Thank God for happy children,
for pictures like these
May their lives be happy and sunny for as long as possible
before real life sets in.
Thank God for happy children,
for pictures like these
May their lives be happy and sunny for as long as possible
before real life sets in.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 26, 2015
The technology in our house is undergoing a transformation.
My husband, who works for a communications company, has always had his finger on the pulse of new: new product, newest update, latest gadgets. I, however, knowing he’s doing enough worrying about it for the two of us, have gotten progressively further out of the loop with each subsequent year past college. With the exception of my blog and attendant accounts, I haven’t added any new technology ammo to my arsenal.
When my husband was issued an iPhone for his job, I inherited his personal ruggedized flip phone. It did the job. It stored important numbers. It texted – after you hit the same alpha-numeric button a kajillion times for one character. It took grainy photos. I actually impressed my husband with the amount of functionality I squeezed out of that embarrassingly outdated piece of equipment.
Only, its days were numbered.
He sent me a text one day that read, “I love you ??” I countered with, “What, you don’t know?” He explained it was supposed to be some cute emoji blowing me a kiss, but our antiquated tech couldn’t decipher it. I still thought it was rather suspect. He thought it was one more reason to get a new phone.
Then, due to restructuring at work, his iPhone would no longer be standard issue. He began shopping for two brand-spanking new smartphones for us. He told me I’d like them so much better. I vacillated between not caring and not wanting one.
I liked the ability to go incommunicado when I left the house. I enjoyed not having Hal summoning me throughout the day and night. I liked not having a technological tether.
And then he forced me to set it up and play with it.
My head nearly exploded the first time I swiped down and a list of updates from all my social media accounts appeared on one screen. I could comment on my blog in real-time. I could find out who that new follower on Twitter was instantaneously. I could add new events to my calendar without deleting two others because the memory was full. Hell, I could even ask Moto what song was playing on the closing credits of the movie that just ended.
The ability to synch and stream and search does make life a lot easier. In a world where everyone else is ‘smart’, it does give me an edge – or at least a fighting chance. It will help me build my platform and online presence with a sense of immediacy that taking a photo with my flip phone, emailing it to myself, and posting it five hours later simply can’t.
There are, however, drawbacks.
To write this, is the first time I’ve opened my laptop in five days. Sure, swiping my smartphone can make me a Twitter phenom, but it ain’t gonna get any writing done.
There are other ways it could hurt my writing, too. Grammar. Syntax. Spelling. Holy God. I already feel myself getting dumber. When I have to stuff my fat thumbs onto those tiny little virtual squares, the least amount of tapping is optimal, but my grammar dander is up big time. I don’t think I’ve tapped a complete sentence yet. With texting, this isn’t as much of an issue, but when you can access email as well, there is a significant drop in quality of communications. I feel like I need to prostrate myself in front of my junior high English teachers.
Smartphones also rob us of another basic language skill: alphabetical order. When my husband imported some contacts for me, I wondered why they were alphabetized by first name or prefix (ie Uncle Josephat). I was going to lambaste him for his shoddy abc order, when I realized new additions filed the same way. When I questioned him on the reason for this, he agreed it was strange, but that didn’t stop me from a lengthy diatribe on how this little feature was killing the skill-set of the next generation. (Yes, tech gurus, I understand you’ve studied the metrics of keystrokes and all that crap, but you’re killing our linguistic scaffolds!)
Last, but certainly not least, smartphones rob us of life. Designed to save precious moments, they steal many others from us. I, myself, in short order became a rampant offender – of that crime of staring into the tiny screen rather than the expanse in front of me. Of running to the notification beep like Pavlov’s drooling dog. In our desire of being up-to-the-minute, in-the-know, we don’t do any of the living ourselves. How stupidly sad.
In an ironic twist of fate, as I prepared to flip my phone shut for the last time, this news broke:
Proof that if you hold onto something long enough, it will come back around again. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty to kick my flip phone to the curb. But then, I never would’ve known my flip phone was still in vogue if it hadn’t trended on my husband’s smartphone.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 24, 2015
My new post on A Canvas of the Minds is up. My perspective on raising a child while dealing with depression.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 18, 2015
“If you do become depressed there are several things you can do to help yourself and make the illness as short-lived as possible.”*
I read this in a book preparing women for pregnancy and childbirth. It is meant well. It introduces a section on self-care and avoiding or alleviating depression (including medical help), which goes on to dispel the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, but the tone of this statement rankled me.
Self-advocacy, expectation, and positive outlook do play an important role in mental health, but they only go so far.
If a woman is clinically depressed, no amount of happy thoughts will pull her out. No amount of pampering will soothe her. Strong and mighty though she may be, bent but not broken, she still needs more. Some sort of medical and/or therapeutic intervention.
Statements like this perpetuate the feeling of failure that women suffering from mental illness already feel. That there is something they failed to do, some step they missed or didn’t push hard enough to save themselves. To embrace life and joy. And the idea that they’ve prolonged their misery by not making it as ‘short-lived as possible’ – argh!
Maybe I’m just cranky because it didn’t work for me. I know I’m reading this not as an objective observer or researcher, but as a severely chipped shoulder. But a lot of the literature I’ve found reads like it’s written by someone who’s too objective, like someone who views depression as a clear-cut, easily addressed condition.
Like someone who’s never been there.
* from I’m Pregnant by Lesley Regan, MD; no disrespect to the author, this post represents my own subjective opinion on the topic.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 17, 2015
Sometimes, this is exactly what I need . . .
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 16, 2015
“Lucky stole her technique of keeping going from the anonymous twelve-step people, whose slogan is ‘One Day at a Time.’ If you think of undoing a big habit day after day for the entire rest of your life, you can’t bear it because it’s too overwhelming and hard, so you give up. But if you think only of getting through this one day, and don’t worry about later, you can do it. Lucky used the ‘One Day at a Time’ idea by putting one foot in front of the other without thinking about what would happen later. She knew she could do one step and then another step and then another step and then another step as long as she thought ‘One Step at a Time.’”
So profound is ten year-old Lucky’s voice in Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, that I almost didn’t believe it – except that she speaks with such authority. She also has been through an inordinate amount of struggle and strife for a child her age, which has given her wisdom while toughening her up.
The title, ethereal cover with illustrations by Matt Phelan, and book jacket summary drew me to this book. I’m always looking for quality literature for young people, but all that package material spoke to the adult in me who is still searching. If a ten year-old could find her higher power, then surely I could. As with anyone’s search – no matter what age she is – Lucky’s is filled with twists and turns, mysterious signs, with the only real answer being a feeling. But it sometimes is the simplest ideas, like the passage above, that get us through. And listening to and allowing our feelings to come through – as Lucky ultimately did with Brigitte – often is the ultimate goal.
The prose in The Higher Power of Lucky is stark, but gorgeous; as raw and beautiful as the desert setting of Hard Pan. It is in the quiet moments of Lucky’s days, the tone of which reminds me very much of Missing May by Cynthia Rylant, that such images sneak up on the reader. After Lucky, Miles, and HMS Beagle – who is not a beagle – finish their ramshackle dinner outside:
“The feel of the air, soft and nearly still, was something you usually wouldn’t even notice. But now, after the dust storm, it felt like a kindness, a special thoughtful anonymous gift.”
Susan Patron has given readers such a gift: a quiet, thoughtful piece of literature that reminds us that focusing on what’s right in front of us can reveal our higher power more readily than any grand adventure.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 13, 2015
To all the mothers hooking their arms under the handles of infant carriers, hitching them onto their hips, grabbing the gallons of juice needed for preschool snack time with one hand, and their toddlers with the other – I salute you.
To all the mommas with babies strapped to their fronts, rocking yogic squats while they wrangle suddenly top-heavy toddlers into snow pants – I salute you.
To the mothers who drive up to the bus stop as the bus pulls away –
To the mothers who drop f-bombs because they’re so frustrated –
To the mothers drenched in sweat and limp as a dishrag by 8:37 AM –
I salute you.
I don’t ask whether you need help because I think you can’t handle it. I ask because I know you can, but even the slightest way to make these machinations easier is a blessing. I ask because, seeing you, I have flashbacks to those hellish mornings; because I’m so grateful that level of hell is done – that I’ve moved on to a slightly lesser one. I ask because I never would have asked someone else for help.
You rock, all you mothers. You’re doing it. I salute you. I’m also here for you.
‘Cause we all need to let out a primal scream – or war cry – from time to time . . .
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 12, 2015
I remember my grandmother being none too impressed with the idea of baby registries.
Asking for specific gifts? Telling people what to buy? We’ve all raised children; we know what a baby needs.
I tried to explain them from a logistical standpoint.
It’s to prevent duplicate gifts. People can buy gift cards or certificates to apply toward larger items. Or you can buy gifts to match the nursery theme.
She understood all these arguments, but she did have a point. Still, I registered.
I spent the excruciating better part of a Saturday at the local baby superstore, one which my husband still laments never being able to get back; one which I still remind him proved he was a sore sport. We took a break at one point, resting in two of the array of gliders on display. Stretching out on the coordinating ottomans, he said how much his feet hurt. Your feet hurt? I am carrying around a nearly full-term human!
My sister-in-law recounts a similarly disappointing experience. She, too, entered the store full of excitement and anticipation, ready to get all the things her little one might need. One look at the wall of bottles and nipples sucked that right out of her.
There’s different flows? I didn’t know there were different flows! How do I know which one to get? How am I supposed to know which my baby will like?
She ended up walking out of the store, the lunch date with my brother-in-law a much better prospect.
I’ve come to revisit this harrowing phase of a woman’s life – the waiting period before one’s first child – because I attended a baby shower this past weekend. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d attended one. I hadn’t realized how much psychic distance I’d achieved from that point in my life.
Scrolling through the mother-to-be’s online registry, I pondered all the minutae we stockpile for one fragile little being. Watching the mother-to-be open myriad boxes and bags, I marveled at the physical objects we amass in preparation for their care. I thought about the stupid decisions we make beforehand – because we have nothing on which to base them. We don’t know whether our baby will like to be bounced or rocked. We don’t know whether they’ll take a pacifier or spit it out. We don’t know whether they’ll take to nursing like a vacuum or suck down formula like it’s going out of style. Yet, we let marketing gurus and product developers make these decisions for us; tell us what our baby will need before we’ve even met them.
I was thinking how wonderful it would be if we instead showered the mother with practical wisdom. Looking back, having been what I’ve been through, I think, would it not be more beneficial to surround the mother with support rather than things? Not to offer harping advice or to scare with harrowing tales, but share our experiences and struggles; to let the mother air her concerns and ask questions.
Is not the combined experience of all the mothers in that room much more valuable than the material trappings?
Modern society may have streamlined gift-giving with the registry process, but it also omitted something special. The human element. The generational wisdom and tradition. The magic and wonder of growing and birthing and caring for a baby. That one little trick your mother learned from her mother that will stop a crying baby better than any toy or tool can do.
Mothers need other mothers more than they need anything else. Love and support, the nest of family and friends. All things that no amount of logistics can provide.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 10, 2015
Focus – to the exclusion of everything else.
Being able to tune out any distractions or discouragements apart from the final goal can be accomplishment gold. But if it also means missing out on beautiful sights or moments along the way, the brilliant glow can become a burnished pallor.
This is the risk the main character takes in Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead’s picture book, if you want to see a whale.
On his journey to see the whale, the young boy, with his dog and a bird as companions, passes roses and pirate ships, pelicans and inch worms. He ignores them:
because roses don’t want you watching whales
or waiting for
or wondering about
things that are not pink
and things that are not sweet
and things that are not roses.
If the boy did not ignore the roses, he might have missed the whale that he finally finds on the last page. But he misses the turtle amidst the clouds, a comfy and cozy nap, the lighthouse atop the headland shaped like a whale.
Yet even with all this sacrifice, the boy still almost misses the whale. On the second to last page, he is so busy staring into the sea, he doesn’t see the whale pass right below his rowboat. Ultimately, it is the whale who breaks the surface and peers into the boy’s face.
While preparation and staying the course are essential to achieving goals, there is a certain element of chance that factors into the final result. And if we exclude all way points and detours, a failure at the termination point will be that much more crushing.
I suspect that Fogliano and Stead meant for this story to be a triumphant tale of setting one’s mind to something and seeing it through. And it is. There is a lot to be said for persistence and patience; for courage and consistency.
There is also the flip-side.
It makes me sad to see all the missed opportunities along the way for this young boy. It makes my soul ache for my own missed opportunities throughout any given day. The simple pleasures, invaluable gifts of the here and now. When goal-setting becomes tunnel-vision, mindfulness cannot occur.
If you want to see a whale, it’s pretty amazing. Just don’t miss out on what the waves wash up on the way.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 6, 2015
I am sitting at my desk for the first time in a long time. At least to sit and write. I’ve sat a few times to check email or Facebook, but haven’t sat here in a long time for its meaning and purpose.
As I sorted piles of dirty clothes by color in preparation for laundering last night, I saw the top of my writing cabinet rolled back just enough to reveal the rocks I’ve placed there as talismans. The ones chosen for memories: one thrown by a dear friend barely missing my head, one from a bright, beautiful day at the beach, others for their touch and feel. All within smelling distance of dirty laundry. All untouched, robbed of their potential for healing or inspiration.
During these last few cold months, I’ve set up camp by the wood stove. A stack of books on my daughter’s miniature rocking chair on one side, a stool with a mug of tea on the other, computer in lap, feet on ottoman, aimed at the stove. Not bad, I must say.
But – if I sat at my desk on my ergonomic chair, I might not exacerbate that crick in my neck. I might not strain the shoulders I tweaked in frenzied shoveling yesterday. I might not draw the ire of said daughter for thieving her miniature rocking chair. I might stick to the task at hand. And – AND – I might be inspired by the lovely things around me.
Since it’s been awhile, things other than my work have inevitably piled up on my desk. My daughter’s outgrown ducky slippers. A pair of fleece pajamas I’ve yet to exchange for the right size. My middle daughter’s class portrait grasped from her little sister’s tight fist at just the last second. There’s a colored pencil that doesn’t belong to me. A bathing suit I still haven’t decided if I want to return. There’s the goody bag from my friend’s burgeoning business of skin care products I’ve yet to put away – but this is a lovely procrastination; for the smell of sea foam has provided the most uplifting aromatherapy.
While putting off and getting away from routines or rituals can be detrimental, it can also give the chance to come back with new eyes. Had I sat here every writing session, every week of every month, perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the little corner I’ve carved out for myself. Perhaps I wouldn’t remember to hold that solid hunk of earth in my hand, wrap my fingers around but one chunk of the infinite space around us.
Does that mean I will sit here each time I write now and be incredibly prolific? Probably not. But the space is readied. For now, the mind is readied. My spirit is ready.
Posted by Jennifer Butler Basile on February 5, 2015