Thursday, January 2, 2014

Little Grain of Sand Things

There was a time when New Year's meant a flood of glamorous invitations for my husband and I. You know the kind - the swanky hotels with the pricey dinner and dancing and midnight toasts; the black tie parties, the high-above-the-city or floating-on-the-ocean kind that made my heart yearn for just one night without changing diapers or wearing sweats.

We never went, the cost seeming a bit extravagant or the idea of a babysitter too scary. There was always time for that when the kids were older, I told myself. I shelved the idea with all its glitter and promise onto the same bucket-list-shelf as going to Time's Square to see the ball drop. One day....

What no one says is that the bucket-list is not written in stone. It is as changeable as we are, and while I might feel a twinge of regret for never having seen Times Square on a New Year's Eve, I don't wish to do that now. After an exhausting fall of keeping up with my hectic teens, starting a new job, and escorting my husband to a dozen embassy and business events, I desperately wanted some down time. The idea of standing in the freezing cold for hours on hours crammed like sardines, no bathroom in sight, sounds horrible. By New Year's Eve, I just wanted to stay home next to a fire and spend time with my kids. Honestly, I had no energy for getting all dolled up and dancing and being perky.

But I did want time with my family. Time that wasn't running around, in the car, in a stadium, in an auditorium, in a waiting room. Just time to reconnect and have fun without the pressure of homework and time constraints.

Instead, I got a night of total tech obsessions.

My mother-in-law had gotten a tablet for Christmas, so she enlisted my son to help her set it up and install apps and figure out how to use it. From about seven in the evening to nearly eleven at night, I don't think they looked up once. My father-in-law enlisted my husband to help him with something on his iPad, and they never looked up. My eldest daughter, who'd gone out babysitting earlier, came home around 9:30 and upon seeing the lack of interaction, took out her phone and began to text and search Pinterest. I had a puzzle out and tried to enlist the help of my youngest, but in her excitement and determination to stay up until midnight, she wanted to watch the countdowns. It didn't take much TV hunting to realize New Year's celebrations are not G-rated TV anymore. She settled on a movie.

And I... I worked my puzzle, gave up trying to have conversations, and realized that this would never be one of those nights everyone looked back on and said, "That was a New Year's Eve to remember!"

The thing is, it doesn't take a black-tie affair or a pricey dinner with confetti or - as it seemed on TV, a ton of alcohol - to make a memorable night, but it does take interaction. We could have played some crazy board games, made a huge tent in the living room, built a fire in the pit in our backyard and told ghost stories under the stars. We could have made the sugar cookies we'd planned all month to make, turned our fingers blue and red and green with the icing and sung loudly and off-key to the radio. We could have written down our favorite memory of the year and talked about it. We could have written our biggest failures and fears and tossed them ceremoniously into the fire. Instead, everyone buried their heads in a screen.

I've become more sensitive these days about technology. When I take time off of work and writing to have coffee with a friend and she checks her phone every time it dings and tweets, I feel slighted. When I am in the middle of a conversation with my husband and he picks up his Blackberry to answer an email, I feel devalued. When my kids come home and immediately attach themselves to their technology rather than talk to me, I feel like the housekeeper and cook rather than a mom.

My husband reminds me this goes both ways. That I have, for many years, buried myself in my computer. This is the trap of being a writer and working from home. I have ill-defined work hours and a difficulty in breaking away from a chapter when the writing is going well.

But I'm trying. I've curtailed my facebook use significantly. I rarely blog. I close my computer from the time the kids get home until homework is well underway and we can work together in quiet. I'm not perfect. I still can't just sit and watch a movie with the family without doing something else, but I've begun to substitute crocheting for surfing the web. I'm working on it, anyway.

Our family does a lot of things together. We love being together. We eat dinner most nights all together, and those dinners are full of talking and laughing. We take day trips often, vacation occasionally. We build memories all the time. But in the day-to-day, it is harder to make those memories and easier to get sucked into technology. So this year, I'm making a plan to get myself out from under that, with hopes that my family will want to follow.

I want to sit and listen to my daughter practice guitar. Not just half-listen as I do dishes or work on writing, the way I usually do, but really sit and give her my undivided attention. Sing with her as she plays.  Create a project with my youngest; paint with her or teach her something new. Cook dinner with my kids rather than just for them. I want to build a sand castle with my kids like I did when they were too little to do it themselves. To get out of the beach chair and out from behind my book and get sandy and wet and create a masterpiece. Instead of wasting the day at home, I want to use the kids' teacher workdays to go to a museum in DC we haven't been to before. Replace a few of our Saturday movie nights at home with a game. Turn off my phone when I'm out with the kids, and when they come home. Ask them to turn off theirs in the car. Treat my family's updates on their day with the same interest as I do near-strangers on facebook. Ask more questions. Look at them when they answer. Pray for them. Pray with them.

I don't really have a bucket list. We will probably do enough grand things this year to fill a scrapbook. But what I need to mind is those little grain-of-sand things that fill our hours that either say, "You don't matter much to me," or "You are the most interesting thing in life right now." I love my computer. I love my phone. But in the scheme of things, the people standing in front of me are the ones I value the most. Maybe it's time I showed that.


  1. Technology is such a double-edged sword. It's great for connecting with people, for learning, etc. But it can also be soul-crushing. I know I spend too much time on social media and I'm working to control that more.

    Family time is so important and I confess, most of our family time is spent around the t.v. We do a lot of laughing and talking nonetheless, but we should try going to a museum or something else instead. Our problem is that all three of us - me, my husband, and our daughter - are homebodies. We love to be at home. :) Still, taking time to do something out of the ordinary is very important.

    I hope that you have an amazing 2014 full of blessings!

    1. It's the great irony that social media that brings us closer to people is the very thing that also keeps us connecting with those right in front of us. I realized at some point, though, that I was putting more effort into connecting with the people I never see than the people I truly love that are around me. Finding a balance is hard. I don't want to let go of those other connections, either.

      On our weekend downtimes we spend a lot of time watching movies together, too, and like you, it's a social thing. We talk, we eat, we laugh through it. After running all over kingdom come during the week, being at home is nice. I think that's okay as long as it's something everyone is doing together, rather than alone. Maybe that is where I feel isolated...

      An amazing year of blessings back at you!

  2. I'm 100% with you. My kids are both in school and this is the last year their schedule will be the same. I'm trying SO hard to set the computer aside while they're home. There are times when everyone migrates to their own part of the house and I jump on guilt free, and there are times when I'm REALLY in the middle of something and force extra time, but I'm trying... We had a great New Years this year - spending equal time in the kitchen as in front of the TV letting everyone pick one thing they really wanted. It was fun. And made me realize that I wanted to make sure we do it more b/c I KNOW they'll be grown up and bored w/ me before I know it ;-) Great post, Heidi.

    1. You also had some great together time on the sailboat recently, so that counts double! :) Your New Year sounds fabulous! Enjoy every minute the kids want with you now, because soon enough they try to replace you with something electronic. :)

  3. Oh, Heidi. This is wonderful, and a lot of the same thoughts I've been having lately. Technology-time-stealing is something I struggle with, too. Good luck. And I'll try to be better, too.

    1. With our kids growing up in a tech-world, I wonder if we are facing a losing battle. My kids sometimes want my attention, and so it is on me to get off my own technology and spend face to face time with them, but as teens, more and more, they WANT to be on theirs, and I am left thinking, Why not be on mine? Is that true of your toddlers and young ones, too? We have to make the effort for both us and them, I guess.

  4. Over this holiday break, I had big plans, Heidi. Plans to catch up on my fiction writing, my blogging, and writing e-newsletter reading. But instead I spent hours talking separately with my daughter and son, squeezed in a few mother-child dates (when I could snatch them from time with their friends), helped my son host one of his famous Guys Night sleepovers, baked cookies and made colored icing for my daughter and her friends who came over for a cookie-decorating party.

    They’re both heading back to college on Sunday. *Sniff, sniff* At one point today, I sat down at the computer and started trying to read through all the emails I’ve amassed over the past week. My daughter wandered into the room and plopped onto the floor beside me and we started talking. I commented to her that I hadn’t done anything I’d intended to do over the break. And she said, “Oh, should I leave you alone now to finish?” And I said, “Absolutely not!” Then I added in an unusual moment of profoundness, “The point of life isn’t about how much you can get done in a day. It’s about spending time with the people you love.”

    Do all that stuff you wrote about, Heidi! Do it all!

    1. I'd like to print this out and frame it. Somehow looking at someone else's life it is easy to see how unimportant emails and writing and blogging are when your children are home to spend time with! Your break sounds amazing and full of all the things that matter in life, and I am so glad you chose well!

      I have two and a half years before my oldest is gone. That saddens me beyond belief. Where in the world did the time go?

  5. Amen, with my son gone, I've really started to value the time I have with my kids because I know it will all be gone in the blink of an eye. I believe having honest conversations with your kids is one of the most important things you can do. Not lectures, but conversations.

    And spend time together, like you said. Just last night we played scrabble as a family while we talked to my oldest on skype. Skype is absolutely my most favorite technology right now.

    1. Skype is amazing... it really is about the only technology now that is solely for bringing people together. Although my kids are still at the age that when I skype them, they spend the time making faces at themselves on the screen. It's like they've never seen a mirror. :)