Saturday, July 18, 2009

From Cops and Robbers to Ipods and Touchscreens

There are undoubtedly amazing, mind-blowing products in development at a phone company near you, but I am fairly certain the conversations in their board rooms don’t go quite like the one I was privy to hear yesterday afternoon.

Product Developer: Hey, I think we need an I Flip Touch that is a TomTom.

Bossman: Okay, sounds good. Just make sure that it has directions and maps.

PD: Okay, thanks.

PD (after hanging up and calling a probable co-worker): Hey, we can do it. Call me if you need anything.

Flitting in and out of phone fantasy, my kids created imaginary computers that were the size of a DS with touchscreen capability, along with a flip phone that could hold all the music in the world. Not much entertains me as much as the inner workings of my kids’ brains.

It is an elaborate imaginary game that started three days ago, and has evolved into multiple paper representations of their creations. There are phones stalled in the middle of a brick breaker game, and others that are poised for the multiple texting conversations that have happened in conjunction with the product development. All hand-drawn letters and numbers, cut to shape by a ridiculous pair of clown scissors that they dug out of some box around here. The flip phone design has morphed because the early models kept breaking at the hinge point, turning one square paper phone into two smaller ones. They have set up shop to sell each other these products, printed receipts for purchase and dealt with pretend angry customers because they don’t have in stock what the customer wanted.

My favorite part of this game is that they have assigned each phone a ringtone…produced on demand by my oldest who mans the ipod that is currently connected to portable speakers. He has six phones, with six different ringtones, and personalities to go with them. There is one ringtone for the bossman, another for the co-worker and yet another for the 18-year-old version of himself. Both he and his younger sister can keep straight what mask they should don when a certain ringtone starts blaring, and they get into character immediately.

After pretend conversations on the paper phone, they have reported that a co-worker has been fired or that their mother seems frustrated that she cannot track them down. The game has followed us to the mall, to the park and to a party. They brought in a guest developer while they were playing with their friends, but they have been able to shelve their phones, and the game, when there are real people with whom they can talk.

I suppose I could be concerned about the infatuation with technology, but I would never want to discourage such creativity. It baffles me how much they do know about iphones and ringtones and touchscreens, because neither my husband nor I have an iphone, a song for a ringtone or a touchscreen to speak of. Electronics in our house right now consist of a cell phone for both me and my husband, one ipod for the five of us, 3 portable cd players, a boombox cd player, two laptops, a Tom Tom, a camera, a tv , a camcorder and a Wii. Until I started compiling that list, I really didn’t think we had that much, but I guess we are more plugged in than I thought. I do limit the screen time daily to no more than an hour in the morning and then maybe an hour at night. I monitor what they watch, we talk regularly about internet safety, and they are on their computer games while I am in the room with them. But technology surrounds them.

It is the life they see. Outside of the growing list of products in our house, we buy groceries at touchscreen scanners, and a version of the products they have been pretending to create are all over tv commercials, magazine ads and television shows. A friend of mine put it best when he said, “We (adults) are technology immigrants, they (kids) are technology natives.” It is inevitable that today’s kids will be technologically savvy, and like anything else, it is not inherently bad if there is balance to that passion. Who knows, maybe they will be part of a team that invents the ultimate in handheld technology, and I hope that the ease with which they have made decisions as they’ve played this game will follow them into the corporate world, and more importantly to every relationship they have from here on out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reluctant Reader

It’s about time, but I’m still not sure I’m ready. The public debut of my first chapter will happen, first, this Sunday for my grandmother and her friends and then more officially the 29th of July. I do hope I’ll be able to keep my hands still and my voice steadied enough to actually read what I’ve written. I forget that there are only a handful of people who have heard the story, and even fewer who have read my written recollection of it. It is nerve-racking stuff to lay your life out there in a collection of letters and words to be judged, analyzed and felt. It is possible that I would have been better off writing fiction pieces and pretending that the characters and their faults are not my own, but I can’t function there. The heroine that I write in my own non-fiction story will definitely disappoint her fans, but she is more human than a caped crusader.

It’s a story that is not any more impressive or important than any other person’s story, the difference may simply be that I am willing to write mine down. It reflects a time in my life that I would rather pretend never happened, but it did, and I’ve grown past it. It is dramatic, however, and the emotions should have waned for me in the last six years, but when I start to read it, I am right back there again. Hopefully it will be cathartic to start the separation from this story. Eventually it will be in a book that will be outside of my control and each time I can release it a little more. This is part of the process that I didn’t quite anticipate, but I am open to being moved where I need to go.

I sense that this project and this story have happened outside of my will. I trust that it is for a purpose greater than me, and for that, I will subject myself to the uncomfortable. My hands will sweat, my stomach will churn, my voice will probably shake, but this is the next logical step in a process that must continue. My husband has forgiven me, our marriage has been put back on track, and I just hope that those who hear the story are just as forgiving.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Say What You Need to Say...

It might be my impression…but it feels like I am pulling that relationship short straw lately. I try not to complain, and it is a failure, in my eyes, to give in to negative thoughts that insist on bombarding my mind, but man is it hard. It is hardest when the slights happen because of people with whom I have lifelong relationships. I watch older women, who I admire most, and I can hardly imagine that their brains even know how to think negatively, and I doubt their reactions to frustration would be anything but acceptance with quiet grace.

I am not quiet and I have only a modicum of grace, so how can I move past the emotions I feel when I perceive that I’m being slighted? My recent solution has been to do what every other woman who is not all that graceful or quiet does: I gossiped, I ranted negatively, and I even held a grudge. That sounds so girly and I hate it. It’s not okay with me that those are the tools I employed when a relationship got stressful, or someone did something that upset me. Why in the world are women wired this way? What evolutionary benefit does this sort of conflict resolution promote?

I guess if there is no real need to create drama with a specific person, you feel a little better having talked about her with a friend instead, but it is such an unattractive behavior, and one I would love to completely abandon. It is hypocritical of me to tell my kids, “It is not nice to talk about someone who is not in the room, unless what you are saying is beneficial,” and to then proceed with that same behavior in conversations with my husband. He is my gossip soundboard. I truly do not call up one friend to talk about another, but rather my frustrations are frequently vented on my husband’s ear.

I realize that it is normal, human behavior to get caught up in the stories of other people and to then express opinion about their lives, especially if you are involved in the drama, but I want to grow past this rut I have let myself dig. I have passively let rifts occur because in recent years, I have remained silent with my offender when I used to express discontent. In my early twenties I thought nothing of confronting someone who was hurting me and expressing my displeasure by imparting my wisdom on them. It was rather ineffectual and often put an even deeper strain on our relationship. I’ve tried other tactics that have left me emotionally drained, but again have proven somewhat futile. So, I have simply just stopped trying, but the emotions are still there, and the ability to communicate thwarted. The long silences don’t work for me either.

The last thing that I want is to become so indifferent that I avoid the hard conversations altogether. I will have completely resigned when I no longer have the energy to talk with someone about difficult topics. So, where to go from here? Objective “I” statements are my new method. When I feel the urge to vent frustrations about relationships that are in a difficult place, I set out to write as many “I” statements as I need so I can begin to verbalize what needs to be said. Example, “I am so angry because I am not getting my way.” “I am sad because I am feeling misunderstood.” My emotions are valid, and my reactions are my responsibility, so I will no longer keep my emotions to myself, but rather approach those sticky relationship issues from my perspective only. No more assumption, no more silence, no more expectation that people can read my mind. I will just say what I need to say.

(As a side note...I will post flower pictures with each blog that is specifically about how I am trying to grow. A badge to remind me)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mechanical Misery

Last summer it was my phone, this year my car, but there are a number of things with which I just dread dealing. (computers and grills included) I want to simply pass off the job to my already overworked and exhausted husband and then I proceed to get mad that it doesn’t get done yesterday. I’m not sure what frustrates me more: the undependability of manmade things, or the fact that my husband can’t drop everything to tend to my needs. It’s not fair…it’s not reasonable, but it is how I feel.

I just want to be taken care of sometimes. I am not a high maintenance woman, by any means, but there are days that I feel like just curling up in a ball and letting things magically happen around me without even having to bat an eye in that direction. I rail against the reality that it is never going to happen, especially this time of year. I throw my little tantrum, shed a few tears of frustration and then get back to the daily grind as quickly as I can. It’s not his fault, but really, I have NEVER seen a computer, a phone, or a car acknowledge its weaknesses and apologize for making my life miserable. My husband can, right?! Sure, he can, but should he? It’s not his fault that those mechanical things fail on me right when he is overcommitted, but yelling at the things has proven futile time and time again…and I never feel any better.

The things will get fixed, time will pass, and I’ll get my husband back, but in the meantime, I need to find another sounding board that is less emotional. Thus, I turn to the internet… boy, am I a glutton for punishment!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Singled Out

Three weekends left…after this one. Three more chunks of time when I need to muster up energy, schedule efficiently or pay the price because the kids are bored. I will have one break in there when my mom has the kids while I head up to the mountains, but generally I am on call 24 hours a day, just like I have been since April. I have stolen some evenings to myself, as my husband has been with the kids or a babysitter that I’ve hired has come over, but this time of year is my stint with single motherhood. I am awe-inspired by the women who do this more regularly and even more impressed by those women who manage to do it with the added responsibility of working while mothering. I acknowledge that I am not really a single mother because I do not have to work to make the money that I spend on food and activities for the four of us, but I think I get a fairly good idea of what it is to be the only adult around.

Yesterday, after my oldest was so badly disappointed that one of my plans fell through, he yelled, “Well, if you just had a back-up plan.” I bristled, and yelled back (yes I am an ashamed yeller…when provoked) “I am tired of coming up with ALL the plans day in and day out. I do it ALL the time.”

And I am tired now, but I am not as exhausted as I was when the kids were much smaller. The absolute hardest time in my house was when I had a two-year-old and a 7-month-old, and our schedule was the same. Things have gotten easier each time one of my kids has turned three, and now that all of them are over three it is often just really fun.

We can do more things, and I can have real conversations with the little bodies that crowd together in the back of my car, but there are some days that are harder than others. The weekends are the hardest. Single parenting when the weekend comes around reminds me, and reminds the kids, that their dad is not with us. I can see curious eyes when we go to church and I am there, alone, with the kids. I try to often play with my wedding ring, in place of being able to wear a disclaiming bumper sticker: “Yes, I am alone, but I am happily married…he’s just working right now.” Very often there are families who do the things that we do, and it is hard not to miss the full-family dynamic.

As a group, the kids and I decided that this summer we were not going to join any teams or sign up for any camps. As a full-time scheduler, I can see the appeal in getting my kids signed up for a ton of things. If I am handed a practice and game schedule, it is easier to work with smaller windows of time, and this summer has been an experiment in how to handle all the scheduling myself. It is more relaxed as far as running from place to place, but there has been a lot more pressure put on me to incorporate enough activities to create distraction.

My mom was a legitimate single mom, a role I appreciate increasingly, and I understand a little better why my siblings and I were regularly scheduled. We all thrived with externally imposed scheduling, and I have no doubt it helped the weekends pass faster. Families go camping, families take bike rides, families head to the mountains for the weekend, and as a single mom it is harder to do these things. Although it might be just as fun, it is also a different experience when there is only one adult in tow.

I’ll impose myself on my friends’ family time, when they include me in their weekend activities, but I am cognizant of the fact that it is always less awkward when I am not the third wheel, and every family deserves time to themselves. Seeking out those friends of mine who are single parenting, either permanently or temporarily, has helped with not just distraction but with adding the support that I know I need.

I am glad that the festival season is almost over, but I am glad that I have this time of perspective with our kids. We grow through this single-mothering season together, and as painful as it is sometimes, it makes each of us stronger and appreciative of the time we get as a family the rest of the year.