I had a lot of free time today, thanks to playtime with Pop. My husband’s father is retired and had been coming weekly to play with the girls while I crept upstairs to write. Then he got sick and landed himself in the hospital for a few days. He’s getting better, but his recovery has left him feeling weak and tired. Since running after three kiddos five and under makes anyone feel weak and tired, I recommend starting out strong and full vigor. But he wanted to come; he missed spending time with the girls. So today he arrived with a khaki knapsack brimming with books and a few tasty treats.
I hadn’t realized how much his visits meant to me until I no longer had them. Neither had the girls. My oldest begged for Pop to stay. And even though the baby needed mama every now and then and Rae sneaked up to my room a few times and sat beside me while I typed, they all had so much fun having an indoor picnic, a pretend tea party, and hearing stories about giants in magical lands.
While they enjoyed each other’s company, I was able to catch up on some book writing. I’m working on the toughest two chapters. The rest of the book has come out fairly easily, but these chapters have been more difficult. There have been many starts and stops as well as blog and Facebook breaks, I’m afraid.
Actually, today I found myself squandering time by engaging in a conversation after my most recent feature at Faith & Family LIVE! I responded to someone who had commented, closed the screen, pulled up my book again, and went back to the work I’d set out to accomplish while I had helping hands around. But then I had another idea pop into my head about the comment, so I went back to the combox and noticed I’d accidentally made a gross grammatical error – the kind that makes me cringe when I read it. So I left another comment correcting it, and I forgot about why I’d revisited the site in the first place. (Yes, my 14-month-old is still nursing throughout the night leading to brain sludge.) Then I went back to my book, wrote a few more sentences, read what I’d written, thought it was about as interesting as watching NASCAR (my apologies to any NASCAR fans out there), and decided to check out my Google Reader. There I discovered post after post questioning whether technology is a blessing or a burden. I read Does My Blackberry Make Me a Bad Parent? (HT: Elizabeth Foss) and this passage screamed out at me:
It was a Saturday, and he and I were walking down the street, ostensibly together. I was answering a text.
My son sighed loudly with an “Uch.” I looked up, innocently.
“What?” I said.
He just shook his head. “You look at that thing more than you look at my face,” he said sadly.
I wondered how many of us technology-tethered moms have made our children feel this way even if they haven’t said so much. My kids haven’t ever said anything like that, but my daughter did recently declare, “You and Daddy sure do love your iPhones.”
At the time, I chuckled and told her we appreciated them because they made our life easier, but I didn’t love my iPhone like I loved her or her Daddy or even a good piece of dark chocolate. But after I read the blackberry article as well as another thought-provoking post from Betty Duffy, I wondered what kind of messages we send our kids by constantly being connected.
I also began to sift through my memory to determine if my daughter had ever out of the blue said anything remotely close to, “You sure do love God.”
I’m not sure she has.
That makes me sad. It also forces me to take a look at what I’m doing to show my kids what my priorities in life are. I can give my family and my faith all the lip-service I want, but if I’m glued to my iPhone when my child is grasping for my attention or if I’m reading “religious” blogs instead of spending more time in prayer, something isn’t right. Actually, nothing is right.
I’m sorry if this post is redundant. I keep coming back to the topic of being a present mom and how technology might interfere with that. And, yes, my love-hate relationship with technology is a recurring theme.
Aside from the ability to be connected all day, thanks to my iPhone, I now write almost strictly for online media. This didn’t used to be the case. I can’t give up writing. I have a compulsion to write, to piece together words and phrases; yet, sometimes I wonder if the Internet is the best medium for me to do this. After writing a few more sentences for my book today, I started perusing my old fiction folder and discovered short stories I’d written that had never made it to the Internet. My writing was honest. I wasn’t writing for an interactive audience that could instantly reject or celebrate my words. I was writing fiction. I miss fiction. I’d probably have time to write more fiction if I didn’t spend so much time interacting with readers in the combox or correcting my stupid typos.
One particular piece of old fiction my eyes stumbled upon was never read by anyone else. Yet, even if I did decide to submit it to some literary journal, I wouldn’t have to worry about multiple rejections as I do when I write for the Web. In my print journalism days, I’d write a query and then either it would be accepted or rejected. If my idea was accepted, I’d write the piece, it would be published, and that was it. I might receive some feedback, but it was nothing like it is now that I write for the Internet. It took more of an effort for someone to write me a letter or even find my email address, and shoot me an email. It wasn’t interactive. I also couldn’t self-edit what I’d written. There were a few columns that ended up in print that made me wince. I’d see ways I could have tightened up the piece. New images or words might surface that perhaps would have been more powerful. But what was written was written. There was no point in second guessing myself.
The interactivity of online writing sets you up for second guessing yourself. It sets others up for second guessing you, too. An editor can accept your work, but others might not, and it’s terribly easy for them to let you know just what they think. Click on the hyperlinked email address, and you can point out all of the author’s erroneous beliefs. Type in that cryptic security code, and you can praise the writing or critique it. It’s all very impulsive. There’s often no filter. It’s open-ended. There’s always more to say, edits you can make, clarifications. You can write sloppy because you know in the back of your mind you can go back and correct yourself. You can put solipsistic, whiny posts out there and then delete them once you’ve recovered from your state of ridiculous introspection. (Perhaps this post will – poof! – disappear.) The instant feedback, the instant gratification as well as the instant degradation, all those free flowing ideas – it can just be too much.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe other moms are able to strike the perfect balance, but I find it interesting that I discovered so many posts about the downside of technology. We’re spending time using technology to ponder whether technology is helpful or hurtful.
Meanwhile, our kids are growing up.
Like so much in life, the Internet, blogging, discussion boards, participation in a combox are not inherently bad. Technology is not a blessing or a burden. It just is. Many technological moms have mastered the the virtue of temperance. I’m not sure I have. And, honestly, I’m not sure if I should keep trying or put the kibosh on this whole blog.
There. I said it. It’s been weighing on my heart for months now. To blog or not to blog? Should I just limit myself to one post a week? But what if one of my kids says something really funny? I want to document these precious years. But I also want to live them. Should I just promise not to respond in any combox after any article I write even if I could provide additional information to a reader or even if I’m burning to defend my worldview? How do I find that balance? If you’re a blogging and/or iPhone/Blackberry equipped and/or journalist with an online presence and/or Facebooking and/or Twitter mom, how do you find that balance? (Look at me: Making a demand for your sacred time.)
The last time I was seriously considering ditching the blog, I randomly received the most gracious note from a reader asking me to never stop blogging because my words offered her encouragement as a wife and mother. And the kudos wasn’t from my mom either, but a stranger who had taken the time to thank me for using my time to encourage her. That was enough to keep me (and my ego) writing on this online forum. Maybe I can make a difference and use technology and blogging to give God the glory.
But today I read this passage over at Betty Duffy:
…one of our camping companions, a liberal arts professor, who spends his summers attempting publication in academic journals, expressed a serious amount of distaste for all the women spinning their wheels trying to keep up a blog—something so transient, so inconsequential, so self-oriented. “What are your fans doing while you’re gone this weekend?” he asked, “Did you leave a note so no one would freak out?”
And I wondered if I was putting too much stock in my handful of fans rather than considering God’s call for my family or even what my husband wants. He doesn’t get the whole blog thing. He enjoys my features and columns, but blogging is different. It is all too voyeuristic to him. He also sees me trying to juggle a million things at once and points out that blogging is an easy ball to drop. But I enjoy it (most of the time). Many times it’s reading others’ blogs that’s the source of my consternation. My husband also was the one who pointed out once that all these uber blogging moms who write about being full-time moms aren’t really full-time moms. They’re working moms. Maybe part-time working moms, but they’re devoting a big chunk of their time to doing something other than raising their kids. He wasn’t suggesting this was bad. Nor was he intending to make me feel guilty for blogging. My writing (not my blogging, mind you, but my freelance work) made it possible for me to stay home during his medical training. My husband understands my need to write and is happy I’m able to have Pop come over and play with our girls on occasion. He knows I’m not depriving my kids and am an attentive mom who takes her job of nurturing her children very seriously. He just doesn’t want me to put unnecessary pressure on myself or to wonder why I can’t be more like so-and-so mom who always has pithy Tweets on Twitter, writes witty posts that never have typos, and engages in thoughtful combox discussions. I’m not an uber blogger, and I probably never will be. Partly because I’m obviously not very good at finding balance. So many women have to struggle to find a balance between motherhood and work. But blogging – whether I’m reading a blog or writing on my own blog – is not mandatory work. I don’t have trouble putting a novel down when I’m sleepy. I shouldn’t have trouble walking away from the glowing screen of my computer or iPhone either. Once a week I do fast from technology and I don’t miss it. Sometimes I want more time away from it all. If I don’t write for a few days, I miss writing. But I don’t miss the computer. I miss the act of writing.
Awhile back, my spiritual director had encouraged me to keep writing/blogging when pockets of time became available. If it was God’s will for me to write, I would be gifted with time.
Sometimes, though, I make my own time at the expense of my family. I might stay up too late leaving me more sluggish in the morning. I might forgo a sweat session that would leave me feeling healthy and refreshed just because something “bloggable” happened to me today. I might squander time that was given to me.
I recently had a mom I was interviewing for a future article drop me a quick line about something she needed to provide me with before I could wrap up the assignment. The mom mentioned her kids’ ages and expressed concern about finding the time to write something up. Her three kids were around my kids’ ages. She mentioned how she could not synchronize nap times and that quiet time was hit or miss. (The same holds true for me.) Then she said she was always very, very tired in the evenings. (The same holds true for me.) She stated all of this as fact. There were no apologies. She seemed to have accepted the phase of life she was in as well as her own limitations. She said she didn’t have all that much time for email or online things. She obviously used technology since we were emailing, but she put it in its place, and she recognized that no amount of technology was going to change her into a Super Woman. Sometimes that’s what I want from my email inbox, my online writing, and my iPhone. I want to be able to do more, and at times, be more.
God wants me to be happy with less. I want to be happy with less. Just how I make that happen, I’m not sure.
UPDATE: There’s an interesting discussion following Betty Duffy’s Disembodied by Technology post that has me thinking. Betty poses the question: “Is blogging self-care?” For me, I’m not sure. Writing is self-care, but publishing my words and ramblings online? The jury’s still out.
She also writes in the combox: “Other internet dependence factors: the onslaught of a low-grade depression over the past few months, whereby other labors like gardening and house-cleaning seem futile and pointless, and the internet, though also futile and pointless to some extant, provides just the tiniest bit of a buzz.”
My regular readers know I’ve been grappling with postpartum depression. Ironically, it started last summer – the same time some of my posts and thoughts questioning the worth of blogging started to surface. Coincidence? I’m thinking not. The instant feedback and gratification I mentioned above offered me, at times, the “tiniest bit of buzz” when I was submerged in my postpartum darkness. But that buzz was fleeting (like any buzz), so I sought more buzzes. Then I felt guilty for seeking the wrong kind of buzz.
I’m wondering if detachment – not complete obliteration – is the solution. When we learn to detach ourselves from food, we can’t give up eating completely. We have to learn to eat to live instead of living to eat. As an e-friend suggested, it might be easier to just quit blogging altogether rather than cultivate the virtue of temperance and find balance. But maybe I need to take the more challenging route and learn to use technology wisely, prudently. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing because I selfishly don’t want to stop blogging.