About that vow of chastity…

Not long ago, I wrote about my plan to go internet-free for a week.

Those of you who were paying attention may have noticed that I did not make the week.  By Tuesday night, as I monitored election results — and particularly the outcome of the vote on the infamous NC Amendment One — I had to go on Facebook and hear the buzz.  I needed a fix of connection and commiseration.  Truth be told, even before Tuesday, I hadn’t gone completely cold turkey on my little internet/ phone habits.  But I had cut down — a lot.  And it was good.  Very quickly I discovered that the less time I spent holding, looking at, checking my phone, the less time I thought about or wanted to hold, look at, or check my phone.  Same with Facebook and reading news headlines and keeping up with Words with Friends.

During the few days that I was most strict about my phone/ internet moratorium, I noticed that I got more done and did more things.  Instead of taking a little energy-sucking break as soon as I walked in the door to look at my phone and see if I’d gotten any email messages since I left work, I would do a quick chore that would have otherwise been put off and weighed on me later.  I read and wrote more.  My internet hiatus encompassed a fine spring weekend, which included our first visit of the season to Tweetsie Railroad, the first Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, our first day of working in the garden, and my first bike ride of 2012 (ouch!).  Would I still have done all those things if I had been distracted by the internet?  Probably.  But I do think my head was clearer and my energy level higher than usual as a result of my disciplined and conscious effort to change things around.

   (Zander and Isaac at Tweetsie)

Maybe that’s ultimately the lesson for me.  Switch things up; break old habits.  Ritual is good, but change can be wonderfully refreshing.  If it’s not fun anymore, or if you feel guilty or uncomfortable about it, don’t do it.  Surely, a worthy motto for parenting, as well as many other things.  So, yeah, I’m back online, but I’ve made some modifications that I think I can stick with for the future, and I feel good about that.

Not long after I went back on Facebook, I saw a link to this blog post about going “hands free” as a parent — i.e. being engaged with your kids instead of your devices, “letting go of distractions to grasp what really matters”.  Good stuff.

Bye for now.  Coming soon:  End of year wrap up and “Summer:  Paradise or Purgatory?”  : )

Mother’s Day addendum:  I really like this Hands Free Mama post, too — “Six Words You Should Say Today” — about how when we say too much, we dilute the message of love and approval we mean to give our children.  I am definitely one of those “wordy” parents.  Yesterday, while I watched from below as Zander took the high road back to the house up and over the pasture on his mountain bike, I thought about how impressed I was at his growing confidence and skill on his bike, but the message that came through — the one I needed to say to him, was “I love watching you ride your bike!”  I will be trying that more this summer.

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A short tale in three acts.

Act 1:  Sunday morning, sunny second floor loft in a family home.  Outside the window, the spring leaves are opening on the trees; we hear birds.

I’m drinking my coffee and reading (not looking at Facebook or playing on my phone, mind you!) when Zoe gets up and comes into the loft .  I’ve just done a little project for her — getting a bead necklace started by attaching the clasp and tightly squeezing the crimping bead with a needle-nose pliers.  The necklace is an end-of-year gift for a teacher she loves.  Zoe laid out the pattern a few weeks ago, but it’s taken me awhile to do my part so that she can string it.  While she strings the beads, I continued to read, and we chat a little.  It’s a peaceful, pleasant start to a Sunday morning.  Once she’s done putting on the beads, she hands the necklace back to me to attach the other part of the clasp.  It’s a little tricky because I cut the wire too short, but eventually I’m able to do it.

The next step is to print out a letter she wrote for her teacher on the computer.  That’s when things take an abrupt turn for the worse.

Know this about Zoe:  When she gets an idea in her head, there is no stopping her from carrying it out.  She is all about a project and, when she wants to — and when it’s on her own terms — she is amazingly resourceful and determined.  Usually, this determination is directed towards making something that she has envisioned.  She has created some pretty cool things:  a tiny book the size of a postage stamp with multiple pages and illustrations, hand-sewn fairy clothing, a three page typed set of rules for a game that she and her brother invented.  She’s quick, too (sometimes too quick) and won’t stand for a delay.

The letter was written awhile back and is just waiting to be printed.  She’s typed it in a fancy font and added a clip art photo of a rose.  It’s a lovely sweet letter.  But when I read it, I notice a fairly major mistake in one of the sentences; she’s left out a few words so that sentence doesn’t really make sense.  I mention (low-key, light-hearted tone) that she might need to make a few corrections.  Instantly, she bristles.  I show her the miswritten sentence.  She reads it and immediately crumples up the paper saying, “Never mind, I’m not going to write her a letter.  I don’t want to do it anymore”, and storms off to her room.  As I try to speak to her through the door, she shrieks over me, drowning me out.

Act 2:  A quiet gravel road in a semi-rural neighborhood, ponds, culverts, a sharp curve in the road where trees form a canopy, a pasture, a random dog standing at the edge of the pond shaking himself.

I am crushed.  Epic parent failure; maddening, turn-on-dime, overreacting child. I feel helpless — and hopeless, too.  Tears fill my eyes, though I’m not sure if they’re tears of anger or hurt.  Why does she act like this?  I feel wrongly accused and misunderstood.  Realizing that sticking around will only make me more crazy, I quickly get dressed to take a walk.  The morning is surprisingly warm and humid.  I trudge along, stewing.  I plan how I will talk to her about proofreading and editing — how I will explain that even the best writers (especially the best writers) re-read their work and make changes.  Maybe I can even find an article about J.K. Rowlings’ or Suzanne Collins’ editor.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do!  But I’ll have to wait.  I’ll have to practice patience and nonchalance.  I’ll bring it up later when we’re well removed from the incident.

I worry that she is so quick to perceive a minor correction as criticism.  I wonder how she will make her way if she can’t learn to be more flexible.  Briefly, I remember “Nobody likes to be criticized.”  But this is different!  I sputter to myself, my brain racing to make sense of it all and reach a conclusion that will bring me peace of mind.  Another little voice somewhere in my head says, “Maybe because you rag on her about her hair all the time, and you’re such a perfectionist about homework, she feels like you’re always critiquing her.”  Hmmphh…  uncomfortable confused silence inside my head…

Act 3:  Family home, midday.

Zoe stays in her room for a long time.  Her dad checks in on her.  She insists she is not hungry, even though it’s near lunch time, and she hasn’t eaten breakfast yet.  Dad goes on a bike ride; brother goes outside to play.  I go about my business, calm — and no longer teary — but resolved not to fuss over her, try to tempt her out, enter a new battle insisting that she eat.  She can get her own food when she’s ready.  After awhile, she does come out.  I hear her eating chips and I yell down to her that she needs to eat something healthy.  She says she wants a fruit smoothy.  I actually yell to her rather meanly,”Good luck with that.  We don’t have any fruit.”  A few minutes later, I hear the blender, and I think to myself, “What is she making?  It’s going to be awful.”  I anticipate more pouting and unhappiness.

But then two surprising things happen.  First, Zoe comes upstairs and offers me a smoothie.  “This is for you.”  Amazingly, it’s delicious.  Apparently, there were still some frozen bananas from last week’s smoothie making bonanza — and Greek yogurt (which Zoe always said she didn’t like), apple juice, and three shriveled strawberries.  Resourcefulness carries the day.  And, she gave me some, too.  A peace offering?  Much praise of the yummy smoothy ensues.  Spirits lift.

Then, a few minutes later (in a return peace offering), I give her a little box to use for the teacher necklace.  She’s happy with the box.  I dare say to her, “Now you just need to print your letter again — or do you still have the old one?”

“I still have it, she replies, in a soft, but distinct voice, putting juice away in the refrigerator.  “But I’m going to make a few corrections before I give it to her.”  Just like that.  Is it her?  Is it me?  Am I helping or hurting?  Am I teaching her, or is she figuring it out by herself?  My heart doubles.

At the stroke of midnight…

Before last week’s post on our Grandfather Mountain hike, I hadn’t written anything here for over a month.  I’m not sure what’s been going on.  Bloggers block?  Burn-out?  Or something more sinister?  In a perfect world, I would write (something, not necessarily a blog) on a daily basis.  So, what keeps me from doing it?  It’s such a simple question, but so complicated to answer.  Just asking the question feels bold and a little frightening Or asked a different way:  What obstacles do I place in my own way that interfere with my happiness?  Yeesh.  Getting heavy, for sure.  Still, I’m intrigued.  I want to think about this more.  I want to figure it out — maybe not in a big flash-of-light epiphany — but incrementally, in small steps.

Recently, I’ve notice how quickly and efficiently I can clean my house when I’m under the gun.  This has happened a few times in the past month when I was expecting guests.  I was amazed and delighted by how much I could miraculously accomplish in 30 to 45 minutes right before my guests arrived.  I found myself moving systematically through each room, picking up, cleaning, and arranging.  I experienced an uncanny ability to discern exactly what needed to be done, prioritize tasks, and create the perfect atmosphere that I wanted to welcome my friends into.

Wait! These are exactly the qualities I need in my life on regular basis:

1) Knowing what needs to be done
2) Prioritizing tasks based on importance
3) Being energetic and efficient
4) Creating the atmosphere I want
5) Feeling accomplished and satisfied

And yet, they elude me. How do I replicate these micro-bursts of energy in my life-at-large? Do I need to add something or subtract something?

In her recent Wall Street Journal article, “Are you as busy as you think?”, Laura Vanderkam talks about spending “long stretches of time lost on the Internet or puttering around the house, unsure exactly what I was doing.”  She suggests keeping a “time log” to better understand how you really spend your time and to help you prioritize.  Intriguing… if there was a device that could surreptitiously record your activities for you…  But I already have some pretty good ideas about the sources of my wasted time and dissipated energy without an official study.

Last fall, I wrote about feeling unfocused and distracted.  I had some nice ideas, but nothing has really changed.  So, it’s time to bite the bullet, walk the walk, put my money where my mouth is — you get the idea.  A true hiatus from the internet is in order.  This means no Facebook, excessive email checking, playing Words with Friends, or monitoring Yankees’ games on my phone, etc. etc.  It will be hard!  And I’m already trying to get out of it.  I mean, there’s an election on Tuesday — I need to see what everyone’s saying about it, don’t I???  My children are taking their end-of-grade tests next week, and I need to commiserate with all the other parents whose kids are going through the same thing.  What if I miss something?!  In fact, in the spirit of true confession, I’ve already put this little scheme off several times.

But here goes.  It’s time.  Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, my week-long experiment will begin.  I’ll let you know what happens.

As one reader of the Wall Street Journal article I quoted above wrote, “Is your life full of filler or are you pursuing what brings you joy?”

OR, as Thoreau put it,

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”