Friday, September 20, 2013

connections in the corn patch

I was recently reading Alana Chernila's blog post about her relationship to social media as well as this post on the NYTimes Bits Blog about smartphones in our daily lives.  I spend a good deal of time thinking about my own and my family's use of technology.  And this has become especially timely for me as our oldest child is entering a stage when many, if not most, of his friends carry a personal device on which they have access to social media.  Nicholas does not currently have his own device and he seems content with using our family's iPads and computers for any internet access he needs or would like.  At least for now.  But as I have recently entered the world of social media myself, I am aware of the modeling I am doing for him and of the contradictions I may create when he points out that I am not allowing him to do something that I myself am doing.  He and his friends, with their limited developmental capacity for digital citizenship, create some tricky questions.

Admittedly I am new to this blogging thing.  I am still just trying to figure it out and whether it will work for me, and for my children.  I certainly don't want to be the parent texting on the school playground or the one who is ignoring my children when they are talking to me.  I tend to take pictures of an event after it has happened, or sometime before it happens -- like of my messy dirty food straight out of the garden when it has not yet been hastily thrown together into a rustic meal.  By contrast, I am far less likely to interrupt things to photograph a beautiful dish that is placed before me at a restaurant.

When I do use my devices in the kids' presence, I have attempted to explain to them what I am doing in that moment, and why I need to do it right then.  To explain why I am choosing to put my face in a screen rather than to interact with them, why I am -- as Bernadette Noll describes it -- choosing to engage "in the constant process of connecting, responding, replying and reaching in" that screens make all too easy.  Sometimes formulating that justification makes me realize I don't have a very good reason and I stop.  If not, once this necessity has been quickly addressed, I put my screen away.  And return to them.  To the present.

I don't want to be the parent that records a dance performance but then needs to watch it again later because I did not in fact observe it while I was recording it.  There is no way to replace your nervousness for them layered with their own nervousness that only you as their parent can recognize in that moment, the feelings that exist only when mixed with the lights and energy and sound that a live performance holds.  And there is no way to reclaim the moment when your little performer turns to you and says How did I do? if you do not have a genuine and in-the-moment answer.  Same goes for taking pictures.

But I do think this.  For me, I am pretty much in the moments as they happen.  I am too much of a reactive emotional being to not be.  My tendency toward distraction and diverted attention are pretty difficult for me to overcome.  I am not a multitasker; instead I am most aware of whatever is the most pressing drama before me.  And that drama is always the lives unfolding right in front of me.  For better or for worse.

But what blogging, or writing, or photographing does for me is to give me the chance to process the moments later.  To think through what just happened.  To make meaning once I have caught my breath and my emotions have cooled a bit.

Case in point.  Yesterday afternoon here was a bit of a mess after school.  We are still working out the kinks of Nicholas' increase in homework and the addition of practicing for music lessons and needing to stick with a school schedule friendly routine for meals and sleeping.  That being said, the summer activities are overflowing into fall, particularly the need to preserve the food still streaming into the kitchen out of the garden.  Not to mention holding back the fruit flies that are happy to take anything we let sit too long off our hands.  And our efforts to cook fresh and homemade food as much as possible have made for some less than ideally timed meals cooked while helping hungry children with their homework.

All of these demands yesterday evening led us to Jonathan working in the kitchen serving up leftovers while Nicholas and Julia did homework at the counter, all three children having practiced for their lessons and each of them needing to head upstairs for a shower.  Soon.  And me, feeling a bit disconnected, but knowing that this was one of my few chances all week to be out in the garden to assess what was going on down there.  I found the corn, which I had never had a chance to hill or support, had fallen down in the softened soil from all our recent rain, the ears small and under-developed.  And when the stalks fell, they had taken the gigantic sunflowers, planted behind the corn along the fence, with them.  And there were ripe tomatoes to be brought in to freeze, and a bed of potatoes that needed to be dug.

So I was out there, feeling a little bit put upon to be doing this alone, slapping at mosquitoes, and feeling left out of the hum of activity in the kitchen above.  I had forgotten my camera, and there was little in the fallen stalks that I would have photographed anyway.

I was joined by Elliott soon after, and we spent some time together down there until it got dark, the bugs became too fierce, and Julia called us to dinner.  And then we went inside, had dinner, and got everyone to bed.  So in the moment, it felt rushed, and disappointing (the corn...and the frenzy), and messy last night.

But this morning, with everyone off at school and work, I came upon this.

As I look at the basket of corn and the bathtub full of potatoes, I realize something.  I remember, that yesterday evening there was more to the story.  That while I was out there feeling a bit sorry for myself in the fallen corn patch, there was a diversion to my feeling overwhelmed and frustrated...

That when Elliott wandered out the back door, away from the house, his obligations (his rousing version of Twinkle, Twinkle had been audible out the window a few minutes before) were complete until someone could help him wash his hair.  So he quietly skipped down the hill, school shoes abandoned for his at home summer Crocs, and found me in the garden.  Where I was grumpily pulling out vestigial corn ears from their stalks and looking about for a way to save the sunflowers for bees and birds a bit longer.  His skipping always makes my mood lighter, and he called to me as he opened the gate and entered the garden.

What are you doing?  he asked me.  Can I help? 

Without waiting for my mumbled, bristly answer, because he likely already knew the answer, having watched me for a bit as he moseyed down the hill, he ran back to the house and came skipping back with a basket and an old enamel bath tub.  Then he fetched staking wire (ah, yes, someone clearer headed was able to figure out how to help the fallen sun goddesses) from the garden shed and he found scissors cast aside in the cucumbers, and set to work.

Following his cheery lead, we quietly worked together for a bit, Elliott filling a basket with possibly edible corn, more likely chicken treats, removing them from the stalks I pulled from where they lay across the pumpkin vines.  He held the stems of the sunflowers while I tied them to the fence.  And he giggled and danced in the potato patch as I pretended to aim for his feet with the pitch fork.  And, in the failing autumn light, we carried the basket and tub up to the house and into the kitchen.  Along with a colander of kale for kale salad, to freshen up the leftovers a bit, to pull it all together as Julia put it.  Jonathan and I made eye contact and smiled at her comment, because it is what I often say about bits of goodness rescuing otherwise subpar meals.  And we all sat down peacefully and happily together for dinner.  Nicholas offered to quiz Julia for her Spanish quiz while we ate, his pronunciation being so much better than ours.  And we connected and chatted about our days.

Today, it feels like yesterday evening, Elliott got an important moment.  Granted to him by my having been away from the kitchen, away from the bigger kids' lives, and outside, with a manageable if messy task to complete together.  One he obviously threw himself into, given how tidily and compactly he packed those spuds and ears.  A chance to slow down, wear his summer shoes, chat, and giggle.  So very important for a boy getting used to full day school and all it demands of him.  He got a necessary moment for himself, and I was gifted a necessary moment from him as well.

The afterprocessing.

It gives me a moment to spin it.  To see the good amongst the chaos.  And to get ready for the return of the storm this afternoon.  And I certainly feel more connected to the children and Jonathan right now than I did, and I am wishing and yearning to regain this connection when they are back home this afternoon.

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