Our Newest Addition
We’re adding a new member to our family. This time, it’s not a kid or pet. If we gained either one, my wife would divorce me. I’ve been on thin ice ever since, well, our entire marriage. Thankfully, our new addition is more precious than any lifeform. It’s a new computer. The critical detail here is we’re keeping our old one. That’s right: We’re going to be a two-desktop household. It sounds like the ultimate luxury until you realize there are six of us. Let the artificial scarcity commence.
Want to feel morally superior to me as a parent and a human being? Get your judging fingers warmed up and into position on your keyboard. I’m going to give you a rundown of all the screens in my house. Then, I’ll attempt to justify their presence here by describing my philosophy on electronics. I already laid it out in a chapter of Bare Minimum Parenting, but no one reads books anymore, which is exhibit a for why I’m right. Let’s start out with my kids’ personal devices. They have Amazon tablets that my mom picked up on some sort of triple-stacked sale for around twenty dollars each. At that price, they’re basically disposable, which is how my kids treat them. I think they’ve gone through two apiece. Good thing grandma buys in bulk. My twelve-year-old, Betsy, has her own phone with a SIM card that can make calls and send text messages. We had to get her that so she could babysit when my wife and I are out of the house. Adding one phone to our plan was cheaper than daycare. My ten-year-old, Mae, has Lola’s old phone. It can only make calls on Wi-Fi. It’s just as well that we didn’t spend money to get Mae a new one because she never has any idea where it is. On those rare occasions when she accidentally ends up with it in her hand, she mostly uses it to video call her friends. If there was one thing this house needed, it was the sound of more girls plotting.
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Then there are the TVs. We have three that are fifty inches and one that’s sixty-five. One TV is in the master bedroom, obviously. I don’t know what else married couples would do in bed. There’s one in the toy room. That’s essential for when I work from home. I need to be able to banish the kids to a different floor of the house and have them be distracted when they get there. Otherwise, my super-important Skype call is going to be drowned out by the sound of armed combat. On the main floor, we have a TV in the living room, which we’re almost never in. Living implies having a life, which is probably why that space isn’t for us. We spend more time ten feet away in the dining room, which has the biggest TV in the house and also food. We needed to have our main display there. If we’re all staring at the same screen, we can’t see or hear who’s chewing with their mouth open. Netflix trumps manners every time.
This is half as many screens as we have in our house.
You couldn’t possibly think less of me at this point, but let’s keep going. Rock bottom is more of a waypoint than a hard limit. Each of those large TVs has an attached Xbox Series X. I bought one new and got the other three used on Facebook Marketplace. Even after getting scammed out of two hundred dollars on one fake purchase because humanity is the worst, I still saved money over paying full retail. This over-the-top indulgence was more for me than the kids. I wanted a way for us to all play Halo together on Friday nights. My effort to build up a fleet of the newest gaming consoles was all for naught. Most Halo nights, I’m lucky if I can get three kids on at once, and Lola has all but forsaken me on those occasions. She finds it much more exciting to cross stitch and watch one of her shows. I guess it’s true what they say: Men are from Mars, and women are from any region that gets dubbed Korean period dramas.
Here’s where things get really crazy. When I upgraded to four Xbox Series Xs, I was left with two old Xboxes from the last generation. They still worked fine, and I would get next to nothing for them if I sold them, so I put them in Betsy and Mae’s room under their loft beds. Two second-hand twenty-four inch TVs later, they each had their own fully if slightly-dated gaming station just inches from where they slept. When you add all those screens and devices together, my daughters collectively have infinite entertainment options. There’s no way they could ever be bored for even a single second of their waking lives. So what do they do with their free time? Fight over my desktop computer, of course.
Instead of the millions of hours of scripted content they could watch or the equally unlimited number of hours worth of games they could play, they choose to watch terrible, low-budget YouTube videos on one monitor while playing free browser-based games on the other. Never mind that they could stream YouTube on their tablets while playing games on literally any TV in the house. They all want to be directly in front of my computer at all times while they collectively forget that any of the other devices exist. Naturally, this leads to a constant fight for the computer chair. There can be no peace without victory in the never-ending battle that is family life.
Adding to the conflict, it’s the one spot I want to be as well. It’s the computer I use to write all my books and newsletters. However, I lack my kids’ tenacity. They’re like barnacles on the hull of a ship. No matter how fast I scrape them off, there’s always another one clinging to the side. If I stand up to go to the bathroom, there will be three children in my place when I get back. I don’t want to ban them from the computer entirely because I don’t use it twenty-four hours a day. I wish I did. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so far behind on all of my deadlines. If I’m not writing, I have no problem letting someone else take over. Unfortunately, if you give kids an inch, they’ll take permanent possession of the most powerful CPU in the house. Every time I want to use the computer, I basically have to evict an entire squatter settlement from my desk. Fire up the bulldozer.
I have a zero tolerance policy for conflict over the desktop. The first time I hear one kid shriek at another regarding whose turn it is to use it, I kick them all off the computer for the rest of the day. As you might have guessed, that leads to a lot of kicking. I realize that letting the kids learn to share is a valuable life skill, but I don’t want to hear the process, especially when I just spent a thousand words describing the kids’ other entertainment options. They can learn to harmoniously coexist some other time, preferably when I’m not home. Harmony is a lot louder than you’d think.
If the kids would just get along, I would never boot them from any device. Many parents view screen time as the road to brain rot, but I don’t see it that way at all. I break life into two different categories: content creation and content consumption. I don’t qualitatively differentiate between reading a book, listening to a podcast, or watching a show. Either way, someone else is putting their words into my brain. Sometimes, I just want to be entertained by someone else’s ideas while I clean the bathrooms. As far as my kids go, there’s not much difference between reading a book while listening to classical music or playing a game on one screen while watching a video on the other. Either way, my children are multitasking to kill boredom twice as hard. If I were their age, I would have done the same thing. I just wish they would do it in separate corners of the house rather than congregating in one spot and fighting.
So what was my solution to the constant conflict for the desktop computer? Getting a second one, obviously. That’s way easier than teaching the kids healthy ways to resolve their disputes. The new machine wasn’t my idea. My brother-in-law Jerry, who always finds me the best deals on electronic devices, offered to sell me his old computer. I suppose all of his money-saving advice over the years could have been a long con to get me to one day buy his old computer at a jacked-up price. If it was, well-played. I’m not ashamed to reward a grifter who puts in the work. But in this case, I think the computer really is a good deal. He needed to upgrade his high-rig gaming machine to a higher-rig gaming machine and didn’t feel like going through the time and effort of selling his old one part-by-part. Instead, he offered me the fully-assembled device at a discount, which is my second favorite price point after “free.”
Why did Jerry want to sell it to me in particular? Because he witnessed the constant fights over my desktop. My children’s inability to get along is now legendary throughout the family. The last part for his new computer arrives Tuesday, at which point he’ll bring his old desktop over here. It’s still better than our current computer, which is five or six years old. When I gave you that giant list of electronic devices, I didn’t mean to imply that any of them were particularly nice. In this house, we go for quantity over quality in all situations. I plan to put the new desktop computer with two monitors in the toy room on the second floor. That way, if the kids fight over YouTube, at least I won’t have to hear it. Also, it will give me an alternate workstation. Currently, my desktop is on the main floor of the house. If I need silence because I’m doing a podcast interview or something important for my day job, I have to banish the children from that entire floor. But with a desktop in the toy room, I could instead lock myself in there and give the kids the run of the house. That might seem dangerous, but as long as they’re watching screens somewhere else, there won’t be too much damage. I don’t know how families who make their kids play with physical things survive. A child on a screen is a child who’s not destroying anything—except their mind, according to those perfect parents.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Catch you next time.
growing up when we complained that our parents weren't treating the 3 of us "fairly", my dad would say that "Peace was more important than justice."
The eighth circle of hell...
Or James’ house when the Wi-Fi is down. Tough call