A few years ago, my husband and I lived on a farm with our first-born. There were many down-sides to farm-living. The spiders as big as my fist, there was no Chinese food delivery that would come to us, and when it snowed we couldn’t go anywhere for two weeks until our neighbor up the road finally came and plowed us out. There was also terrible cell phone service which meant if I wanted to make a call I had to stand in the doorway between the kitchen and living room and not move a muscle.
The only perk to this was that if you found yourself in a less than desirable conversation you could easily get away with hanging up the phone and pretending you lost service. (JK, Mom, I never did that). There were only three channels on tv and the internet was spotty on a good day. After many failed attempts to get Comcast to come fix the situation, it turned out we were simply in a “black hole.” There was no getting quality internet or television service in the quarter mile around our shabby digs.
Despite being barely connected to the outside world, once my baby blues faded, life was simpler in a lot of ways. While nothing about having a newborn is easy, we lived a much slower paced version of life on the farm than we do now, just under five years later on the edge of a big city. I’m not sure I could go back- not at this point in my life, with two kids and the desire to be close to neighbors, friends, and schools. But there’s a lot to be said for being that disconnected in terms of technology. Living in a “black hole” forces you to connect to what’s going on inside your four walls. And having that kind of uninterrupted connection without even having to think about it, well, I’d give just about anything to have that back.
Most days on the farm were the same. I was home with the baby and my husband worked and commuted at least two hours a day. But when he got home in the evening and we put our daughter to bed, it was just us. Maybe we watched something on ABC or NBC once in a while. But usually, we drank wine and sat on our screened-in porch, even when it was freezing cold. We huddled together under a blanket and listened to music. We talked. Maybe read. We ate. We enjoyed each other. There was no third party to our relationship, minus the actual human being asleep in the nursery. There were no iPhones to look at thirty times an hour. No Instagram to update. No one to stalk on Facebook. If I had something to write, which occasionally I did, though I wasn’t working as much as I am now, it got done during “work” hours. It never bled into the night, into our time, and neither did my husband’s work.
These days, our evenings go a little differently. While we both, for the most part, work from home, rarely do we get all of our work done during the day which means rarely are we completely disconnected. After our two children are asleep, it’s time to check email, social media, catch up on work and do it again and again until our eyes are closed. Even when we do put the laptops away with the aim to “relax” our phones our always close by. While watching Netflix, Hulu, Vudu or regular tv, we are hardly ever fully engaged in what we’re watching, let alone one another. Movies or TV shows are constantly interrupted by my asking “What are you even doing on there?” or “You aren’t even watching!”
But though I’ve had this growing disdain for my husband’s lack of attention, lately I’ve begun to notice that I’m not much better. I find my hand is unconsciously picking up my phone and swiping the screen without even thinking about it- without even really wanting to look at it or knowing why I’m doing it in the first place. To be completely honest, my inability to focus on anything without checking my phone is starting to overwhelm me. It’s also starting to make me wish I’d never gotten an iPhone in the first place when I did just about a year and a half ago. I feel the communication in my marriage is starting to breakdown. Not only do I struggle to get my husband’s attention nearly every time I have to tell him something, which is a lot given we’re trying to work together to wrangle two humans, I am fighting to hold my own attention, as well.
Now, the things I was once so far removed from are the very things I now feel I can’t live without. Email at the touch of a button, Facebook, directions, texting, googling ebola symptoms- it’s all right there. I don’t even need to think about what I’m doing. I just do it. It’s accessible, and it’s easy, too easy and it’s making everything harder than it should be. It’s hard to turn off my “work” brain when I can check my email any time of day or night. It’s hard to fully engage it what I’m doing when "Hm… I should totally Instagram that.” I
t’s hard to give my daughter 100% of me when my other world is just a swipe and a click away. And I almost never nurse the baby without my phone in my hand, though it does sometimes make it easier to be trapped for lengthier feeds or when he decides to nap, boob-in-mouth style. It’s all become hard, but in a very #firstworldproblems kind of way, admittedly.
In the past few weeks, we’ve begun instituting a rule: no phones from 5 PM to whenever the kids are down for the count. I love this rule because it means we’re engaged with each other and our kids completely during dinner, bath, books and settling down for bed. I shouldn’t be distracted when my daughter is trying to tell me something about her day. I shouldn’t be asking her to “hold on” while I type something irrelevant, or check Facebook. No, It won’t teach her patience. It will teach her that my phone is more important than she is, that it’s okay to not look someone in the eyes, that doing a hundred things at once is a normal way to live. But I don’t believe it is, so I have to stop modeling it. And I have to stop pretending that she doesn’t notice.
At this point in my life, I’ve seen the error of my ways, but controlling this addiction is not going to be easy, I already know this. During our screenless hours in the early evening, I often find myself reaching into my pocket on impulse. It’s as if my mind is nearly as trained to check my phone as it is to remember to breathe or feed myself. Something in my brain needs rewiring, but I’m determined to make it happen. We moved out of the country and into the city so that we could have more connection, after all. While I’m not ready to ditch my phone altogether, invest in a map, a compass and a car-phone for emergencies, something has got to give. I think my marriage and my kids deserve more. But instead of yelling at my husband to put down his phone, I’m going to start with the woman in the mirror selfie first.