Summer without the iPad

by Clive Doucet

Felix with a crab
Felix shows his grandfather a crab he found.

You would think there can’t be much to be learned about raising children. After all, mothers and fathers have been doing it for a couple of hundred millennia, but questions still surface. Did Paleo husband and wife sit around the campfire discussing programming for their offspring? I’m guessing they did. They probably worried about Johnny’s spear-throwing lessons or if Janice’s wall paintings were up to par. It’s always been natural and normal for parents to be anxious about giving their kids the best chance in life.

The problem is what is natural and normal changes as society changes. Spear throwing isn’t so much in demand these days, although wall painting is still plenty popular. The other problem is that ideas about how to raise the next generation are also changing, so it can get confusing. My grandmother’s generation was told by baby-raising experts that they shouldn’t pick up their daughters when they cried. If she did this, it would slow the child’s ability to develop regular sleeping and eating patterns, which would be bad. Wanting to be the best mother, she would sit at the top of the stairs weeping while her daughter cried in her bedroom down the hall.

Felix and Clea hiking
Felix and Clea by the sea
Photos: courtesy of Clive Doucet

Now, we’ve got attachment theory, which tells young mothers that this is all wrong, they must be “attached” to their infants. So parents sleep with children until there’s not enough room in the bed. The good news is there seems to be fewer weeping parents. On the other hand, the grinding of teeth has gone up.

My own take on baby holding is if you want to hold the baby, do it and if you don’t, don’t; but I wouldn’t put much stock in what I have to say. I’m just a grandparent and grandparenting has its own challenges. First of all, grandparents can be a little on the cranky side and not want to throw themselves headfirst down slides or participate in other obvious joys.

Grandparents also grew up differently than the parental generation, and thus are often plagued with their own ideas about parenting. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes, not so much. I grew up in a world without iPads, iPhones and so on. I’m kind of still there. I will email people but that’s about it. I’m not even fond of Goggle facts. When looking for illumination, I like to grope my way along shelves looking for something called a book, a heavy thing with dark, immoveable print on it.

When grandson Felix and granddaughter Clea came down to Cape Breton, the first thing I did was park Felix’s iPad in a place where he could not find it. It was my peculiar thought that we’d try to amuse ourselves without any virtual help. We walked down to the harbour to look for crabs under the rocks. We went swimming. Sometimes, we went to a real beach and played in the waves. Sometimes we played hide and seek around the house in the long grass. Sometimes, Grandpa refused to play at all and just said, “Go play outside. We’ll do something exciting later.” (N.B. It’s important not to define later.)

Felix read two books in two weeks. We built a fire pit and collected rocks. Clea became a paddleboard fanatic. Three and half hours was her record for standing up and falling in the water laughing. The paddle part of paddleboarding didn’t seem to matter.

I can’t say I learned anything like this from my own grandfather. He was still working a small farm and I did chores with him starting with milking the cows in the morning, ending with splitting wood in the evening. The idea of him going swimming with me would have been ludicrous. I never thought Grandfather had the slightest interest in entertaining me. I just accepted that Grandfather defined his day, not me. It was my job to figure out how to fit in with his life, not the reverse. Although I didn’t think about it at the time, it turned out this was a very valuable thing to learn. Later, it would help me in countless ways.

I don’t have a small farm, but I do have a house in a hayfield not far from the old farm. There I think my grandchildren are learning many of the same things I did with my own grandfather, but not in the same way and not the least of which is, grandfathers are their own peculiar universe.

I was lucky then that my parents let me run outside their control for the summer and I’m lucky now that my children and son-in-law let me visit the horrors of unprogramed time on their children, which I’m guessing wasn’t too terrible because Felix never did ask for his iPad back.

Clive Doucet is a former city councillor for Capital Ward, a writer and poet. His last book was Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual.

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