It started with a serendipitous, unexpected, and empowering email exchange with Arianna Huffington. A mutual friend connected us to discuss a work opportunity, and I casually mentioned how much I enjoyed her new-found mission of helping people move on from merely surviving to thriving by creating a healthier relationship with technology. A few emails later, I shared that we raise our children in a low-tech household even though we run an innovation lab in the heart of Silicon Valley. Arianna was intrigued and asked me to write about this topic for the Huffington Post which took me by complete surprise; I had never read a parenting book nor would claim to be a parenting expert.
My first article, Raising Low-Tech Kids in Silicon Valley, was well received and Arianna featured it on the front page. This was a turning point for me as I discovered that I truly enjoy reflecting about parenting as well as sharing tips that are both practical and helpful in navigating daily family struggles in the digital age. Later, I published two follow-up pieces, Raising Low Tech Kids in Silicon Valley Part II And a Year Later, and Finding Time to Connect-- How to Make Your Kids’ Screen Time Intentional: Our Family’s Experience with Digital Detox.
Having read my three pieces, Liesbeth Staats, the host of Brandpunt, a program that airs biweekly in the Netherlands and is the counterpart to our PBS, invited me to participate in a show on the negative effects that technology and social media are having on our society. The episode features Scott Kriens who is the founder of 1440 Multiversity and former CEO of Juniper Networks, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, Andrew Keen, and Paul Lewis, a technology reporter from The Guardian.
Liesbeth and her Amsterdam team were seeking solutions on how families can become “screen free.” Initially, I thought that they might visit us in a few months. How wrong I was! They were practically on their way. Five days later cameras arrived at our home, in between our son’s basketball games and choir practice.
How should I prepare for something that my family has never experienced? We tried to keep the house as tidy as possible, which is not easy with four spirited kids. In a nice cultural nod, my sweet mom who lives in Holland, Michigan, called the local florist and ordered tulips. (She left it to me to explain that I’d grown up marching in the annual Tulip Festival throughout elementary and middle school wearing “Dutch Costumes.”)
The day of the interview, I had a couple of hours to myself at home to do some last minute tidying while the kids were at their basketball game. We hadn’t had time to prep the kids but I did have a chance to review the projects that they were currently working on at their desks. Isaac was building a giant magnatiles community. He usually works on this in the family room, but 19 month old Ayla has become quite thrilled at her prowess of knocking down buildings and towers, so moving it to higher ground was a safer bet. Eli was in the midst of creating a giant wooden sculpture out of the smaller wooden objects he had created for three years at Bing Nursery School. Ethan was in the middle of taking apart a broken iPhone that had inexplicably cracked open. He discovered that the battery had exploded. I was concerned that this project would look “staged.” Here we were touting the dangers of too much technology for young people, and Ethan is literally dismantling an iPhone.
Liesbeth and her team were an absolute pleasure to collaborate with. Liesbeth had previously worked for a children’s news program and is also a mother to two boys. She knew how to make the children feel comfortable and natural, despite having a large video camera pointing right at them. Ethan was a shining star and spoke so eloquently and honestly about how much he enjoyed this style of upbringing.
The TV crew filmed for a few hours in the lab, our converted garage that was once the offices for Tangelo, now transformed into the kids’ “maker space.” We had some snacks in the kitchen and our youngest child, Ayla, joined us, fresh from her nap. Isaac and Eli took a break to play piano, which the team captured on film unbeknownst to me, and then I sat down for a one-on-one interview. More than 4 hours had gone by and I thought they were ready to wrap up. Instead, they asked to film us going on one of our regular walks at the Stanford Dish trail, a few minutes up the road. We started walking up the one mile long hill and waved goodbye to the team filming below after we reached the top of the first incline.
Antonio and I were feeling both elated and exhausted. We felt that the interview had gone well and were honestly pleased that we had gotten through it without any regrets or mishaps. What wasn’t shown on film was that just 24 hours prior, Antonio had received the devastating news that his beloved grandmother had suddenly passed away. Mami Piedad had helped raise Antonio when he was young. She was a role model of resilience after being widowed when she was 32 years old and left to bring up her 6 children (who all went to college) all on her own. We thought that Antonio might not be able to participate in the interview, but she was buried a few hours after she died, and Antonio could not have arrived in Quito, Ecuador in time for the service.
When we shared the sad news with the kids about their great-grandmother’s passing, we comforted each other by recalling our family motto: “What happens when you fall down? You get up and keep going.” I like to think that she is smiling down on us, beaming with pride for the family that her favorite grandson has created and the company that he has built. We try to live the values that she instilled in him--hard work, rooting for the underdog, and not letting race or class hold your back from achieving our dreams.
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