The Days are Long but the Years are Short.

One of my favorite books is “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.  It is one of the few books that made a lasting impression on me and continues to affect the way I live my life.

There are many great parts to the book, but the one that was most influential for me was a section that discussed the challenges of raising children.  She describes the relentless demands, exhausting schedules and never ending days of parenting.  She also offers the following insight, “The days are long but the years are short”.  I think about this statement often and I’ll tell you why.

I struggled for several years to get pregnant.  I prayed, I cried.  I underwent several procedures and had countless ultrasounds, blood draws and injections.  And then finally, my prayers were answered and I became pregnant.  I was thrilled.  I did not dare complain throughout my pregnancy for fear that it would jinx my good fortune.  Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2006, my eldest son was born.

We brought him home, set the car seat down and didn’t know what to do with him.  We didn’t have any family support and we had no idea what to expect.  My son was a difficult baby.  He slept little.  He fussed a lot.  And that combination left me exhausted and low on milk.  The Naturopath in me refused to yield.  I insisted on nursing him, at all costs-probably a mistake in hindsight.  He woke often and we often started the day at 5:30am.  We sat in a rocking chair on the porch.  While I drank a large coffee, he watched the people on the street starting their days.  And from there, the day went on.  It was long.  He didn’t sleep.  I couldn’t take him anywhere.  He cried in the car.  He cried in the stroller.  I could take him as far as I could carry him.  We realize now that he suffers from motion sickness.  I would watch the hours until my husband came home and then quickly hand him over so I could get a break.  I felt terribly guilty that I wanted to get away from the baby that I had cried for, yearned for and prayed for.  Then, 2 years later came my younger son.  Another blessing.  Another miracle.  And from there it all became a blur.  Feedings, bedtimes, diaper changes and teething.  Like most parents, I was exhausted and weary.

Those days were so very long.  

And now, they are 5 and 7.  My eldest is smart and funny.  He tells tales and loves school.  He plays the violin.  There are times when I look at him and see my husband staring back at me and it never ceases to astonish me.  My youngest loves soccer and skips everywhere.   He plays the cello because violin requires too much standing for his liking.  I look at him and I am amazed at how he can be all sweetness and fire wrapped up into one little bundle of giggles and energy.

The years have flown by. 

How does this all relate to my habits and changing my life?  Well, the first thing I wanted to work on was the amount of time I spent on my smartphone.  I knew I used it too much and I knew it was a problem but I didn’t really understand how big an impact it was having on my life until I stopped using it so much.

My goals were to stop using the phone in the car and in the evenings before the boys’ bedtime.  Over the past 3-4 weeks, I have completely stopped using my phone in the car, except for calls on my Bluetooth.  So instead of constantly having my head down at the traffic lights or stop signs, I look around or I look in my rearview.  I am more aware of my surroundings.  I glance at my children.  Sometimes, they are staring out the window.  Sometimes they are having a silly conversation.  But regardless of what they are doing, I see them.  I see their animated faces or their eyes staring off into space.  I appreciate their beauty and innocence.  Other times, if I am lucky, one of them catches my eye in the mirror and flashes me a smile.  Those moments are golden.  We also talk more in the car since I am less distracted.   I learn more about their friends and what they did at school.

I also stopped using my phone as much in the evenings.  I have gotten better at this, but have to admit that I have my slip-ups.  But putting down my phone in the evenings has meant that I can truly focus on the task at hand-the task of mothering.  There are more conversations at the dinner table.  More giggles when brushing teeth and more stories before bed.  I am more patient and involved because I am not trying to send a text or email while getting a 5-year old to floss. I am simply being mommy and what I have found is that when I am focused on this one task, the task of being mommy, I am better at it.   I go to bed feeling more connected with my children and my children go to bed feeling more connected to me.

Generally, putting down my phone has given me a sense of calm, a grounding that I was missing.  It’s reduced the chaos in my brain and allowed me to be more present in my day-to-day activities.

Now, there is a downside to all of this.  Many people have asked me why I haven’t responded to their emails or texts.  A few are annoyed.  But you know what?  They’ll get over it.  I let them know that I am trying to distance myself from my phone.  They will know for next time that it might take me a little longer to get back to them and it will soon become the new normal.

This has been a tremendous journey for me.  Being a good mother is the single most important thing to me.  I consider it a privilege to be a mother.  I never want to forget what a blessing my children are and I want my children to think back and remember a mother that listened to them and was interested in them.  Equally important, I want to be able to look back and know that I was there for my children to my fullest capacity.

The years may be short, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of them.

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Breaking my addiction is harder than I thought.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to limit my smartphone use.  It’s the first habit I am trying to kick as I better myself over the next year or so.  

It’s harder than I thought.  It’s amazing how often I reach for it and then have to stop and remind myself that I am not doing “that” anymore.  Truth be told, I am having a lot of trouble with it.  I am so used to multitasking that simply sitting in traffic, waiting at the stop sign or hanging out with my family seems too simple and unencumbered. 

It also amazes me how much of an addiction it actually is.  For me, the hardest time to avoid checking my phone is after I have exited off the highway.  My highway drive is about an hour.  I exit and immediately have a very long traffic light.  This is one of the hardest times for me to stay true to breaking this habit.  I fidget.  I check my hair.  I drink some water.  I look in the rearview.  The only problem with looking in the rearview is that the guy or girl behind me is inescapably checking his or her phone!  The first time this happened, I felt like a smoker having a nic-fit.  But after a few more drives like that, I think I have beat that traffic light.  I know work is only 5 minutes from that spot and I keep telling myself I can wait 5 more minutes.  

About a week in though, I knew I needed help to kick this habit, especially in the evenings when I am at home.  So I enlisted my 7 year old.  I told him to “catch me” if I was on my phone in the evenings or in the car.  Trust me, he is taking his job very seriously.  Whenever I touch it, he says, “You said no phone”.  I usually fight the urge to shoot him a dirty look and then put my phone away feeling only a little sheepish.

I have found a few other tricks to make it easier too.  First, as soon as I get in the car, I check my phone one last time before I start driving.  Then I put it on silent.  It is much easier to ignore it if I don’t constantly hear it beeping at me about an incoming text or email. 

Next, I started listening to audio cds on my long drives.  I had always kind of discounted the idea of listening to “books on tape”.  I always preferred music to listening to podcasts or the news.  I blast my music and sing along.  I accepted the fact that I would probably need hearing aids in my old age.  It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.  Then a friend gave me a couple of audio books.  I half-heartedly started listening to one and you know what?  I am hooked.  I look forward to an uninterrupted drive so I can listen to my cd.  It’s made ignoring my cellphone much easier indeed.  In fact, when someone calls on the Bluetooth, I am often annoyed that they’ve interrupted my listening.

So I would say overall, my cell phone usage has decreased. I am focusing on this for one more week to firmly entrench the new behavior.  Keeping my fingers crossed and off my phone:)

The Whisper Before the Scream….

My sister-in-law once told me that God whispers before he screams.  I don’t think you need to be religious to appreciate the message.  Often we are given signs-little nudges or indications that something is amiss or that something needs to change but we ignore them.  For some reason though, her words have stuck with me over the years and they have certainly played a big role in my first official habit.

It is not so much adding a habit as kicking a habit.  You see, I am an addict.  My phone is my lifeline.  I email, text, schedule, talk, browse and google nonstop.  At first, it was because I was starting my clinic and needed to be connected, especially since my clinic is in another city.  Then it was because we were renovating the house and I needed to stay on top of contractors, orders and deadlines.  The next thing you know, my smartphone has become an appendage.  I wake up and it’s the first thing I turn on.  I go to bed and it’s the last thing I turn off.  I check it non-stop.  I am the annoying friend that is always on her phone, the irritating daughter, sister and wife who is always distracted, the multitasking mother that can’t stop texting.   I always had excuses.  I have so much to do.  I am juggling so much.  I just need to send this message, make this call or quickly look this up.

Then I heard the whisper.   A couple of times, my son said, “Stop texting!”.  My immediate response was that I was trying to schedule a playdate, register for soccer or call the dentist.  An excuse to justify my behavior-but somewhere in my soul, it nagged me.

The whisper became louder.  I went to Evergreen Brickworks and lost my phone.  Ironically that was a day when I told myself I was going to put my phone away and focus on the time I had at the market with the boys. This was the day after two little boys were killed in a car accident in Parry Sound.  I looked at my children and appreciated them a little more, hugged them a little tighter and said a little prayer for the poor mother that had lost her children.  I told myself that I would be fine without my phone for a couple of hours and needed to focus on my children.

When I did look for my phone and realized it was gone, I was remarkably calm.  I have suffered enough loss in my life to recognize that there are worse things than losing my phone.  I left the boys with a friend and went hunting for it.  I never found it.  When I got back to the children, my friend had informed them that mommy had lost her phone.  My 5 year old’s eyes opened wide as he exclaimed “You lost your phone!  Oh my gosh Mummy!  That’s really bad right?  What are you going to do?”.  I looked at him and thought wow, there’s a problem when my 5-year old sees me as being so attached to an object.  It was very disconcerting.

Then the scream.   I ended up having to buy a new phone.  I left dinner with a friend after having just bought it and started downloading an app before I started driving.  I got to a stoplight and glanced at the phone to see if the app had finished downloading.  I didn’t push a button, I didn’t speak, nothing.  Just glanced at it.  Then I heard a banging on the window.  An older man was pounding on my window yelling, “Don’t do that!”.

Ok.  I get it.  I finally get it!

So here’s my first habit.  I will not touch my phone in the car.   I feel this is particularly important since I am in the car a lot.  I don’t text and drive but I certainly check my phone at the stop light or in traffic.  I also make calls on my Bluetooth, play music or am generally engaged with it in some capacity.   But now I have 2 young boys watching me.  I want to set a good example.  I don’t ever want them to text and drive or be otherwise distracted while driving.  How can I tell them not to do it if they grow up watching me on my phone in the car?  How can I tell them to put their phones down while I hold onto mine with a vise grip?

I also will not touch my phone after getting home with the boys after school.  I will put it away and not check it again until after they are happily tucked away in their beds.  I know it’s a cliché, but time is precious.  My boys deserve a few hours of my time that is uninterrupted by my phone.

This is the habit I want to kick.  I think it will be tough.  But I know it will be worth it.  I have heard the scream; it’s time for action.