During the muggy nights at the end of summer, I remember running outside to chase fireflies. I watched the grass sparkle and the trees light up like they were laced with strings of twinkle lights -- floating orbs glittered like stars in the night sky. I grasped at the darkness and clapped my hands together to capture one blinking little light between my palms, then peered through my fingers to watch it glow before sliding it quickly into a jar. I listened to the chirp of crickets and tree frogs and smelled the sweet scent of honeysuckle as a warm breeze blew through the trees. I felt alive and fully focused on this moment of pure joy.
As adults (and even as teenagers), most of us have nostalgia for moments like these -- for a time when some things were still a mystery -- before cellphones, tablets, and our worries and plans distracted us from being fully present in the moment.
Now, I have a phone in my pocket that holds the key to every piece of information with just one click. Social media sites flash onto the screen with their profiles and pictures of other people and families looking happy. They appear to live it up while on vacation to Italy, making their five-course organic meal, or redecorating their house just like something out of HGTV. The images cloud my vision. I sometimes think that happiness lies in acquiring more, doing more, or being more.
With each ding, a new email arrives or a text message, with a request or a task to be done. I, like most working moms, feel the pressure to be constantly “on”. Our work carried with us, in our pocket, demands attention and a quick reply, no longer contained between the hours of 9:00 to 5:00.
Sometimes it is hard to balance it all, to prioritize. I am often so distracted that I fail to realize that life is happening around me, and I am missing it from behind the screen of my phone.
But this week, my phone broke. It just stopped working completely. While I wait for Verizon to send a new one, I am stuck with an old phone that we had lying around in a drawer. Basically all it can do is place and receive calls. It is essentially like being back in the 90’s.
I thought that I would be miserable, but surprisingly, I am not. I actually feel happier. Do you know why? Without the convenience of a smartphone I have to set limits, to do one thing at a time. Of course, I still have work to do, but “multitasking” is not an option. It must be done in a block of time in front of the computer. The experiences of this week remind me that happiness lies not in more but in less. It comes from focusing on what is right in front of me.
My kids deserve to have a mom who is interested and engaged and present. I have to remember that. Although I live in a world that is constantly trying to distract me, my girls just want a mommy who sees them. A mom who is present in this moment with them, to experience the love and joy, awkwardness and pain of life.
I don’t want my kids to see my example and follow it - distracting themselves with devices instead of playing, interacting, or concentrating on the present task. This would cause them to grow up too quickly, losing their child-like ability to focus with their whole heart on the present.
In a few days, I will receive my new phone in the mail, shiny and bright in it’s plastic packaging. Although I will enjoy it’s convenience, I hope that this week has taught me that sometimes it’s okay to turn it off. I hope that through watching my kids, I am reminded that when my schedule gets crowded with tasks, and my vision with distractions, true happiness is achieved through presence.
I sit on the porch in my rocking chair with my one-year-old and watch as she reaches her chubby fingers towards the sky to grab at the fireflies that light up the clouds in the distance, a rainbow of pinks and purples. She touches my face and smiles. As she crawls from my lap, to grab the hand of my oldest daughter, they dance in circles and then fall over laughing, their eyes filled with joy. My oldest runs through the yard, like I did so many years ago, capturing a little light in her hands, and placing it into a jar. She holds the light up so that her whole face glows saying, “Mommy will you join me?”