It’s too quiet. I creep to the tent, careful to avoid the dry leaves. I ease the zip gently until I can peek through the fly. Two bodies sprawled on sleeping bags. Beloved Nintendo DS’s strewn unoccupied, a disconcerting sight. They are reading. My heart flutters. It’s the stuff of my dreams.
After the craziness of Christmas it’s a relief to hit the road. Three have joined their mum for some time on the beach, and we’ve bundled up the other two for a week in the bush. The boys have pitched their tent, and Steve and I scored the van. Back 2 Basics Zan Style. (We parked strategically for Internet access; I have a copywriting deadline I can meet on a camping chair.)
Our digitally resistant annual camping rendezvous has been adapted this year, in a curious little experiment. Besides my laptop, we’re accompanied by the boys’ Nintendo DSs and a handful of games. And by the look of things, we’ve made a breakthrough. Two days in and the carefully selected books I placed in the boys’ zone have infiltrated DS central. Big Nate Makes the Grade and Ratburger are being consumed hungrily by my pre-teens.
I have a love/hate relationship with video games and the screen-dominated world my children inhabit. I’d be a hypocrite to ban their DSs; I’m no worse off for the hours of Tetris, Frogger and Donkey Kong I absorbed in my youth. And I’ll be the first to admit the relief from bantering and testosterone fuelled wrestling when those little hand held consoles light up. It’s not lost on me that the antisocial coma that irritates me when my children play DS on long trips is not unlike my own book-loving mother’s protests to get my head out of The Babysitters Club, look out the car window and see the world. But in my battle to balance the media content in the lives of this generation of digital nomads, I’ve worked hard to pass on my voracious appetite for books, so that my kids can appreciate the thrill of the latest cult paperback as much as the excitement of the newly released Super Paper Mario.
As a child my bedroom doubled as the local library. My neighbours borrowed Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and The Famous Five from my bursting bookshelves with their hand-contacted cards. Now my children take pleasure in my old favourites, from Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings, to Judy Blume. Besides their own healthy collections, we borrow from the library once a week, and they check out Fishpond.com before reserving a mix of titles on the library website.
And now my ten year old wants a Kindle. I’m coming to terms with it. My own tactile appreciation of the crisp pages of a novel and the fondness for my crudely cut Mother’s Day bookmark are lost on children deftly at ease turning pages with the swipe of a screen. In fact, with the growing demise of major bookstores, I’ll be ordering my own eReader unless I’m happy re-reading my personal book collection for the rest of my life.
Ultimately, it comes down to moderation and responsible usage. I’ve awoken the kids to the fact that the digital giants deliberately release new versions of their portable game systems to render the superceded model inferior. And they realise (well, I hope so) that the new Moshi Monsters Theme Park they’ve been lusting for won’t change their lives. My children no longer scream in horror as the sun rises on our Screen Free days. The Lego, the Barbies, the train tracks and Mouse Trap get a workout. My nine year old retreats to his room to play ‘men’ with his army figures. And they even play ‘libraries’; borrowing books from room to room, with my eight year old in her reading glasses at the kitchen bench swiping barcodes with a potato peeler.
Back in the tent, I check to see if the batteries are dead on the DSs (they’re not) before climbing between my deeply absorbed boys with a cherished copy of The Bronze Horseman.
For now the balance seems right. There’s hope for us yet.
Olivia Zan is a copywriter, a runner and a dressmaker. She manages a blended family by day. And when five heads hit the pillow at sunset, her studio comes to life with the tap of the Mac, the beat of the treadmill and the hum of the Singer.