The Gen-X factor (or, How I learned to love my smartphone a little less)

Stick races at the park. Yes, I love capturing moments like this, but I don't have to capture every single one, right?

Neve and Lily having stick races at the park. Yes, I love capturing moments like this, but I don’t have to capture every single one, right?

On two evenings this week, Joe has emerged from our house, still in his suit, wondering where in the heck his wife and young daughters could be.

For the girls end their school days at a preschool that closes at 6 p.m., and is located just three and a half blocks away from our home.

So as 7 p.m. approached, Joe – who arrives home at 6:15 and then starts making dinner – had started to worry.

“The girls were pretending to be cats,” I said one night, by way of explanation. And this was true. Lily and Neve had happily crawled around the grassy space between parking lots for a good while, meowing and pretending to lick their paws.

“They were burying treasure,” I explained the next night, when the girls had been inexplicably drawn to a patch of gravel and dirt. They labored together to build a small mound and spoke to each other in urgent, secretive whispers.

In both cases, I’d plunked myself down on the nearby parking lot curb; listened to the girls playing, and to airplanes flying overhead; watched birds flutter around a nearby tree; and let my mind wander.

“I tried to call you, but your phone was here,” Joe said.

Indeed. And that had not been by mistake, but rather a deliberate choice that I find myself making more and more.

I’ve become tired of the way I bow my head and start poking around on my iPhone the instant that something else isn’t demanding my full attention. I hate that I now compulsively check work email often when I’m off the clock. And I hate that even when I’m finally spending time with my family, after we’ve been doing our own thing all day, I’m sometimes so emotionally invested in something that I or someone else has posted on Facebook that I’m itching to check for “likes” and responses every two minutes.

It’s all just gotten to be too much.

Before my company issued iPhones to all employees a couple of years ago, I had a “dumb” phone – the kind that snapped shut with a satisfying, “Star Trek”-y click – that truly did absolutely nothing but send and receive phone calls. Only two or three people had my cell phone number, and I usually kept the phone turned off, much to Joe’s annoyance.

“It’s just for emergencies,” I kept telling him. “I don’t WANT to be available to everyone all the time.”

Apparently, I’ve arrived back at that same place.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things I adore about my iPhone. I’ve burned through “Serial,” lots of “This American Life,” and the entire archive of “Radiolab” podcasts while running; I’ve captured spontaneous photos and videos of the girls that I dearly treasure; and it’s pushed me to grow professionally, as I’ve had to learn to take my own photos occasionally and shoot and edit videos for my stories.

Somewhere along the way, though, the scales tipped too far on the side of my iPhone. So I’m now practicing the art of leaving it at home whenever I feel I can.

Am I bored now and then? Yes. But that’s OK. I actually feel a little less overwhelmed because of that.

Plus, in a weird way, I think being a Gen-Xer is working to my advantage on this new venture. For I remember perfectly well what my life was like before there were smartphones and the Internet. We all got by OK. And while much of the infrastructure of that life may have vanished – I won’t be finding a back-up pay phone anywhere in a pinch – these days, when I leave the house, and I’m pretty sure I won’t have a pressing need for my phone, I venture out with just my keys.

Yes, there are passing moments when I think, “Aw, I wish I could take a photo/video right now,” or when I long to call Joe to ask him to just come pick us up.

But even when the girls want to pretend to be cats, or bury treasure, or walk back and forth along a pipe for a while, we always eventually find our way home – our way back to each other.

When moms need a playdate – and can’t ever coordinate their schedules

margaritasIf you ever want to get a sense for how busy women (particularly moms) are, try and plan a gathering.

Here’s a quick summary of what happened when I tried to launch a casual, monthly lunchtime book group in Ann Arbor: on the first day we were scheduled to meet, the city declared a snow day, so many of us suddenly found ourselves housebound with kiddos; the night before our second meeting, Lily was up vomiting all night, so I postponed in order to nurse her back to health the next day; and after re-scheduling, all except one woman had work meetings, a sick kid, or was sick herself.

So is it any wonder that – for many of us now in the throes of parenting young kids – close, fulfilling friendships feel like a luxury of youth that we can no longer afford?

This is why, when reading a New York Times article titled, “Friends of a Certain Age: Why is it Hard to Make Friends Over 30?” I was nodding my head a lot.

“As external conditions change,” wrote Alex Williams, “it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.”

Indeed. So where does that leave us? Isolated and stressed.

And while I’d hardly describe myself as a “go getter,” I will say this: when I can’t find something I want – like, in this case, a regular gathering of smart, funny, empathetic women – I often do what I can to create it; and when others make this same kind of effort, I respond. Continue reading

The Ballad of the Craft-Impaired Mom

What do the children of craft-impaired mommies do? They hatch their own weird ideas - like this "let's smear shaving cream around on a box in the kitchen" favorite. It won't get our family on a magazine, but the girls enjoy it.

What do the children of craft-impaired mommies do? Out of sheer boredom, they hatch their own weird ideas – like this “let’s smear shaving cream around on a box in the kitchen” favorite.

Hopefully I’m not the only mom out there whose kid gets a cake pop kit and – though absolutely zero baking is involved – ends up with the mix bleeding out the sides of the lime green plastic, thereby leaving you with messy, shapeless cake blobs that aren’t worth refrigerating. (After some time passes, you quietly throw the plastic pieces into the recycling bin and pretend the whole thing just never happened.)

Or maybe your daughter gets a Rainbow Loom, and you stare at the directions, thinking to yourself, “I have two graduate degrees, and while they’re not in astrophysics, I should still be able to untangle instructions for making a bracelet made from tiny rubber loops. Right?! I mean, shouldn’t I?” (Yes, I eventually figured those out, but it took several attempts to “crack the code.”)

And yes, I’m one of those moms who, when Lily unwraps a Hanukkah gift only to find a knitting kit, I drop a very quiet F-bomb and break out in anticipatory flop sweat.

Let’s just say that a pattern has been established. Continue reading

Why I snuck out alone to a movie matinee (and why I’ll probably do it again)

mockingjayOn Martin Luther King Day, my office was closed, but I didn’t have the day off.

Nonetheless, after putting in my hours at home, I had a couple of hours to spare before I needed to pick up the girls. (It’s amazing what hacking off two 30 minute commutes from your typical day can do.) I bundled up and walked a few blocks, feeling vaguely giddy and guilty at the same time.

Why? Because I was heading to the second-run theater near our house for a holiday matinee screening of “Mockingjay” – something that Joe would probably be interested in seeing, too. But since the last non-animated movie we’d watched together was “The Hundred Foot Journey,” at the same theater sometime last fall, I knew that the chances of our making it to “Mockingjay” before it left were slim to none.

So I grabbed at my opportunity, glad to have it, yet sad to feel like I was committing some kind of betrayal. Continue reading

Making family life a little bit less of a waste land

We had to work way too hard to give this changing table - still in perfectly good shape - away to someone who could use it.

We had to work WAY too hard to give away this changing table – still in perfectly good shape – to someone who could use it.

While in the midst of another holiday season, the phrase “waste not, want not” has been rolling around my head a lot.

I’m doing pretty well with the second part. Really. Whether it’s a consequence of the perspective that comes with middle age, or with witnessing friends and family members struggle through a recession, or with really taking to heart Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s existential pep talks on the recent “Cosmos” reboot, I’ve now arrived at a place where, when my oldest daughter asks each Christmas, “How come Santa didn’t bring you anything?” I answer, “Well, I’m really, really lucky. I have the things I need, so I told Santa he didn’t need to worry about me.”

And he doesn’t. Joe and I have been fortunate enough to hang on to our jobs through a rough economic time, so we have what we need, and we’re grateful.

But you know what makes the “waste not” thing nearly impossible? Young kids. Continue reading

We’re getting our weekends back!

Lily and Neve, posing with one of their patented weekend projects.

Lily and Neve, posing with one of their patented weekend projects.

Remember those times when you were young and exuberantly in love, and could barely keep from announcing your feelings at the top of your lungs at all times?

I felt that way this past Sunday, when I read nearly all the articles I wanted to in The New York Times, and I had to tamp down the urge to run down our street screaming, “We’re getting our weekends back!”

It’s true. That teeny-tiny, barely visible little light at the end of the parenting tunnel has lately bloomed into a full-blown lamp. Neve’s self-driven potty training has left us diaper-free; the girls’ extracurriculars are scheduled on weekday evenings, leaving our Saturdays and Sundays blissfully open and obligation-free; and, perhaps the biggest difference of all, the girls have, in these past months, reached an age (3 and 6) where they will often happily play with each other – whether it’s in the bath or in the playroom – for significant chunks of time. (This is the paradox the second child: you have to start from scratch again, and give yourself even more tasks and responsibilities to juggle, but as both kids get older, they’re playmates for each other, thus making your job easier.)

Yes, when they’re too quiet for too long, we have to make sure they’re not giving (more) dolls new haircuts, or painting the cat with blue fingernail polish. But more often than not, they’re doing things like building a project from stuff found in the recycling bin, or playing “indoor beach” (a blue blanket is the water, a brown blanket is the sand), or cutting out and coloring Easter eggs.

Meanwhile, Joe and I lounge around in our pajamas until midday, dozing or reading, or doing chores we used to have to do late at night. We make chai tea. We lean against each other on the couch, pointing out the day’s best comics in the paper, or hang out at the kitchen table, chatting.

We’re remembering again, in bursts, what it was like to indulge in small pleasures, and why people so look forward to weekends.

Because to be honest, since becoming a parent 6 years ago, I’d forgotten. Continue reading

A shiksa chews on Shabbat dinner

shabbatblogRecently a friend, who’s doing a video project for grad school, asked me and Joe to film our family lighting the candles and saying the prayers for Shabbat dinner, and also to speak briefly, on film, about what the ritual means to each of us.

I first filmed this short clip of our family performing the rituals out on our back porch, where we like to eat our meals when it’s warm. We’re not formal about our Shabbat dinner, obviously – Joe married a Gentile, for pity’s sake! – but we try to perform the basics every Friday evening nonetheless.

As for contributing my thoughts about what Shabbat dinner meant to me, I initially wondered if I should just put the camera on Joe, let him talk, and call it good.

I mean, after all, I’m an immigrant in the world of Judaism.

Yes, after being married to a Jew for 11 years, I’ve made a comfortable enough home for myself there. I’ve learned to love much of the food (Latkes? Kugel? Please! What’s not to love?), and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of language (Hebrew and Yiddish); but because it’s not part of my own cultural identity – and maybe because, at 5’6”, I tower over the women at most Grekin family gatherings (apparently I’m some sort of goyishe Godzilla) – I can’t escape the sense that, no matter how much I embrace the culture, perform the rituals, or say the prayers, they’re not really mine to claim. Continue reading