Reboot

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

There is a reason this is a well-recognized joke. Sometimes, starting over is the only solution. Do over. Reboot.

I was dismayed to learn that my boys had two full weeks off from school for winter break. It meant that I, too, needed to take that time off from work and that I wouldn’t be able to even take one day for myself. Plus, after two weeks, I knew they would be completely off-track and it would be like starting all over again when it came to getting organized and getting ready for school. But we’ve been off-track since the start. What difference will it make?

So now after some thought, I am singing a different tune. And that tune is, Hallelujah!

We desperately need a reboot in our house.

A few days ago after a particularly horrible morning when we missed the bus and couldn’t find our homework and there were tears and fighting and general awfulness, after I dropped the boys off at school something made me turn around and go home. OK. So, it wasn’t something in the abstract sense. It was the thought that I could go home and have a cigarette and calm down before I went to work. Despite the fact that I keep telling myself that is how the old me does things. That’s the old fall back. I don’t need to smoke or engage in any old habits to make things right. I am a strong, focused woman with exceptional willpower. I don’t need old crutches. I don’t need to do things the way I always do and expect different results. Except at that moment, I did.

So I drove home and pulled into the driveway and noticed that several of the bows that I had hung on our railing had slipped down because of the bad weather we had experienced. A box that had broken in our garage and I had thrown up on the wall next to the driveway was sitting there half sagging with water from the rain and snow…and I started crying again. What a perfectly white trash looking house. Why was my life like this? Why couldn’t I get my shit together? Where had I gone wrong?

I walked into my house and my fat cat sat looking up at me confused. Why was I home again? I looked back at him and realized I hadn’t seen the other cat all morning. I started calling her name.

It didn’t take me very long to realize she wasn’t there. I started to panic. I thought about the night before when I had opened the door to the patio and stood by the door smoking because it was too cold to go outside and I was answering work emails on my phone and thinking about a dozen other things and I just knew that my little itty-bitty kitty had snuck right past me and out the door and I didn’t even notice. I thought back to the middle of the night when I thought I heard meowing and I just sort of grunted in my sleep and hoped the cat would be quiet, not knowing that her plaintive meows were coming from outside in the cold.

We all know the dangers of distracted driving, but what about the dangers of distracted living?

I’ve come to see that I am hardly ever in the moment doing one thing. My mind is always racing while I am doing several things at once. I’m on my phone answering email while trying to watch TV or play a game with my kids or wash the dishes and my mind is a thousand miles away doing something else. It has to stop.

So, I put my boots on and went trudging up to the trees and bushes in my backyard looking for my cat. It was freezing cold and had snowed the night before and I was sobbing and fully expecting to find a frozen catsicle around every corner.

It would serve me right, I thought, I’m all over the place. The boys are all over the place. I’m trying to do too many things and I’m all over the boys for not being able to concentrate in school and for losing things and for not being organized and yet, I am setting a horrible example. I didn’t even notice my CAT was missing. I’m a horrible person and I am ruining our family and now, I’ve killed our cat.

Eventually, I calmed down and told myself that she was a cat and smart and would have found a dry place to curl up and wait it out. I called and called and finally I heard a sad, little meow in return. I started frantically looking for her trying to follow the sound of the meows until my eyes fell on the broken, lopsided box. Thank you, God. I peered inside and there she was wide-eyed and staring at me. Smart stupid little kitty.

I hugged her and cried and then got my ass in gear to get to work, all the while thanking God for the wake up call.

We all need to stop living this distracted life. Video games and social media and work and school and family time and down time and up time all have their place; but we need to work at being present in the moment. My kids can hardly remember from one minute to the next what they are supposed to be doing. Multi-part instructions are a joke; even if they can make it through the first task with our distraction, the following directions are certainly a distant memory. Why can’t we just do one thing at a time?

I am trying to institute this mindfulness as a new rule in our household, for the boys and for myself. If we are watching a movie as a family that is all we should be doing; my phone and my computer have no place there. If we are eating dinner, there is no homework or books or electronic devices at the table. When I am driving, I am turning up the radio as loud as I can to drown out my thoughts; music and the road, there is no room for any other thoughts that cause me to arrive at my destination wondering how I got there. At work, I’m there; not thinking about dinner or the boys’ activities or what I am going to write on the blog or why my friend hasn’t texted me back. Perhaps if I start modeling this, the boys will be able to focus in their lives as well.

Nothing functions well if we aren’t focused on what’s in front of us. Eventually, we have a dozen open browser windows in our minds and ten different mental and physical applications running and the operating systems of our life are bound to come to a screeching halt. I firmly believe that we aren’t made to do so much multi-tasking. But unfortunately I forget and get wrapped up in life and seem to need a potentially disastrous situation to remind me; like a lost manuscript or a frozen cat.

Time to reboot.

Let it go

Long ago, one of my mentors told me that if I wanted to get ahead in business that I had to learn how to make a poker face. When my face then contorted into what was probably a mix of confusion and indignation, he smiled and said, that’s what I am talking about.

I always thought that being open and honest and transparent was a good thing. But, in business, not so much. That’s fine, I remember telling him, I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder anyway. Years later, I am still receiving the same feedback professionally. I’ve “climbed” and I am very competent and good at my job, but I am told that I need to learn to conceal my feelings on any given matter. It’s somewhat contradictory, since I am also always seen as the “logical” and “realistic” one in the group, but I also seem to get slapped with the “emotional” label as well. And there is no place for emotions in business.

Turns out, it isn’t much better as a parent.

You aren’t supposed to let your kids see when they get to you. You need to let hurtful remarks and sassy attitudes roll off your back. You can’t let all your hopes and fears for them get wrapped up in every choice you make. You need to have all the answers or at least pretend that you do or that you know where to get them. You need to be firm, but kind. Patient, understanding, in control, and above all else you are not supposed to lose it over little shit like someone refusing to change out of dirty clothes because they have to wear sweatpants or they are never going to school ever again. And if you feel differently, you aren’t supposed to show it.

My personal challenge is that I am a passionate person. I feel things very deeply, for better or worse, and they are always right there on the surface. If I am happy, you know it! If I am not, you know it! If I agree with you, you know it! If I don’t, you know it! My trouble actually starts when I try to hide what I am feeling…something that seems to come naturally to others, is not easy for me. If I try to mask my frustration or anger, whether in business or otherwise, it seems to leak out of me in other more destructive ways.

So what the hell is a mama with no real outlet for frustration supposed to do with all that pent-up angst?

Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore… unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know how the rest of the song goes.

The thing is that Elsa (or Anna- believe it or not, I have somehow manage to escape seeing the movie even though my sons have- not sure which, but using contextual clues I am going to say Elsa) seems to have the opposite problem. She didn’t seem to feel at all. Frozen, I guess. So, she is ready to unleash her passion on the world and let the storm rage around her because that cold never bothered her anyway. Well, good for you, sweetheart. What about the rest of us who are just trying not to let every feeling and emotion we have affect the rest of our lives?

The irony, of course, is that the answer is the same. Let it go.

It’s like meditation. You empty your mind of thoughts. And if you have a mind like mine, it is nearly impossible. I always felt like a failure at meditation until someone told me that you can just acknowledge a thought without going into full-blown analysis mode on it. So you think about your son’s seeming inability to bring home his lunch bag from school. OK. That’s it. Let it go. You don’t need to wonder why he can’t remember, or think up a new points and rewards system designed to make him more responsible, you don’t have to feel any feelings about it; you just had a thought. Poof. It’s gone.

My goal is not to devoid myself of feelings, but not to hold on to them and become them either. To let my feelings surface and then rise like a bubble to pop in the air, not to simmer and stew like bubbles trapped under a lid. I will never be a good poker player, and I will never be a good liar, but I can aim to be someone who doesn’t attach themselves to their emotions so they may come and go with little effect.

One-liner Wednesday – On learning

If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room

– someone brilliant (I’ve seen it attributed to a few different people)

 


This one-liner brought to you as part of LindaGHill’s One-Liner Wednesday: http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/one-line-wednesday-t-shirts-say-the-funniest-things/

 

One-liner Wednesday – On confusion

Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear? ~ Lao Tzu

 


This one-liner seemed to be a recurring theme for me this week and is shared here as part of: http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/one-liner-wednesday-april-13-2004/

 

One thing at a time

As usual, I have about a half dozen unfinished blog posts about various thoughts I’ve had over the last couple of weeks about parenting, or my kids, or writing, or how I am turning 40 this year and feel like I have no effing clue how I got here.

And, as usual, I have identified that in order to keep up with the “deal” that I struck with myself– to write a blog post a week even if it kills me– this is the only free time I’ve got that won’t interfere with my sleep. Unfortunately, this free time is coming at the expense of having to let my sons dance-wrestle in the living room while listening to a radio station that I would NEVER choose to listen to. And while I try to string thoughts together into some sort of coherent whole even though I am half-listening to what they are doing and half-listening for suspect lyrics, I am struck by how this scene feels indicative of how I have been living my life: like I am trying to do a million things at once and doing none of them well.

yes, I do appreciate the irony of a twin mom saying we should only do one thing at a time.

yes, I do appreciate the irony of a twin mom saying we should only do one thing at a time.

When I became a parent, and a single parent to twins at that, I realized I previously had no idea what “multi-tasking” really was. Suddenly, I learned how to truly accomplish several things at once. It was a matter of survival. Before, I may have thought that making a phone call while doing some computer task was multi-tasking at its finest. Then, it was feeding two babies, watching a movie and grocery shopping online. Now, I can make a call, referee a fight, strategize a work meeting, feed the cat and answer an email on my phone without skipping a beat.

Except that I have grown tired of it. Very, very tired.

I don’t want to multi-task any longer. In fact, I call bullshit on the whole practice. Can we really do so many things at once and be successful? I don’t think so. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that the practice of multi-tasking and the expectation of it is one of the main contributing factors to our ADD-riddled, distracted, emotionally disconnected and technology-dependent society.

My sons, one more than the other, can not sit in the car for more than 5 minutes without complaining they are bored. Suggestions of: listen to music, look out the window or daydream are met with the hopeless eye-roll. And these are kids with imaginations that could create an entire alternative universe. But they want to be entertained. Preferably with several things at once.

I don’t think that they learned this from me, but maybe they did. Maybe they see me answering emails while we are watching TV. Or that I am changing the laundry while I am cooking dinner and writing at the computer. All I know for sure is that I have reached a point where all the multi-tasking is driving me nuts.

My mind has always been full of thoughts. However, there used to be a time where I could just sit down and think. The only time this happens now is while I am driving. And this is dangerous, too. I can’t count how many times I’ve arrived at work or at home and have been so busy thinking that I don’t even recall the drive very clearly. I want to be able to shut down some of those browser windows in my brain. I want to be able to concentrate on one thing at a time. I want to declare an end to multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking is the enemy of zen. It prevents us from conscious living. Sure, you can get several things done at once, but if any of those things move beyond mindless tasks, i.e. put the groceries away while you talk on the phone, you are robbing something of your mindfulness and therefore, it isn’t really done or good or whole.

In every job interview I’ve had since the boys were born, I have bragged about how I’ve honed my time management skills since they were born so that I could be both effective at work and at home in the time that I had allotted to either. This is simultaneously very true and the biggest load of crap ever.

Sure, I have honed those skills. I can pretty much get everything done that I need to get done at any given time, even if it kills me. But that’s just it. It’s killing me. Or at least, hurting me. Basically, I’ve figured out how to give the least amount of attention to any given task in front of me so that I can complete it successfully and still do everything else I need to do.

And that is crap.

True time management would be to figure out how to give the most attention to everything in front of me, in order to complete everything successfully at any given time.

It is something which I think we as a society need to work at. We are expected to do more at our jobs in less amounts of time with less help. We expect our children to do more activities and do more at school and structure so much of their lives that daydreaming is becoming obsolete. We use our phones while we are driving, watch T.V. while we are eating and surf the internet while we are waiting in line at the store. We rush from one thing to the next while thinking about the third thing we have to do. It seems nothing gets our undivided attention. And that is a shame.

It is time to slow down. Cut some things out. Focus on what is in front of us. Lying in the grass and staring up at the clouds is becoming a lost art. Listening to our kids, our spouses, our friends…REALLY listening, without thinking about anything else, without doing anything else is becoming an uncommon practice. And at the end of the day, these are the things that matter. Our connections to each other, to ourselves, to our present are what make life worth living. Shouldn’t we give each moment everything we’ve got? 

Instead of the war on drugs, let’s just say no to multi-tasking. Then there wouldn’t be a need for drugs to medicate ourselves into a peaceful, one-track mind. What a better world it would be if we could tend to the moment at hand with our whole minds and bodies and hearts. Deep breaths now…go.