Dear Students on Social Media: How Do You Manage?

Hello, young folk. If you are a student in high school or university, have a smartphone with one or more social media accounts, and are passing your courses, then let me say: my hat is off to you. If you are excelling, then I am fully impressed.

social-media-apps-old-fashioned

Here’s why. I am kinda old. Specifically, I’m thirty-nine, not so many months away from forty. This means that I was young in a different time. I was already in my 20s when Facebook became a thing. I was several years into my career when the first iPhone came out.

Before that, there was just email. And even that didn’t really get going until I was in university. I did my first emails in crowded computer labs on campus, on terminals with only amber displays. When I moved into a house with my friends, we had dial-up internet that would disconnect when someone picked up the phone. (Of course we all shared a landline because none of us had cell phones.) I did all my school research… in BOOKS. I didn’t even have access to a computer of my “own” (a laptop borrowed from my dad) until I did my Masters degree. It was as heavy as a dictionary and looked like an attaché case.

When I was in high school, there wasn’t even that stuff. We had a family desktop computer on which we could type things, make birthday cards, and play Wheel of Fortune (yes, Vanna White was amber and each of her applauding hands was three giant pixels). Social media was… um… the phone. Attached to the wall. The kind where someone could pick up the extension in another room and yell at you to get off the phone already.

Relating all of this, I feel ancient. The funny thing is, if you get to be thirty-nine years old, you will realize how short a time span it really is. And my age places me in a uniquely-positioned generation – young enough to be inclined to use social media, but old enough to remember what it was like before such platforms existed. (In fact, HuffPost says I am a “Xennial” – of the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983. I am VERY SPECIAL so you should keep reading.)

These days, knowledgeable people are always saying things like, “Devices are the way of the future. Get used to it. There’s no use fighting it. Kids will have to know how to do everything on screens, might as well get them started now.”

I can see why people say this. The shift has been swift and thorough. A lot of my own life is conducted via either my smartphone or my laptop. With my teaching, committee work, and group-based hobbies, not to mention my social life, the ability to communicate online is very important. My students, likewise, are expected to start typing at least some of their school assignments and navigating the internet by the junior grades (4-6). I’m sure that you, the young adults, use your devices for all sorts of very valid reasons, both academic and social.

But then there’s device-use so pervasive that it’s like breathing: i.e. alternate ways of being don’t even enter the picture. Last year, when the Toronto District School Board blocked Snapchat, Instagram, and Netflix for its students, many were aghast; some claimed the grinding-to-a-halt of social life, communication in general, and even some school assignments. (Srsly? Netflix for school assignments?) And then, of course, many started using VPNs to get around the security.

I found this very upsetting.  Not the VPNs – that’s just ingenuity and problem-solving at work. But I pondered the stress + distraction level inherent in smartphone use, and thought to myself, How on earth do they get anything done?

As I said, my generation straddles the pre- and post- microcomputer eras. I can tell you these things for sure about life since smartphones and wi-fi:

  • large chunks of my life are spent on email;
  • my inbox is an overflowing source of stress;
  • the internet has shortened my attention span;
  • my smartphone has shortened it still further;
  • the combination of stress and lack of focus have made me less nice and less effective at LIFE.

I wish I were exaggerating or kidding here, but I’m not. My inability to concentrate through the entirety of an article, even one I’m choosing to read for interest, is VERY OBVIOUS to me. My brain thinks of other things to wonder or do or check, or my phone interrupts me, and I can’t/don’t ever finish. And this is with very few of my notifications turned on, and I’m already avoiding half of the typical social media apps. This distraction, I’ve recently realized, makes me grumpy.

When I was in university, my brain was different. And thank goodness it was, because I honestly don’t think I could have made it through with the brain I have now. I definitely couldn’t have researched and written my 75-page paper for my Masters in French lit. That required a huge amount of focus that I honestly no longer possess.

Am I sad about my brain? YES. My brain does not want to be all distracted and flighty. It was happier when it could sink into an activity and be fully present the whole time. (Hence the grumpiness.)

That’s not all that occurs to me when I ponder your situation. The other thing that makes me sad is the thought of anyone’s social lives being so dependent on smartphones that they feel disempowered and unmoored without Snapchat and Instagram.

Because none of that is real life.

Somewhere, deep in your soul, you know this. Interaction on social media feels very real when you’re immersed in it – and unfortunately, the damage and pain it can cause is all too real. But online communication is not what being a human is about. It is too affected, too manufactured.

We all know that selfies are highly contrived. They don’t show the true beauty of the subject. Prepared, positioned, posed – they don’t look how we really look. (One more reason I could never survive in the millennial habitat: I’ve never been particularly photogenic, but I’m terrible at selfies. I just get annoyed.)

In the same vein, text conversations are nothing like in-person conversations, because  they are not spontaneous. It’s too easy to pick apart and analyze every word – both as sender and receiver. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good text conversation and some well-chosen emoji(s), but that can never replace a face-to-face exchange. They are two completely different forms of communication.

The immediacy of social (im)media is also false. We know we have to tweet things RIGHT WHEN THEY’RE HAPPENING or no one will read them… If I haven’t commented on that photo instantly, it’s no longer relevant… If I break my Snapstreak, I will have failed… And if I don’t have dozens of Likes on my post within the hour, it falls off the radar. NO. Nothing that is of real value in life expires that quickly. The urgency is fabricated.

Things people say in online forums are also not real – because people are meaner online. I don’t know why this has to be true, but it is. When sitting with a screen for company and nobody to look in the eye, people (even people much older than you who are raising kids and should absolutely know better) say unconscionable things to other human beings. ALL THE TIME.

All of this is not real human life – but it can become so. The stress and lost social skills are catching up with us. Like Spiderman’s Venom, our unintentionally evil alter egos are slowly staining our true souls. The rudeness, the non-filtering, the self-obsession – it’s all bleeding into everyday life. Just this morning I was walking behind a teenage girl, accompanied by a teenage guy, on their way to school, and heard her yell super-bitchy-like at a motorist (who was waiting to turn right because the pedestrians had the right-of-way), “Just GO!! Sheesh!!!” like there could be nothing more insufferable than someone who abides by the rules of the road and/or uses manners.

Folks. There’s no excuse for that. If we leave our manners behind, we can no longer call ourselves civilized.

I’m not saying our app-filled devices have no place in the real world. I know social media is (are) fun – obviously that’s what hooks us in the first place. These gadgets are also helpful, convenient, and sometimes very efficient. It’s true as well that there are meaningful, important, and even beautiful exchanges that happen on those same platforms. But I am of the pre/post generation, so I can tell you this from personal experience: REAL LIFE IS BETTER.

When I was in high school and university, there were lots of things that brought me genuine joy. For example:

  • Playing music or singing with a group of friends
  • Getting hard-earned praise from a teacher on an assignment
  • Dancing my butt off to my favourite music
  • Talking to a boy I had a crush on
  • Seeing friends or family that lived far away
  • Being a good listener for a friend who needed me
  • Finishing a job I worked hard on
  • Cuddling a pet
  • Running with all my strength to reach the frisbee/soccer ball
  • Getting a handwritten letter from a loved one (this kept me alive when I went abroad!)
  • Seeing something truly beautiful that moved me
  • Hanging out with little kids and hearing them say cute things
  • Laughing so hard I could barely breathe
  • Being outside on a gorgeous day
  • Spending time with friends and family and remembering why I loved them.

Those are essentially the same things that made me happy as a child – and they are same things that make me happy now. They probably sound quaint and/or cheesy, like a meme that makes you roll your eyes. But they’re REAL. The happy chemicals that flood our bodies when we do these things are the ones we’re meant to have, the ones that make us healthier. The chemicals we get from playing Candy Crush (or whatever) are unnatural, because those games are designed to overstimulate and create an addiction.

I know that we can have reasonable online facsimiles of things on that list. We can Like beautiful images online, make someone else smile with a picture or a comment, watch those cat videos that make us laugh really hard. I have had all of those experiences on social media. But it is not the same. Humans were built to be with their people. To be close to them, to hear each other’s voices in the air between them, and to see each other’s expressions change in real time.

To those who say we should just lean in to tech because it’s inevitably going to take over, I say: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My deep feeling is that someday we will look back on this era as one of disease. Addiction to gadgets and apps is like alcoholism – the actual content in moderation is not that harmful, but when you’re constantly consuming, your system is overloaded and becomes ill.

There are many studies noting a correlation between screen time and declining mental health, especially among young people not so different from you. If you look it up, you might be stunned at the number of YouTubers who have died by suicide in the last ten years. (Or it might be no surprise at all – but still a tragedy.)

And I’m not sure you ever really had a choice about this. Your formative years have been shaped by social media, and at this moment, it’s just how things are done. As easy as it would be for me to advise, “Reject the insanity of social media! UNSUBSCRIBE! FIGHT THE POWER!” I know that’s not something easily done, and probably not what you want. No one wants to ostracize oneself. High school and university are hard enough without putting yourself outside the hive.

Of course, I’m lucky. As a grown-up, I’ve realized that Being Yourself actually does exist. There really does come a time when (as long as your job allows it) you can invest your time and energy in the things and ways of being that matter to YOU. It’s very liberating to say, “I’m almost forty. I don’t have to keep up with the latest fashions/hashtags/Top 40/Netflix originals, because that’s not what life is about. I can wear/listen to/watch/care about what suits ME.” Peer pressure has much, much less influence on my adult life than it did on my youth.

But as I try to navigate the current tech-driven world in a conscious way, I am starting to resent how much of my time corporations are deliberately taking from me. I recently followed my husband’s advice and unsubscribed from almost every organization that was emailing me things – including many things I signed up for on purpose – because they are OVERWHELMING.  I swear there were like twenty different things – and lots of those were emailing me more than once a day. Come. ON. When I thought about it, it made me mad because that is MY TIME I’m losing. Even if I never open those emails, they take time to delete and/or they obscure the messages that matter more (i.e. messages from real people I actually know).

Along the same lines, my husband recently made the radical move away from his smartphone to a flip phone, because he knows he’s too susceptible to the tricks companies use to hook us. Lots of research goes into the colours and animations that draw us in most and make it so that we can’t leave our phones alone. Our quality of life goes down because we’re not present – we’re not fully listening – we’re not able to give our full attention to anything. And our poor children have to deal with distracted parents. No wonder kids are forming habits of talking really loud and repeating themselves.

If you’ve read this far, you are an inspiration and a rock star. I don’t think I could have gotten through this whole rant (if I hadn’t written it).

I have had several conversations recently with my generational peers, and we agree: we are worried about your health. If you can stand a few more words, I’ll leave you with this advice, from the Xennials to the Digital Natives:

  1. Make sure you’re aware of when you’re being manipulated, and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Know that each of the social media platforms is competing with you for your time and attention, which are extremely valuable. Do they deserve it? Be certain that you’re using them, and not vice versa.
  2. Make sure you having lots of really real life, as an antidote to the digital world. Put your phone out of reach for a while. Play some soccer in the mud. Be a sympathetic listener for someone having a rough time. Get together with friends for old-fashioned board games. Hug a person you love. Be real more often than you are digital.
  3. Don’t be on your phone in class. I know everyone’s doing it, but trust me. No human can take in knowledge properly while on their phone.
  4. And if you haven’t already, please turn on NightShift on your iPhone, or install f.lux (or Redshift, or Sunset Screen, etc. etc.) to make the light from your device a warmer colour that won’t strain your eyes and keep you awake WAY past your bedtime.

Thank you for reading, and very best of luck to you.

Now here’s one brilliant piece of online art to make us all feel better. *insert ironic emoji*

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Paragon of Calm needs a reboot. Already.

In my last post, you may remember that I have made it my mission to be calm in the mornings with my kids. I’d like to tell you proudly that I made it through the week with exemplary calm! But I didn’t. Not quite.

I think it comes down to a sleep problem – one I don’t know how to solve.

There exist those families whose kids go to bed and conk out right away. (My sister-in-law’s son actually ASKS to go to bed when he’s tired. WHAT.) Similarly, there exist those families whose kids pop out of bed super-early on their own and are ready to go.

Not our family. I know that’s a blessing in many ways. My kids don’t get grumpy or whiny at bedtime – instead, they tend to be at their most hilarious (to each other) in that post-dinner period.  And they usually sleep in like champs while on vacation. Natural night owls, it seems.

The night-owl thing is tricky, though. Trust me, we do all the things. We have a consistent bedtime routine. We do settling-down activities like reading, all in the same order. We dim the lights beforehand. We use the kid-safe calming essential oils. We give the hugs and kisses and love. They just… take forever to fall asleep. Especially E. We’ve tried all kinds of bedtimes for him in the hopes that we’d find the perfect one, but he still seems to spend ages awake most of the time. His brain apparently revs high when he’s in bed. I have to remind him to close his eyes and whisper inside his head instead of out loud.

But this fact makes school mornings hard, especially now that their morning bell is fifteen minutes earlier than it was last year.

Please know I’m no morning star myself. (Hence that failed snooze-button resolution.) Once I’m out of bed, I start by opening the blinds in the kids’ room (which doesn’t help at this veil-of-darkness time of year) or putting the small lamp on. Then I’ll cue up some music or a meditation right by E’s head where it will (I hope) gently awaken him.

AB usually wakes up at this point, and betakes herself to my bed for our non-negotiable snuggle. [It has taken us a long time to get this part right. There have been countless times – and they still feel perilously probable – that she has begun the day with a sweet li’l temper tantrum because I happened to be in the bathroom when she came to my bed, or it took me too long to find E’s music, or I said the wrong word to her, or whatever other tiny random glitch she decides is insufferable that day.] She proceeds, almost always, to fall right back to sleep whilst somehow taking up almost all of my bed space.

So then there’s more waking up. E has been known in the past to wake up gently, as intended, but for the past month or so, the auditory stimulation hasn’t worked. I go in, talk to him, scratch his back, literally pick out his clothes for him and put them on his bunk so it’s easier for him… For AB I also scratch her back, kiss her cheek, carry her to the bathroom…

Ach. Written out like this, all the tender enablement is a bit nauseating. I can understand if at this point you’re like, Just rip their covers off already!! Or maybe just sneak headphones onto their ears and blast Van Halen without warning.

This kindly moderation would all be worth it if they then got up, sunny-faced, and put their clothes on with something resembling promptness. Instead, this is the part where they sit there like tiny stoned college kids: AB will open a drawer and just stare into it. E will sit there indefinitely with his shirt off and his splendid bedhead belying his torpor.

In the old days of 2017, this would be the point where I would start to get agitated and my voice would begin to sound stressed. For E, the second he detects annoyance in my voice, he feels entitled to go, “OHKAYEEEE!!” like I screamed at him. Which does nothing to lessen my annoyance, obvs. By the time we would get downstairs,  I’d be fully frustrated, so when the kids would start to bicker at the breakfast bar I’d just be like “NO WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.” And when breakfast was done and the slo-mo would start all over for getting backpacks and snow gear on… Blahhh. You can imagine the tears, the stomping, etc.

The kicker is, I know that when I get mad, I escalate the kids. I’m the adult. I should be able to fix this. Reflecting on the whole situation over the holidays, I said to myself, This is why I’m part-time. I am voluntarily making less money so that I have time to do things like take my children to school. If we’re late, so what? We’re late. It’s fine. Worth it to have a calm morning.

And it TOTALLY IS. The first four mornings of last week, I would say, just once, “Okay. Well, I need you to get those clothes on if you’d like to be on time.” And if I saw our window of punctuality closing, I’d just be like, “We’ll be a little late, okay?” And if I kept calm, the kids kept calm, in almost every case. This is in spite of it being the first week back after winter break, and the kids being overall quite tired. We were late twice out of four days, but whatevs!

Honestly, the rest of my life was better for it. I was calmer with my students, so they were calmer with me, and I had more energy after school to be nice to my family. I enjoyed them all way more.

Sadly, on Friday my calm ran out. Tiredness of kids + not a great sleep on my part  + not a great time fo the month for me + the voice in the back of my head saying We’ve been late twice already this week = I started to sound like my bad old self. So E started to sound like his bad old self. Suddenly AB was getting  tearful about something too. How quickly it all unravels. It wasn’t disastrous… I was just thoroughly disappointed in myself. And sure enough, we were late again.

exploding-kittens

We’ve had a nice weekend. Our Friday night was Gryffindor Night, which was awesome and I’ll tell you about that later. We have also cleaned house – all of us – and played lots of Exploding Kittens as a family this weekend, which feels very apropos in terms of the kinds of tempers we have and the abruptness with which they detonate, AND is very fun as a silly game we can all play and not stress about losing.

So tomorrow morning, Paragon of Calm will make a comeback. Now with even more panache.

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Stress Is Just How We Roll These Days

Doesn’t it seem like stress has been trending for too long? Like it’s a bit ridiculous that feeling hassled is not reserved for crunch times – that instead it’s just a way of life?

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This picture AB drew really captures how I’ve been feeling.

Last week a colleague, who also happens to be my friend and neighbour, asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’re just barely scraping by?”

Fervently, I replied, “Ohmigosh, of course. ALL THE TIME.”

This friend of mine is one of the nicest people you can imagine, smart and hardworking and very compassionate. I’ve never seen her seem anything but serene, even when we’re talking about stress.

We were discussing the ever-tricky work/life balance. She told me about a recent incident in which she’d felt unreliable because she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d completed a particular task. This is something I can definitely relate to. The not-so-shining moments of things falling through cracks because… there’s JUST TOO MUCH.

It was, I think, surprising and comforting to both of us that we feel the same about this. I guess we’re both good at seeming fine when we’re not actually that fine.

The truth was, the previous week had been one in which my undulating perspective was rather more vertiginous than usual. My 39th birthday was on the Thursday, followed by Mother’s Day on the Sunday. My birthday was great – I felt loved and celebrated and worthy.

Things fell abruptly into focus for me on Mother’s Day. It was a lovely morning, with pancakes made by my Hubbibi and sweet little cards from my kids. In spite of this, a few hours later I was grouchy and yelly with those same kids. The little darlings had not taken the bait when I told them my dearest Mother’s Day wish was for them to clean their room and/or the playroom. In fact, both kids have arrived at a stage where they feel entitled to A) not do what I ask, like AT ALL, and B) give me attitude about it.  And I just felt bitter.

We did clean up, but I basically had to threaten them. Great mothering right there. (And great childing too.)

The day got better later on, and everything was fine. It’s just that it happens more than I’d like that I get grumpy and raise my voice – and I hate that. I feel myself using guilt as leverage, and I hate that too. But why don’t they see how much work it is to parent them? Why don’t they want to help out? DON’T THEY LOVE ME??

That’s when I start to fret. Are my kids just lazy and selfish? Is it permanent? And if they are, isn’t it muchly my fault, as their mother?

Sean says I worry too much, and I’m sure he’s right. He generally doesn’t worry – but I have no idea how such non-worrying is accomplished. Case in point…

Examples of Things I Worry About

  • My kids are spoiled beyond all help
  • My house will never be clean or even properly tidy for more than 17 minutes
  • I’m not a good mom
  • I’m not a properly nice person anymore either – I’ve just got people fooled
  • Teaching is not my true calling
  • My “undulating perspective” is actually something wrong with my brain
  • My energy oscillation is actually some weird disease
  • The frequent headaches I get are actually cancer
  • E’s melodrama is actually depression
  • AB will grow up to be a Mean Girl
  • My husband will die young and I’ll be a single mom
  • My mind is disorganized because of all the thoughts that want to much to be written down but can’t be because NO TIME
  • Work/life balance is a pipe dream. Period.

I swear I’ve never been a pessimist or a hypochondriac. I never used to stress out about little things, and it used to take a lot more for me to lose my temper. If I remember correctly, I did not used to be bitchy.

*Sigh.*

When I think about it at this moment, with the kids asleep in bed (no doubt looking like gorgeous innocent cherubs), I can convince myself that it’s probably not that they’re inherently or permanently lazy/selfish/evil. It’s probably just that they’re four and almost-eight, and they’re figuring out what they can get away with.

And maybe I’m not done for, either. I often have those moments where I look at my healthy children, my brick of a husband, my incredibly comfortable bed, my pretty house, my friendly neighbourhood filled with trees… And I’m completely dazzled by my good fortune. I can hardly believe I get to live this life.

As long as I keep coming back to some semblance of equanimity once in a while, I’m sure I’ll be fine. And get some fracking sleep, for crying out loud. (Or for not crying out loud. One would hope.)

Tomorrow I leave for OELC for a week. Experience tells me it will be one of the busiest and most exciting weeks of my year. It does include stress – but it’s all temporary, and all focused in one place. It’s a place to get centred and come back tired but refreshed. And by then it’s June! So EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE PEACHY.

That’s the plan.

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Things to be grateful for when travelling with small children

Travelling with little kids is tough and stressful. As such, it would be easy to kvetch about the monkey wrench in our travels to my cousin’s wedding in New Mexico last weekend – the storm that delayed our flight from Buffalo, meaning the folks at Washington Dulles didn’t have our gate ready, meaning we missed our connecting flight to Albuquerque, meaning we had to stay overnight outside DC and had to take an itinerary “through” L.A. to get to NM the next morning, meaning we missed almost a whole day we could have spent relaxing with family members we see far too rarely. I can’t deny it was a shame that we missed that time.

But just prior to our departure, I had finished reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. It’s about a young girl who escapes to the U.K. from war-torn Nigeria and then spends two years in a refugee detention centre and then escapes from there illegally (don’t worry, I’m not telling you anything you don’t find out straightaway). Great read, and it really puts things in perspective. It reminded me how easy things like travelling are for me, being legal, Canadian, white, financially stable, etc.

And overall, even with the glitch, things went well.

First, a few Things I Was Grateful to Have Along:

  • Travelling companions. On the way to New Mexico, our kids had two aunts, two uncles, and two grandparents around in addition to their parents. This made unexpected waiting times in airports MUCH more manageable.
  • The Ergo (baby carrier). Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it. Baby AB napped in it many times in five days, and even when she was awake, it would calm her down to be in it. LOVE our Ergo.
  • Baby Mum-Mums. I can’t deny they work in a (hungry/fussy/wiggly) pinch: distracting and edible. And she’s neater with them these days.
  • Other airplane snacks. The penguin crackers, trail mix, etc. ended up being even more important than we’d predicted, since we had that much extra airplane and airport time. And a very picky four-year-old.
  • The iPad. E spent a rather excessive amount of time playing Angry Birds, but it sure smooths things out when you have an immediate activity that requires no other equipment (doesn’t even need a tray table) and completely engages the little guy.
  • The regular pad. I am very much torn when it comes to screen time for kids (but that’s another blog post). Suffice it to say, I was happy E spent some time with his notepad and coloured pencils too.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For During Travel:

  • My parents – and grandparents – who made it affordable for us all to come.
  • My dad, who organized and booked almost everything, figuring out best options for hotel and car rental, and braving the cruel arbitrarity of flight prices.
  • Nice border guards – in both directions – who wished us well as we crossed with zero hassle.
  • E’s enthusiasm, which really kept us all going when things went wrong. He was a total trouper, despite a couple of short nights in a row. It’s hard to be too upset when your preschooler is hopping with joy at the moving walkways, escalators, shuttle trains, and – oh yeah – airplane rides. All the airports’ decorative elements (art, rainbow walkways, light-up floors) are worth double with a little kid. Even at 11 p.m. on the bus to the hotel in DC, when Baby AB had finally had enough and indulged in a good howl, E was comforting her: “Isn’t this amazing??” When we finally arrived in NM, having spent most of two days doing the plane thing, he said, “I wanna go on some more planes!!” He is now an expert. He can talk with ease about departure gates, and refers to planes as “aircraft”.
  • The charismatic rationality and politesse of Uncle D, who, when we missed our flight, decided not to bother with the giant grumpy Customer Service line, and instead charmed vouchers for food and hotel from some staff at the United gate. (They were going to say it was on us, because it was a weather-related delay, but he diplomatically pointed out that if our gate had been ready, we could have made our connection.)
  • A voucher-funded cheese quesadilla at Fuddrucker’s, served by a sympathetic staffperson even though it was closing time.
  • A voucher-funded stay at the Westin Washington Dulles, a seriously swanky hotel with pillow-top mattresses, leaf-shaped soap, and lovely-smelling lotion that lasted me for the rest of the trip. Even if we only had about seven hours to enjoy the place.
  • My endearing baby. She was a trouper too, beyond all expectations. On every flight, people commented on how well she did. You know how air travel can be a tricky-yet-boring exercise in pretending other people aren’t in your personal space? Impossible with a baby. She stared directly into the eyes of my seat-mates, sometimes even reaching out to caress or whack their arms, and they all succumbed. Don’t know how I got so lucky.
  • The Magic Boobs. They helped immeasurably with avoiding screaming-baby syndrome. TOTALLY worth any awkwardness at whipping out the nipple in very close proximity to strangers.
  • The Sky Mall guy. I think Baby AB got a crush on him. She told him “Hi!” a bunch of times, and then there was some pretty heavy licking. She learned to look for him in the seat pocket on every flight.

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  • The kindness of strangers. The lady who let Baby AB play with her bracelets, the young woman who held her when I needed to find something in my bag, the different men who brought out their inner dads to flirt with her, the guy who changed seats so our family could sit together, the flight attendant who chatted with E and gave him a set of gold pin-on wings to match the blue ones Grammie gave him. People were really, really nice. It made everything easier. (MOTL.)
  • The vigilance of Donna, sole flight attendant on the little plane between L.A. and Albuquerque. Thanks to her, we now know ALL the rules: no carry-on straps in the vicinity of feet for takeoff/landing (lest they become entangled during taxiing); baby cannot be in “harness” during takeoff/landing; if you’re at the front of the plane with no seat in front of you for stowing things, overhead bins are the only option; baby must be in (the lap of the person in) a certain seat because of something about oxygen masks, and if you forget and start to pass the wiggly thing across the aisle to Daddy to give your arms a break, DONNA WILL REMIND YOU. NO BABY-PASSING. We were SO SAFE on that flight.
  • Arriving at our destination! Especially after the slick L.A. airport, it was a relief to get to Albuquerque where everything’s all granoladobe. (That’s my new term for the appealing mix of New Mexican and hippie culture.)
  • On the way home, getting to see Kevin McDonald (of Kids in the Hall fame) was a thrill for us – no question, it was DEFINITELY him – even though we couldn’t get up the gumption to talk to him. Shoulda put Baby AB on the job.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For:

  • Wonderful extended family – both genetically related and assimilated – who make it worth the trip. You are fantastic and I love you all.
  • Staying at the America’s Best Value Inn (four stars) on Alameda, not the one on Paisano that Sean and I found first (three stars and quite sketchy).
  • Not being actually sick. I felt really ill on the Saturday morning and had visions of trying to sit through a wedding with a stomach bug, but then I had a nap with my daughter and felt all better. It must have been exhaustion/stress.
  • Hot tub and swimming pool at the hotel, where we all got to witness Baby AB going French.
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Stylin’ baby suit.
  • Bugs Bunny, for giving cachet to the concept of making a wrong turn in Albuquerque. Because by Jove, every time we went anywhere, that’s what we did. (Well, almost every time.)
bugs bunny albuquerque
Yep, you shoulda.
  • Albuquerque’s charm. It’s not like I know the city well, but I was immediately captivated by the colourfulness. From parking meters to license plates to whole buildings, stuff is painted fun colours. (Or colors. Or colores, I suppose.) Then there’s all the adobe and an obvious effort to make things harmonize with the New Mexican style. Also, having lots of Spanish names to say is fun.
albuquerque rainbow fence
Rainbow fence (photo from flickerhivemind.net) that made me think of popsicles, obviously.
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You think it’s someone’s living room… but it’s our gate at Albuquerque Sunport.
  • New Mexican food! And Old Mexican food. I love real corn tortillas and pinto beans and red chili sauce and cheese. We got a ton of delicious, authentic food from El Modelo and now I really wish we had such a place where I live.

    IMG_4261
    What to look at while waiting for Mexican food.

 

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Chilies and ivy at El Pinto – a very pretty restaurant with apparently so-so food that we passed up in favour of El Modelo.
  • A lovely wedding. Even though it’s harder to relax and enjoy an evening celebration with (jet-lagged) kids in tow, it was a moving ceremony, with a personal blessing from each of the parents, followed by original, individual vows from bride and groom – each of whom has a wonderful way with words. They are clearly an amazing team. Plus, thumbs up for the delicious dinner, beautiful private space, decorations, dancing… And the rain even held off.
  • The seemingly effortless friendship between E and his birthday-buddy cousin (their birthdays are one day apart, and this year she happened to be exactly twice his age): tag, hide-and-seek, exploring, pillow fights, and a trip to the zoo = best buds.
  • A bit of quality time with some of the best people I know, whom I am proud to call family. Especially great getting to know (a little) the bride, the groom-to-be in the upcoming September wedding, and the mama of the next baby cousin-to-be. Extraordinary people.
  • My amazing husband. This trip was a LOT of stress and hassle to deal with for such a brief weekend. Wonderful as my family is, he is not as dearly attached to them as I am. He never complained about the delays, the heat, the things that didn’t go right… On Father’s Day, he stayed behind with the napping baby so I could hang out with my relatives at the post-wedding brunch, and then he took his son to the zoo (which was apparently fascinating but also sweltering and very crowded). He’s a fantastic dad.
What a guy.
What a guy.

BTW. Baby AB cut her sixth tooth on the trip, AND invented a new smile. She is now favouring what I call “the squinchy smile”. She practiced it on a young guy eating a hot pretzel in the Houston Airport, and as he grinned back he commented, “That’ll make your day.” Then she used it on a twentysomething couple at our gate in Chicago, and she and the guy ended up making all kinds of cool tongue-faces at each other. (She has good taste. He looked remarkably like Ryan Gosling.) ALSO, the clan taught her to say “Bye-bye.” It’s winsome.

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