There are 5 things I took with me from my online sabbatical in August. Know, however, I didn’t do as stellar of a job staying offline as I’d hoped and the 5 things are harder to hold onto than those numbers you see me grasping right there. I’d envisioned an entire month like the family photos: unplugged, disconnected, liberated, and focused. It wasn’t entirely like that. Clinic got nuts a few times, there were minutes I was still staring at my phone and hours every day I’d sit at the computer responding to emails, there were upsetting mega-tantrums from the boys and there were a few phone calls I fielded with bad news from friends. There were moments I felt inexplicably tired despite the uptick in sleep. All was not peace on earth.
Yet, let me be very clear: the month away was worth it. I learned a bit more about my relationship with technology, who I am as a person amidst 2011 information flow, and how I want my life as a parent and person to change.
Clearly, part of the experience of being a parent is housed in the soul.
You know this. Something happens the day you become a parent. Like a huge shift in your footing, that unexpected large wave washing out the sand where you stand, or how it feels in your toes when you try to gain traction running downhill. It happens without our control. The transition is very loud yet somehow its inaudible. It’s huge, unquestionably bigger than any anticipation and warning about having a child. Being a parent is greater than our own capacity to explain it thereafter. And it’s tactile, although you can’t really feel the transition to parenthood like you feel a touch on your skin on a warm day or the cold air when you walk out into a mid-January night. Rather, you feel it shift inside. Somewhere in an unidentified part of who we are that isn’t detailed in the anatomy textbooks. Becoming a parent is becoming more aware. My time away helped me see this. So, here are the lessons:
Thing #1: Leave the phone at home
Some of the best moments of the month were housed in time when I was out of touch and untraceable. From here forward, this will happen more often. After considering responsibilities, I plan to leave the phone at home when we head out to the park or walk around the block. Yes, it’s true, that didn’t used to happen. Ever.
My time away from the blog and from (social) media in August got me reflecting on the transition to parenthood. That shift to becoming a mom happened nearly 5 years ago when I had my first son. I’m not certain why, but I spent a good deal of time in August thinking about who I was before knowing my boys and who I’ve become with them in my life. Not simply the older me or the requisite lessons about patience or my moments of frustration during tantrums or the urgent responsibility I feel with a fall from the swing set or the visceral need to provide dinner for my boys or my clear desire to have things simply work out for them. It’s been more about how I feel when they are with me in contrast from when they are not. And how I love to listen to their voices choosing milk over water for lunch. Or how luxurious it feels to watch them negotiate the idea of jumping off of a dock in the hot summer sun into the cold water of a Wisconsin lake. Part of my month’s reflection came about because there was simply more space for mindfulness without so much expectation to work.
Ultimately, like people projected, my time in August (mostly) offline was rejuvenating but not perfectly instructive. The only piece of clarity gained was my seemingly sophomoric wisdom that life is better without as much stress, without as much work. Yet, that’s a beginning to awareness. More time with my boys coupled with increased hours of sleep and a week of vacation left me much less breathless. I didn’t feel quite so frantic.
And by the end of the month, I stared at my boys playing at the park without the urge to grab my phone.
Thing #2 More Sleep
Often due to work obligations, I sleep no more than 4-5 hours in order to meet deadlines. Life is better and far more enjoyable with more sleep. I’m focused on reducing days with minimal sleep to a once-a-week occurrence. Feel free to hold me to it.
I got better at being offline with more sleep. In the beginning of August I had to govern my hand’s reach for my devices or govern my legs’ inertia to run up the stairs to my office to catch up online. I started to avoided my home office in the evenings following a day at clinic. There were parts of this month that really did feel like calisthenics. Breaking habits can be hard work. There is truth to the addiction we have with our phones but I believe it’s also the addiction we have to learning more. Curiosity has a dueling role—it can pull us to learn and guide us to new thoughts (often spawned by content online) but it can also take us away from our reality. Too often curiosity removes us from what we care about most.
Thing #3 More Singing
The single biggest improvement in my life last month was the loss of duress at bedtime. Usually, when the days come to a close and I’ve hardly seen the boys or know I won’t see them the following day due to my schedule, I sit at the end of their beds finish books, say goodnight and sing to them. And all the while I do this I ache. Ache for missing them that day. Ache in anticipation of missing of them tomorrow. The ache was astonishingly absent last month. I didn’t have a day in August where I missed their presence like I had before. Work felt more like a piece of my pie. My goal: sing more songs at the end of the bed at night. Use singing as an antidote to ache.
Thing #4 Reduce Rushing
Something that nearly every working parent knows is the frenetic pace in which we live, the constant rushing. I often soak up every moment I can with the boys in the morning, only to rush into work, rush to finish off work at the end day to rush home to see the boys prior to bedtime. Over the month of August, I felt a reprieve in this frenetic, harried, hurried pace. I plan on allowing beats of time to pass. One less tweet at a time. I plan to have less rushing.
In August I tried not to sleep with my iPhone, I didn’t log onto Twitter first thing in the morning or just before sleeping. I didn’t create and write and edit blogs in my head every day while walking from the parking lot or sitting with my kids at the table. I slept more and dreamed-up fewer posts. I played with my friends. I played with my boys. I took pictures and never thought about where they would end up. I went to clinic and finished my workday when I left the building to head home. I took a week of vacation in Wisconsin.
August was restful. It was illuminating. Yet the complexity of having space is the reminder that it could disappear. For most of August, I felt the month of September looming. On some level, it was a good thing–I knew my time away from social media was a finite experience. I really didn’t miss blogging because I enjoyed knowing I’d return to it. Clearly though, the frenzy was entirely absent.
Thing #5 More Silence
The month was quiet. I had more silence this month than I’d had in years. Silence when I’d sneak away to the park to sit on a dock to read. Silence when I went to the beach with the boys. SIlence when I rested in the evening after clinic. I’m looking for 15 minutes a day of silence while not in front of a computer. To me it doesn’t matter how I get it. Just some intentional silence to reset the electrons. My only rule: I can’t be asleep. I’m trying to make this easier…
And you? Tell me what you’ve learned if you’ve taken a large chunk of time offline. What Things do you carry around?