Unplugged (part 2)

For the background behind this post, see part 1.

Forty-eight hours with no television until after baby’s bedtime, no social media, no phone apps except for my camera and minimal texting—as someone who didn’t grow up with these things, it shouldn’t have even been a ‘challenge,’ yet I still thought giving up my favorite technology by taking the “Unplugged Challenge” with my middle school students would be eye-opening. I guess I thought I’d feel freer, or more in the moment, or I’d come to some great life-altering epiphany.

I didn’t.

Instead, I found giving up social media and other technology a confirmation. I knew over the last few years my technology use had exploded. I was aware I was spending more time than I should ‘connected’ to one device or another. I even had a pretty good idea of why I was doing it. Unplugging did help me think about what reasons and uses are (perhaps) legit and which are excuses or bad habits.

My longest standing technology obsession is the one that uses the oldest technology, bothers me the most now that I have a child, and it is definitely a hard to break habit with little benefit: it’s watching the evening news. There’s history to this habit that I won’t get into here, but for now let’s just say it’s inherited. Yet long after I moved out on my own, I was still watching the 5, 5:30, and 6 o’clock editions of the local news broadcasts while I cooked, ate, and cleaned up from dinner. The newscasters I grew up with were a comfort, a companion as I ate alone. The problem is I don’t eat alone anymore. I have an adorable little person in the high chair next to me now. No, he’s not much for conversation at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be talking to him, or just tickling those pudgy toes, anything but looking over his head at the weather forecast for the third time in an hour.

My social media and online time was another area of concern, but one I feel I was already pretty good at self-policing. While I scroll my Facebook feed frequently, I don’t do it when I’m playing with my son. Though to help with the temptation during the challenge I did turn off all notifications and wondered why I never thought to do that before. I’m not knocking all social media, though. It was a sanity-saver during those first few weeks of cluster feeding and reflux that led to nearly all naps being taken on me. It was a way of staying connected to the ‘outside world’ during a time I sometimes felt isolated. Even now on weekends alone with the baby, social media allows me interaction, albeit virtual, with other adults, which sometimes I just need. At work I still use social media to pass the time pumping, because damn it if I’m going to be locked in a book closest every couple hours, I deserve a guilty pleasure. But now that my little man is more interactive, I try to put the phone down and just play during my time at home with him—or when I do pick it up, it’s to take cute pictures of him! I try to wait until nap time to post them, but I admit sometimes I want to share them right then.

The online forums and mothers’ groups can also rack up screen time, but again I’m doing them after baby’s bedtime, and I’m using them as a connection to other single, local, and/or nursing moms to get advice, share stories, and provide support. In a world where so many moms work or are isolated staying at home, I think these groups are great. Unless they become negative for me or encroach on play time, I don’t feel the need to give them up, but taking a break for one weekend didn’t bother me either.

So while I didn’t have an earth-shattering realization during my unplugged weekend, I did learn a little. First, the world didn’t end because I missed the local news, and reading the thermometer before leaving the house was about as useful as a New England weather forecast anyways. If I want to keep the family obsession, I mean tradition, alive, I can and should do it after baby’s bedtime—at least until he’s old enough to join me. As for the mom forums, the other mothers survived (maybe enjoyed) a weekend without my questions and commentary, so maybe an occasional break is a good idea.

The hardest part would have been going so long without interacting with other adults, but I luckily had dinner plans with my brother’s family and a playdate with two co-workers and their sons. At first I almost felt this was cheating, since I was busier than I normally would be, but maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe I need to be better about making face-to-face plans, especially in the winter when I tend to want to hibernate, to provide myself opportunities to feel connected without being “plugged in.”

Finally, reading my students’ reflections on their unplugged experiences, a number of them mentioned that they went out and played more. These ‘screenagers’ built snow forts, played with neighbors, watched siblings’ sporting events, all without phones in their faces. Maybe as adults we can follow their lead, put down our phones, and find ways to ‘play’ with our kids and one another face-to-face like we did growing up.

Unplugged (part 1)

As I sit here on my laptop with my smartphone on one side of me and the video baby monitor on the other, I am the picture of ‘plugged in.’ But last weekend for 48 hours I partially unplugged as a means of reflecting on how and why I use technology and whether it’s helping or hindering.

The school district I teach in was one of many this year that showed students, parents, and community members the new documentary, Screenagers. While I never got to see it myself (we were in conferences when it was shown), our school community has been engaged in conversations for years about the amount of technology students use in and out of the classroom and whether it is to their benefit or not. What wasn’t talked much about was the amount of technology the adults were using.

So when it was announced that the students would be challenged to participate in an “Unplugged” weekend, I was intrigued. I wondered how many kids would partake even with the bribe of a Chipotle lunch. I was also interested in whether they were old enough to really self-reflect and learn from such an experience. I hoped they were. I even decided to help with that self-reflection (and add to the bribery) by offering an extra credit writing assignment with topics for them to consider.

But middle schoolers are savvy and while most kept their reactions to such a proposal to silent eye rolls, a few came right out and asked the adults when they’d be giving up their phones. They wanted us to put up or shut up, or more accurately to turn off or shut up.

They had a point.

Adults could argue that our brains are fully developed and that we’re mature enough to use technology responsibly. We probably use apps that we deem necessary (because Candycrush is saving the world), write more emails than texts (all work-related I’m sure), watch more educational television (there’s something to be learned from Grey’s Anatomy marathons, right?), and partake in less online bullying (um, have you seen the mom-shaming online or read the president’s Twitter feed?).

But does it matter how we use technology, if the technology we use becomes all-consuming? Are we as adults any less guilty of overdoing screen time and under-appreciating the real-life moments happening right in front of us?

I wasn’t sure we are. Actually I was pretty convinced I was as guilty as many of my students of being addicted to certain aspects of technology. And as an adult who knows better, I suppose one could argue I was twice as bad. My guilty tech-pleasures are watching the local television news (even during meals), and using my phone for Facebook, my online Single Mother’s by Choice forums, and Pinterest, with occasional dabbling on Instagram and Twitter. The older my little guy gets, though, the more guilt and the less pleasure I have when I catch myself checking my phone or looking over his head to see the news when I should be enjoying time with him.

So last weekend I joined the over sixty kids at my school in the “Unplugged Challenge.” While as a single mom who was doing some highway traveling at night with the baby, I didn’t feel comfortable actually handing over my phone as many of them agreed to, for 48 hours I did turn off all social media apps and pledged not to watch television when my guy was awake. So just after noon on Friday I went dark.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but dramatic was exactly what I expected. But not exactly what I experienced. For those revelations, check out part two.

Oh, and for any fellow educators or parents of teens out there who are interested, here are the discussion questions I provided my students to help them reflect:

  • How do you normally use social media/technology throughout your day/weekend? How did giving it up change your daily activities?
  • What was the hardest thing to give up? Why?
  • Were there positives of putting your phone down? Explain.
  • What aspects of having a smart phone/technology felt necessary before this experiment? Did giving up some/all change your mind about anything?
  • What time of day did you miss your technology the most? What did you do instead? Explain.
  • Was this a worthwhile experiment? Would you recommend other kids and adults try it?
  • Will you try to make any changes to your use of technology as a result of your experience?

Photo credit: Nathaphat Chanphirom | Dreamstime.com

It’s the Little Things

In my previous post I shared that I haven’t found the single part of single parenting as trying as I (and others) might have expected. I was used to doing all the chores, paying all the bills, and asking for help when I hit upon something I couldn’t figure out myself. Okay, that part about asking for help was a lie, but I got much better about it during my pregnancy and the first few weeks after my c-section. The rest, though, was true. Most days I’m perfectly content washing all the bottles and dishes, so long as I also get the majority of the snuggles.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t nice to have help, though. Some help—the trip to get medicine for the baby in the middle of a snow storm when you’re sick yourself type of help—is certainly nice. It’s amazing actually, and it’s also necessary at times. But what about the kind of help you’d never ask for, the unnecessary help, help with the things you can do yourself, but every now and then just want to pawn off on someone else?

My parents moved closer when I made my decision to become a single mom. In fact, they now live a half mile up the street from me—most of the year. Like a lot of women, I relied heavily on them for the necessary help new moms, single or not, need those first few weeks and months. But even after that I took advantage of their eagerness to spend time with my guy so I could not only run errands solo or complete a project around the house (like showering), but also so I could occasionally get a pedicure with a friend or attend book club without the baby in tow.

I appreciated their help tremendously, and I knew I’d miss it when they returned to being snowbirds in sunny Florida. I even worried about whether I could really handle things without help, both the necessary and the nice, literally just around the corner. Both little man and I getting the flu a week after they left was definitely my first real test, but we survived with help from friends and family members and just by doing our best. Once we were both healthy, our days fell into a routine, and I discovered the things that needed to get done got done just fine.

Over February break I was lucky enough to travel with little man to visit my parents in Florida. I expected it to be fun—experiencing so many firsts with my son would be amazing (it was!). But I also knew relaxing vacations of baking in the sun and staying up to read until 2am (by choice) were likely over for a couple decades. I was okay with that (and my dermatologist was thrilled). Instead of loading my kindle and packing my aloe, I packed baby sunscreen and bubbles.

I wasn’t in the sunshine state 24 hours, though, when I realized I was more relaxed, and it wasn’t just the weather and lack of work. It was the little things. While my parents spoiled little man, I luxuriated in a long, hot shower (and even shaved my legs!) and didn’t worry about whether the baby would wake up or if he was safe while he played unsupervised as I tried to speed soap the necessary places. And after meals I didn’t have to make the decision between putting away food and doing the dishes or spending a few last minutes playing with him before bed. With three of us, there were plenty of volunteers to play, and enough of us left to make quick work of the cleaning. We even tag-teamed sleeping so that my mom and I got some after bedtime shopping in, and I got an hour of nap time tanning one day.

Except maybe the mother-daughter shopping spree (we had expiring coupons!), none of these little luxuries lasted long, but they still felt rejuvenating. It reminded me once again how fantastically supportive my parents are, but it also reminded me that treating myself to a little nice, but not necessary help, time, or support every now and then is good for the soul. And a happy momma = a happy home!


The Hardest Part of Being a Single Mom

When I first reached out to friends and family to tell them of my decision to become a single mother by choice, I expected people to tell me it would be hard, harder than I could imagine, maybe too hard to really want to do it on my own. And while I was lucky to receive tremendous support of my decision, a few friends and family members were honest enough to tell me this, not to scare me off, but to make sure I knew what I was getting into.

I appreciated the honesty, but I knew what I was getting into. (Go ahead, you can laugh at me now.)

I’d heard the stories of rough labors, seen my friends and family members’ struggles with nursing, tried to offer help and comfort when exhaustion, or illness, or the newest tough stage of development had worn them thin. I knew it was different standing on the outside, but I also felt their experiences had to have taught me something. Knowing there would be tough days, expecting them, had to be better than going into this single motherhood thing blind, right?

I won’t lie; I worried about those days before I got pregnant. I worried about them more once I was expecting and there was no turning back. I had moments of panic when I thought to myself, ‘What have I done?’ But then I’d feel a flutter or a kick, or hear the sweet sound of my baby’s heartbeat on a monitor, and I would remind myself there would be amazing moments, too. I reminded myself I wasn’t the first single parent. I had spoken with single moms I knew and others I met through my journey, and they all said the same thing: it’s worth it. And I felt that in my heart. I was meant to do this; that had to count for something. So I took a few deep breaths and went back to happily (and naively) waddling through my nine months.

When little man finally arrived on the scene, I realized…I had had no idea what I was getting into.

I didn’t know how hard it was to hear your baby cry and not know how to help. I didn’t know I could be so tired it hurt. I didn’t know how scared I could feel hearing doctors say something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t know how impossible it would be some days to juggle work and home.

Basically, I never loved someone so much that I wanted the world for him and would do anything, give anything to assure his safety and happiness. I had never been a mother.

There have been days in the last ten months that have been hard, harder than I imagined even after seeing others’ struggles, hard enough to bring me to tears. But I honestly don’t think those days would have been easier if I had a partner. I wouldn’t have worried less, slept sounder, or likely received any more support than I’ve gotten from my amazing network of family and friends. And I wouldn’t give them up for the world, because those hard moments make the amazing ones all that much more special.

So is being a single mother hard? Hell, yes! Because being a mother is hard. The single part isn’t too tricky. (I could give you pointers, but that’s another post.) I’ve been single all of my adult life. That’s about the only thing that didn’t change when I had a baby.

That’s not to say that being single won’t pose additional challenges as I parent in the future, but each type of family structure comes with its own challenges—and its own perks. For instance, I’d certainly love to have someone else to do bedtime or wash bottles occasionally, but, on the plus side, I’ll never feel resentful or argue with myself for leaving dishes in the sink or laundry on the floor. And luckily, I’ve got at least a couple years before I’ll be arguing with little man about those things!


Photo credit: Christine Passler