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This extraordinary ordinary life

“If I could time travel, I’d go back in time and watch that movie again,” I told my husband as About Time‘s credits began rolling.

I hadn’t really wanted to watch the movie this particular evening. As always, I had voted horror for date night; it’s been that way since Anthony and I began dating. Though willing to oblige, he had cast a quiet vote for what he described as a romantic comedy. It seemed only fair to watch something romantic for at least one date night, so I agree to forego horror for once.

What a choice that was!

There is romance in About Time, but it’s not really a romantic comedy. Rather than any one person, the main object of the protagonist’s frustrated, loving attention is life. All of it.

The single most captivating relationship in the film was the one between time traveling father and son. Their mutual affection was neither over nor understated, with love flowing between them through their every interaction. It was easy to see my own son and his father in these exchanges, and to marvel at the opportunities I will have to see their love grow as time goes on.

I cried through most of the movie’s final minutes. This was in part because of the movie itself, but in greater part for how the movie fit together with the theme of my weekend’s thoughts on time given freely and frequently to those we love. I’d begun the weekend receiving my advanced reading copy of Hands Free Mama, a “guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters.” The idea is that by devoting less attention to devices, we’re better able to appreciate and return the gifts of love in our daily lives.

I’ve written about The Hands Free Revolution here once before, in “Becoming a superhero,” but my intentional hands free living had long since fallen by the wayside. Knowing a book would be released soon, I’d yearned for an opportunity to revisit the revolution in depth.

I read the first fifty pages Friday evening. Falling asleep a couple of hours later, I asked my husband if we couldn’t set aside some regular electronics-free times. He agreed immediately.

I read more on Saturday. When my family and I went to Disneyland that evening, I thought of the book and tucked away my phone. For once, I did not so much as glance at it, opting instead to keep my eyes and heart focused on the people most important to me. I know this is something I should do every trip, but the truth is that I don’t. It’s common for me to sneak a peek at my phone to make sure I’m not missing a text, phone call, or the next life-changing comment on Facebook.

What I learned Saturday evening is that I’m not missing anything by ignoring my phone. In fact, I miss a lot less–hand-holding, silly dances, and smiles–that way.

hfm book

On Sunday morning, I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my son instead of using his watching time to get other things done. Shockingly, it turns out even ninja turtles are good fun in the company of a four-year-old! I learned more about him by really listening to the questions he asked me.

I ignored my urge to check my phone in the grocery store checkout line a few hours later. Not only did I not miss my phone one bit, but the world continued to spin on its axis. The anxious sensation that my world would fall apart if I’m not constantly checking in online proved to be a just that: a feeling, not a truth.

When my son asked me to drop my chores and play with him that evening, I bit off the words “I’m busy” forming on my tongue. I played with him until his aunt arrived to watch him some minutes later. I discovered that, like ninja turtles, dump trucks can be fascinating in the right company.

By the time my husband and I watched About Time, I’d had two days to soak in thoughts about how best to spend my minutes on this earth. I was primed to see the wonder in every extraordinary ordinary moment shared between various family members. From this place of wonder, I cried as the son shared his final reflections on life and how to avoid time travel. As I listened, I thought how it’s about time:

  • To set down my phone and see the people I love
  • To savor each laugh and tear I share with friends and family
  • To cherish each moment my son asks me a question, understanding there will be a time he won’t be so interested in listening to my answers
  • To decide actively those moments when using technology will benefit me, rather than letting technology guide my life
  • To live each moment aware that I might not have other moments not to tell people I love them, but to show them
  • To watch a romantic comedy with my husband once in a while

Minutes after the movie ended, Anthony and I walked hand in hand into a nearby market. I burst into laughter when I heard what song was playing. Even the grocery store music was coaxing me:

It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

“I get it,” I told Anthony and the universe, laughing as I spoke. “I do. I’m not gonna let it get away!”

I don’t have a lot of answers. What I do have is intention: to both see and honor what is sweetest in my life. This intention is coupled with faith that pursuing it will lead me where I’m happiest being, whether or not I have any particular answers. Answers might just be overrated. Moments are not. There aren’t enough of them for me to let them keep falling away without my having noticed them.

From now on, I intend to seize every precious moment of this extraordinary ordinary life, and to lovingly guide myself back to this intention as often as I forget it. Because, let’s face it, I will forget. My advanced degree is in law, but it might as well be in forgetting.

Luckily for me, there will be ample reminders: in short calls with my sister, in my son’s smile, in my husband’s sweetly admonishing gaze. Thanks to these and so many more, I’m not too concerned with forgetting for long. For what’s seen can’t be unseen, and what I’ve seen already is this:

There is too much love to find to keep wasting time not seeking it.

  1. Ruth Murphy
    November 5, 2013 at 6:00 am

    I wish I could do that. I have two children that live in time zones different than my own. One is in a war zone. I want to be able to talk to him the second he appears on my phone as a little green dot. I miss hands free days. I try to not touch my phone in the car, while I’m with my husband & definitely not in restaurants. I keep it in the back room at work, But if one of those boys just needs to say ‘Hey Mom, what’s going on?’…I want to be able to reply instantly ‘Not too much babe. Just missing you!’

    • November 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

      The words “war zone” make my heart ache. Recently my son’s taken to saying he wished he could spend days with me instead of at preschool. I feel the same way. Those hours we’re apart are more brutal some days than others, but I always feel them, and that’s knowing he’s a fairly short ride away.

      I miss hands free days.
      Me too. I experienced them as a child, but having experienced them at all makes me want my son to know what that feels like, too. I remember what it felt like to have my mom’s undivided attention. I hope, someday, my son remembers that feeling, too.

  2. November 5, 2013 at 6:02 am

    Oh, I have chills. The whole piece is breath-taking–the last line is the clincher: “There is too much love to find to keep wasting time not seeking it.” I will be posting that on my mirror for daily reminding. What an amazing testimony of the power of putting down the phone and giving one’s full attention to the people in one’s presence. I am touched beyond words by your support of my message and book. What an honor to call you my friend. Thank you. Thank you.

    • November 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

      I’m at the coffee shop right now; this week, I had the sense to bring your book with me. I didn’t get much of a chance to read it over the last few days, so I’m excited to see the last few chapters revealed to me. Given the choice between reading and not reading in the long line, I opted for reading. I know I’m extra sniffles-prone right now, but, man, I was there sniffling in line. You have such a gift for healing. Thank you.

  3. November 5, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Yesterday, I put a post I wrote while on vacation this past summer while secluded away in a cabin with no WiFi and no cellular connection. Whereas I panicked going “hands free” at first, I quickly embraced the gift of mandatory unplugging. Today, I reflect on the days there was no need to unplug to plug into what really matters and ponder the steps I can make today, here in my well connected home, to unplug for a bit every day. Fabulous post, Deb!

    • November 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

      I’m hoping we’ll build up to a day or two where we can set aside our phones! The thought still makes me feel a little fidgety right now, but I can’t help thinking it’d feel lovely from the thick of it.

      When we go on our honeymoon, I hope we’re able to set aside the phones for big chunks of time. I’m going to invest in a camera for that reason, so I don’t cheat and take a picture just to see if anyone’s tried to get in touch. I mean, I’d never! :p

  4. November 5, 2013 at 6:54 am

    It is so true! I’m so grateful that I spent a lot of time with my kids as they were growing up, even though it meant we had to live very frugally. This year for the first time in 24 years my kids are all away and living their own life. My parents are gone now too, but I have such wonderful memories. I never imagined what this stage of life would be like. Although I might wish I could go back and live those precious moments with young children again, they remain just cherished memories. New moments full of love are waiting and I don’t want to waste those either. Although technology is part of life, it should never be the center of it. Thanks for this refreshing post.

    • November 9, 2013 at 11:28 am

      I love how you break it down! “Although technology is a part of life, it should never be the center of it.”

      Recently I’ve struggled with being away from my son for such big chunks of time. It might in large part be the hormones, but there’s so much more to it than that. This little guy changed my life so much for the better. I can’t help but wonder how it’ll be with his little sibling in tow, and wish for more time with them above all else.

  5. November 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Unfortunately, our lives require us to be in almost-constant contact. So I can’t put it all away completely. And like chocolate candy, I can’t know it’s there and refrain from partaking. So we move along, doing the best we can with what we’ve got. 🙂

    • November 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

      True that! One thing I found was that I really missed certain parts of being online during my most successful hands free stint. I went several weeks without reading blogs and then came back to discover that reading them was like finally drinking water after being without the last seven miles of a long run on a hot day. (I would not recommend completing such a run, but I used to do so without a second thought–and then wonder why I felt crummy the rest of the day!) There will always be room for some electronics use in my life–for the connection to people–but my goal is to choose the right times to partake instead of constantly feeling compelled. I’ll find that balance yet. 😀

  6. November 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I read Darla’s post last week about dating her Smartphone and TM’s post this week about this topic and have been engaged in discussion about it, myself, for a very long time. As you know with me, Deb, I’m a HUGE supporter of unplugging. Ranch time-unplugged. Maycee n me alone time-unplugged. Watching a TV program or movie-unplugged. Taking a walk by the ocean-unplugged. You know, you’re getting it for sure. This world moves so fast amidst constant social media stimulation, and it will keep moving while we are “hands free” for a few hours. AWESOME post, my friend! So perfectly and poignantly written, WOW! XOXO-Kasey

  7. November 6, 2013 at 5:14 am

    As you always do, you remind me of how to change priorities. You are such a spectacular reminder of how to love better, with more focus, empathy and compassion. I am always so grateful.

  8. November 6, 2013 at 5:17 am

    If your degree should be in forgetting, mine would be in remembering. It feels like I can remember every single lost opportunity to play with my kids when they were little. Sadly, I can’t blame it on electronics, I’ve never had the desire to be constantly connected via phone. Just general busyness, tiredness, etc. Now that one is 19 and the other 17, the regret is very real. You’re blessed that you’ve realized this while Lil D is still so young.

  9. November 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I LOVED About Time. Looking forward to seeing it again, whenever that may be.

  10. November 7, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I love, love, LOVE this post, Deb, and while I’m not great at being hands-free, I am trying! It’s a little bit easier for me than most, I think, because I don’t have a fancy, distracting “smart” phone to check all the time. Thank goodness. I plan on keeping it that way, too.
    I love reading about your extraordinary ordinary life. I wish I were able to be in it in a greater capacity. xoxo

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