Monday, June 13, 2011

Radio Silence and the Art of Being Present

This weekend, my husband and I took the kids to a retreat with our synagogue. We stayed in a cabin, took walks in the woods, sang with the kids and made some new friends.

I was pretty nervous about going on this trip, since our kids are so young (2 years and 4 months). We weren't sure how they would do sleeping in the same room (they were great) or whether there would be other kids that young (there were) or if it would rain the entire time (it did, it didn't matter). But taking two young kids into the woods to uncertain sleeping and potty conditions was not the scariest thing we did this weekend.

Oh no, in the spirit of really getting away and observing shabbat, we turned off our cellphones. The entire time we were there.

I am a little embarrassed to tell you that this was even a big deal. What do I do on my phone that is so important anyway? Tool around on facebook? Be alerted that crocs are on sale at zulily? Schedule playdates for next week? Really. I am not determining the fate of the free world here. I am just so used to having the phone at all times, whipping it out to take pictures, look up the answer to a question, or read a book or some blogs.

Or check the time. My husband doesn't wear a watch and not having the phone clock totally stumped him.

I am most guilty of being addicted to the phone while nursing. Having the phone makes the time I am tied to the rocking chair a little adult break for me. Of course, when I am having that break, I am not paying attention to my daughter. I'm nursing her, but a good portion of my attention is on the palm of my hand.

It is important to me that my children feel like I am fully engaged with them. But I struggle with activities that honestly don't require my full attention, like nursing my daughter or watching my son take a bath. My mind wanders to the things I could be taking care of, the phone call to the roofer, the mess in the kitchen, the load of laundry that needs to go into the dryer. I like the idea of being fully present and really appreciating the little moments I have with my kids while they are so small. But there is just so much to do - those sippy cups really do have to be washed or my kid can't drink his milk later. And trying to be fully engaged in some of our daily activities is just mind-numbingly boring. Seriously, kid. Just eat the yogurt and let's move on.

The work of mothering is interesting like that - one moment you are bored to tears because FOR GOD'S SAKE GET OFF THE POTTY ALREADY YOU HAVE BEEN SITTING THERE FOR A HALF HOUR AND NO I DON'T WANT TO READ HOP ON POP AGAIN and the next moment you are totally overwhelmed because THERE IS ONLY ONE OF ME I KNOW YOU NEED YOUR MILK RIGHT THIS SECOND JUST HANG ON &*@*&% I AM COVERED IN POOP AGAIN.


What I am saying is one second I'm really struggling the stay afloat, and the next I'm struggling to stay awake. What kind of crazy job is this? How am I supposed to be fully present when my day never seems to progress at the right pace for me?

If you have any answers for this, please leave them in the comments. Seriously - how does this work for you guys?

For me, I guess I'm going to practice. I am going to start by really cutting back on the phone. I may have to multitask between answering my 30th "why" question in a row and making dinner because we really do have to eat. I don't have to multitask between tummy time and twitter, because when it comes down to it, twitter just isn't important enough.


  1. Oh, Mama, I wish I had advice for you. I have none, but only because I'm right there with you. Every step of the way. But I also have aspirations of disconnecting a bit... maybe we can help each other. :)

  2. Mama R, you are way too hard on yourself. There is nothing that says that you need to devote 100% of your attention to your children 100% of the time. There are long stretches of time when things with the kids are, frankly, boring. If you want to check your email while nursing, why the heck not? (I watched all the CSIs and NCISs on TV while nursing). What do you think happened during the vast majority of human history, when people had five or more kids and farms to take care of? I do agree that the phone can become addictive, so I try to avoid screens in general when the kids are around but have no problem looking at the paper or a magazine or crossword now and then, maybe when they are snacking or otherwise occupied and not fighting.

  3. Julesrules, I totally agree it is unrealistic and unnecessary to be 100% on all of the time. What I am working on is being 100% on some of the time, instead of alway being 50% on. Does that difference make sense?

  4. I completely empathize with you! It's so true that in a given day it feels like things are just dragging and then the next minute it's like you're suddenly overwhelmed. All the while you're taking care of the most important person in your life -- who can equally be the most lovable and annoying person you'll ever know! It's tough! I've read that being more present in life is what truly makes people more happy, but as you said, it's hard to be present (or want to be present), when you're cleaning a poopy diaper or watch them do the same activity for the umpteenth time. Hopefully another commenter has more answers!

  5. Mama R - I see what you are saying and it is good that you want to offer baby your undivided attention. Being totally present for others is a skill that has to be practiced and repeatedly worked on because it is really hard, although it is worthwhile. As far as Baby is concerned, though, you probably could settle for 90%. Sometimes the babies are just chilling or preoccupied with toys or their hands or something, and your desire to give them attention is actually interrupting them.