Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shoulder-to-Shoulder Time

One of the ways in which Nate and I mesh well is that we have very similar ideas of how to spend a vacation. I am a low-energy person and Nate tends towards that as well, especially when he's jet-lagged and coming off a crazy few weeks at the squadron in Korea. He travelled for 24 hours straight to arrive in Colorado Springs half an hour before he left (yay time zones that turn us into time travelers!) and we've had a wonderful time being lazy during his eleven-day stay. I love having very few fixed engagements, doing whatever we feel like doing (as long as that works with Sean's needs.)

Sean is delighted that Daddy is home– he couldn't wait to show Nate everything at Grammy and Grandpa's house, from all his toys, to the electronic piano, to the refrigerator, which is special because that's where the current love of his life– cheese– lives. The day after Nate returned we moved into an Airbnb in Colorado Springs so that we could have our own space for Nate's visit– and I have had a week and a half of living my fantasy of the three of us living in my hometown.

We're belatedly celebrating our fifth anniversary, and though I have lots of different marriage thoughts floating around in my head, the marriage practice upon which I wish to dwell for a moment is the comfortable companionableness that Nate and I have dubbed "shoulder-to-shoulder-time." I can't remember if we got the name from a book or made it up ourselves, but it is a practice which, though I remember resisting when we were first married, I've now grown to love very much.

Shoulder-to-shoulder time is simply being together without necessarily interacting– such as lying at opposite ends of the couch, each reading a book, or watching a movie together, or being in the same room while Nate plays guitar and I write. I initially disliked shoulder-to-shoulder time at the beginning of our marriage because I had the weird idea that if we weren't directly interacting in conversation or doing a specific activity together, then the time together wasn't really valuable. I have since changed my mind. Nate and I are both introverts, and conversation isn't always necessary for us to enjoy each other's presence.

That's really what shoulder-to-shoulder time is about– presence. It is a recognition of the mystery of us being separate people with our own identities, and yet simultaneously being made one by marriage. It is a kind of intimacy different from conversation, or making love, but in my mind the quality of intimacy is simply different, not lesser. I enjoy the quiet affection, the comfortable companionship that makes up so much of day-to-day life. I like having a love that is "broken-in," to quote John Mayer. In The Four Loves C.S. Lewis talks about how exhausting it would be if lovers were constantly in the throes of the kind of love we generally experience at the onset of a relationship– all fireworks and tension and a hurricane of up-and-down emotions. Perhaps it is shoulder-to-shoulder time that helps to mature married couples into being friends and companions, as well as lovers– the kind of partnership in which making love and making dinner are both held in high esteem, where you feel that no matter what may be happening, you belong together.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sean Christmas Card Photos– Outtakes

Christmas in Colorado

In spite of not being on Facebook, I still want to share some pictures and things about our family here and there. So here's a picture post (with helpful captions) of some of our holidays here in Colorado!

Sean and his bucking bronco– a present from Gran and Grandaddy McCaskey. Of course he wanted to sit on it while he ate his Cheerios!

The little woodland tree in Sean's and my room– courtesy of my older sister's family, who cuts down their Christmas trees in the mountains every year. I made the paper chains and put all my homemade ornaments on it for a rustic look.

Mom and Dad with the presents I wrapped so beautifully for them! :-)

Growing up, we always had a sibling picture on this old couch before we opened our stockings. My brother Jeremy came to spend Christmas, so we could still have a couch picture with two of the five siblings (and Sean, of course.) 

I brought our Nativity set when we moved here in March.

Sean got his very own set of car keys in his stocking (from Father Christmas!). The makers were brilliant enough to really make the key parts out of metal– which of course is what fascinates every toddler!

Aunt Emily knitted Sean a viking hat for Christmas!

And since Sean didn't really want to wear it very long, it fit perfectly on my bun! :-)

We had a party for New Year's Eve, and a party at my parents' house means lots and lots of amazing food. Including mango-vanilla panna cotta made by my father!

Emily and I having a cream puff orgy, while my nephew Spencer is simply goofy. :-)

Moments not captured on camera– Nate called on Facetime on Christmas Eve night, and I read our traditional Christmas storybook, A Worker In Sandalwood, aloud to him and Sean before Sean went to sleep.

Jeremy spent Christmas Eve night at my parents' house. Since it's tradition for SOMEBODY in the family to be roused on Christmas morning by Christmas music, I used my boombox (aren't I a groovy kid?!) to wake Jeremy with a raucous chorus ("Merry Christmas, Merry merry Christmas!!") from a Trans-Siberian Orchestra album. 

Once Sean figured out that fun things were coming out of his stocking (a Koosh ball, his own pack of Kleenex, an old flip phone, and a Slinky, as well as the keys!) he became very eager to pull things out– and rather disappointed once it was empty. He continued to reach down his arm into his stocking for several minutes, making enquiring "hmmm?" noises at me.

On New Year's Eve, at about 5 minutes till midnight, Nate Facetimed in again, so that when the New Year arrived I could kiss him on my phone screen. Hey, I'll take whatever I can get– thank the Lord for technology!

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Life After Facebook

Last Friday night, I deactivated my Facebook account.

I joined Facebook when I was eighteen. The original Social Network was quite different nine years ago– and curiously enough, in my memories it seems to have been far more social than it is now. Recall when there was no such thing as a "news feed" and Facebook was just a lot of individual profiles, and if you wanted to know what a friend's status was you had to actually go to their profile? People actually used Facebook invitations for more than just online product parties. Remember a time before "likes"? (Gasp.) Recall when "poking" was actually a thing? (I actually never got into poking. But I did use the app "Afternoon Tea", which mainly seemed to be virtually sending different tea-related pictures to other friends. I don't really remember what the point was, except that the pictures of teacups and teapots and teacake and crumpets were all so pretty.)

I've found Facebook more annoying than enjoyable ever since my news feed morphed into a long list of things that people had "liked". If there had been some option where I could limit what I saw to "written status updates only", excluding all links and photos, I might have reconsidered. If Facebook would take my (brilliant!) idea and give all users a limited number of "likes" per week (we'd have a much better idea of what people actually like if they can't "like" everything!) then I definitely would have reconsidered. But the Facebook Powers haven't done those things, and I've continued to use Facebook while vaguely wondering why, using the excuse that being a military wife, with so many friends in so many different parts of the world, it would be impossible to know what was going on without Facebook.

Then my feelings were hurt because of Facebook, and I knew it was time to leave– not at some future date, but now. No, it wasn't a political argument (I steer well away from those!) or even a direct interaction– in fact it wasn't even something that was said, but something that wasn't said. I told myself how silly it was to feel that way, but the sting was still there, in my brain, taking up mental space. And that's when my hazy intention of someday moving out of the virtual neighborhood changed into action. It was time to clean house and hang up the "for sale" sign.

Even leaving Facebook wasn't a simple matter of clicking "deactivate"– that felt too much like slinking out of a club I'd been part of for nine years without a word of goodbye. What if people thought that something dreadful had happened in my personal life and that was the reason for my leaving? I had to make an exit speech– and that just reinforced to me that leaving was necessary. As Facebook users go I had far fewer friends than average– around 200, and I interact on a regular basis with about 20 of them. Why the heck should I care what the other 180 might possibly think if they even noticed my absence? Yet I have to confess that there was a part of me that did care, so I wrote my exit speech.

I finally faced up to the facts. For me, Facebook wasn't about real community. To be brutally honest, it had evolved into three things: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), ego stroking, and laziness. I wasn't scrolling through the news feed because I was finding community there, but because, well, what if I missed a great article (or let's face it– I clicked on lame articles too, because it has been scientifically proven that clicking to a new page is stimulating to the brain's pleasure center.) When I posted a status or a link or one of my blog posts and it got a lot of "likes" or comments, I felt better about myself– as if there was a tiny Like-Counting Gnome in my brain, quantifying my worth for the day based on how many people hit the thumbs up button beneath my post.  I was scrolling through the news feed because "liking" a photo of someone's cute kid is a lot easier than calling or sending an email or even just a text to ask how they are doing. Facebook gave me the illusion of being connected, when in reality community takes intention, time, and work. I realized that I couldn't use the excuse of being a military wife, because the truth is, the connection I have with the military friends who are real friends (not just Facebook friends) exists because of the phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, and personal messages to each other, not because we click "like" on each other's photos. Real friendship, real community, takes time– whether that's hanging out in person, or using tools like phone calls and emails and texts. I know that my relationships with the people most important to me are not going to be diminished by the absence of Facebook.

It is true that my general knowledge of my acquaintances will diminish. There are quite a number of people whose peripheral presence on my radar will vanish without Facebook. But I've realized that's perfectly all right. I sometimes wonder whether human beings were really designed to have our brains so full of random information about people whom we barely know, with whom we have no real relationship. At any rate, I know that I don't function best that way. I said in my Facebook exit speech that Facebook was taking up too much of my mental space, and I have to remember that I don't have infinite mental space. I want to be a good steward of my mental resources as well as my physical resources. I'm already starting to feel a tiny change in my mental landscape– as though some large, unsightly structure  has been removed, and a lot of fertile soil has been uncovered. What fresh, fragrant plants can I cultivate in that soil?

Life after Facebook– it does exist. And yes, it's a bit of a detox process, and I don't know how long it will be before I cease to miss it or even think about it. I've learned my lesson about saying "never", so I won't even say that I'm never going back. But for 2017, at least, I will practice life without Facebook. I'm ready to plant some new seeds in all that newly-freed mental soil. I'm excited to see what blooms.

And now, instead of posting this blog on Facebook and monitoring the number of "likes" it gets, I am going to wrap Christmas presents and read books and play with Sean instead. :-)