Searching for the Sacred

I think what I miss is those moments when we are all working together towards a common goal. I miss the hush that falls right before a bride walks down the aisle. I miss the feeling of unity as perfect strangers come together to celebrate the love of their mutual friends. I miss the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony, the feeling of celebration as parents breathe a collective sigh of relief that they got their kids through their school years. I miss getting dressed up and going to a really fancy restaurant – eating together with others, ordering off the same menu, and navigating all the tiny forks together as one.

I am slowly and tentatively emerging from my pandemic bubble. Omicron is still up in the air, but as Scarlett O’Hara said, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” As I emerge, I find myself grieving a bit for life pre-Covid and the sense of community we’ve all lost. 

By community, I don’t mean crowds. I do not miss the busyness of people. I do not miss Christmas shopping line-ups or even Christmas parties with hours of small talk. I don’t miss the atmosphere of everyone having their own agendas and doing their own things side by side.

I also find myself fortunate to have rich friendships and deep connections with others: my kids, my husband, my neighbours, and – with the help of technology (Marco Polo and FaceTime) my friends and family back home. When I speak about grieving a loss of community, I don’t mean intimate relationships. It’s been hard to put my finger on – what do I mean by loss of community?

I think what I miss is those moments when we are all working together towards a common goal. I miss the hush that falls right before a bride walks down the aisle. I miss the feeling of unity as perfect strangers come together to celebrate the love of their mutual friends. I miss the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony, the feeling of celebration as parents breathe a collective sigh of relief that they got their kids through their school years. I miss getting dressed up and going to a really fancy restaurant – eating together with others, ordering off the same menu, and navigating all the tiny forks together as one.

Graduates in Wuhan, China in June 2021, with COVID under control in China

In chatting with my husband about this, he identifies a similar feeling in loss of community through almost two years of remote work. My husband works for a large company with offices all over the world. Before the pandemic, when everyone was working in-person in their respective offices, there was a fair amount of “tribalism” between sites – different sites would oppose one another in coming up with a solution to a common problem. Yet, after almost two years of working remote, that tribalism has completely disintegrated – which is a good thing. People are collaborating across worksites more harmoniously. However, at the same time, he also feels they have lost a team-wide excitement for working on a problem together and a motivation for achieving a common goal together. As humans we are built to be in community and, at times, in healthy competition with one another. We come up with ingenious solutions to problems when we are supported and challenged by our peers in community.

I miss the rituals of community and the feeling of unity that comes when people participate in a ritual that transcends social structures. Anthropology super-nerds, like myself, will recognize this as what anthropologist Victor Turner called communitas. “During the period of the ritual, rank and status are forgotten as members think of themselves as a community. This helps cement unity among community members.” 

Our wedding ceremony in 2014

In the weeks before Covid shut everything down, we were busy with our weekly nature walk group, our Mothers of Preschoolers Group (MOPS), and having friends over for dinner. And while none of that seems as inherently ritualistic as say, a wedding, there were elements of ritual there. Take for example, my moms group (MOPS) meetings.

Moms Group Meetings 

Every second friday, I would drop my kids off at childcare and go into a theatre space next door to enjoy a hot potluck breakfast with 100 other moms seated at tables. We’d listen to a speaker and eat a hot meal with no kids asking us questions or pulling at our clothes. We didn’t have to cut anyone else’s food, or hop up from the table to fetch someone water or grab a cloth to wipe up a spill. 

Stay with me while I get into some nerdy anthropology theory over this. One anthropologist, Arnold Van Gennep wrote about rites of passage, defined as “a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life, especially birth, puberty, marriage, and death” (Oxford Dictionary). Van Gennep argued that all rites of passage had three phases: separation, the liminal phase, and aggregation. One familiar rite of passage is a graduation ceremony, so I’ll use it as an example. In the separation phase, the ritual-participant is separated from their role in the social structure – they sit apart from their families in special gowns. In the liminal phase, ritual-participants are neither here nor there – they are betwixt and between and form a new kind of community with the other ritual-participants. The students sit together as one and wait for their turn to cross the stage and receive their diploma. In the aggregation phase, students are reunited with their families, the tassel has been pulled to the other side of their hats, they have a diploma in-hand, and they are reunited in the social structure with a new status – that of a graduate.

Graduating from my Master’s in Social Cultural Anthropology in 2011
Graduating in 2011

Victor Turner took this further in his book The Ritual Process. He expands the idea of these phases to other rituals, not just rites of passage. Rituals are “a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony” (Cambridge Dictionary). My moms group meetings were rituals, not rites of passage – but I see the same phases present. First, in the separation phase, we dropped our kids off at childcare. Then, in the liminal phase, we sat together, undefined by the number of children with us or our visible parenting style. We ate together and we learned together listening to a speaker brought in especially for us. Turner writes, “What is interesting about liminal phenomena for our present purposes is the blend they offer of low lines and sacredness, of homogeneity and comradeship. We are presented, in such rites, with a “moment in and out of time,” and in and out of secular social structure, which reveals, however fleetingly, some recognition (in symbol, if not always in language) of a generalized social bond that has ceased to be and has simultaneously yet to be fragmented into a multiplicity of structural ties.”(p. 96) In the liminal phase of our weekly ritual, we were women eating together in communitas – we were not only “Mom of multiples”, “Working mom”, “Stepmom”, “SAHM” or any of the other mom-statuses we ascribe to ourselves. In the third phase, we were reunited with our social status of “mother” as we picked up our children from childcare and continued about our days in this role, inspired through our participation in the ritual.

Victor Turner continued, “There is a dialectic here, for the immediacy of communitas gives way to the mediacy of structure, while, in rites de passage [or rituals], men are released from structure into communitas only to return to structure revitalized by their experience of communitas. What is certain is that no society can function adequately without this dialectic.” (p. 129.) Through this ritual, we moms were released from the expectations and constant responsibility of motherhood to eat together in communitas, and then return to pick up the kids and our responsibilities, re-inspired and refueled for the days ahead. Since the pandemic began and many of these sorts of community “rituals” ceased, I’ve noticed how much I miss them. 

Recently my husband attended a summit for his work – his first in-person work meetings since the pandemic began. He found the meetings to be incredibly productive. Participants were “released” from the expectations and daily structure of responding to online messages in order to work together on a specific problem in communitas. They left the summit with a clear direction and inspired by a sense of teamwork and accomplishment. When people say they want to continue to work remote even after the pandemic, I don’t know if they realize what they’ll be missing without communitas

Reverence

As we’ve moved away from so many in-person rituals in favour of two-dimensional online interactions over zoom and through status updates, comments and hashtags, I also feel a loss of reverence. While this pandemic would have been impossible without all the technologies available to us to interact with one another online, I have yet to experience a moment of reverence through them. I’ve missed the awe and wonder, the anticipation, and the deep respect for the moment, the place, or the person that allows a hush to fall over a crowd. The awkward silence at the beginning of a zoom call is not reverence. 

While being at home with two young children through this pandemic was life-giving and purposeful and in many ways it saved my sanity – potty-training, whining, and night terrors are also not reverent.

In an attempt to find what was missing, I decided to attend a nearby Presbyterian church. Previously, this church would not have been my style. I used to feel deeply uncomfortable with liturgy. I’ve always felt awkward with call-and-response prayers and with communion. And I treated hymns with derision. I preferred “cool” churches – with contemporary music, dark concert-like venues, coffee, and denim. And yet, in a moment when the entire congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer together, I felt both communitas and reverence for the first time in years.

Our Father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done 

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this our daily bread

And forgive us our debts, 

as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

Amen

To me, there was something so moving about a whole group of people reciting the same thing together. It reminded me of going to a Taylor Swift concert with my brother when she stopped singing and fifty thousand fans filled in the gap with a resounding chorus of her lyrics. Except instead of a song that has been around for a few years, we were reciting a prayer that has been prayed by millions of people over thousands of years and translated into hundreds of languages. A prayer people have recited together in community, and in the stillness of the night kneeling alone by their beds. I can’t think of any other collection of words that has connected humanity across time and space as the Lord’s Prayer. Can you?

Right Brain Left Brain

I don’t think reverence has to be religious. A great many secular moments from graduations to Taylor Swift concerts to the carving of the Christmas roast can be reverent too. 

Recently, I read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. The author was a neuroscientist who had a stroke and remembered the experience of having her left brain completely destroyed by the hemorrhage. Several years later, when she had regained her ability to speak and write, she wrote about the experience of living in her right brain – a place where she felt no judgment or self-criticism – she just felt at peace and one with the world. Dr. Bolte Taylor describes the differences between the right brain and the left brain as this – imagine you hike to the top of a mountain. You get to the peak powered solely by your own body and you are surrounded by a beautiful view of a cascade of mountains and a crystal clear sky. Your right brain is in awe of the beauty that surrounds you. Your right brain perceives the majesty and makes you feel like you are one with the universe, whilst at the same time a tiny speck on the enormous planet. Meanwhile, your left brain is assessing whether or not you need to put on a sweater, if you’re hungry, what you should eat, and which angle to take the selfie. 

It made me think, maybe reverence, is just something that exercises our right brain, just as talking exercises our left brain. Maybe it’s something our brains need. Maybe there is one true religion or God. Or maybe humanity has sought out God and the supernatural because it’s what our right-brain is wired to do – to perceive the incredible and feel at one with the whole. 

However you experience communitas and reverence, whether in a sacred or secular way, I think it’s a fundamental part of the human experience.

I know I’m in a rut because of the pandemic. I could go out and socialize, but I’m happy in my house and it’s so much energy to get back out there again. But I know I need to. I know my kids need to be in community again. My husband is still enjoying remote work, but he knows he needs to get back to the office so he can feel part of something important again, rather than just another cog in the machine.

Community gives us a sense of purpose, belonging and significance. And the love, beauty, and harmony that comes with feeling part of a community is fuel for our right-brains. I have lived much of this pandemic in my left brain – analyzing COVID stats, deciding whether I should wear a mask in this particular case or not, questioning whether I have a tickle in my throat or COVID. I am ready to re-engage with my right-brain. What about you? 

RinkydinkMum in 2018

Becoming a mum for the first time is a rocky transition.

When you’re pregnant, you’re sooo looking forward to meeting your little bundle of joy and becoming a parent and you want to punch every well-meaning truth-speaker who tells you to “enjoy life while you can”, “you can’t even understand how much your life is going to change”, and “be selfish now!”

I know I hated people who said that to me. Of course I know life is going to change. Why do you think I signed up for this in the first place? I can’t wait for my life to change. Enjoy life? My life will be even more enjoyable once I welcome my baby into the world. Seriously, I hated those people. But now, 17 months in, with daily 3 am nightwakings, mopping my floor every day from far-flung-food, and listening to the constant frustrated whines of a young toddler – I find myself saying to my pregnant friends, “Congratulations! You’re about to walk off a cliff of delusion. Enjoy your life while you still can.”

Once you become a mom, shit gets HELLA-REAL and you realize very quickly that while you thought of yourself as a pretty selfless person – happy to give your time and energies to others – you didn’t even know how to spell the word before becoming a mother.

In the newborn phases, people say “Oh the newborn phase is the worst, the sleep deprivation is just killer.” But you read Happiest Baby on the Block and you and your newborn are coping just fine. So you start to find your identity as a new mom, deciding to set up camp as an attachment/baby-wearing/co-sleeping/positive discipline/no-screen-time parent and you truck along not realizing that again, the parents who are a year or two ahead of you on the parenting trajectory shake their heads and think, “She just doesn’t understand. Just wait until ___”.

I’ve made some big mistakes this past year in my relationships with some other mothers. And I’ve paid the price and been hurt in retaliation for some poorly chosen words.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what I want for RinkydinkMum – do I want it to be a sounding board of my ideas/opinions on parenting (No!), do I want it to be a place where I highlight my parenting achievements and showcase myself as a supermom? (BARF, ABSOLUTELY NOT). I want it to be an honest, authentic account of being a mom. My successes and failures, information I’ve found interesting or helpful, and perspectives I don’t know that I agree with, but can wrestle with in an open and honest way. Lastly, and most importantly for 2018, I want my blog to be a place where I lift up the triumphs and trials of other mothers in the thick of this confusing, exhausting, ever-changing, loving, infuriating journey.

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.

Image result for samsung flip phone

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.

 

 

 

Going to the library with a baby 

When you wake up at 4 am with a baby, by noon you are ready for a stiff drink. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with my son and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to stay home with him everyday – but one can only take so many hours of pass the toy back and forth before needing some additional stimulation.

I try to keep us pretty scheduled as I am a planner by nature. Every morning around 9 am we leave the house. Most days we just go for a walk.  I take DK for a 5km loop around our neighbourhood that passes two parks, the library, a grocery store and a Starbucks (and yes, I almost always stop for a English breakfast tea latte). 

Once a week we head into the library to take out some books. 

Sculpture outside my local library

I love the library. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl and my mom would bring me to choose books to read for the week. As much as I love it, however, I find the library overwhelming. You could read ANYTHING. When shopping for books at a bookstore, I am limited by my available spending money. But at a library…I can take out as many books as my little heart desires (and that I can feasibly carry home). I can read them front to back, skim them, or return them unread. 

With children’s books, I could conceivably take out a hundred picture books a week and manage to read them all, but DK would quickly lose interest.   As DK is 7 months old, it doesn’t really matter what we read together, as long as we read. I get into the children’s section and I’m paralyzed. How do I choose? 

All this freedom is exhilarating but I’m also trapped by the possibilities and often leave empty handed, unable to make a decision. Does anyone else experience this?

And so, I’ve begun to take books out by theme. DK is learning to make the “deh” sound, so the first week I took out 5 books about ducks. 


Then, one morning that week we went for a walk at a local park with a duck pond and looked at ducks. We played with his rubber duck, we sang songs about ducks (5 little ducks) and we quacked. We looked at a picture of Donald Duck. 


Basically, any way I could bring up the word duck in our play, I did. 

Week two, I took out 5 books about dogs. On our walks, whenever we saw a dog I’d point at it and say, “look at the dog!” 

We sang “BINGO” and “How much is your doggy in the window?” too many times. We went and visited our friends with dogs so DK could touch and smell them. 

It’s week 3 now, and today we took out books about pigs. We have plans on Thursday to go for a walk at Rancho San Antonio to Deer Hollow Farm where I think we will see a pig. DK also loves the This Little Piggy rhyme and we have a toy pig to play with. 

I like doing the theme because it helps me stay focused at the library and it also challenges me mentally to come up with new games and activities that fit within the theme. 

Some ideas I have for future themes are:

  • Grandmas (grandma’s coming to visit)
  • Trains (stop at the Caltrain station and see the train go by)
  • Airplanes
  • Trucks
  • Cats
  • Cars
  • Birds
  • Gardens
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Boats
  • Fish

There are a million options!

Would this method work for you? Which themes would you try?