I Can’t Take Your Call Right Now

 

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Moniack Mhor – A place you really can’t take a call. (Scotland)

The title is a phrase that every parent has uttered to someone on the other end of a phone call or text message. Especially a parent of three or more kids, all who want or need something anytime during the day. Add in a new cell phone for Elizabeth, our almost 13-year old, and the nonstop texts informing me about things, sending Bitcoms or random Tik Tock videos, (I have no idea if I even wrote those out right!) and it never ends. But in actuality, what I mean about the above phrase is using it to those you love the most, your family.

Have you ever thought about going away? Tried and failed? It’s a hard thing to do as a parent because they find you. Any parent, and to be honest, as a mom, they always find you. To be fair, we let them find us too. We check in. We promise ourselves that it’s time to disconnect and that our phones or emails will be off for an hour, a day or gasp – a weekend. Yet, it’s hard to do. We still call or text making sure the cats have been fed, that all the homework is done and answer random questions about where so-and-so’s textbook is or why didn’t we tell someone that the milk was almost gone. It’s almost like it’s programmed in our DNA. Or is it?

It’s a question I certainly have struggled with over the last little while. In a noisy world, one where immediate responses are guaranteed, even expected most of the time, this constant communication has created a sense of panic if someone doesn’t respond right away. Now imagine disappearing for a day, or a weekend for some much-needed self-care. Be it a girls weekend, retreat, or a day at the mall, whatever brings you peace and joy and what is that huge thing standing in our way? Our own incessant need to be connected. To retain a sense of control of a situation, even when we are not there.

It has also created kids that expect an immediate response and then ensuing anxiety if that response isn’t provided. I can already see it, actually this afternoon, with my eldest daughter. I left my phone in the little cottage in the woods, choosing to join the other women on the retreat for a delicious dinner, sharing circle and chocolate tasting. No pictures. No texts home. Just being in the moment. I came back to 16 texts, most of them cute bitcoms showing her waiting and waiting to hear back from me. On one hand, it’s cute she’s thinking of me, and I even apologized for not answering. Apologized? Why? Because I understand that feeling when you are waiting to hear back, we all do and it has created an impatient sensibility at best and at worse, anxiety in a kid waiting to hear back from their mom. Neither good outcomes.

Don’t get me wrong in many, many situations being so accessible is hugely advantageous. It can help communication about a shift in schedules, emergency situations and even to let your partner know you need milk on the way home. But the question is, does the constant contact serve what we need? I guess that’s a personal question each of us has to answer.

Learning to be an advocate for my own self-care and taking the journey to carve out that space we all need to be silent and offline so we can reflect, and rest has enabled me to see in others that this is not just my struggle but a world we all share. The affects of always being available are real and damaging. It’s pressure. An added weight to already complicated lives and a burden we all carry. A burden that our children, no matter how well-intentioned we are or mindful about it, will have to deal with.

The answer may be different for everyone as everyone may have different tolerance levels to the noise of life. As I spend another weekend at a wonderful retreat with limited (not completely offline) access –  I have space to think about other things. Things that I have pushed to the side, unfinished business. I have had time to take a walk through a snowy woods and curl up like a cat near a fireplace with the sun on my face. I have had time to read, to think and to dream. I also know, (Mr. L may not agree), time away allows me to let go of that sense of control we all sometimes carry while, building trust with my partner/support systems that they can handle parts of life. At the very least it reminds me that parts of life can wait until it’s time to return that call.

This retreat, whether guided or self-directed, will not be my last one. Yes, I am very fortunate to be able to go, and yes, I often have other parents, caregivers or anyone, wonder how I can do it. How do I walk away for a day, a weekend or even a week?

Simply put, I choose to say to my partner, friends, family, children, work or whatever is going on in life (and put this onto Text or Voice Mail too), I can’t take your call right now. All of it will be waiting when I return the call, but perhaps, by choosing to disconnect for a morning, a day, a week or a month, I’ll be in a calmer state to deal with what life throws my way. In the process, I hope it teaches my family to be more patient and self-reliant in a world that often revels in and promotes immediate gratification.

 

 

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Diving Into Year Three..

Diving, swimming – any thoughts of water to help alleviate a humid early start to summer in this small area of Ontario are much welcome thoughts. Diving into new experiences. Diving into life. So many ways to explore that free-fall experience that ends in a splash..or a belly flop. It can go either way.

We’re heading into our third year here in Prince Edward County. Life is slower at times but I have thoroughly enjoyed the stolen moments with my family or on my own (when not driving to the ends of the each nearby towns to get the kids or that one shop I really like), to sitting or doing simply nothing and enjoy the beauty of this area.

Prince Edward County is a rich oasis of agricultural land, water, art, music and people.  There is a laid-back friendliness that we have enjoyed from shop owners, neighbours and strangers just trying to help. It’s the whole area – stemming from Belleville to Trenton to PEC that is quite welcoming. It’s not perfect mind you, but it’s real with little pretence.

The most recent example of this mindset happened when I was fortunate enough to have a story accepted for a local anthology called The County Wave. At the reading, as I tried to ignore my shaking hands and looked out at the crowd, I noticed that the people were attentive and encouraging. No cell phones. Afterwards, as I signed anthologies frankly overwhelmed at the praise, I got to talking with another contributor. He was a fellow former city dweller who now lived almost full-time in The County. He had the following to say,

“You know what I like about this area? When I tell someone here I’m an author, they just simply say, that’s great. Let me know where I can find your stuff. In the big city, the first thing they ask is, should I know you?”

It’s just a slightly different perception out here and I think we like it. Most of the time.

As we enter into our third year here, I still get the odd comment or tears from the kids. They miss their really good friends, our old house was cozy etc. etc. What I think they miss the most is the ability to walk outside your door and instantaneously often have people to talk to, kids to play with a park around the corner. I simply tell them, I do too. But I look at what  we are building here. A place for people to visit for as long as they want. A retreat they (and us) will appreciate as life gets busier and busier and takes our family in all different directions. Somewhere our children and their friends will want to come back to, I hope.

I can’t predict the future, all I can do is keep taking them with me as I explore the area showing them the hidden treasures of Prince Edward County. I hide my smile when they slip up and say they’re glad to be home after a long day out doing a multitude of school related activities. I know they will appreciate the quiet as Mr. L and I do, I also know they like how bright the stars shine at night, maybe not the mosquitos, but the view is worth it.

Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll run away to the city or even back to the place where they began their lives. Perhaps they will room with those friends that they have longed for since and that they have managed to stay in touch with. Who knows.

As a parent, the biggest struggle for me the last two years is the constant in and out between home, town and school. Sure, I did it back in the ‘burbs. What parent doesn’t? But add in kilometres and 30-45 minute trips to get pretty much anywhere including groceries and supplies, it adds up. It has meant that we had to make some changes in how we manage life.

Country Living with Kids vs Suburb Living with Kids When You Have Three or More Kids

  • 1 activity per kid vs multiple activities per kid.
  • Groceries or Fresh Markets once a week vs. going to the grocery store every day.
  • Gas up once a week vs gas up every 2 weeks. (On a good week!)
  • Bundling appointments/life stuff into 1 day a week vs spreading it out over a week.
  • Finding after school care when 1 kid has extracurricular activity vs just popping home for an hour with other kids – especially important for work from home parents who still need to finish up work by end of day and can’t do it while sitting in the playground for an hour watching the other kids.
  • Always, always having snacks and waters on hand vs finding a coffee shop.
  • Downloading multiple podcasts or playlists for those long drives vs listening to the radio.
  • Telling the kids they have each other to play with because playdates (unless arranged) do not happen spontaneously vs going over to someone’s house after school.
  • Riding bikes up and down the driveway/organize an outing vs riding around the block.
  • Backyard vs park
  • And lastly – learning to let your twelve-year-old babysit the younger kids so you don’t have to schlep the entire crew out to every single outing that doesn’t involve them.

The list looks daunting and each of these bullet points race through my head every time I am asked, why did you move? Or – was it worth it?

The simple answer is yes.

The above list is just one way of doing things versus another. I choose to view it as a puzzle to solve – is there a good way to deal with a busy five-person household while living in the country? If we simplify things, then yes. If anything, the best thing to come out of this move  is the reminder that our family should be more mindful about what choices we make as well as how we spend our time and money.

Who do we want to spend time with in our home? What activities do the kids really want to do versus just doing them because they are available? Do I really need to go and buy that item or can I make do with that I have? In the suburbs, it’s easy to overbuy, overspend and over schedule because it’s available. Out here in PEC, you have to take a pause and think, how important is that right now?

So, in the long run I believe this has been an important lesson for our family to learn and one I hope my children will take with them as they enter the teen years and beyond. The ability to pause, reflect for a moment and make a choice versus doing things just because they are easy. Do you have to change your life and move out to the country to do this? No way. This practice can be done anywhere and by anyone. We just had to move out of the ‘burbs to learn it.

In the beginning, that current catch word, mindfulness,  was not the reason I thought we moved here. I will often hesitate, wondering how to phrase my answer to that “why did you move out here,” question. So I blurt out the first answer that pops into my head. I tell people we moved because out here, we got a better value for property. It was the best, honest answer I could form to the constant inquiry. Yes people, we moved to get what we wanted in a family home.

But in retrospect, or at least during the last two years, although that answer was the best that I could discern from this whole experience and was in part, true, another life lesson emerged from the dive. That one about being more mindful of one’s choices. Now that answer only came to mind once I started to reflect back on the last two years and the corresponding shifts our family have undergone. It was an aha moment as you realize what has shifted within your family over a two year period.

Life is busy when you have kids. Downright insane when you have three or more. If we can slow it down, even a little bit, while teaching an important, unstated lesson to our children about mindfulness, well then at this juncture in our lives, I believe we dove into the deep end and made the right move for us.