The Discreet Charm of Going 'Unplugged'
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster has two children in school, which means that, like a lot of parents, she's busy picking them up and dropping them off all evening long. So when she found out that it was possible to get a break from all the driving, scheduling and carpooling for one day, she was relieved, at first.
ANA HEBRA FLASTER:
A few years ago, I read about a town--in New Jersey, I think--that for one day actually unplugged itself from this crazed 24-7 world of e-mails, car pools and after-school activities that has us all in a death grip. `How do I get me some of that?' I wondered. I mean, I do what I can to keep up in our little town, a place full of PhDs who coach kids' soccer teams, run volunteer groups and reprogram errant satellites from their cell phones, a place where first-graders know how crowded a 7 AM math club can get, a town where little synchronized skaters eat cereal dinners in the backseat as their moms careen through evening traffic. My own sixth-grader is a whiz at organizing conference calls with her friends, and my husband and I do some of our most efficient communicating via e-mail.
So when I heard our town would have an unplugged day, I was thrilled. On the prearranged day, the town canceled all after-school events. No homework for students. No civic or religious meetings for frazzled adults. Families were to eat a home-baked pizza together, actually sit down and chew at the same time, for heaven's sake. Everyone would digest their meal the old-fashioned way. Then we'd have family bonding: board games, sing-alongs, read-aloud activities. By now, you're thinking, `Why, this is just what we need in Wigged-out-ville!'
Before you go out and form a committee with a stranger, keep in mind that forcing thousands of people into a romantic, slow mood is not for the meek. Think about how we want our winter holidays to be all about family, love and relaxation. Instead, the whole thing backfires, usually, when you're the 25th person in the post office line and your packages fall onto the backside of person number 24.
Fantasies die hard. I couldn't contain myself, either. Before long, I pictured a Rockwellian scene for our whole family that evening, one that would heal us and make us whole. But unplugged night started at our house with cranky kids who were miffed, because Hebrew school hadn't been canceled. How unfair is that? They walked in at 5:30, tired and suspicious. I showed them the dough and the shredded cheese we would soon work into a steaming pizza, the Scrabble board I'd set up in the den. They looked at me with a futile expression of the condemned.
I saw I'd need another adult and fast. I called my husband's cell. `I just made the train,' he said, stressed to think he'd be too late to relax. I held the children's attention with a strange mix of dominoes, Gin Rummy, some bad piano and charades. When my husband arrived, we ate our pizza. Everybody felt nervous. Would we be able to relax?
By bedtime, everybody was so strung out from being nice to each other that we collapsed in a messy, tickly pile, laughing on our bed. Relaxation was never so stressful.
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SIEGEL: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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