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HEATHER HUYBREGTS: When disconnecting puts you back in touch

Taking time for tea.
Taking time for tea. - 123RF Stock Photo

Time is elusive.

Long gone seem the possibilities of leisurely strolls and daydreaming and sipping tea (the most indulgent thing I can think of); I work full-time. I have two young children. I write. I act.

But the math still doesn’t add up. Even on my busiest day, I drive the littlest offspring to and from daycare: that’s maybe 30 minutes. I work for about eight hours. Then there’s meal prep: another hour, max. Then bathtime/bedtime: another half-hour. That’s 10 hours. Then, say, I have a two-hour rehearsal. We’re up to 12 hours.

Busy? Sure. But, assuming I’m awake for 15 hours a day, I should still have about three hours of free time. Not bad.

So why does it feel like I’m mentally sprinting 25 hours a day and resting for -7?

Granted, there's also the piddly bit of time I devote to exercise. And to actually parenting my children, not just keeping them alive...

OK, so perhaps I am justified in feeling like I’m stretching myself thin (despite getting, ironically, thicker). But, scattered throughout those responsibilities, there must be opportunities to feel still, to feel present. Right?

There's suppertime, when we’re all sitting together, usually with chill tunes playing; surely that shouldn't be wrought with distractions. But it is.

And then there’s lying in bed at night with hubby. There’s a good half-hour where we can unwind and feel the weight of the day melt away. I usually feel the opposite, and my sense of guilt/worry/mind-frazzling is at an all-time high. Why?

My husband teases me, almost daily, about how much time I spend on my phone. I usually just roll my eyes and retort some version of “I just need a few minutes/It’s been a long day/I’m just getting caught up/etc.” So, I do. Then I put my phone down - a show of my commitment to not being a digital addict. And, as my husband recounts his day or tells me a story, I can feel my mind start to drift back to that little box that’s illuminating and vibrating in my periphery. After all, sending a single message isn’t going to cut it. Now I need to know his/her response. I need to check the comments/likes on my post. It takes everything in me to NOT pick up that phone. But I might as well, because I sure as hell stopped actively listening to my husband minutes ago...

A few days ago, the seriousness of that hit me, suddenly and fiercely. For so long, I’ve been blaming undiagnosed ADHD, “mom brain,” exhaustion. But… what if it’s (at least partly) all the energy and thought I put into insignificant conversations and idle banter, which have nothing to do with the present moment? How much precious time have I lost trying to stay connected ELSEWHERE?

So I committed, out loud, to taking a break from social media. After a few hours, I realized I’m better off not even having my phone around - less temptation to “just peek.” Even texting was taking me away from my life at really inopportune times. In the end, I muted everything but my ringtone and kept my phone out of sight.

On the last official night of summer, we had a campfire in the backyard, completely free of digital devices. Fuelled only by mental space and clarity and stillness, we just stared at the stacks of burning logs until they were nothing but smouldering embers. We talked about where we saw ourselves in five and 10 and 20 years. We talked about Christmas and drugs and student debt. Sometimes, we just stared and didn’t talk at all. There was no music, as there were no phones. It was the first fire I’ve actually been “present” at in years - I’m usually either controlling the music or just “checking in” on my phone every few minutes lest, God forbid, someone post a funny meme, a food shot or a “love yourself” selfie that I’m not instantaneously privy to.

In trying to stay connected, I’ve been giving myself a third, mentally draining, full-time job that virtually would not have existed if I were raising my family 30 years ago. Back then, they weren’t checking in on the minute-to-minute happenings of their peers (and taking time to broadcast their own) because that, quite frankly, would have been ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not totally ungrateful for the ease with which social media has allowed us to keep in touch. But there needs to be a limit. Like anything in my life that makes things easier - time off work, gin-n-tonics, frozen pizzas - too much is not a good thing.

The thing that has struck me the most about being disconnected these past few days? I feel like I have so much time! Nothing has changed about my responsibilities. But within those busy days are SO many moments that were, until now, imperceptible; hundreds of potentially wonderful moments - missed or endured begrudgingly because my mind was elsewhere.

I’m not disconnected forever. I’ll check in from time to time.

But I’m gonna start taking leisurely strolls.

I’m gonna start daydreaming.

I’m gonna kick leaves.

I’m gonna watch football with my ridiculously good-looking (suddenly even better looking without the digital glow in my periphery) husband and I’m gonna pay attention to the game.

I’m gonna actually listen to my babies when they’re talking to me and enjoy every word that escapes their lips (minus the whines).

And I’m gonna start drinking tea.

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (www.heatheronarock.com), wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL. Her column appears biweekly.

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