Soon, I'll offer a post on my recent trip to SoCal with my kids. The closest thing I can compare it to is a visit to Oz -- not that I've been there, but, if I had been, I'm pretty sure it'd look a lot like a combination of Ocean Beach and Coronado. (Chew on that mash-up, ye who have been there.)
While that's percolating, though -- and while I'm inundated with work from my "day" job, which is really a "day and night" job for the next couple of months -- I want to share an observation borne from our trip, the first one ever during which I did not take my laptop. In fact, I went a whole 12 days without opening my laptop at all -- on purpose. Our trip took only nine days, but I took an extra three to revel in Real Life, which actually exists without the internet. (In writing that sentence, my Silicon Valley resident card may be yanked for good. So be it.)
I decided that this trip would be full of intention to be in the moment, every moment, with my kids -- to notice where their eyes look when we're exploring a new place, to hold hands more, to engage, deeply, in conversation about new things, to spend a little more time immersed in new surroundings, and, perhaps most importantly, not to rush it. That last bit infuriated Dash from time to time, like when we were on our forty-second minute at the gorilla enclosure (I can't help it -- there was a baby to watch, plus a silverback's 41st birthday...) -- but then, at the lorikeet feeding enclosure, after about an hour and a half of zipping in and out to buy more nectar to feed the birds, Dash had finally had enough. Petunia's giggle at the sea lion and otter show will ring in my ears for quite some time. We all had our fill, especially of animals and nature-immersion, and that was the thing -- we made the time for it. We decided that several rounds of bird-feeding nectar at $3/pop was worth it, because where else will you get to feel the light weight of a bird on your arm, that then, if you're Petunia, will climb up your hair when it's through eating?
When we'd go "home" to our rented converted garage in the evening, we'd make some hot chocolate, and we'd read a book aloud together before piling up together in some form to sleep. The TV barely went on. We just enjoyed each other. And I didn't even have to Google how to do a thing.
Returning home, the last thing I wanted to do was to go on-line. I had stayed current a bit on my phone with e-mail and such -- but opening a laptop, a device on which I can't use the "I don't want to touch-type" excuse -- involved a whole different commitment, and one that I was loathe to make. I dreaded the kids' return to school; beyond the non-stop fun, sleeping in and keeping a schedule that was wholly our own was pretty delicious.
But my work is on-line, and so, I sit here, procrastinating a bit, decrying the internet age for the time-sink it is -- a hypocritical statement in the moment, but a sentiment that won't die when I get back to work. What to do about it is the question?
I figured out the answer, and, after a couple of weeks of experimentation, it continues to work for me. With little exception, I check e-mail on my laptop only morning and night, using only my phone in between. I took Facebook off of my phone so that I'm not tempted to scroll through updates around my kids. I have permission to use it all when they're asleep or otherwise occupied (like at school). But when they're around, from dinner until bedtime especially, I'm in the moment with them. I always was -- don't get me wrong -- but I was more distracted, especially because I often felt like my time was not my own (partly the nature of my work, really). Now, I feel no pull into my bedroom, where I store my laptop, to see if so-and-so got back to me yet. So-and-so can wait until bedtime. As well, I'm suggesting more togetherness activities, building on our SoCal experience during which each of us found fulfillment in something we did together. We're playing more board games, doing more crafts, reading more books, and spending more time talking. They have such big things to say, these little ones.
So, as a meme goes 'round the internet in which my friends are picking up a "word" for the year, I'm picking up a phrase instead. It's "Be Here, Now." It's intentionally participating in every conversation without distraction -- whether with my kids, or with a dear friend. It's a new focus on listening well. It's shutting down the devices that make all of that difficult. And it's noticing things, from the peace on my son's face while he fed the birds he's always loved to the pinkness of my daughter's cheeks as we visited an off-leash dog beach, perhaps her personal future-vet heaven. It's the way they look at each other when they haven't squabbled at all for days because their needs are met, they're well-rested, and they're truly happy. It's the way I look at myself in the mirror, realizing that I put way too much pressure on myself to try to check all of the right boxes when, really, there is no checklist, no endgame, no race, or prize for winners -- and no finish line. What these kids will remember, and what I will, is the way we felt about each other as life unfolded just as it should as we love each other and pay good attention.
Be Here, Now.
Except for right now, because they're asleep, and I have to get back to work...