I am so excited to finally meet Cara Meredith this week at the Festival of Faith and Writing! Her blog be, mama. be. is lovely and challenging…and so is this post. Please welcome her here today!
It wasn’t in any way purposeful, and the act itself certainly didn’t happen overnight.
At first, boundaries came naturally: I refused to check e-mail on my cell phone altogether, and I trucked the trusty ol’ alarm clock from move to move, gathering extension cords, if necessary, to help the digital reach its ultimate destination on my nightstand or plush against the carpet floor. I’d be sure to turn shut my laptop by 9 every night, because I knew my restless mind needed time to calm down before settling into sleep; instead, making myself a cup of tea, I’d nestle down with a book before tiredness fully set in. Closing my eyes would feel right and ready, and I’d sleep uninterrupted throughout the night. And then, just as it had mere hours before, the sun would rise again, and I’d lazily lie there, cursing the morning before gulping down gallons of coffee, before fully rising to the dawn.
An hour or so later, I’d finally see and remember my phone, left on the kitchen table, settled comfortably in the corner of the couch.
And the days and nights would repeat and repeat, repeat and repeat.
But then marriage came, and with yet another move, the alarm clock lost and never replaced. Soon it became just as easy to keep my phone just inches from my face, its alarm my new morning salutation. Eventually pregnancy and motherhood, with accompanying counterpart, sleeplessness, arrived; and my brain so tired from want of sleep, I’d reach not for a book to read, but for my phone. I’d scroll through Facebook and Pinterest, Twitter and Words With Friends while I lay awake unable to shut my eyes, newborn babe in for the long haul at my breast.
Day and night, my cell phone became an extension of myself, its presence certifiably missed if I couldn’t find it, if I accidentally left it behind at the office or – God forbid – in the other room. I’d watch the teenagers I worked with, chastising their always-texting, always-connecting fingers, their eyes frantically glued like fluffy feathers to a first grader’s sticky art project. That’s just their generation, I’d lamentably say to the volunteer leaders around me.
And when I’d meet with one of the 16-year-olds for bubble teas or Frappuchinos, I’d pride myself on my success at helping them keep their third arm at bay: “Show me that I’m more important than your cell phone,” I’d say. “Put it away, just for an hour.” They’d nod their heads in horror, shock-filled at mere proposition. But what if my mom calls? Um, you’ll be fine. Your “mom” is not going to call.
In time, I left my job to care for our son and pursue the dream of writing and speaking. For a few months, it was nothing short of magical to keep the ringer off altogether, to not be burdened by its constant ring – my only need to read The Runaway Bunny for the 12th time that day or change a rancid diaper.
But then loneliness began to creep in, and like the sleepless nights in months’ prior, I searched frantically for my phone. I needed the comfort another “like” on Facebook provided, the way a retweet boosted my confidence – still in transition, I had a hard time facing the truth that these social relationships, although solidly human somewhere on the other side, were not going to provide me with the long-term sustenance I needed to survive this quieter life and new adventure with my little one.
I still tried, though.
My phone now held a spot at the dinner table, a place on the corner of the couch while we leisurely watched The Mentalist or Orange is the New Black. I combated the silent hours of the day by constantly listening to books on Audible, ignoring the bigger question my constant companion begged to ask: why do you need me so much? And at night, phone in one hand, Kindle in the other, I’d lay in bed, my nightly routine now rigidly set – lie down, catch up on Words With Friends, scroll through Facebook and Instagram one last time, repeat.
And since I justified this behavior by telling myself that I wasn’t going to bed with the phone’s information the last thing on my mind, but instead with Kindle’s words of Les Miserables, I felt it all okay.
Until a couple of weeks ago.
“How long are you going to be looking at that thing?” my husband asked me. It was a question he’d probably posed a thousand times before, but this time it hit me: like the kids I’d harangued, checking my phone just one last time had become more important than the man lying beside me, than the sleep my body so desperately needed, than the book I could have finished months ago.
So I made a small change: I started to leave my phone downstairs again. I leave it behind when the clock strikes 9, and I practice listening to the needs of that night’s sleep. I drink that last cup of peppermint tea, and then I try my hardest to be present and responsive to the man I love.
And really, it’s made all the difference in the world.
Former high school English teacher turned youth minister, Cara is learning what it means to be as a full-time mama and free-lance writer and speaker. She holds a Masters of Theology degree (Fuller Seminary), and is currently tweaking away at her first book.
She loves pretending to be a foodie, being outdoors and trying to read seven books at a time (although never very successfully). She lives near San Francisco with her husband, James, their son, Canon, and a second little one to arrive late this summer.