92 Days of Summer

Put down that iPhone and look at the Grand Canyon!

Put down that iPhone and look at the Grand Canyon!

Family road trip to Grand Canyon
My husband and 16-year-old son take in their first view of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Zion National Park
The entrance to Zion National Park. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Family road trip to Grand Canyon
Off to our first Zion hike. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Grand Canyon
Zion's Emerald Pools, from which I texted my lost 16-year-old. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Elk in Grand Canyon
The elk of Grand Canyon. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Truck at Grand Canyon
A three-hour sunset tour of the Grand Canyon. No screens allowed. Photo by Dawn McMullan
Family road trip to Grand Canyon
Zion National Park
Family road trip to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Elk in Grand Canyon
Truck at Grand Canyon

In the middle of our 18-day summer vacation, my hard drive died. I was just finishing up a bit of work early Saturday morning in Vegas, a quick stop between San Diego and Zion National Park, when the screen froze. Then Chrome did some swirl move and froze again, in a cool tornado shape. My heartbeat quickened. I may have cussed.

Two hours later at the Apple store, I got the diagnosis.

Nothing could be done, at least not until I get home. I was within 15 minutes of finishing the work I needed to do for the next six days, so I wrapped it up as best as I could at the Apple store, walked back past the Trevi Fountain (I was in Caesar's Palace, of course), joined my family, and tried to forget about how semi-backed-up my MacBook was and the recovery hell I would enter upon my return to Dallas.

 It isn't just the kids. All four of us turn to our electronic hand-held crack when there is a lull.

I always work during these trips, which means we can be gone longer than if I didn't. I work while my husband drives or after everyone goes to sleep. But I generally try to take most of an entire week completely off, disconnected from all responsibilities except those of making family memories, taunting friends at home with cooler temps via Facebook, and enjoying an adult beverage with a view of water or mountains.

This will make it easier to disconnect, I said in my head between what had now turned to silent cussing. Deadlines will wait. Editors will understand. Co-workers will step in. I can live without the Facebook weather updates to those stuck in Texas. Nothing can be done.

So, with this attitude, I arrived at Zion, assuming we wouldn't have phone service, Wi-Fi, or 3G anyway during our time there and at the Grand Canyon. Assuming we'd all be disconnected. Five nights and four days. After the initial drooling and shakes phase, it was going to be amazing.

Although Zion proper didn't have any phone service, our cabin did. It wasn't great, but it was there. And my travel companions could ferret it out like they can a pint of Ben & Jerry's in the back of the freezer.

Same, although a bit sketchier, at the Grand Canyon. So I checked my email on my iPhone, posted pics of elk and views on Facebook, even texted my 16-year-old when he ran ahead on a trail and took a wrong path.

My husband took a work call and answered some work emails. Our 13-year-old texted friends, and he and his brother did yet another fantasy football draft.

Don't get me wrong. We had some great non-connected times. We hiked. We tubed down a YooHoo-colored river at Zion, the boys played putt-putt golf, we swam, sat in the hot tub, ate ice cream, took a sunset Jeep tour of the Grand Canyon, saw too many elk to count and one fox.

 I tell my kids all the time to put down the screens and engage with real people. They will not do it if I don't do it.

We went to a ranger talk about animals at Zion and one about the night sky at the Grand Canyon. We saw — and took several pics of — a Ford GT40, the coolest car my 16-year-old has ever seen, he reports.

We also watched TV, which I was prepared for. We have teenagers, so we make concessions on these trips. Although I fantasize about a screen-free vacation, I'm okay with a little end-of-day boob tube.

We watch Shark Week every summer vacation as a family. It's a tradition like Christmas stockings and Super Bowl Sunday queso. Because Shark Week hadn't quite started yet, we spent our evenings with the casts of Fast N' Loud, Naked and Afraid, Call of the Wildman ("the best show ever," my 13-year-old says, making all that money we spend on a private school education clearly worth it) and The Big Bang Theory.

This, to me, is still together time with teens. It's not the same as a hike to Zion's Emerald Pools, but it's good stuff.

Facebook, emails, texting with friends, not so much. These are all distractions that take us outside our family, not inside. For summer vacations — and, more specifically, these few days — inside is where I wanted our attentions to turn.

Now, one might argue that reading a book, which three of us love to do on these trips and our 16-year-old will do, is a similarly solo endeavor. But a book in a boy's hand is increasing his imagination.

A video game on his screen is increasing his visualization skills (not something any boy or man really needs help with), shortening an already ADD-like attention span, and a total waste of time. Judge much? Same with texting. You've got 50 weeks a year to talk with your friends, in person or virtually. Give me these two.

It isn't just the kids. All four of us turn to our electronic hand-held crack when there is a lull. My husband worries about work if he isn't in touch. It may not be much time, but it's a bit most days — enough so he can't disconnect.

The only time he will intentionally stop communication is if he's out of the country. I don't like it — and tell him so — but this is his journey through this oddly 24/7 connected world we live in. See how naturally I come by this judging thing?

In fairness to my beloved, I'm not so different, but I angst about it out loud, which makes me the better parent, right? I intentionally try not to pick up my iPhone every other time I want to.

I intentionally try to watch the boys playing in the pool or swim with them instead of looking at pictures of other people's kids in pools on Facebook. I tell my kids all the time to put down the screens and engage with real people. They will not do it if I don't do it. That whole say/do thing is such a pain in the parenting ass.

For the boys, iPhones and iPods are like extensions of their brains and arms. In retrospect, I should've set aside four or five agreed-upon non-connected days before we set off on this trip. There would have been much bitching and pleading and full-body writhing, but we all would've survived. We all would've thrived. Next vacation, I will.

When my husband was growing up, he and his brother were allowed one soda a day. Back then, it was more likely a budget concern than a health one. Still, at 46, he feels guilty if he has more than one soda a day.

I hope my electronic nagging has such a long-tail effect. Because if a YouTube video can distract you from a view of the Grand Canyon, you deserve to be judged.