I like noise.
I listen to music in the car, if my oldest isn’t up for a sweet, slightly nonsensical conversation or my subpar rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” I get lost in a good podcast or have the TV on while I fold laundry. I need a fan on at night to be able to sleep; the louder, the better.
And that’s something I don’t necessarily like about me. The quiet makes me uncomfortable. Which is ridiculous, because my entire life is loud. You’d think I’d long for a break from the chaos. Yet, while I know that I should crave stillness, I find it wholly intimidating and excruciating.
That meant that for me, I had to be intentional about limiting my two-year-old’s screen time. But that’s something that I was prepared for entering in parenthood. We are constantly bombarded with research reminding us of how detrimental screen time is for children, and my son only ever wanted to watch football anyway, so it didn’t seem all that difficult.
It was the beginning of this year that I really grasped the pervasiveness of my needy relationship with noise, as I began to notice its affects on my son. (Our kids are great at doing that, aren’t they? Unintentionally pointing out our flaws until we can no longer sweep them under the rug. They’re good. Too good.) I didn’t like what I was seeing, so I did what any good parent would do: I put my kids first, and I made a change.
No more “Today Show” for Mommy each morning. No more “Ellen” in the afternoon. Parenting requires a great deal of self-sacrifice, and I knew that forfeiting the minuscule amount of happiness and security that I thought I felt in having the TV on throughout the day was best for everyone. Done. Check. Finito. Now someone give me a trophy and throw me a parade
But it was in that moment of resolution, when I silenced the rest of the noise, that I finally took notice of that one, all-too-familiar, omnipresent sound. It never used to bother me, yet now, now it was comparable to nails on a chalkboard: the sound my phone makes when I receive a text message.
Something that’s quite common, that happens more times a day than I’d probably like to know or admit. Because, in the midst of my perceived need for noise was what I had actually been craving: connection. To my family, my friends, the person on the TV, the world. Honestly, it didn’t matter who I was talking to, what blog I was reading, or whose Instagram I was perusing; all I wanted was to feel connected.
There I was, trying to manage my son’s screen time properly because I’d been concerned for his heart and mind, yet I was the one who needed someone to manage me. And, since I was the adult in all of this (is anyone else ever confused when they realize they’re the adult?), I guess I was on my own; the burden rested upon my shoulders, and mine alone. Now that I’d gotten ahold of the big screens in my home, it was time to get the little one under control.
So I decided that for one day – baby steps, people – I’d silence my phone. For the twelve hours that my sons were awake, along with their nap times, I was determined to not bat an eye at that hypnotic device.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I got a little anxious realizing that without a home phone it would be the go-to means someone would use to contact me in case of an emergency (super rare circumstance, I know – but that’s the trap, right?), so I’d maybe bat an eye at it every once in a while. But I was resolved in my mission, so I knew that wouldn’t be something to throw me off course.
And guess what?
I missed absolutely nothing, and I gained everything.
My boys and I had one of the most incredible days together. I’m not even being dramatic for the sake of this post; real life, we just stuck around the house and played all day, but it was unlike any other day of motherhood that I had previously experienced.
First off, I was truly present. It wasn’t this half-hearted, I-promise-I’m-paying-attention-to-you-but-not-really kind of parenting. I was fully engaged. I was genuinely laughing because I actually saw that goofy thing that Hudson did instead of feigning laughter because my eyes had been looking down instead of at him. And I realized that he is even more brilliant than I’d ever recognized. The vocabulary that he uses when he’s simply talking to himself as he plays, and the imagination that he already possesses: mind blowing.
And my little Jonesy? All he ever wants is to just be snuggled and tickled and loved on. Which can seem entirely overwhelming at times with his older brother demanding my love and affection, too. But, let me tell you – it’s a whole lot easier to divide my seemingly inadequate attention between my two boys than it is my two boys plus the rest of the world.
The real kicker, though, the piece that I absolutely never anticipated: my two-year-old’s behavior was on point. All day. As in I never once had to call him Hudson James, which I like to pretend gets his attention more than just his first name when he’s made a poor choice (it definitely doesn’t, but it gives me a false sense of control).
He didn’t disobey because he didn’t have to. When my face is buried in that trivial, bothersome little screen, disobedience is the only way my precious boy can be certain he’ll grab my attention. With my focus on him and his brother, though, there was no need to act up. He already had me, so he didn’t have to work for it.
Now this was over two months ago that I made that silly but significant leap, and though I’ve been better about not looking at my phone so constantly throughout the day, I have yet to go rogue and ditch my phone for an entire day again. Because that’s how traps work. They lure you in, even when you know they’re not what’s best for you.
So right here, right now, I’m going to be bold. I’m going tell you, sweet friends, that I will not be responding to your texts in a timely manner (which I’m already terrible at, because I’ve been living my life in a constant tug-of-war, attempting to give my attention to too many things at once). But, instead of being an atrocious communicator because I’m distracted, it will be wholly intentional.
And I won’t be apologizing anymore when I don’t respond within minutes or hours, either. Because I’m not sorry that I’m fully focused on my family.
I love you, but I have two little boys and one big one that deserve me. All of me. Not simply the leftover me, the portion that remains when there was nothing that riveting on Facebook, anyway.
And you deserve all of me, too. So let’s make a deal. Let’s both shift our focus and lift our eyes. Let’s engage with the people before us, giving them our absolute best. Let’s show them with our actions, not merely our words, that they are important to us.
Then, you and I – we’ll talk later.