I turned 32 last Saturday and by the time I got up, my Facebook page was a buzz of activity. Fifty friends and family had posted on my wall to say happy birthday. They shared links of serenading unicorns, or made comments about how old I was. Every year it’s a more interactive experience. It’s always fun and exciting, and as my list of friends grows, so does the amount of comments. Some of these people I haven’t seen since high school, and some of them I don’t even remember who they are anymore. But it always feels nice to wake up to an explosion of Facebook birthday love.
And there was a time, probably two or three years ago, that my birthday was a mix of Facebook comments, phone calls, and text messages. But this year, it really was just Facebook. My mother called, like she always does. And so did my sister. I got texts from a couple old and dear friends. But not much more. At least not what it used to be before Facebook became a real thing. I suppose, back then, it seemed like my birthday was a little more personal in ways I can’t really define. I didn’t get nearly as many birthday wishes, that is for sure, but the ones I did receive felt more substantial because they revolved around actual conversations.
Something similar happened when my third child, Aspen, was born. She is three months old now. We didn’t have one visitor outside of Mel’s mother who flew in to help with the baby. We also had one, maybe two, phone calls.
Contrast this with when my daughter was born, and we had so many I couldn’t count. We had phone calls and flowers. Lots of well wishing. It was the same with our son, seven years ago. But this time, with Aspen, my Facebook was a buzz of activity and messages. So many that I got distracted. I wasn’t focusing on what was happening in hospital. I wasn’t paying attention to the moment.
Now I must say, there were different reasons for our lack of visitors with this last birth. Mel delivered in a hospital that was a 30 minutes from where we lived. We live in Oregon now, and this was also our first baby delivered outside of Utah, so we didn’t have any family nearby. But most of my family, my sister and brother included, contacted me through Facebook to say congrats, and I will admit, I’d rather have received a phone call. It just seems more personal. But I suppose a congratulations through Facebook is better than no congratulations at all.
At one point, during our second day in the hospital, Aspen, our new baby, was asleep in the crib, Mel was in the hospital bed with her tablet, and I was in a chair with my laptop.
“I’m having a difficult time keeping up with all this,” I said.
Mel laughed and said, “Yeah. Me, too.”
“Let’s just turn it off,” I said. “I mean, it’s great that all these people are contacting us, but I’d like to spend time with you. I’d like to get to know that baby a little better.”
So we did. We shut it all out. We turned off our computers and tablets, and we enjoyed our time as a family. We didn’t have smart phones at the time, so we left our dumb phones on just in case someone called, but I don’t think anyone did outside of Mel’s mother who was caring for our other two kids.
And you know what happened? We slept. We held the baby. We talked to each other. I cared for Mel and Aspen. We connected like two parents should with their child. Outside of nurses and doctors coming in to chat, we had no distractions.
It really was wonderful for it to be just us. I didn’t expect this to happen. In fact, in the moment, I was a little bothered by the fact that no one visited us, and very few called. But when I think back on that moment, I realize that Facebook is asynchronous. It is a world that can be turned off, and when I turned it back on, it will still be there. But what was happening in the delivery room, in the hospital, those first few amazing and stressful days in the hospital cannot be turned off and turned back on. They can be missed.
Flash forward again, to my birthday. Mel, Tristan, Norah, Aspen, and I were out to dinner. By now I’d bought a smart phone, and I spent a good majority of the time looking at the birthday wishes streaming in. Ever since I got a smartphone, I’ve turned into one of those parents holding a child with my right, and checking my social network with my left. The kind of parent I used to make snarky comments about.
Mel grunted at me as I was looking down at my phone. Her face was stern. It said, “You are missing this.”
And in that moment, I thought about spending time with Aspen in the hospital. How wonderful it was to just turn it off, and be there. And how cool it is to have that power. So I did. I turned my phone off and I focused on my kids.
Social networking has really changed the dynamics of communication. It’s made it possible for me to connect with friends and family who 10 years earlier I’d probably have lost contact with. It has become socially acceptable to send someone a Facebook message rather than a phone call or a visit. I’m still not sure how I feel about that one. But it is what it is.
I don’t want this to be a finger-wagging sermon. I’m as guilty as anyone for letting social networking be a distraction. I am a self-diagnosed Facebook addict. Just a few days ago was helping Norah learn how to ride her bike with my left hand, and checking Facebook with my right. But what I am saying is that I’m trying to realize the power that I have. Social networking really has placed the ball in my court. I have the power to shut all communication off and focus on my kids. That’s really cool. Next time I’m at the park, or in the delivery room, or it’s a birthday or some other special occasion, I’m going to think about that. The next time I have my child in one hand, and my phone in the other, I plan to take a moment and ask, am I missing the now for something I can come back to later?
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