to blame, I can't help myself. However, I have a spot on the counter where all gadgets must be placed by 9:30, end of story. So far, this is just for me, however, when the girls are older and have gadgetry of their own, the rule is already well established.

    I ignore my phone when I'm with others, but definitely have friends who can't. It truly is a compulsion, and I have read that folks get a little burst of happy hormones when that text or new email comes through. I don't know. :shrug: I DO know I seem to have hijacked your comments...so sorry.

    As for the lovely weather we're having, I'm so sorry you're not. :o( Spring is on its way though, I promise!

    1. I've given up on Spring. Better to accept our cold, damp fate.

      Jump ropes are the best. I promised my daughter a new one if it ever stops raining enough to use it.

    2. I love how Liam can go from playing on his DS to playing with sidewalk chalk and bubbles and think it's the best thing ever. He's also been known to play with a stick for hours :)

  5. When I was pregnant last summer, Stu and I took a long walk; we talked exactly about this topic, and how technology was going to impact Forrest. When we were children; we certainly did not have computers, cellphones, laptops, Ipods, Ipads, and all that fancy stuff, and then suddenly; our son was going to be born in the world filled with technology that continued to get newer and newer every year. We talked about how it was going to impact Forrest's childhood, and how we wanted to incorporate what we had into his childhood.

  6. Korinthia, I love your blog and your approach to parenting, and I thought the post was great. Particularly the bit about Ian turning off the phone and also how you were able to play with the ball and have fun in a public space.

    But that last line stung a little, as a smart phone user and mother of a toddler. Sometimes, the phone is one of our tricks to keep DS still and quiet for a few moments in places where he can't run around with a ball (for instance, for plane trips we have an app that whirls around pretty designs and helps him fall asleep). There's also a drawing app I've used to gain his attention when I happened not to have the stroller to lock him into and I was trying to keep him from running around our drug store while we were waiting for his pink eye drops prescription (so I really, really didn't want him running around touching everything). And of course the best thing about our iPhones is video chatting with grandparents, which is easier than doing on the computer.

    I appreciate and respect your perspective, and maybe there's a part of you that might think, "Well, I made it through having a baby and a toddler with a deployed husband without one of those things," though maybe you're too kind to have that cross your mind. I just want to put out there that as someone with these gadgets married to a tech geek, we've had lots of discussions about what's appropriate and what's not between the two of us and try to find ways to make technology a useful, appropriate tool in our lives.

    I look forward to reading more about how you navigate this issue with your kids, especially as they get towards the age they might want a cell phone.

    1. I'm sorry SarahB! Never meant to make you feel judged, I swear.

      I just feel like my life has diverged significantly from what other people find necessary anymore, and it's interesting. I'm sure if we had such things we'd like them. I'm sure they are exceedingly useful. If my life were different I'm sure I'd feel I had to have them, too. I just happen to have a life where a regular phone and a laptop are enough for me right now.

      I suspect as my kids are able to wander out farther into the world cell phones for all of us will become necessary so we can coordinate ourselves better and be able to find each other. When Aden went off with a friend to Chicago for a day I gave her my phone for emergencies. But on a typical day all my kids are in reach, so it's not a concern.

      The last line is only about myself in this moment. The ball makes me happy, the cell phone does not. As I said, the tool is only as good as the intention of the user. I have no doubt you use your smartphone as just an extension of your parenting style in a loving, thoughtful way.

    2. Thanks! I'm probably a little sensitive from the early days of toddlerhood being a bit challenging. It's hard to figure out what works best (or at all!) at this point. I'd much rather be able to use the ball than the cell phone, that's for sure, but the cell phone has its moments. :)

    3. Hey, the ball in many situations is a bad idea. That's why I keep it in my bag and I'm the one who decides if it's okay to use. I think back to flying to NYC alone with a preschooler a toddler and a newborn, tons of airport delays, diapers to deal with.... If I could have packed an iPad for on the flight instead of a bag of drawing supplies and whatnot I probably would. My kids just happen to be all old enough now that their entertainment isn't always my concern. Toddlers? Whatever works to keep them compliant and safe in public is good.

  7. I love this! We did not have t.v. at all for several years. We don't have a gaming system or hand held games. We DO have smartphones and computers, and the kids spend a LOT of time on the computers. When your kids are older you are definitely going to want to text (because that is how you will have to communicate with them!). But there's nothing wrong with being a little less plugged in. Kids' social lives are very different now because so much communication happens via text, and plans are very fluid because people are expected to ALWAYS be available by phone. I don't know that I think any of this is good--it's just the way things are--and I think you are wise to hold out as long as you can even through in the end "resistance is futile" ;-)

    1. I know a few people who have no problem with computers/smartphones but won't let their kids watch TV. Whereas one of my favorite things is gathering as a family to watch Nature every week, and TV doesn't concern me. Every family has to find their own comfort level with all such things. Isn't it fascinating to get a peek at how other people do things sometimes? This is why I have trouble keeping away from shows like Wife Swap, because who knew?

      How sad we'll all end up as Borg, though. They have no appreciation for color.

  8. As you know, we are a very active house. The kids are either at an organized practice or weather permitting, outside biking, scootering, playing ball, skateboarding, catching critters, etc. HOWEVER, we do have all the gadgets (Wii, DS games, itouch, my nook, leappad). My guys gravitate to them in phases. It does help with Liam who is often stuck at a game or reeeeeally long swim meet. Damon loves music and his itouch has been both a great way to listen to music but to check sports scores :) I've noticed they'll really be into one game or device for a few days, but then they usually go back to something physical.

    Toys that are in constant rotation in our house regardless of age...cityblocks, legos, tech decks (mini skateboards), matchbox cars, imaginext sets (the castle is the big one right now), mini sports helmets (Damon likes to organize them), board games (especially thinkfun games) and always, always pens, markers, paper etc...

    The kids have also been know to create weird (only they know the rules) games with a variety of balls that involve the stairs, my room, mini goals, and all three at the same time.

    Like most things, I think everything needs balance. Junk food all the time would be bad, but heck a 4 piece chicken nugget and small fries isn't the end of the world. So one day Liam spends too much time playing angry birds on my nook or phone because he's sitting through his millionth game or practice...I don't worry. He usually balances it out with some wacky game with his brothers or kids in the neighborhood.

    Looks like a great ball!

  9. oh and the texting is the only way Emma and I communicate sometimes. I get about 25 texts from her a day. The therapists think this is a way for her to reassure herself that I'm still there and not going anywhere. While I sometimes just think it's annoying, I value that connection.

    1. I would think with all you have going on juggling five kids you'd have to have whatever helps! I think that's a good sign that Emma touches base so often. It must be reassuring for her to be able to reach out from anywhere.

      I love how active your kids are. Mine are all itching to get on their bikes if the weather ever improves.

  10. I couldn't agree with you more! My husband and I got our first smart phones about a year ago, and they're great. And our daughter, who is now 12, uses her iPod to text and Facetime with friends. But not all the time. Most of her time is spent doing real things, not virtual things.

    Something that always really bugs me is when I see parents out with their children, on the phone and ignoring those great conversation opportunities. I like technology a lot, and I've made friends through blogging, but I don't ever want technology to get in the way of my real human interactions.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  11. Have you read the Atlantic piece about the iPad generation? I thought the most interesting part was that the people who are inventing all these apps for kids tend to keep them away from their own kids!

    1. Wow is that interesting. I was most struck by the questions about what Maria Montessori would say, because my kids are in a Montessori school and it's a big issue of debate in that teaching community whether or not they should be even using computers in that environment. Some choose to include them on a limited basis, but I know in Quinn's class he's talked about his teacher's iPad, Mona does some Math on a computer, and Aden often is told to look things up on one, so apparently in our version of Montessori it's considered okay.

      But yeah, if I forbid my kids from having much to do with violins it would make you wonder what's up, wouldn't it?

  12. Thanks for your thoughts Kory. This is something we've been thinking about in our house a lot recently, because Sam was recently commenting that he was the only kid in his class without a cellphone or iPad of his own. (I know kids have technology like this at a younger and younger age - But *every* kid in a fourth grade class? We're not sure if he's right about that, or the other kids whose parents are hold outs like us aren't broadcasting it to their peers.)

    Mike and I have one cell phone (definitely not a smart one), that stays in the desk drawer except for calling our parents long distance and road trips. So, that makes it a bit easier for us to tell Sam that he's not going to be getting one any time soon. I think he understands our reasoning, but it's always hard to be different. (And he is acutely aware of how *different* our family is, in so many ways.)

    Another piece that isn't often mentioned in these conversations about technology is the cost. Smartphones and iPads and the monthly plans that go with them - They're expensive, and we'd have to decide it was a priority (over other things) if we wanted to fit that into our budget. That's a factor for us, but it seems like it just isn't even a consideration for most people? I guess a cell phone plan is on the list of essentials (like mortgage, water bill, etc) for many people, so it's not really a decision, but a necessity.

    One downside to our low-tech lifestyle (very little TV, no smartphone/iPad, kids use the computer very little) is that these things are so alluring to our kids when they're available. My nieces and nephew have lots of technology in their life, but they can tune out the TV in the background or get bored with grandma's iPad quickly, while if a TV is on, my kids are glued to it, and if the iPad is there, they can't put it down. I'm not so happy about that part, but perhaps it's a side effect that we just have to deal with?

    Anyway, thanks for your always-thoughtful reflection. And that does look like a great ball. We have a similar one which Sam spends hours bouncing around his room.

    1. You're right about cost. For us internet is worth the cost, cable is not. A Netflix subscription is worth the cost, a cell phone plan is not. (I think we pay $15 a month for our cell phones? I don't even know. It was the lowest cheapest most nothingest plan available. But when someone told me they spent around $100 a month to use their cell phone my jaw dropped because I had no idea.)

      And the thing about the smartphones and the iPads is they are designed to become obsolete, so they are expensive and short lived. I have a Mac at the store that we bought new when we opened in 2008 and when I wanted to replace the keyboard and mouse last year nothing at the Apple store was even compatible anymore because my machine was so old. We found something that works with it online, but for the true Apple buff they would have to upgrade all the software and eventually the whole machine. And trusting kids with something worth hundreds of dollars.... How often are those things getting dropped and ruined that we don't really hear about? I'm surprised by how willingly people hand over their expensive phones to toddlers and babies because I wouldn't be that trusting. (But maybe those devices are heartier than I realize?)

      Your kids are so dear. There are some kids I worry about, but yours are not among them. (Well, except for Ben reopening that cut on his head over and over. But there's not an app for that anyway.)

  13. Another great post, Kory. My kids love electronic gadgets, and it seems like each Christmas seems to bring another means of inducing electronic stupefaction. On the other hand, their preferred activity still seems to be playing outside with other kids, often without toys at all, much less electronic ones. I'm satisfied that we've found a balance. The big loser has actually been TV. The kids hardly see it at all, and that's not the result of any anti-TV campaign on our part. It just doesn't compete well.

    As for smart phones, I was just marveling the other about how much executive brain function I've ceded to my smart phone. It's stunning. Instead of making and executing plans with people, I go where the phone tells me to go and text my status to those affected as it happens. I wonder what's happened to the gray matter I used to use to organize my life. I don't seem to be using it to crank out law review articles. I suspect it just atrophied. I suppose I could rage against it, but it's just so much better and efficient than me at running my life, I'm inclined to let it. Maybe the social skill of calling up a friend, making an appointment, and following an actual map to meet for lunch will be using a slide rule.


  14. Like using a slide rule. You'll just have to fill in all the words I skipped in my haste! :)

    1. I think anytime in life you feel like you've struck a balance with anything you can call that a big win.

      Whenever I think about TV I think about yours breaking one day and then your family never replacing it. You once told me that you thought kids who grew up with TV were better at managing their time than you were in college because they knew how to cram in the work they wanted to do and still have time for TV. You had all the time in the world to get things done growing up so, you found the more intense schedule at OSU trickier to adapt to. Do you still think there is truth in that or have you changed your mind?

      You know, it's a stereotype that often proves apt about the male half of traditional couples not being in tune with the family schedule. It was a rare dad I ever talked to who could speak with authority about a lesson time change when I was teaching a lot. They nearly always deferred to the mom. If gadgets make a better balance there possible I'm all for it. (Even at the expense of some of your grey matter. You probably didn't need it anyway.)

    2. Yeah, it broke when I was eight. It was a crappy b/w with rabbit ears anyway. My folks didn't get another one until I was 18. I'm sure that was my best guess at the time, and I would have remembered the situation better then than now. Twenty-five years on into my adult life, I see my struggles with disorganization then and now as an innate characteristic. Kind of a subclinical (or maybe clinical-but-as-yet-undiagnosed) ADHD. My late teenage years when I met you were kind of the beginning of a long-term jihad against this deficiency. I did poorly in high school, and was worried about making it in college. Sometimes the struggle is successful, sometimes not. One finds ways to compensate. But I've been at it for so long, I'm less inclined to attribute it to environmental factors (like the fact I didn't have a TV) and more apt to think of it as just part of as an unhelpful predilection to contend with. I suppose we all have them.

    3. I've actually read some interesting pieces about how smartphones used well are excellent for people with ADHD, so hey! Whatever helps!

  15. How interesting that such a simple object could ignite pleasure with your kids and inspire you to write this intriguing post. I'm glad you included the photo of the ball - maybe it was fated that you would find it!

    1. Oh you gotta have a picture of the ball. As a reader all I would be thinking is "I want to see this ball." (I had a really pretty one of it all by itself, but my husband said it needed scale.)

  16. We are a family that has all of the above, but we are well aware of the pitfalls of having your devices become more important than the people in your life. Not one of my kids would ever think to have their phone out at the table--that is my biggest peeve ever.

    My 20-year old son goes straight for his round, red ball made out of some something that makes it bounce a little, but not too much--it's about the size of a melon--whenever he comes home. He loves to throw it against a wall while he watches TV.