My son and his iPad have a complicated relationship. A device that was originally used for soothing comfort has slowly become a stimming machine that sends him into furious fits of clapping excitement. Separate from the one he uses for communication; this particular screen is strictly for entertainment. He starts and stops videos, swipes through various apps, and goes a hundred miles per hour from the moment he grabs it to the second you pry it from his clinging grasp.
It went from being a must-have for any outdoor Lucas outing to something that I purposely leave home. Without the pull of his tablet there to distract him, he’s just so much more focused. Yeah, for the most part, that device is not the great thing it once was.
And still, there is nothing he loves more.
When school breaks come along, we typically abandon our semi-stringent minimal-iPad rule. After all, it’s Lucas’s vacation too. His sister is laying around the house in pajama pants and making Tik-Tok videos all day. The least we can do is let him have his favorite toy in the world. What type of monsters would stop that? We’re not monsters. Just to prove it, we let him overdo it on his apps more so than usual.
This creates a tolerance and soon enough, we’re having trouble getting him to part with it at all. Inevitably, though, breaks end and the classroom rears its scholarly head. We send him back all hopped up on Apple products for his cold-turkey back-to-school trek and we wait to get that note home saying, “Lucas seemed distracted. Very hard getting him to transition. He kept looking for his iPad.” I always hang my head in shame when I read it.
I hated that feeling so, this year, I made the decision not to let it happen. In my mind, there was only one way to save his class from his day-long touchscreen withdrawal. That was to do it here first. Yup, I would keep his iPad away for the entire final day of Spring Break. It sounded crazy to everyone, including me, but it had to be done. I knew that with my son, it would just take one day to break the spell. I’d seen that each year with his return to school. There’s a note on day one and he’s fine on day two. So, we’ll just do day one at home. That should work, right? We both would have to go through 24 hours of hell, but it would be worth it. Hopefully.
I felt the effects of this plan immediately. Much like most of the vacation, Lucas was up at 5AM and searching for his swipeable addiction. He stumbled into my room and tapped me on the forehead as I slept. This time, instead of handing him the device as I had during days prior, I told him to return to bed. He wasn’t happy.
He followed my instructions and angrily stomped off. Sadly, that was for less than ten minutes. What followed was a steady parade of forehead taps and go-to-beds. This repeated continuously until I finally forced myself out of bed and onto the adventure ahead.
It was all downhill from there. The rest of the day was unlike any we had the entire break. Nothing seemed to soothe this half-pint iPad seeker. For most of the day, he attempted to get my attention and ask for this one item that I wasn’t giving him.
How does he try to get attention? Well, when my son wants something, he comes and taps you. When you look up, he will wave…and wave…and wave. The moment you wave back, he grabs your hand and attempts to lead you to where he believes the iPad is hidden. This game goes on for, well, ever.
If he had words, all he would be saying is, “Hey. Hey. Yo. You. Hey. You. Yo. Let’s go. Hey. You there? Look. Look up. Yo. Hey. Gimme your hand. Gimme. Gimme…”
Keep in mind, I find this kid to be adorable. So it’s hard not to laugh as he frantically taps my hand and mouths “Hi” one inch from my face. I realize how frustrating this situation must be for him and I don’t want to send mixed signals. So I pacify my amusement, give him a plain look, and say, “No. Lucas. Let’s play or watch TV. No iPads.” He usually responds with a whine and runs out of the room, plotting his impending return within seconds.
After a while, he ditched pleasantries and just started using his sign for iPad. He extends one thumb and presses it into the palm of his other hand. So there he was, aggressively thumb-poking over and over again with an annoyed look. I kept repeating, “No, Lucas. We can’t do the iPad today.” Then I would do the sign for iPad and the sign for “all done” and watch as he’d get red in the face. It made me feel pretty bad.
The whole time, I had a persistent internal voice trying to talk me into just giving it to him. There were so many reasons. I love him. I hate to see him sad. Those are givens, but my mindset wasn’t entirely selfless. Sure, I felt bad for him, but I felt bad for me too. This day had been monumentally annoying and I had done it all to myself with no guarantee that it would even make a difference. It was non-stop since I woke up and there was no escape. Everywhere I went and everything I did had my eight-year-old thumb-pokin’ boy following behind like an episode of the Twilight Zone. By his miserably moody bedtime, I had forgotten why I was even doing this.
The next morning, Lucas tapped me on the head awake at 4:45. Much like I had done so many times before, I told him to go to bed. In typical defiant fashion, he stood there, with his hands folded in front of him, staring at me with a look that said,“Get up and make me, pops.” I rolled over with a pillow gripped to my face and fully expected him to be back in a minute.
When I got up an hour later to get him ready, the house was silent. I began imagining all the places he could be hiding or destroying. As I stumbled from my bedroom, I peered into his and saw him there, asleep on his bed. I couldn’t believe it. I told him to go back to bed and he went. I felt like I had magical powers. This was like our household equivalent of spotting a leprechaun on a unicorn with Bigfoot.
When he finally woke up a short while later, Lucas was all smiles. We ended up having the best morning and, believe it or not, he didn’t ask for the iPad once. School went off without a hitch too. No notes. No issues. Nothing. Just my smiling boy who, after dinner that night, got to use his iPad again for an hour and stimmed to his heart’s content. He’d earned it.
I’m glad I didn’t give in that day. 24 hours seems like a long time because it is a long time. However, now those 24 hours are over and we can relish in what we’ve accomplished. We both worked harder than ever on no-iPad Sunday. I hope he’s as proud of us as I am. It’s just a reminder that if we take everything day by day, there’s really nothing we can’t do.