Back in 1989 my parents bought a small house at Edisto Beach in South Carolina. It was small, less than 700 square feet, was built in the 30’s, and was in need of lots of love. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, kitchen, and large front porch, screened and covered. The yard was a sandlot littered with sand spurs. Asbestos siding hung from the exterior, some of which was chipped and barely hanging on. The front porch planks were swollen and undulating and the cabinetry was rusted from years of salty humid air. The interior walls were tongue and groove wooden planks, dark walnut in color which made the space feel even smaller. Needless to say, it didn’t have air conditioning.
I remember every square inch of that place because our family, a family of six, between 1989 and 2000, spent what felt like half of our lives there. Those were special days, the six of us crammed into 600 square feet making the most of our weekends together while bit by bit, project by project, making the home just a little bit nicer and more accommodating. We’d arrive late on Friday evening and usually return late Sunday, scrambling to get ready for the school week ahead.
Those days, side by side with my Dad as his helper, I learned how to be handy. What we didn’t know how to do, we just figured out and tried not to get ourselves electrocuted. While I can’t claim to have been the happiest camper all the time (I wanted to be doing other things with my weekends), I look back now on those memories more fondly than ever because those days we all focused on one thing - being together.
I took those days for granted at the time - like any kid would, but now I look back with such an appreciation for all those memories that all I want to do is find a way to replicate that experience in some way with my own family. I ask myself, “where are we creating those types of lifelong memories” and “what are we doing today that is going to be with our boys forever”. Being conscious of this helps us think through what’s important for our family and what we want to create for our kids, and it’s not always easy. With everything going on, it goes by quickly and to be honest, it's a source of anxiety and stress sometimes, because I want so much for my kids that I start to drive myself a bit mad trying to make it available to them. Then it hits me and I realize that I’m probably doing it all wrong...
When I look back and think about what actually made the experience such an impressionable one, I can probably pinpoint a few things, but none may be as important as the fact that while we had a television in the house, it didn’t have cable. If you’ve ever fiddled with an old school set of TV rabbit ears, you know how useless they were. Unless you stood there at the TV with the antenna in-hand, you couldn’t get a decent picture to come through and in the odd chance you did, it was rarely worth watching.
Not having a television to occupy us was key. We went everywhere on that island and stayed busy. We were either at the beach or on our bikes, sometimes up to no good, but we were outside playing, burning energy and having fun, like the old days. In fact, Edisto hadn’t necessarily ever left the 60’s it seemed, so it felt like the old days that you hear your parents and grandparents talking about.
We learned how to deal with our boredom because we didn’t have a choice. We could stare at the wall or get outside and find something to occupy our time, something lots of children today struggle with. Our children today are so accustomed to being stimulated constantly, that maybe one of the best things we can do for them is to force them to be bored for a while. I doubt I’d look back so fondly on my time at Edisto if I had spent every moment staring at a phone or watching TV, because I wouldn’t have remembered it. It would have just been a blur and we would all do well to remember that.
Those great memories we have from our childhood didn’t involve a screen; they involve the absence of one. Because our parents inadvertently forced us to figure out how to keep ourselves entertained, we not only had a blast, but we also learned valuable skills and had experiences we otherwise wouldn't have, and for that I’m so grateful.
Those experiences undoubtedly shaped who I am today, something I am trying to remain conscious of as a parent. How do we give our children enough freedom to explore and be kids without being irresponsible parents? That’s a question we all have to answer for ourselves. All I know for certain is that my best memories have come from the times I've been most unplugged and present. It's harder and harder to do that these days, but for the sake of our kids and ourselves, we need to make a conscious effort to role model what that looks like.