Ending the Stoplight Excuses

The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me close to the parent and person I want to be.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me close to the parent and person I want to be.

I could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.

I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.

I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.

I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within feet of your car door.

My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so damn careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.

I’d like to say that incident changed me.

And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.

[Read more…]

How To Miss a Childhood: Update

"The best inheritance a parent can give to his children is a few minutes of their time each day." ~M. Grundler

On May 10th an employee from the technical support department of my website’s host server contacted me.

His words were unforgettable.

“Miss Stafford, either your site is under attack or something on there is going ‘viral.’”

He added that if the traffic to my site continued at this rate, we’d have to make changes.

I couldn’t help but smile through my tears. I knew my site was not under attack … I knew something quite wonderful was happening. “How To Miss a Childhood” was being shared all over the world …  and hundreds of thousands people were coming to my site to read it.

In the days and weeks following the publication of that post, the traffic did not let up and changes did, in fact, have to be made. But I am not going to talk about the changes made to my site. I am going to talk about the changes made in the hearts and lives of those who read the post. Their stories keep coming. Every day for the past 60 days, their stories just keep coming.

[Read more…]

The Children Have Spoken

Today is my birthday. It is the big 4-0. A month ago, I began writing a post in anticipation of this day. It was going to be the most open, authentic, and inspiring post I had written in my life. I couldn’t wait to post it. But then something happened. A message fell right into my lap … no, actually, it slapped me painfully across the face. And I knew THIS, THIS was meant to be my 40th birthday post.

“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.” –Carl Sandburg

It is my 40th birthday, and this is not the post I had planned for today. But this message is far more important than anything I could ever say about my own life.

Trust me on this.

[Read more…]

Thanks To The Guy Who Put Down The Phone

Even if you're not a dad, this is a message you can't afford to ignore.

After spending the morning with my daughter on a Christmas tree farm exactly one year ago, I came home and wrote, “Dear Distracted Dad.” It has since become one of my most widely read and shared blog posts.

But here’s the thing …

I’m not sure I would even notice “Distracted Dad” if I were to see him at a Christmas tree farm today.

Because as I have grown in my journey to “let go” of distraction, my focus has shifted.

Now instead of noticing the people with their eyes and ears Superglued to their electronic devices, I tune into the “Hands Free“people around me, particularly the dads.

I am greatly inspired by the men I notice in public settings who are making the choice to be fully present in the company of their children and significant others.

Furthermore, I am profoundly moved when a man takes the time to express appreciation for the messages I write, like this sentiment from Chris following the emotionally-charged post, “Now Is The Time:”
[Read more…]

On The Other Side of Distraction

While we are busy looking at our screens, we may be missing something.

*Names has been changed to protect privacy of these individuals

I recently had the opportunity to speak to the parent of one of my former students. This father, whose children are now all in college, was very supportive of my Hands Free initiative and journey.

I could hear the passion in his voice when he spoke about the cost of distraction. I had a feeling the excessive use of technology in today’s society had hit a nerve with this man.

It didn’t take long for him to explain.

John* informed me he had recently attended a welcome back party for a family member who had served as a missionary overseas for two years. Anna* had many compelling stories of survival, faith, and hope to share with her family and friends.

Then his voice changed; each word he spoke was coated in anger and disgust as he said, “But no one heard a word Anna said. Everyone was so preoccupied with their damn phones.”

This fifty-five-year-old man found phone usage at the dinner table foreign to his upbringing and simply downright rude.

“What is wrong with people? What is so important that they must look at their phone every two minutes?” he asked, not expecting me to answer so much as join in agreement.

And then came the words that turned a little key inside my brain … a powerful key to being a little more present and a little more in tune with what is going on behind my phone or my computer …

“They missed everything; they missed how her eyes glistened when she told of the orphaned children living on the streets; they missed how she lit up when describing how she sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and held an orphaned child. They missed every single thing this remarkable young woman had to say that night.”

I could not find the words to respond, yet somehow I knew there was more to come.

With quiet, defeated despair, John asked, “Is this what the world has come to? Have the living, breathing people in our midst become invisible when in the presence of a phone?”

John’s unforgettable words have been plastered like anti-distraction wallpaper to the inside of my brain. Since our conversation, a day has not gone by where I do not ask myself,  “What am I missing right now?”

Because I believe in being real in this space that I call Hands Free Mama, I will admit my distraction truths …

My electronic “addiction” is not my phone; however, I am addicted to Microsoft Word. (I live an exciting life, I know.) Pretty much any document I am currently writing about on my computer for my book or my blog becomes my obsession.

My time to write is limited, so I find myself “stealing moments” to write.  This means when my children are contently playing and I am not needed, I will open up the laptop to squeeze in a quick revision or add a paragraph to a developing article.

While there is nothing wrong with engaging in my passion, which thankfully has now become my job, I have set a designated time each day to do it. And so when my writing takes over my mind and focus when I should be fully present with my family, I see this as a problem. I know the difference between being physically present and really showing upand more importantly, my children and my spouse do, too.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

Yet, lately, my Hands Free inner voice has made significant progress on releasing the damaging grip distraction has on me.

It happens when I hear my husband and children laughing hysterically from the next room.

It happens when I hear my five-year-old “reading” a book aloud with dramatic inflection from the kitchen.

It happens when I hear my eight-year-old bouncing tennis balls against the garage door.

It happens when I hear my daughters singing, “Pumped Up Kicks” through the open garage door as they ride their scooters in the driveway.

These happenings cause my head to lift up from my distraction and ask, “What am I missing right now?”

The answer?

I am missing life.

I am missing the parts of life that really matter.

This is exactly what happened when my parents visited our home recently. We had just purchased an old-fashioned homemade ice cream maker, just like the one my dad used on hot summer days in Iowa when I was a girl.

On this particular day, my husband made his grandmother’s homemade ice cream recipe and my dad kindly offered to man the ice cream maker, just like he did 40 years ago.

I had just returned from several days of travel, so I was hastily trying to catch up on my writing; I was locked away in my bedroom pecking away on the keyboard.

While the ice cream maker rhythmically churned, I could hear my dad’s deep, warm voice intertwined with my daughter’s sweet, high-pitched voice. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I could tell it was happy talk.

This time, I didn’t even need to ask myself, “What are you missing?”

I knew. I knew.

I slammed the computer shut and ran; I literally ran through the house to the back porch as if the grill was shooting fiery flames and I held the fire extinguisher.

All I could think was that this could be the last time I ever see my seventy-three-year-old dad make homemade ice cream. The thought virtually made me want to hug him and never let him go.

I burst through the screen door to see my dad instructing my daughter gently and patiently, just like he did when I was a little girl.

My daughter soon accomplished her part of the churning process and was off to play in the backyard with her little sister. That left my parents and me on the back deck enjoying the last warm evening of fall. We engaged in twenty minutes of heavenly uninterrupted conversation, a rare occurrence with two young children in the house.

I was fully aware that if I had stayed planted behind the screen of my computer, I would have missed this once in a lifetime moment. Thank God, I didn’t.

I wish I could tell you that one year of living Hands Free means technology and other forms of distraction no longer tempt me.

But I can’t.

So instead, I choose to share my struggles. And last week one of my dear readers reminded me why.

She informed me that my post, “The Art of Showing Up,” prompted her make a vow that she would no longer use her phone during her daughter’s volleyball games.

So last week, with her phone safely zipped inside her purse, she saw every play and every expression on her child’s face.  She was surprised and thrilled about the number of times her daughter looked up in the stands and smiled at her throughout the game.

This mother was so excited and overjoyed by the result of putting away the phone and truly “showing up” for her daughter that she let everyone around her know she would no longer be using her phone during her daughter’s game.

Not only did she want her friends to hold her accountable, she thought by spreading the message to others, someone else might reap the benefits, too.

Her exact words to me were: “I didn’t know what I was missing; now I do.”

I instantly thought of my friend John and the missionary who was completely ignored by her dinner guests staring at the screens of their phones.

I wonder what would have happened if just one person at that dinner party had announced, “I’m putting away my phone for the evening because I don’t want to miss what Anna has to say.”

I truly believe things would have been different that night.

Sometimes simply sharing your own newfound awareness becomes a life-changing gift that has an unending impact.

And if you simply look around in any public setting, you will notice that this type of “distraction awareness” (electronic awareness) seems to be needed.

Because in today’s society it has become perfectly acceptable to look at a screen while you eat dinner at a restaurant, while you go through the check-out line at the store, while your child engages in sports or plays at the park, even while someone you love stands right in front of you trying to be seen and heard.

And as this constant phone usage behavior has become so “normal” and so commonplace in our society, one major detail has been lost along the way.

Life continues to go on behind that screen.

Conversations, expressions, experiences, and beautiful emotions continue to happen on the other side of that device.

And while you are looking at the screen, you are missing it.

So why not put away the phone when you are with your friends or family? Why not close that computer for a bit?

Look up. Look up.

There’s life on the other side of distraction.

Look up before the person on the other side decides you have missed entirely too much to ever catch up.

*******************************************************************

Do you have difficulty tearing yourself away from an electronic device when you should be interacting with the people around you?

In a New York Times article entitled, “You Love Your iPhone Literally,” author Martin Lindstrom states, “ Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive.” You can read the thought-provoking article here.

Instead of allowing technology to control you, take control of technology. Set aside a period of time today where your electronic device is turned off or put out of sight. Whatever happens on your phone or computer in that period of time can wait. Interaction with the people you love can’t wait and shouldn’t have to wait for at least one designated period of time each day.

And when you turn off your phone, let your significant other, friend, co-worker, or child know what you are doing. Give the gift of “distraction awareness.” You just might encourage someone else to look up and see the beautiful happenings going on behind the screen.

*For further help on curbing your technology usage, here are two informative articles:

“Coping With Cell Phone Addiction”

“Facebook Syndrome: 8 Ways to Beat Your Facebook Addiction”


The Truth About Texting

You just never know what might be coming around the bend.

*The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department estimates 400 people will die in traffic accidents this Labor Day holiday period, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, and will end at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5. Together we can reduce that tragic number simply by reading and sharing this message.

I recently found myself frantically pulling off to the side of the road, steadying my trembling hands, and taking deep calming breaths until my heart regained normal pace.

Never had I felt so certain I was about to die than I had in the two terrifying minutes prior to pulling my car to safety.

On a winding country road, just behind my neighborhood, a young man driving an old Chevy El Camino suddenly appeared around the bend traveling at a dangerous speed.

For a brief, yet agonizing period of time, I watched him lose control of his car and veer directly into my lane head-on.

I saw every agonizing detail of his pale white face.

And just below his chin, atop his steering wheel, nestled comfortably between his two hands was his phone.

While my life flashed before me, all I could think was this: Oh how tragic; the woman who writes about the cost of distraction was killed by a man who was texting and driving.

By the grace of God, the driver regained control and served back into his lane as my vehicle kicked up rocks along the roadside until it slowed to a stop.

I could barely finish my prayer of gratitude, when I began spitting words of raging anger at this young man. He was now long gone, probably continuing to type with the same agile fingers and careless disregard for human life that he had before he came around the curve.

I am not a violent person; I do not welcome confrontation, but how I wanted to grab him by the front of his shirt and shake him viciously until he begged for mercy. How dare you! How dare you value a stupid text message over my life?

Those words sounded vaguely familiar. I had spoken them somewhere before.

Oh, that’s right. To Myself.

I believe in being real in this space I call Hands Free Mama. For it is through my sharing that others can speak similar truths in your own lives. And through these truths we can begin to truly grasp what matters.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

While drowning in my overcommitted, highly distracted life approximately two years ago, I never indulged in texting while driving. However, I did allow myself to check email at stoplights when I was driving alone.

I convinced myself that it wasn’t like texting at all; I assured myself I was 100% focused on driving when the light turned green.

What a joke.

One day, as I was reading an email at a stoplight, the car in the left lane hit the gas and entered the intersection. Because I was multi-tasking, I carelessly followed his lead and began pressing on the gas. Suddenly I realized the car next to me had the green left turn arrow; my light was still red.

In that moment, I realized what I was doing was stupid. I realized what I was doing was wreckless, irresponsible, and risky. I realized this “innocent” little habit of mine, that I thought wasn’t so bad, could cost my children their mother.

I reprimanded myself the way I would have liked to scream at the texting driver who almost killed me:

How can you even think that reading a trivial email is worth risking the presence of a mother in your daughters’ lives?

Can you imagine whoever would have to break this news to your husband and parents? “I’m sorry, but Rachel was checking email on her phone and accidently drove into the middle of an intersection while the light was red.”

Seriously? You are an educated woman. What the hell is wrong with you????

It was the wake up call I needed; and I only needed it once. Thank God, I grasped it before I lived (or died) to regret that senseless habit.

I think of that decision every time my daughters and I make our 20-minute trip three times a week to my oldest daughter’s swim practice.

With my phone turned completely off, conversation flows freely. The three of us cover topics from Halloween costumes to endangered animals … from school yard bullies to American Girl dolls … from what it means to go to jail to what it means to go to heaven.

I hear my children’s dreams, their fears, their laughter and yes, sometimes their fighting. I am privy to the stories and questions of their five and eight-year-old minds and hearts, stories I wouldn’t hear (and may not even occur) if I were tied to my phone.

You see, my friends, here’s the best news of all …

When you turn off the phone and begin to connect with what really matters, like the dreams in your own head, and the conversations of the people in the backseat, you don’t even miss your phone.

This coming from someone who, two years ago, held on to her phone like an added extremity. Now there are occasions when I accidently leave home without it because my phone is not what I am connected to anymore.

And if your personal safety doesn’t provide enough motivation to abstain from your phone while driving, consider the fact that your driving habits greatly affect the driving habits of your children.

The following excerpt is taken from an article in the Washington Post entitled, “U.S. teens report ‘frightening’ levels of texting while driving.

“At a conference that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened to discuss distracted driving, he urged parents to set an example for their children by paying attention to the road.

But, the report says, ‘the frequency of teens reporting parent cellphone use behind the wheel in our focus groups was striking, and suggested, in many cases, that texting while driving is a family affair.’”

As I write today’s entry, I can’t help but think about the young mother who was texting while driving on the interstate with her ten-month-old baby in the car. Tragically, neither one survived the crash that resulted from a brief texting conversation. I cannot begin to imagine the pain their family is enduring.

Perhaps we can honor their memory by sharing today’s post with as many people as we know.

Perhaps someone will read this and decide to put the phone in the glove box while driving. And perhaps in that one simple action, this person will experience a conversation, a song, or an inner thought that will remind him or her just how beautiful … and how fragile … life truly is.

Maybe it will be someone you love.

Maybe it will even be you.

******************************************************

The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department has declared Labor Day weekend as one of the busiest and deadliest times on U.S. roadways. It has been estimated that 400 people will die in traffic accidents during this Labor Day holiday period.

Because nearly one in four crashes involve cell phone use, the National Safety Council suggests the following, if tempted to use a cell phone when driving:

  • Change your voicemail greeting to indicate you are driving and will call back when safely parked.
  • Put your phone in your trunk or glove box.
  • Turn your phone on “silent.”
  • If you need to contact someone, pull over to a safe location and put your vehicle in “Park” before dialing.

And with your phone out of reach, may I suggest:

  • Conversing with someone who is riding with you.
  • Playing music and singing your heart out.
  • Cherishing a moment of complete silence.
  • Whispering prayers of gratitude.
  • Dreaming a dream.
  • Making a wish.
  • Simply feeling alive.

Let Labor Day weekend be a turning point in your life; let it be the day you put the phone away while driving.

The most meaningful connection is not found in a phone. It is either along side you or within you; all you have to do is grasp it.

*I urge you to click the “share” button below and send this to as many people as you can. Perhaps you could be the reason someone lives to see Tuesday, Sept. 6th and all the days thereafter.

Give It A Rest

The birthday of the United States (a.k.a. The Fourth of July) is right around the corner.

Americans will spend the day celebrating our independence with fireworks, cookouts, and being with family.

Yet, most of us will still be dependent…and not just a little dependent…very dependent.

I am referring to our dependence on technology, specifically the phone and the Internet.

Being “connected” (via our phone or computer) has become our number one source of stimulation, yet it is also our downtime.

Being “connected” is our work, yet it is also our play.

Being “connected” is how we use time more efficiently, yet it is also how we kill time.

Being “connected” is how we associate, yet it is also how we detach.

Being “connected” is just a way of life…like eating and sleeping; it’s just what we do.

Dependent?

Oh yes, indeed.

Now at this point, some of you are probably thinking, “I know people like that, but that is not me; I don’t have a problem with excessive use of my phone or the Internet.”

I ask that you continue reading, for three reasons:

1) On the Hands Free journey, there is always room for awareness.

2) On the Hands Free journey, there is always room for improvement.

3) On the Hands Free journey, you often discover you’ve been missing something.

Which is exactly what happened to me.

Despite the fact that I have spent almost an entire year reducing both external and internal distraction in my life, I was still missing a major piece of the grasping what matters puzzle.

And I didn’t even realize it.

This is my story…

Several weeks ago, my daughter got an aquarium for her eighth birthday. You might remember the post, “Tipping The Scales,” which explained how she chose to forgo gifts and a birthday party to become a full-fledged ichthyologist.

The aquarium was brought home a few days before her birthday and my husband was kind enough to assist her in the complicated set-up process.  Granted, my daughter had done extensive research about the fish themselves, but there were many things she had yet to learn about creating an environment that would keep them alive.

Yes, come to find out, fish are fragile; they die easily…especially in the first initial hours of their new tank.

Are you kidding me? All this trouble, and there’s still a 99% chance they will die.

The young salesman at the fish store was wealth of knowledge, but the more he talked about purifiers, filtration systems, bacteria, residual ozone, ammonia, and waste, the more I dreamed about the simplicity of a cute, cuddly cat.

As you can probably tell by now, I am not really into creatures that do not have fur. If I am going to put forth time, effort, and money into keeping something alive, I want to be able to hold it and cuddle with it. (Call me crazy.)

But my daughter had chosen fish with every ounce of her being. And through every Fish List she created and every fish fact she rattled off, I Saw Promise. I saw her grasping her own Hands Free version of “what really matters,” even though it was not my version of what really matters.

But that did not mean I was going to clean the aquarium.

In fact, I wasn’t really planning on having much to do with the fish at all. That was her dad’s “thing,” so I kindly stepped aside and allowed that “bonding experience” to occur.

So as Brad the Salesman continued to educate and suggest overpriced necessary aquarium supplies to the eager learners, my youngest daughter and I ventured to the other side of the pet store where animals with fur were located.

Three hours later we were home, standing in front of our very own aquarium. The water had been treated and the fish had been freed from their bags. (Don’t freak out, Fish Advocates of the World, this was after the bags had been properly “floated.”)

I really can’t tell you what was happening in the fish tank because my focus was on the faces of my children.

Pure and utter joy…

Delight and amazement…

Wonder and bliss…

Happiness…good old-fashioned happiness…

If grasping what really matters had an expression, I think it might look like this…

I was so grateful that I had not allowed my aversion of slimy, furless creatures to prevent this moment from occurring.

(But I still was not about to change my mind about cleaning the tank.)

Within a few hours of the aquarium coming to life, our leather ottoman had a new location. It was no longer situated in front of the chair with which it matched. It had a new home directly in front of the fish tank, which happened to be in the natural walkway of our family room. (I know because I tripped over it not once, but twice, while walking through late at night and have a large bruise on my shin to prove it.)

When I decided to leave the ottoman in its new location, I had a mini Hands Free celebration in my head. These are the moments when I know I am making progress in my effort to let go of distraction (and perfection) to grasp what really matters.

I refer to these momentous achievements as, “Hands Free Baby Steps.”

In years past, having the ottoman in front of the fish tank would have bugged me. I would have to push it back to its proper place time and time again. Now, it doesn’t bother me at all. OK, maybe a tiny bit. Well, let’s just say, I can live with it. And that’s progress.

But there’s more…

What is even greater progress than allowing the ottoman to remain in front of the fish tank is the fact that I find myself sitting there. A lot.

I find myself sitting there when the children are not even around.

I find myself sitting there when I have many things to do.

I find myself sitting there when I was originally on my way to doing something else.

I find myself JUST sitting there (and not because I am checking to make sure my “furless friends” are still alive, although I do that, too).

Just.Sitting.There.

Although this is my daughter, this is exactly what I look like when I am sitting, just sitting, at the fish tank.

That, my friends, is unusual behavior for me….sitting, that is.

And for the first time in probably several years, I am sitting there thinking about nothing. And when I mean nothing, I mean I am not thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, or two hours from now. There is no thought of the past or the future; I am in the NOW.

I am completely lost in the motion of the colorful fish, their tiny tails effortlessly flittering them from one side of the tank to the other.

And as they are suspended in serenity, I watch their little mouths open and their delicate gills flutter. How calming it is to watch fish breathe.

At times, I even find it hard to pull myself away from this captivating presentation of beautiful nothingness.

I felt the need to explain this atypical behavior to myself. I was convinced that I must have just embraced the fish (as much as you can embrace anything without fur, that is).

But then I was enlightened.

Several kind readers of my blog sent me a link to an article on CNN.com entitled, “Does life online give you ‘popcorn brain’?” by Elizabeth Cohen.

I would strongly suggest reading the whole article, but here I will share two lines that were particularly powerful for me:

“The worry is that life online is giving us what researcher, David Levy, calls ‘popcorn brain’ –– a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multitasking that we’re unfit for life offline, where things pop at a much slower pace.”

And then this line, “We can’t just sit quietly and wait for a bus, and that is too bad because our brains need that down time to rest, to process things.”

The article goes on to explain how long-term Internet usage can actual cause physical changes in the stucture of our brain. And not in a good way.

Oh my. Popcorn brain. That term is disturbing to me…but a frighteningly accurate description of my thinking process in my waking hours.

In my spare moments, which are far and few between, I do feel a need to check my phone or the Internet to see what’s been “happening” while I have been away.

And even though I have been putting forth more and more effort to live in the moment and focus the precious people that stand before me, my mind still has the tendency to wander, to be in “planning mode,” even when I am still.

So I ask myself: When DOES my brain have a chance to rest?

I could only think of one place.

When I am sitting in front of the fish tank.

No wonder I keep finding myself there.

After I had a few days to process the “Popcorn Brain” article and consider my severe negligence of resting my brain, I found myself thinking about my dad.

I still have vivid memories from my middle school years of my dad’s after work tradition.

Dad would change out of his office attire, then he would go to the formal sitting room of our house and lie down on the floor in complete silence. (The carpet was actually lime green, which alone is a fact not easily forgotten.)

My dad’s hands would rest upon his chest, yet he would not close his eyes. He would just simply lie there and think.

As an easily annoyed thirteen-year-old, I found his habit odd; I thought it was very weird. It looked like the most boring activity in the whole world. I honestly could not fathom what he could possibly be thinking about, and why he had been doing this for as long as I could remember.

Even now when he comes to visit my family for a weeklong stay, there is always a time period each afternoon where I see him sitting in a comfy chair on my back porch. I assume he is asleep, but he’s not. He is awake. His eyes are blinking. He is watching the trees in the ravine behind my house. He is listening to the birds perched upon the deck. And he has the most content, peaceful smile on his face, just like they did twenty years ago when he stretched himself out on the lime green carpet.

And now I know.

He’s resting his brain.

He’s processing life.

And I am not questioning that behavior anymore. You won’t catch me calling it “weird” or “strange.”

Because he is the only 72 year-old I know who looks like he’s younger than 50.

He is as sharp as a tack.

He is of healthy body, mind and soul.

He is focused, relaxed, and engaged.

He is “with it.”

And if there is anyone who has lived his life epitomizing the meaning of grasping what really matters, it is my dad.

There’s something to be said for being independent of technology, cell phone usage, daily distraction, and mental stimulation…even if it is only for a few minutes each day.

Giving your brain a rest creates a pause. And in that pause you can catch your breath.

Because we all know what happens we stop breathing.

We stop living.

Just ask a fish.

***************************************************

Are you interested in having some independence from distraction and mental stimulation? I am, too. As members of The Hands Free Revolution, let’s make Independence Day truly a day of independence.

This Fourth of July, turn off your computer, shut down your phone. Give your brain a rest.

How?

Feed fish in the lake…
Catch a lightning bug in your hand…
Stare into the light of a sparkler….
Look into the eyes of a loved one…
Watch a gorgeous sunset…
Feel the rain on your face…

Take a moment to rest your mind, body and soul. Because the most restorative breaths are the ones taken in the pauses of life.

*If you think this is a worthy message, please share it. In your hands, this message has the chance to make July 4th truly a day of independence for many.

A New Fan of Lazy

Little did I know the tremendous impact a green inner tube and tranquil waters would have on my life.

As one would imagine, my Hands Free mentality causes me to be overly aware of the usage of hand held communication devices.

What interests me most are not the times I see people using their phones, it’s the times I see people NOT using their phones.

Because when I am in a public setting and the vast majority of people are refraining from phone usage, I take notice. I examine that setting thoroughly because I think The Answer lies in there somewhere.

That is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I took my daughters to a water park while we were visiting out-of-state friends and family.

I now have a new appreciation for the word “lazy,” and realize “lazy” needs to be a part of my life more often!

This is my story…

While our trip back home included an extensive amount of quality time with family or friends, there was one day my daughters and I were totally on our own. I knew there was a fabulous water park in the area and considered taking them there.

Before I became Hands Free, the thought of the water park with two little girls by myself would have been too risky, too scary.

How would I be in two places at once? What if one girl wanted to go water slides and the other wanted to visit the kiddy splash area? Would I be able to keep an eye on my oldest if she wanted to swim in the deep end while my youngest wanted to stay in the shallow end? (You get the idea. And I won’t embarrass myself by listing every Water Park Worry that crossed my mind.)

But my Hands Free inner voice assured Type A Control Freak Rachel that not everything has to be planned out, not every adventure has to be illustrated in a ten-step diagram before arrival; I can simply let things happen. It Will Be OK. Really.

In fact, there is only one question my Hands Free inner voice asks to determine if an activity is worthwhile, which is: “Is this a chance to make a memory?”

If the answer is YES, then I convince myself to let go of worry, logistics, and all the “what ifs” and simply say YES to making a memory.

Well, needless to say, the day turned out beautifully. We took turns going to the places Big Sister wanted to go and the places Little Sister wanted to go.

We tried out all the different areas of the park, but we kept ending up in the same place, a place they both loved.

Time and time again, we found ourselves at The Lazy River.

(Who wouldn’t love something with a name like that?)

I was not expecting this.  I thought such an attraction would be too boring for my swim team loving seven-year-old. I thought it would be too intimidating for my just-learned-how-to-swim four-year-old. I thought one time around the tranquil river and the girls would be pulling my arm to the next adventure.

But as I have learned on this Hands Free journey, the best things come unexpectedly; the most meaningful things happen when you just allow to them unfold naturally.

At approximately the eighth time around The Lazy River circle, my daughters had it all figured out. They knew things worked best if Little Sister went in front, followed by Big Sister, and Mama took up the rear.  We held hands so that our rafts did not separate.

The smile on the face of my four-year-old was pure astonishment, total bliss. She spoke phrases I have never heard her say like, “This is fantastic,” and “I am just chilling out.”

My oldest daughter made up a game where we would fill out “cups” (hands) as we drifted beneath the flowing waterfall. (Oh yes, I got my hair wet. How could you even doubt me after my Mother’s Day post?)

We had lively conversation about the pace of the current, the breeze in the air, the perfectness of the day.

There were no fights, no sisterly squabbles. All was peaceful as we tilted back our heads back and basked in the sun along The Lazy River.

And then about round #54, my Hands Free radar went off. I was so intent on the beautiful things happening in my own trio of rafts I did not notice what was happening around me.

Then it hit me.

The Lazy River was one of those special, rare places…very few locations such as this exist in the world today.

The Lazy River had no phones.

Not one person held a communication device in his or her hand.

There was no texting, talking, ringing, buzzing, beeping, vibrating in The Lazy River.

And what I saw was a sight for tired, over-stimulated eyes:

I saw hand holding…teenage boys grasping tightly to stay together, families holding hands to keep their floats from drifting apart .

I saw human contact…babies lovingly held against their mothers’ chests, young children snuggled in their Daddy’s laps.

I saw conversation…two brothers talking sports, a mom and her children already discussing their return trip to the water park.

I saw relaxation…a weary dad drinking in the sunshine, normally hyperactive kids hypnotically silenced by the lull of the water.

I saw kindness…sweet grandmothers making small talk with my daughters, helpful rafters giving a push when needed.

I saw laughter.

I saw happiness.

I saw calmness.

I saw wholeness.

I saw unity.

I saw love.

And no one was in a hurry to get off The Lazy River. It was as if we had nowhere in the world to be. It was as if no one wanted to be anywhere else. It was as if time stood still.

Even today, I still find myself intrigued by this rare and lovely experience. I continue to dissect and process it.

I find myself asking: Why was The Lazy River a site of loving connection on the deepest human level?

Perhaps it was the blueness of the water.

Perhaps it was the abundant sunshine after a long rainy May.

Perhaps it was just a nice family crowd on that particular day.

But there was more to it than that.

I know it and you know it.

The reason The Lazy River was the site of ultimate human connection was not because of what was present, it was because of what was NOT present.

Phones were not there to steal the focus.

Phones were not there to hold the attention.

Phones were not there to interrupt the conversation.

Phones were not there to destroy the connection.

Phones were simply Not There.

And because the hands in The Lazy River were not holding tightly to distraction, they had a chance to grasp what truly mattered.

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I think we all can agree that most families do not get enough “down time,” where we are not on a schedule, not in a rush, and not tied to our phone or computer. I think we can also agree that we need to create more “lazy river” experiences.

While we may not all have the opportunity to visit a lazy river, we can take the components of it and re-create a setting that produces the same results. Simply go on a family outing (visit a park, go on a hike, a picnic, a bike ride, or the neighborhood pool) and turn off the phone, place it out of sight and out of arm’s reach. Take off your watch, and lose track of time. Simply go where your heart leads you.

The Hands Free Revolution is putting “Lazy” back into summer. Reach out your hand and grasp what really matters!

Are you with me?

If You Only Knew


The ability to know my children is in my hands.

*For the privacy of this individual, her name has been changed

In this journey to become Hands Free, I have really started listening. Not just listening more intently to my own inner thoughts and feelings, but listening to other people. I mean really listening.

A year ago, I am not sure I would have truly heard what this woman said. But with my Hands Free heart, I heard her words and they have been life changing. I share them with you now.

This is my story…

I recently found myself fully reclined in an oversized chair, draped in a crisp white sheet, amidst dimmed lighting and New Age relaxation music. I was about to receive a luxurious facial. It was a gift from a friend who recently had her fourth baby. She was convinced that she would not have made it through the trying last three months without my help and support, and this was her way of expressing gratitude.

As you know, I am a big fan of The Angel Impact. I was simply doing for her what others had done for me when I had a new baby. I was not expecting a lavish facial in return, but I was surely going to enjoy this generous gift.

Before the aesthetician came in, I crossed both my fingers and wished for one that did not have the gift of gab. It is not often that I have the opportunity to completely relax, let alone in a deluxe setting such as this one. The last thing I wanted to do was carry on a conversation.

A beautiful woman named Debbie* came in. After a brief introduction, she began rubbing the most delicious smelling substance on my face in gentle circular motions.

Ahhhh….at last…surreal, peaceful, relaxation.

“So Rachel, what is your occupation?”

Suddenly the small window of tranquility was closed abruptly.

I briefly considered giving her the quick, one word answer: “Mom,” or “Teacher,” or “Writer,” thereby indicating that getting to know one another was not one of my goals for this session.

But for some reason, I felt inclined to tell her about all three of my occupations. Then I explained how I was using my skills as a mom, teacher, and writer to author a book about making the most out of our time here on earth, particularly in respect to our children.

That is when Debbie said something that one year ago I would have missed. One year ago, I may have actually ignored her, simply acknowledging her words with a polite, “Uh huh.”

But things are different now. Thank God, things are different. And I listen because I have learned that you just never know when someone else has the words that you need to hear.

She said, “I just want to know my children, really know my children. That is all I want in my lifetime.”

At first it almost seemed like a silly, obvious notion to “know” my child, but after further thought, the critical concept of really knowing my child sent chills down my spine.

Because here’s the truth, the cold hard truth: the ability to really know our children is in jeopardy. Knowing our children has earned a spot on the In Danger of Extinction List.

Here is why…

In the jam packed, over-scheduled, constantly beeping, buzzing, media saturated, technology obsessed, stressed out, warp speed rat race that we call life, something is getting lost.

Personal connection is getting lost.

Human touch is getting lost.

Private conversation is getting lost.

While we are fully aware of what our children like to do, (insert mile long list of extracurricular activities here), do we really know who our children are as people?

And we, as adults, must take responsibility for the major part we play in the current deficiency in knowing, really knowing, our children.

A year ago, I was on the verge of not knowing my children (more on that in an upcoming post). Thank God, things are different now, but I still struggle. I still struggle to fight the distraction that invades my life and threatens to steal from me the only real connection that truly matters on this earth.

And to combat this struggle, I create reminders in the form of a list. I choose lists over long-winded paragraphs because they have a way of sticking with me, popping into my head at the precise moment I need them.

This list could serve as a “Hands Free Wake Up Call” or a “Hands Free Slap In the Face.” And I am not going to sit here and say that I don’t need it.

Because I do.

Every single day, I need to evaluate how I am using my precious time on this earth.

The following list helps me do just that.

This is the If You Know List, created with the help of my single, hip, and technologically savvy sister, Rebecca:

If you know exactly how many “likes” your latest Facebook status update has received in the past hour…

If you know the exact number of times your latest tweet has been retweeted…

If you know the number of TV shows your DVR exceeds the number of times you conversed with your child this week…

If you know the next 20 movies in your Netflix queue off the top of your head…

If you know the content on the TMZ blog so thoroughly that your friends regularly ask you for the latest celeb gossip…

If you know all there is to know about Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Ping, Yelp, Foursquare and Meetup…

If you know where your Kindle is at all times of the day and night…

If you know the latest status updates of your 500 Facebook friends…

If you know how to text proficiently while in the dark, with your eyes closed, with an injured finger, under the influence of alcohol…

If you know all the Twitter names of Kayne’s followers…

If you know the latest ring tones available from Lady GaGa…

If you know there is seasonal wallpaper available for your Blackberry and change it accordingly…

If you know the personal ringtones for each of your 300+ iPhone contacts…

If you know the number of times each Hollywood Wife has been married and the names of the all the MTV Teen Moms’ babies…

If you know how to discreetly check email while in church, at a wedding, or at a school function…

If you know any and all sport scores with the help of ESPN, as well as MLB, NFL and NHL digital cable sports packages…

If you know the location of your multiple phones at all times, but occasionally lose track of your children…

If you know the dangers of texting while driving, but do it anyway…

If you know you should turn off your computer and spend time with your children, but you don’t…

If you know you really shouldn’t keep the phone on the table at dinner, but you do it anyway…

If you know you could return emails after your kids go to bed, but you choose to ignore them instead…

If you know you are wasting an opportunity to converse with your child while you talk on the phone and drive, but do it anyway…

If you know that you often choose interacting with people on a screen over the living breathing human sitting next to you…

If you know all these things,

If you know half these things,

If you know one of these things,

Then your chance to know, really know, your child is being sacrificed.

Your chance to know who your child is as a person is in jeopardy.

If you know any of these things, you know less about your child than you could know.

And so now that you know…what are you going to do about it?

That is the real question here. What are you going to do about it? Yes, some of the items on the list are over the top. Some of them are laughable. But let’s step into the light of realness, shall we? We all have things that distract us from truly knowing the people we love.

Because the fact of the matter is this: We live in a world inundated with distraction, and there is room for improvement in every single one of our lives. This might not be your list of distractions, but you have one, just as I have one. And when I admit the truth, I know exactly what takes my focus, my attention, and my presence off of the people I love.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

Only YOU know what is distracting you from the personal connection, human touch, intimate conversation that your loved ones so desperately need and want from you.

Only YOU have the power to know your child.

Or you can simply continue to choose to know a lot about “things” that won’t matter one damn bit when your last day on this earth arrives.

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What distracts you from focusing on the people you love? Whether it’s external distraction or internal distraction, whether it’s technology, negative emotions, excessive spending, or self-absorption, the detrimental cost of your distraction is the same. Your loved ones are fully aware when you are not giving them 100% of yourself.

I challenge you to spend 20 minutes with your child or significant other TODAY with everything turned off, including technology, as well as wandering thoughts.

In 20 uninterrupted minutes, you can really get to know someone.

Please take a moment to give someone else the opportunity to grasp what really matters by sharing this critical message.

What I Really Think

In a moment of frustration, I envisioned flushing the receptionist's pink phone down the toliet. What must our children think of our phones?

Last week I was ready to check out of a medical office with my seven-year-old daughter. It was visit #4 in a series of medical appointments in a short time period. We both were drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. We just wanted to go home.

But I have been to the doctor’s office enough times to know that check out procedures never go as quickly as I hope.

I am accustomed to waiting while the receptionist takes appointments or checks out other patients.

But I have never had to wait while the receptionist sends a text message on her pink phone.

Until this day.

I cleared my voice to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I rustled the papers in my hand to remind her we were standing there.

Still texting.

I resorted to the heavy sigh to remind her we were still standing there.

Now reading the text, then laughing to herself at the text.

My blood was boiling now. But did I say anything? No. I simply stewed in my own anger and resentment for being completely ignored and disrespected.

And what came to mind was a story of a two-year-old boy that one of my readers sent me recently:

Last week I was sitting in the floor playing trains with my two-year-old son. While he was setting up the track, I was on my Blackberry doing nothing important, just wasting time. He reached up, grabbed my phone, and in a very frustrated tone and said, “No, Mommy. Play with ME.”

As I stood watching the receptionist texting away, I felt just like that two-year-old boy. I wanted to grab that woman’s phone and say, “No, Lady. Pay attention to ME.”

In fact, I was to the point where I wanted to pick up that pink phone and slam it against the wall. I would have loved nothing more than to flush it down the toilet. I yearned to tell her how downright rude and inconsiderate she was being.

And then suddenly it hit me. I felt the cold hard truth wash over me like acid on my skin.

So how do you like it, Rachel? How do you like it when you are completely ignored and disrespected by someone doing something meaningless on a phone? There are times when your children could say the very same thing about you.

Particularly before I became Hands Free, but even now, on my not-so-good days, my children need me and do not have my full attention. Even now, there are times when they stand before me and I am distracted. Even now, I can be just as rude and inconsiderate to them as the lady with the pink phone.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

I did not say anything outwardly to the texting receptionist, but I sure had a lot to say on the inside.

And I bet children with parents strapped to their phones like oxygen tanks have something to say, too.

I imagine their inner dialogue may go something like this:

Why must you talk on the phone while you drive?  Don’t you want to talk to me?

Why must you keep your phone at the dinner table? Isn’t this supposed to be family time?

Why must you constantly check your phone? Don’t you know that every time you look, I lose you?

Why are the people on Facebook more important than me?

Don’t you know what vacation means?

Why must you risk my life and your own life by reading emails while driving?

Don’t you know that texting while driving is like driving with your eyes closed? Why would you do this? Why?

Have you forgotten how to say hello when I come in the room?

Have you forgotten how to say good-bye when I get out of the car?

Why did you come on my school trip when all you do is interact with your phone instead of me?

Why do I become invisible when the phone rings?

Why don’t you ask me a question once in awhile?

Why don’t you pay attention to me?

Am I that boring? Am I that uninteresting?

Don’t you know I feel forgotten?

Can’t you see that I am standing here waiting for you to acknowledge me?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

Don’t you see what you are missing?

And do you want to know what I REALLY think?

Here’s what I really think…

I want to smash your phone into a million pieces.

Because it has robbed me.

It has robbed me of conversation.

It has robbed me of connection.

It has robbed me of memories.

It has robbed me of your presence.

It has robbed me of your focus.

It has robbed me of your attention.

It has robbed me of your love.

Your phone has robbed me of you.

That’s what I really think.

And so now you know.

What are you going to do about it?

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Last week I spoke of living in realness. I presented the notion that it is not too late to start over. Now is your chance. Whether your child is seven months old, seven years old, or seventeen years old, it’s not too late to consider the amount of time you spend on your phone and make long-term changes. Whether your phone usage is rarely, often, or compulsive, you still have a choice about when to use it.

One more thing…If you have ever been ignored by someone using a phone or if you have ever ignored someone because of your phone, click the “share” button below. Let’s spread this critical message. Together we change the inner dialogue of a child… maybe even today… maybe even a child you love.