"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are Smartphones Making Us Dumb?

I started this blog entry two weeks ago but didn’t post it. I was worried it wasn’t quite fully articulated. I was worried some readers might construe it as a condemnation. (By the way, I have more than five “followers.” Thanks, you guys, for all your feedback and encouragement.)

When I heard a teaser for a story on NPR yesterday on how receiving e-mails by phone produces anxiety – similar to my topic in this post – I punched the air in frustration. They scooped me! I can’t find a link to the story on their site. Did anyone else hear the piece? This blog entry is a little different from my original. Maybe I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t heard the NPR teaser. Maybe NPR gave me the validation I needed to hit "publish." I'm finding that blogging is a balance of the ideas and the writing. This entry isn't perfect but at least it's out there. I have limited writing time and if I set something aside because it needs more work it could be weeks until I get back to it. During that space of time I lose the thread of the idea. I have moved on to something else.

In the future perhaps this entry would be an “op ed” piece somewhere. I’ve gotten bitten by the freelance bug and recently finished my second article for my local online newspaper. That article is here. The prior one is here. It’s an unpaid gig, but great practice in writing for an audience. Until I get my act together to pitch my stories to paying media outlets, you can find my good ideas on this blog. This is where I’m practicing.

Anyways, here’s the post:

I am at the beck and call of enough people and too many things, which, I have decided will not include e-mail, as much as I do love it. I just a got new phone: the fancy kind. I can access the internet from it (for free for one month) and, niftily, check my email. That’s what I wanted to do, check my e-mail, not have my e-mail check me.

I caught myself grabbing my new phone waiting in the car as my husband got money from the ATM for our date on Saturday. What was I doing? Did I need a device to occupy my every idle minute? I put my phone back in my purse. No. I decided then and there that I’m not going let the phone fragment my quickly deteriorating ability to focus on something or, in this instance, my ability not to focus on something.

There were hours and hours of my childhood when I wasn’t doing anything. These do-nothing moments were when and how my young mind grew. I appreciated the cool of the shade in a covered picnic area at a park with my mom on a hot and humid day. Sitting on the porch after dinner I was available to chat with a neighbor passing by on a walk. When I was in college the radio in my car didn’t work. People wondered how the silence didn’t drive me nuts, but I looked forward to the two hours it took to drive home to see my parents. I composed essays during those drives. I thought through nuances of relationships. I made plans for myself, for my week, my year, my career, my life. Are our new devices preventing us from thinking? Just as troublesome, are our new devices preventing us from relaxing and being truly present in our lives?

I was at the library several times this week with Toddler (and Baby, asleep in the stroller) while Girlie was attending a preschool camp in the building next door. Toddler has been entranced with the library’s new train table. I’m so excited that he has found something to hold his interest. I now may be freed up to do something else nearby while he plays trains. Perhaps I should check the library catalog for a book to place on hold for myself, or, even better, I should find a book and start reading it. But last week, when Toddler came up to me presenting the incredible spiffyness of yet another steam engine, I feigned interest as I looked up from yes, my phone. Ugh. The fact that another mom was checking hers too did not make it okay.

Before the new phone I would have been sitting there vegging out while Toddler played. Actually I partly would have been watching his play and partly people watching. Maybe browsing some titles on the parenting shelf. A little parenting technique I love is to watch my child until he looks up at me from his play. We make eye contact and I give him a silent nod of encouragement. Maybe we share a quick smile then both go back to our separate pursuits. Pouring my face into my phone the day Toddler discovered the new train table I was missing out on moments of actual human connection.

So I decided to turn off the feature that alerts me whenever I get a new e-mail. I contemplated returning the phone and going back to my old one. But I’ve finally figured out that I can still check my e-mail by bringing up my yahoo account on the internet. Now that my daughter’s preschool sometimes sends important messages via e-mail, now that my friends are more inclined to e-mail than pick up the phone, now that I’m writing articles and needing to grab information when I have a few spare moments, now that I’m “working,” I’ll probably pay the ten extra bucks per month to keep internet access on my phone. With the e-mail alert feature turned off at least my spare moments won’t be interrupted by that important-sounding chime. I have space to think and be. For now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Wind Change

It’s been too long since I last blogged. I’ve wanted to try to post at a rate of every week to ten days, but I’ve fallen behind now that writing time has become even more precious with three little ones to watch instead of two. My big writing project in July was reporting and publishing my first newspaper article in 15 years! I only was able to do it because hubby watched the two older kids for me during the event that I covered and my mom watched Baby. She left town this morning with my dad after a visit of nearly six weeks.

Mom quickly settled into a routine here: She arrived by 8 am, helped me take the kids out for a morning outing, helped with lunch, and supervised during the afternoon so I could sleep or run errands while Toddler napped. Mom tried to leave by around 5:30 each day, after I had prepared dinner but before hubby came home and we sat down to eat. She and dad stayed at a hotel nearby and ate dinner out each night. Mom thought the time apart was essential to prevent all of us from getting sick of each other before the six weeks were up. She also wanted us to have private family time in the evening during the important rituals of dinner, bath, books, and bed. She knew we needed to adjust to our new dynamic.

To Girlie, my mom is “Nanny,” (the pet name I have for my mom’s mother too) and she certainly has lived up to the dictionary definition of that word during this transition time. She ran after Toddler at the park and was more careful to minimize knocks to his head than even I. She managed his persistent diaper rash. She played Barbies with Girlie in the afternoon. She braided Girlie’s hair. But Nanny’s chief role was baby whisperer. I noticed Baby markedly relaxed in her arms this week. He had become comfortable with this woman, master at inducing his sleep. She brought to bear every pertinent mothering skill except breastfeeding. That stressful function was reserved for me.

Fittingly, the movie “Mary Poppins” has been the soundtrack of my parents’ visit. I really can’t blame Girlie for her recent obsession, as I too find “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cheree” supremely comforting. My mom enjoyed watching “Mary Poppins” again too. Its relevance to our current situation was not lost on her. “I can feel a wind change coming,” my mom tearfully said last weekend with the knowledge that her visit – and her usefulness to us while we adjusted to being a family of five – was coming to an end.

We all are better adjusted to our new family roles and responsibilities than we were six weeks ago. We are in no way close to finding a new groove, or breathing a sigh of relief, or getting more than three hours of sleep at a time, but we are blinking in the sunlight, opening our eyes, and getting a lay of the land. It is a land that is starting to seem appealing, one we might be able to navigate, if not now, then soon – hopefully.

I’m no longer frozen in fear at the prospect of facing my three children every morning without my mom’s help only because I was blessed to find a nanny – of the dictionary definition. She starts Monday. She will watch Baby and Toddler for two afternoons every week while Girlie is in preschool. In addition, my in-laws, who live nearby, will watch Baby and Girlie one morning a week while I take Toddler to preschool. So I will have a lot of help.

Actually, of the two days the nanny comes, I need to spend one afternoon with Girlie at her preschool (which is a co-cop), so I really have only one afternoon per week completely by myself. But it’s something: a little bump in the sheer rock face towering above me on which I can grab my toe.

I plan to write during that afternoon.