Friday, June 28, 2013

Productive Nothing

I have been thinking a lot about margin in life and what exactly that means.  Specifically I have been thinking about taking the time to do nothing and the value of that nothing.  Taking time to just sit, stare at a tree, a rock or a wall and just be.

I love to do this.  I can literally spend hours sitting on my back patio staring at my freshly painted house and contemplating life. Some may think that spending an hour or so in the morning staring at my house is a waste of time.  A sign I am lazy and unproductive.  A guarantee of my future failure.  But, I find that those hours I spend doing nothing can be some of the most productive hours of my days.  Those are the hours where I settle and organize all my thoughts, make decisions and come to conclusions.  I reflect upon choices, practice conversations, enjoy memories of the past and look forward to new experiences.

Sitting and staring at a wall is not something you are either good at or bad at, it is a skill that takes time to learn and develop.  It is a skill that those of us of a certain age spent a lot of time as a child practicing.  Think of all the car trips just staring out the window, sitting in waiting rooms, standing in lines, etc.  All without any electronic devices to entertain us during those moments.  Nothing to do but just stand there and do nothing.

Today we rarely do nothing.  It is almost impossible to get away from email, facebook and text messages.  You have to make a plan to do nothing.  To turn off the TV, shut down the computer, put the iPad in a drawer and leave your phone at home.  Escape!

I read this article today talking about a Harvard economists secret to productivity.  Basically he suggests that the reason we always feel like we don't have enough time is because we are too distracted.  We don't take time to focus on the tasks in front of us, process information etc.

When you are checking your email during the 5 minutes between meetings you don't have time to ever process information coming in.  Just react, react, react.  And as a result we aren't solving problems well or taking time for what is really important.  We don't allow ourselves to do nothing!

I see this in my daughter who is constantly in contact with some sort of electronic device.  There is never a moment for her to just sit and absorb the world around her.  And when that moment does come for one reason or another it is painful for all around because she thinks she is miserable. 

When I interact with her about things she has learned, ask her questions about what she thinks, I hear more information than comprehension.  She just takes it all in and stores it away with no prioritization, filtering or weighing of the information.  She isn't forming opinions or coming to conclusions.

This article asking, "Is technology making us stupid?" suggests that with the constant access to information we are not developing the critical thinking skills necessary for true intelligence.
A recent study suggests that our modern lifestyles are making us “less intelligent” than our ancestors, at least at a genetic level. This research echoes concerns Einstein had when he supposedly said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

I have noticed that since I returned to work and stopped running I have fewer and fewer profound thoughts.  I don't take the time to really observe, consider and digest the world around me, the experiences I am having, the people I am meeting.  I just go, go, go.  And I really miss my profound thoughts.  I miss taking time to enjoy and discover new ways of viewing the world.  And, I worry that my children aren't developing this skill because they have no downtime in their lives.  No time to just sit and be.  No time to wander through the quiet woods observing life, thinking about what they have seen and experienced along the way.

This summer I am trying to step away from technology a little more often, stare at my house. I am also considering how to incorporate a little nothing into the routine of my whole family.  A few minutes of silence each day to just think and reflect on life.  I have casually tossed it out a couple times and received little to no reaction.  I think you could say I was ignored.  But very soon I really am going to implement this plan.  Just as soon as I write one more thing, update my facebook status and check my email...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Swearing In

It is official.  Jake is in the military.  As usual, and as will probably be the way of the military going forward, we found out at the last minute about the swearing in ceremony.

Jake informs us at 9am that he is swearing in that day.  We have a showing about to happen, I am walking out the door for a run and John is heading to a job site.  But, good news, he THINKS it won't be til around noon.

I had planned to go from my run to Isabelle's swim lessons in my sweaty workout clothes but instead I am parked outside my house less than an hour later waiting for the potential buyers to leave so I can run in and shower and dress before 11am swim lessons.   By the end of swim lessons, at 11:30, Jake has confirmed he is done with pre swearing in paperwork and we can come by noon.  Which we can't do but we could come by 1pm. The military wants to room for something else at 1 so we have until 12:45 to get downtown, find a parking spot and run into the building.  As I pull out of swim lessons I am an hour from downtown, still have to pick up John and get Isabelle into some regular clothes.  I also called Grandpa and Grandma who dropped everything to run downtown as well.

We totally make it happen arriving right on time at the same building my dad had gone to in the 60's during Vietnam, he was given a medical pass, and where my Uncle stood on the front steps in his newly minted Navy uniform a couple years later.  We flew through the security and around the corner to sit for a few last minutes with our son before he committed his life to the US Government.

The whole thing only took about 5 minutes but I surprised myself by the wave of emotion that hit me.  I spent almost the whole 5 minutes sucking down the ugly cry.  My baby was doing such a big thing!  I feel  overwhelmed simultaneously by both pride and fear for him.  I have absolutely no idea what the next 6 years of his life hold but I do believe he is making the right choice.  I look forward to seeing him grow over the next few years as he goes from my boy to a man.

Jake will leave at the end of September for boot camp in Oklahoma, be home briefly for Christmas and then be off to California for training as a Cryptologic Linguist.  You may say, "what on earth is a cryptologic linguist?"  Well I am so glad you asked.  I don't really know either but here is the Army's description:

A cryptologic linguist is primarily responsible for identifying foreign communications using signals equipment. Their role is crucial as the nation’s defense depends largely on information that comes from foreign languages.

The photo op

Supporting our soldier

Proud Grandparents

On the steps.  No uniform yet.

Proud parents

Loving sister

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sturdy and Plain

You know Mozart?  Um, yeah, everyone knows who Mozart is.  Current celebrities of our day could only wish to have the sort of lasting fame and notoriety for their work that Mozart has.  Mozart wrote and in his lifetime performed some of the most famous pieces of music ever written.  He is considered a master of music, the best of the best.  Recently his violin and viola were taken out of storage and brought to the United States to be played.  Even though I am not music master I can appreciate the significance of this moment, the awe one would have at the opportunity to touch and play the violin or viola used by Mozart.  As you read about it in this article you can sense the enthusiasm of the musicians chosen to play them in Boston.

Despite the amazing music these instruments created in their lifetime, they aren't anything special.
They were made in the early 18th century as workhorse fiddles — sturdy and plain, and meant as tools. They're not as splendid or highly ornamented as the instruments you would find at a royal court during this time, or the instrument a full-time virtuoso would use. But they still are the vessels of Mozart's legacy.

 My life is full of workhorse fiddles.  Those instruments necessary for success in my life that are study and plain, nothing to write home about, they do their job but don't overly impress.  It is easy to think you need the right stuff to be successful, to do great things.  Realtors drive clients around in nice cars not cars with dents in the front bumper and spilled paint in the back seat.  Edina mom's wear the latest trendy look not the shirt they bought at Target 4 years ago.  People who entertain have big and perfectly decorated houses not tiny townhomes with hand-me-down furniture.

If only we had a better violin, a better car, a better wardrobe, a better house, a better bike, a better, computer, etc, then we could be truly remarkable.  Then we could really make a difference and be significant.  Yet Mozart didn't have that, just a simple workhorse fiddle, sturdy and plain.  And he changed the world of music with it.

Several years ago we gave John's childhood saxophone to someone in Kenya. This instrument was nothing fancy, just a student version, cheap and meant to help kids learn.  But it still plays beautiful music and is being used to help people worship the Lord in Kenya.

It isn't about the instruments, it isn't about the car, the clothes, the home, the sports equipment, the tools.  Those things don't make you great it is the work you put into them, the time, the care, the talent you bring.

Some days I feel like I am just a workhorse fiddle.  Plain and sturdy, I have use but am nothing to get excited about.  I have skills but I am not the best at any of them.  I have talents but they are largely undeveloped.  Yet in the right hands, in the hands of a Master, I can do amazing things if I just let Him take the lead.  I may be insignificant in my own hands but in God's hands I can be used to create and do truly amazing things.
Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Is 64:8

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The traditional non traditional

It is an interesting thing watching your child move from dependent to independent.  Looking back on my own transition from child to adult I can imagine how hard it must have been for my parents and appreciate that they let me make my own decisions and supported me throughout.

I have never made a traditional decision.  Conceptually I have always wanted to, I want to be the person who fits in, does what everyone else does, follows the crowd.  Conceptually that just sounds easier.  But I am not, I never have been and I never will be that person.  And while I struggled with that when I was younger, I embrace that in myself now as an adult.  Revel in it really.

So it should really come as absolutely no surprise that my son is choosing a non-traditional path.  In fact he too has never chosen a traditional path but, unlike me, he has always embraced that part of himself. I have loved seeing the fun and enjoyment he has had throughout his childhood as a result.  My husband was like that when he was younger too, always non-traditional and proud of it.

Jake has been talking a lot about enlisting in the army lately. John and I have been supportive but we have had lots of questions.  We want to be sure he understands what he is getting into and where he is going with this.  We don't want the army to be a 3 year run-away-home decision.  At least not totally. We aren't opposed to this being an I-don't-know-what-I-want-to-do-but-I-don't-want-to-live-at-home-while-I-am-figuring-it-out decision.  He tell us it is a, this-is-what-I-really-want-to-do-when-I-grow-up decision.  Which is exciting.

This week I had an opportunity to go to the recruiter with Jake, hear about what he is doing and ask questions.  Initially Jake didn't want me to go, he wanted to do this on his own, be independent.  I get that, you don't want your mommy to come down to the recruiters office and hold your hand.  But I wasn't going down there to do the work for him, I wanted to go so I could understand.  I think in the pursuit of independence kids sometimes miss the opportunity to get the support and encouragement they need from their parents. Somehow I caught him at a weak moment, he was about to walk out the door to the recruiters office and probably thinking I couldn't be ready fast enough he said I could come.

While I was supportive before the visit, something I always tried to make clear amidst all my questioning, now that I have been there and asked my questions I am fully supportive.  And I feel like I understand what he is doing enough to ask questions that do not sound like challenges.  I know how to encourage him, I understand the opportunities before him and am ready to be an Army mom.  Hooah!

He hasn't signed on the dotted line quite yet, there are still a few details to iron out but likely next fall my son will enter boot camp and begin a grand adventure.  If we were a traditional family that did things in traditional ways, high school with a sport, college in 4 years, get a job, get married, buy a house, have 2 kids, work, retire, die, if we were those people, this might seem like a pretty crazy plan and I would fear he would never finish college as a result of dropping out. I might worry that he won't live a normal life.  But we aren't that family, not between John and I, not between any of our siblings or our parents.  So why should Jake be different?

I think I was hoping he would be different.  That part of me that always wanted to be normal was hoping my son would be "normal".  He will break the non-traditional pattern and go straight to college and get his degree.  But I forgot something really important...nothing in his childhood would lead him to traditional.

And so my success in parenting is realizing that I have raised Jake to be a Hardacker.  To follow his own path no matter what anyone else is doing, to think outside the box and to embrace who he is and who God has uniquely created him to be.  With that realization I continue to release him to his own life and is own decisions knowing that he is listening to God's voice and following the path set before him.  Time for me to sit back and enjoy the show.

2008 when we went to see Sam after finishing boot camp.  We knew then  and I had to have this picture

One of my favorites from ROTC this past year.