Our home internet connection shut down around 5 p.m. on a Friday. Our wifi-only devices were hobbled. Our access to streaming services was cut off. In the family room, my Pokemon X&Y-addicted children were watching a red circle spin endlessly, their faces twitching with the first symptoms of withdrawal. I felt the first touch of panic and looked up the number for my ISP. The phone worked. I used that.
A call-center tech worked the checklist: Yes I’d turned my modem off and on again. Yes, all the right lights were solid. Sure, they could access it from their end. Twenty frustrating minutes later I was informed that someone would have to come to my home, but they would not reach me until Monday at the earliest. I literally begged for an earlier time. I think I made up a story about how the internet was keeping my grandmother alive or something, but I can’t be certain. Things were blurry.
Why all the hand-wringing? We’re a modern family of cord cutters who haven’t adjusted an antenna or flipped through cable channels for years. Our television is basically worthless without access to YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, and Netflix, and our television is crucial to the flow of our lives. The kid’s morning TV time gives my wife and me a chance to sit and drink coffee. The evening TV time lets us make dinner and drink alcohol. And when the kids go to bed, we veg in front of a movie.
The children reacted as if I’d told them that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy had all died in a small plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Yeah. I know, deep down that none of this is particularly healthy. Not for me, my wife, or my kids. But it’s what works. And when it doesn’t work, things are painful. I didn’t want that pain. Not for 48 hours.
I brought the grave news to my family. My wife took the news well. The children reacted as if I’d told them that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy had all died in a small plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
An hour or so later, they’d bounced back, finding their way to the backyard. One became engrossed in the sand table. The other roleplayed Pokemon with invisible enemies and allies, running breathlessly back in forth across the yard yelling, “Locario! Bone Rush!” I sat with a strong cocktail, rocking myself slowly and telling myself it would be alright. A couple more cocktails and I’d convinced myself that we wouldn’t just survive sans internet, we’d thrive.
By the time I received a 9 p.m. phone call from my ISP telling me the trouble was a neighborhood outage that would be resolved that night, I’d made my peace. Shortly thereafter, I also made an executive decision to not tell my family wifi had returned. I decided not to even tell my wife. I wanted to see how this would play out.
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On Saturday morning, the house was uncommonly quiet and I came downstairs to find the boys playing with Legos while my wife read a book on the couch. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down beside her. She looked up at me, smiled, and we chatted, uninterrupted for a full 45 minutes. It was strange. It made no sense. Why would the children be less interruptive with Legos than they are while watching cartoons and movies? Surely it was a flook.
But it was not a flook. As the day wore on, I too grabbed a book and read beside my wife. The boys, convinced their new reality was show-less, didn’t fight over who was choosing what candy-colored cartoon. Instead, they cooperated on imaginative games and helped make breakfast. A puzzle was retrieved that afternoon and the family leaned over it, helping the boys build a strategy with the pieces. We spent the evening outside, and before bedtime the whole family read stories to each other on the couch. Then the boys went down easy.
“I like that the internet went down,” my wife said. “It was a really nice day.”
Sunday came and it was much the same. Between church and yard work, the family barely entered the house at all. Sure, there was a squabble over who would use the rake first, and a meltdown regarding the lunch menu. But other than a few behavioral glitches, we looked each other in the eyes, we talked to each other, we laughed and were quiet with one another and I could not for the life of me understand why it had been so simple.
Holy shit. We were resourceful. Who knew?
Then it slowly dawned on me how the weekend had been such a success. For one thing, it was temporary. For all the kids knew, the internet would magically return after “repairs” on Monday. So it’s not as if their shows were gone for good. It was a temporary inconvenience.
But it was also a temporary inconvenience that had not been forced upon them by their parents. All the blame was on the shadowy “internet company.” Their parents were not being punitive and cruel, the company was just being really bad at its job, as it had been before and would be again.
I understood that my kids were resilient creatures who could roll with the punches (as I’d always assumed), but that it was easier for them to roll when we were all in it together. And we had been in it together, no screens, no problem. Clear-eyed, we’d leaned on our resourcefulness. Holy shit. We were resourceful. Who knew?
By Sunday night, I’d confessed to my wife that the internet had been accessible the entire time. She laughed and wasn’t even close to angry for my deceit. Because for all of us, the weekend had been wonderful. It felt longer, but not exhausting. It felt quieter, but not lazy.
As we debriefed, we both agreed that the internet would go down once a month. At least until the children were old enough to call the internet company themselves to complain. And while I do pride myself on not bullshitting my kids, this lie feels good for them. Like Santa Claus, it will come at regular intervals and give us the present of togetherness and peace.