Treating my phone addiction with clocks

Do you remember life before you had a smartphone? I barely remember.

I got my first iPhone in 2010 when I was in grad school studying social cultural anthropology. I needed an audio-recorder for doing interviews and a way to take quick notes in the field for my research. I decided to splurge on the iPhone 3G, which was the previous year’s model when I bought it.

It was probably the most life altering purchase I have ever made.

Before my iPhone, my Samsung flip phone was almost always dead. I would only text the bare minimum because I didn’t understand how T9 worked and typing out messages on a 9 digit keyboard was excruciating. When my phone was charged and turned on, the voicemail blinky light would always be flashing. I never checked my voicemails because I had to enter a passcode and most of the messages were just from my dad saying, “Hi, it’s dad. I’ll try calling you again later.” I remember feeling so irritated when I checked my voicemail that I lost 2 minutes of my time listening to that message.

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Now, I waste dozens of minutes per day just checking the homescreen of my phone to see if anyone has contacted me.

I used to be hard to reach; but when I was with you, I was with you.

Now, I’m quite punctual in responding to people. It bothers me to have an unread notification – and if I read it, I have to respond because otherwise I’ll forget and that person will think I’m ignoring them. But I’m distracted when I’m in the flesh.

I used to manage a full-time university course-load and a part-time job. I used to hang out with friends daily, date, read books for pleasure, scrapbook with my mom, and watch TV with my brother.

Now, I take care of a one year old, clean up after 3 people, maintain this blog (and we know that I’m pretty infrequent with that), and check my phone. I rarely read entire books for pleasure anymore. I hardly find time to cook. And I’m horrified to say that my husband and I can spend entire evenings sitting next to each other both looking at our phones.

Something had to change.

When my brother was visiting, he noticed that my phone would send me notifications for absolutely everything: “The University of Calgary (my alma mater) retweeted the Calgary Herald”; “Sally Stranger posted in Mom Group”; “You took 6789 steps today!”; “Have you played 2048 recently?”. It was too much. My phone was buzzing every few minutes, and I’d look at it to see if it was important. But all that brain power, all that distraction for interruptions that I didn’t even care about was sapping me of my time. My brother suggested I turn off all notifications and when he said it, I looked at him like he had three heads.

“You can do that?!”

“Yeah. Just go to settings.”

It was seriously mind-blowing to me that I had the power to affect incoming information like that. Such a tiny action and already my smartphone dependency was becoming more manageable. I turned off notifications for every single app except iMessage, Hangouts and Messenger, because I wasn’t quite ready to become the kind of person who is hard to reach, especially being abroad. And let me tell you, it has been liberating! The impact was immediate – I was looking at my phone less. I was spending less time on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter because they weren’t constantly asking for my attention.

A few months went by, and I adjusted to this new freedom, but my phone still felt a bit too much like an appendage. It was always at my side. It was my best friend, in a way, because it was my support system – linking me to my friends and family back home in Canada. I was constantly pressing that home button and looking at the home screen, like a nervous tick.

I went to my friend Sarah’s house for a playdate and I asked out-loud what time it was, motioning for my phone. Sarah looked at her wall (not her Facebook one, her actual wall) – there was a clock there. A great big clock with a white face and black hands. And this blew my mind. A clock? On the wall of your living room? Like as decor? Is that a thing?

And then it dawned on me that the next stage of separation from my phone was to no longer treat it as my watch.

I used to wear a watch, before DK. After he was born, I found it impossible to transfer him from my arms to his crib without his head chaffing on my watch, so I took it off and began relying on my phone for the time. I put my watch back on.

I used to have an alarm clock on my nightstand that glowed red digits in the dark. But one day I spilled water on it and it died. I had started charging my phone next to my bed, you know, in case someone got in an accident in the middle of the night and I got a phone call. And so my phone easily replaced my alarm clock, my night-light, and my bedtime-reading all at once. I bought a $14 alarm clock on Amazon with big red numbers so I could see it without my glasses on in the middle of the night and not have to check my phone for the time, inevitably seeing middle of the night notifications. I started turning on my lamp for my bedtime reading.

And I bought a $10 wall clock to hang in the space between our kitchen and our living room. Next to it I hung a Gilmore Girls-inspired poster, “In Omnia Paratus”, which means “Ready for Anything”, and a painting of a girl with her nose stuck in a book, as reminders of what I wanted to make time for. And I check the clock – all the time.

I still have a long way to go weaning myself from this life-changing technology. I don’t want to go back entirely to the way things were before I had a smartphone. I think I’m a better daughter, friend, sister and wife when I’m reachable. But I do want to stop putting everyone else in the wide world of the internet on a higher pedestal than my son, my husband and myself.

My next steps to cure myself of my smartphone dependency are to move its night-time charging spot off of my nightstand. Reading on my phone late at night keeps me awake. I know it keeps me awake. Scientific research knows it keeps me awake. And yet, night after night, I decompress from the day lying in bed staring at a tiny glowing screen in the dark looking at Taylor Swift gifs on Tumblr.

Next, I need to determine a resting spot in the house where I will keep it during the day instead of always within arm’s reach and allow myself to check it a specific intervals. The thought of it makes my palms sweaty, which is why I know it needs to happen. Perhaps perching below In Omnia Paratus will be a good spot for it – and then I really will be Ready for Anything because my mind won’t be buried in my phone.

 

 

 

Halloween as a Rite of Reversal

Halloween, in California, is bigger than Christmas. People go all out here with parties, costumes, trick or treating, and house decor. “Graveyards” line front yards, ghosts haunt every corner, cobwebs aren’t swept away, but embraced. Back home in Canada, very few people hosted parties (or at least none that I was invited to), costumes had to fit over snowsuits (hello fat-Cinderella, hello fat-Power Ranger, hello sumo-wrestler), and Halloween decor was minimal. We would put out Jack O’ Lanterns and maybe a few cutouts of ghoulish faces in the windows – but other than a couple haunted houses in each neighbourhood, people did pretty much the bare minimum. Upon moving to California, I learned that outdoor decor is a competitive sport, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is a feasible costume and you can’t carve your pumpkin until the day of because it will rot if it’s not -20C outside (who knew?!).

In spite of the love of all things Halloween-ey, I was surprised to learn how down on candy many Californians seem to be. Nuts/Sugar/Gluten are almost considered obscenities here and I was stressing about what kind of treat to give out at my door on Halloween night. Some of my mom-friends are going the non-candy route, to be respectful of allergies, but honestly I dread a shit-ton of rubber bouncy balls entering my home more than I dread a sugar-inebriated child.

The thing about Halloween is candy is a major part of the celebration. Halloween is what we anthropology -nerds (yes, many moons ago I graduated with my MA in Social and Cultural Anthropology) call a Rite of Reversal.

A Rite of Reversal is a ritual in which the social order is reversed; the world devolves into chaos and then reverts back to order. These rites are important in human culture because they remind us why we have social conventions and rules in the first place. Sure chaos is fun for an evening, but at the end of the day, when you crawl into bed, you’re happy that when you wake up in the morning, things will go back to the way they were. Trick or Treating on Halloween night is an example of a Rite of Reversal.

On Halloween:

  • Children, who are usually only in public spaces in the daytime, get to run through the streets after dark, often without their parents.
  • Children get to go to stranger’s homes and rather rudely, threateningly demand candy (Trick or Treat!).
  • Children get to dress in costume.
  • Spooky and scary replaces light-hearted and predictable.
  • Children get to eat lots of junk food/candy.

TRICK-OR-TREAT

Every day I try to teach my child to be polite (say please and thank you, do not be demanding or threatening), to dress appropriately (not go out in public in costume), to eat healthily (celery sticks not chocolate bars), and to not ever take candy from strangers. Yet, on Halloween, the opposite of these behaviours are allowed and encouraged. We literally send our kids out at night in a costume to threaten strangers to give them candy or they will play a trick on them.

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Halloween is special. On Halloween you can break the rules. In doing so, it releases tension between child and parent and also reinforces why we have rules at all. While Halloween is a super fun night and some kids might wish it were Halloween every day, the fact that it isn’t every day is what makes it so fun and so special.

So yeah, I don’t care if my neighbours are giving out rubber bouncy balls. I’m giving out candy that will rot your teeth. And I hope when my son has enough teeth to chew, that he gets candy that will rot his teeth (and learn how glorious it feels to brush your teeth after an over-indulgent night of sugary snacks) because that’s the one night per year where eating candy for a bedtime snack is okay. It’s part of the rite.

Someday, when my kids are older, I hope to extend this Rite of Reversal to include a Ghoul’s Dinner on Halloween night before Trick or Treating. At the Ghoul’s Dinner, table manners don’t matter. The intention is that this fun night of belching, eating with our hands, wiping our faces on our shirts, blowing bubbles in our milk, building castles with our potatoes, banging cutlery on the table and throwing food on the floor will reinforce why we have table manners all other nights of the year. People, and especially our children, are creatures of habit. We like to know what to expect. We certainly wouldn’t want a chaotic meal with spaghetti in our hair every day, so when you do a ritual of reversal for fun on a set day of the year, it reinforces why we care about correct behaviour. Life generally is more pleasant when we follow social conventions and we don’t have to clean globs of food off the floor – but once a year, it’s nice to let loose and reminds ourselves of that.

Of course, I have a 15 month old, so every meal for me is currently a Ghoul’s Dinner. First I need to teach him table manners before I can reverse it to chaos, so consider that a parenting goal for the future.

Happy Halloween-ing!

 

Emergency Preparedness with a Toddler

Recently wildfires swept through homes in Northern California – leaving residents fleeing for their lives. The same week, the South Bay had a 4.1 magnitude earthquake. I started to feel uneasy with how relaxed I am about natural disasters. Non-profits will be there meeting our needs, right? The Trump Administration and the California government will be effective at handling the emergency, right? Google will be prepared and they will have extra food and water for everyone who shows up to campus, right?

The fact that these were some of my assumptions show how laughably unprepared I am for disaster; and the Bay Area has a real chance of having a really bad earthquake. As these thoughts sunk in, I began to panic. Would I be prepared? How would I handle things and take care of the needs of a toddler if shit hit the fan and we had to evacuate quickly or hunker down at home for days without electricity or running water? Of course, my mom-friends had similar fears and one of them re-blogged Silicon Valley Toddler’s amazing blog post about earthquake preparedness with toddlers. I cannot praise this post enough. Everyone should read it. And then when they are done, everyone should purchase their earthquake survival kits using her affiliate links while they slow clap for her thoroughness of thought.

I read her post at 11 pm one night, which was a mistake because I was awake until 1 am stressing. However, it DID get my butt in gear and get my shit together for earthquake preparedness.

I did have enough water in my house, having stocked up a few weeks before when reminded during the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. However, prior to reading her post, this was my earthquake kit:

I hadn’t even CONSIDERED that I might need to carry this thing with a toddler in my arms. Impossible. It’s awkward. It’s heavy. Oh and the lid pops off if you carry it by its handle. Useless.

It was also in my basement cellar. Which is dark and creepy on the brightest, bluest days let alone during the apocalypse, and not particularly accessible in an instant if we ever needed to leave during an emergency due to fire or flood or gas or earthquake damage.

Contents wise, my earthquake kit wasn’t a complete disaster…but it was definitely missing a few key items to be able to survive off-grid for 3 days.


Some of the items were definitely good to have around: 30 water purification tablets, some cord, a hatchet, lighters, a poncho, soap, insect repellent, a whistle and compass, garbage bags, a deck of cards, earplugs, and a combination lock.

But then I have some items that, with a toddler, are completely ridiculous:

  • 15 wipes. 15. 15 is better than none. But I need a LOT more than 15 wipes to get through 3 days of an emergency.
  • 3 (? Why 3?) decks of cards and no toys or books to comfort DK. 
  • 3 flashlights that are all out of batteries and no replacement batteries.
  • Candles but no candle holder. What, am I going to hold this in my mouth? Craft one out of mud in an emergency?
  • Insect repellent but no sunscreen (hello, California!).
  • Tylenol but no Infant Tylenol.

Additionally, I was missing key things like: food, diapers, a vessel to purify water using my purification tablets, a change of clothes for everyone, a blanket, a crank-operated radio, a knife, and a way to carry it all that wouldn’t be super inconvenient if DK and I had to leave home and meet my husband elsewhere.

Silicon Valley Toddler’s post also reminded me that we are out and about a lot, and we had nothing in the car.

In light of all of these oversights, here are the actions I’ve taken to get our family organized in the event of a natural disaster and we need to live off-grid for a few days.

  1. I bought a backpack. This one was on sale and is actually a really handy one to have around because it folds into a tiny pack. Technically a useless feature, since it should always contain our car-emergency kit, but it was on sale and not a bad addition to our home. It’s not the sturdiest of materials, but it will be fine for our car-kit. 
  2. I replaced all the batteries in our flashlights.
  3. I added a copy of DK’s favourite bedtime story, Goodnight Moon, and a small stuffed toy to provide some comfort to DK at a scary time.
  4. I added in some foil mylar blankets and some handwarmers. Yes, I bought the bulk packs. Technically we only need 3 blankets…but 10 fit in my backpack and I figure in an emergency, maybe there will be other neighbourhood children who need blankets and these can help.
  5. I added a multi-tool.
  6. I added an entire pack of wipes.
  7. I added 10 diapers in the next size up.
  8. I wrote the combination for the combination lock on a piece of tape and stuck it to the back (it won’t be much use to my husband if the combo is in my head!). I’m not sure if a combination lock will be all that useful, but I have one and it’s small and maybe it will be useful at an evacuation centre(?).
  9. I added a candle that I don’t have to hold.
  10. I added some glowsticks.
  11. I added some replacement double A batteries
  12. I replaced my all-natural clove and lemon hand “sanitizer” with some real hospital-grade Purell hand-sanitizer. I don’t want to be wondering in an emergency if my clove-lemon gel sanitized the fecal bacteria on my hands. I just want it to work.
  13. I added a pad of paper, a pencil and a Sharpie marker.
  14. I added some energy bars. I chose the ones with the longest shelf-life…
  15. I added my house first-aid kit which includes: Gauze, non-stick gauze (for burns), bandaids, tape, an ice-pack, alcohol wipes, first aid suture kit, gloves, travel sunscreen, solarcaine, Tylenol, Tums, Advil and Benadryl
  16. I added some clothespins, because they are just handy to have.
  17. I added photocopies of all of our important documents: passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, green cards, tenant insurance, car insurance, health insurance.
  18. I added a sippy cup with a straw for DK because he loves straws.
  19. I added a waterbottle since my water purification tablets are completely useless without a vessel.
  20. I added some cash in small bills and a chequebook.

Additionally, I took some further steps:

  1. I put all of our important documents in one place in an easy-to-grab zippered pouch. My husband and I decided that in an emergency in the middle of the night, I would grab our son and he would grab the documents (unless I’m unable to get to our child and then obviously my husband is in charge of that too).
  2. I put some old shoes under our bed. In an earthquake, windows can shatter and we might be sleeping when it happens. So having shoes at the ready for our bare feet is important.
  3. My husband and I decided on a secondary safe-place that we would go to if we can’t be at the house due to fire, flood, gas or structural integrity. This way, if my husband is at work, he knows where we might be if we are not at home.
  4. I moved our emergency kit to our front hall closet so that it is easily accessible.
  5. I ordered a secondary survival kit for our car. I chose the same one that Silicon Valley Toddler recommended based on her research. It comes with an awesome backpack, which I’m going to put our house-kit contents in, and then use the contents for our car-kit. Silicon Valley Toddler decided to put her primary kit in her car because she’s either out and about in her car, or her car is parked outside the house. My husband and I share a car and he takes the car to work 2-3 times per week. So while it is possible that DK and I will be out and about in the car when disaster strikes, it is more likely that we will be within walking distance of home, so I decided to put our primary kit in the house and our secondary kit, which is also my husband’s at-work-kit, in our car.
  6. I added a change of warm clothes for each of us to the car kit.
  7. I put a recurring calendar reminder in my phone for the second Monday of the month every 6 months to check my earthquake kits and add or subtract as necessary.

I did all this during a few days of my son’s afternoon naps, and YOU CAN TOO.

Hopefully this is all time and money wasted…but I’ll certainly be glad to have spent the time and the money if disaster does strike and the worst happens.