On experiencing moments instead of just recording them…

Yesterday’s birthday celebration went swimmingly — Mitzi enjoyed the presents we gave her, was thrilled to get so many cards and phone calls from loved ones, and seemed to really love the cake I made for her. I took this picture just after I finished, in case someone spilled it on the floor or something:

Purse Cake

I carried it into the kitchen as we sang the birthday song, and as soon as I put it in front of her I reached for my camera. FAIL. The battery was dead. So I snapped a few ones with my phone, but none came out well, because I’m rather a doofus when it comes to taking pictures with my phone. I lamented on Facebook (where else?) and a friend reminded me that we survived our childhoods without every moment being captured in pictures. And, of course, she is absolutely right.

Not long ago there was a piece on the Huffington Post by a mom about how she started getting herself into the pictures with her children. The blog post garnered a lot of readers, unsurprisingly, since, I think, most moms find themselves mostly taking pictures of their kids and are usually not in any pictures themselves.

This is also true of me — while searching for a baby picture of Mitzi to share yesterday, I started slogging through a lot of old photos. Many are filed in a huge document, where they’d been transferred to from a now-defunct web site where I’d shared them with family. I do not have any other copies — I’ve been through two hard drive crashes and had not backed up either time. (I finally got an external hard drive, yes, slow learner that I am.) Because the individual photos are not labeled, it took me forever to find the one I wanted, so last night I sat down to start transferring everything into iPhoto so I wouldn’t have to repeat my suffering in a few weeks when Cooper has his birthday.

And I realized that I am in virtually none of the pictures. So maybe that’s something I’ll start trying in the future, so my kids don’t look back on their childhood and say, “Um, Mom? Where were you all this time?”

But the other thing I’d like to do is remember that not every moment needs a picture. I mean, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Don’t just step in front of the camera, put it down entirely. Participate in the moment, which will never happen again. If you look at your life, at your beloved, at your children, at the world around you entirely through the lens or via the flat screen of your smart phone, you lose the chance to actually experience what’s happening. You might get a picture of the unexpected hug between two formerly bickering siblings, and it will be cute and everyone in your social media world will say so, but from behind a camera you are not engaged in that moment, not truly.

So put the camera down. Watch the small miracles unfurl in front of you, let them fill you up so much that it spills over to those around you. Live the experience instead of cataloguing it.

And the memory that remains will be more permanent than a digital rendering. I guarantee.

On distracted driving: A teen’s conviction, and what we should learn from it

Earlier today, a Haverhill, Mass., court convicted teenager Aaron Deveau of  motor vehicle homicide for texting while he was driving. It is one of the first cases of its kind following the state’s new law that bans texting while driving. The 18-year-old was allegedly texting, and it was this distraction which caused his car to veer across the center line and crash head-on into another vehicle. That car’s driver, 55-year-old Donald Bowley, suffered massive injuries and died after 18 days in the hospital. The court judge sentenced Deveau to one year in prison, suspending the rest of the concurrent sentences from the verdict.

The only positive thing in such a horrible situation is that maybe, just maybe, people will start thinking about their actions behind the wheel. To me, the idea of texting — which requires the use of both hands — while driving is just plain dumb. But then again, I’m not a teenager who uses texting as a primary form of interpersonal relationships. Maybe some of those teens, also new to driving, will hear of this case and see the possible consequences of this kind of distracted driving. I hope so.

Then again, maybe it’s not just teens who need to pay attention. Even if you don’t text, you are probably just as distractible when you’re behind the wheel.

Think about it. How often do you glance away to change the radio or fiddle with your iPod settings? Or turn to talk to your passengers — or the kids in the rear seats? Or let your eyes linger over a neighbor’s pretty new landscaping? Or peer through the sunroof at the amazing sky at sunset?

In that instant, the world can change.

A number of years ago, I had just picked up the younger kids from preschool. It was an almost unbearably beautiful day. I had to drop something off at Town Hall, and took an atypical route home, up a pretty main road, the sort that garners my town all kinds of notice. The kids were bouncy and ready to get out and play. We were listening to music, singing along, laughing. Mitzi was unusually active, unbuckling herself and standing up a few times, ignoring my eyes in the rear view mirror and my repeated command to sit down.

Finally, I couldn’t take it — I turned around and raised my voice. And that’s when the crash happened.

The car in front of me had stopped short because the car in front of him had stopped to suddenly turn into the library driveway. I had looked ahead in just enough time to know that, despite slamming on my brakes and turning the wheel, there was nothing I could do to stop the impact. Nothing.

In the end, luckily, blessedly, no one was seriously hurt. Though I was driving at about 30 mph, the airbags did not go off. The kids had a few seat belt bruises, and I had a cut on my leg. More fortunate were the passengers in the other car — my car was bigger, heavier and I really smashed the holy heck out of the rear end. The passengers were all seniors, and a couple were taken to the hospital as a precaution (thankfully, none were hurt).

That accident lingers in my mind every day — I am even more cautious behind the wheel, and am a little paranoid about driving. I still have the occasional nightmare about it, and never take for granted that we all walked away.

Because, instead of hitting a car, it could have been a person I struck while distracted behind the wheel. I could have killed someone.

Today’s verdict is a sad one. One life lost, another irrevocably damaged, just because of a little stupidity, a bad decision, and a moment of distraction.

I hope at the very least we can all learn something from this story. When I first sat behind the wheel of a car, excited and eager, my mom, who was teaching me to drive, put her hand on top of mine and said, “This is a deadly weapon. Never forget that.”

She was right.

TV Turnoff Week: Only the strong shall survive

It’s the first day of TV Turnoff Week at our elementary school, an annual event to encourage students and their families to unplug and get moving, thinking, and doing stuff that doesn’t involve sitting like a zombie in front of electronic media.

I love my electronic media — sorry, I do.  But I agreed to the week, forcing a couple of uninterested parties in the house to join in.  Because yes, it’s all a big time-suck, the TV, the internet, the Wii, the DS, all of it.  The funny thing is that while we do use the TV every day, all the other things are limited or outright banned during the school week anyway, so turning off the TV didn’t seem like a big deal.  Well, for the kids, that is, who may watch a few minutes before breakfast, after they stumble downstairs still glazed with sleep.  That’s the extent of their TV watching most days.  Let it be gone. 

My TV watching is more important.  Like my children, I stumble downstairs still glazed with sleep, though I do my stumbling in the pre-dawn hours.  I turn on the coffee and then the TV, every day hoping to actually catch the hard news in the first fifteen minutes of that half-hour’s broadcast before commencing with my day.  I usually don’t, though, because I just can’t ever seem to get up when I should.  So I sit, coffee in hand, like a zombie, watching the second half of the news, which is mostly commercial for car dealerships or furniture stores, the news sprinkled in between, including the (snore) sports.  The day’s weather forecast is my cue to get up and get moving.

So, yeah, it hardly seems like a challenge to give that up for a week, right?  Wrong.  I need those 15 minutes of peace and solitude, because once my children are awake, bedlam begins.  Bickering, poking each other, spurts of energy that involve footballs and couch jumping, all before 7 a.m.  Those first 15 minutes of my day give me enough serenity to deal with the next hour or so of chaos before the bus comes.  And while I talked the talk, I sure as anything was not going to give it up for TV Turnoff Week.  So there.

(Ray, by the way, thinks my morning routine is silly, preferring to use his snooze button a few times before heading off to the bathroom to shave and shower.  I remind him that me with a razor before a cup of coffee is just asking for a trip to the ER.  Knowing well my lack of dexterity with sharp objects, he has no choice but to agree with the wisdom of my “caffeination before interaction” approach to the day.)

As it happened, though, this morning I did not watch anything.  Something is wrong with our DirectTV connection on the downstairs TV.  No news for me today.  I had to go through the awful rigamarole of starting my computer!  Getting on the internet!  Reading the news and weather on line!  Imagine the horror!

The kids did only slightly better.  Ellie and Mitzi opted to sleep late for a few minutes.  Cooper was distraught because he never gets to be in charge of the remote (he’s usually the last to get up) and he was missing his big chance.  Oh, the humanity.  The fact we were all still suffering that lost hour of sleep didn’t help our moods – nor did the fact that because of that lost hour we were waking up in the dark again.  Hardly energy boosting, daylight savings.

Of course we all survived, grumbling aside.  But it’s only day one, and not even noon.  How committed will we be?  And by we, I mean, me.  I’m wondering what will happen after lunch, when I usually let the little girls watch a show for “quiet time,” that blessed period which used to be for napping when the kids were younger.  Ahh, glorious quiet time. Will I be strong in my resolve?  Will I cave and let them turn on Crashbox so I can close my eyes for a few minutes to combat my Monday exhaustion?  (I mean, it’s only fair, since Joanna, being in preschool, never signed up for this event….see, already I’m wobbly.)

Oh, I’m quite sure my children can survive a week without television.  But, can I?

Stay tuned.

GRR!!!

Technology is awesome.  Until it’s not.  Two days ago — in fact, on the night that this itty bitty blog received a record number of hits — the laptop I was borrowing (to take the place of desktop machine which fried its logic board) also went to computer chip heaven.  Maybe it’s me?  Pretty big bummer, especially because I had received so many comments about books, writing, covers, etc, that I really wanted to follow up the next day.  Alas.

So hopefully you’ll stick with me as I muddle through.  So far, borrowed laptop #2 is working.  I hope I don’t kill this one too!  Look for a new post soon, one that is much more thoughtful than my complaining about technology.