Independence Interrupted


This is not my usual post.

Typically I like to write about how the digital world influences me, particularly as a parent. Sometimes life events make you sit down and really take a good, long look at some of the simpler things of life. Basic and human sometimes life gets in the way of, well, life.

We were spending a warm, lazy summer evening at the beach. Every Saturday night, the locals gather for a large, informal drum circle. The rhythmic drums enjoy a background of cascading waves, crying gulls and giggling children. The belly dancer within the circle crashes her thumb cymbals as a balmy breeze gently kisses your skin. We’d brought a picnic and the adults lazily chatted while the children ran off to twirl and dance, perhaps sneaking a spot on someone’s drum for a while.

It can be truly amazing just how quickly the giant orb of the sun slips into the ocean horizon. For all the slow tracking across the expanse of the sky, you can miss that silent drop in a blink. Although the sun now slumbers beneath the ocean line, the sky is still an amazing motley of reds, pinks, blues and purples. To the south, a thunderstorm gurgles and grumbles and you can see an occasional wire of white hot lightning. The storm is just far enough away that the party continues on the beach, but it’s just close enough to make the sunset a truly incredible rainbow of colors.

As the light fades away ever quicker, the faithful drumming continues. Glow necklaces, batons and sticks now dot the circle and the kids and adults continue to twirl and sing. To the right, a man begins to juggle fire and everyone’s attention is temporarily diverted to the swirling pools of flame. It’s been a glorious day, and after several hours of eating, conversation and playfulness the day has come to a close. Now the time comes to pack it in, to end a pleasant evening with friends and drag weary children off to a hot shower and warm bed.

My younger son is heavy-lidded and half asleep as I carry him on the boardwalk over the sand dunes. The night sky is fully dark and pitch black; to preserve the habitat for migrating birds and sea turtles the boardwalk is not lit for human interlopers. Carefully I walk down the steps, placing first my right foot and then my left foot on each step before proceeding downward to the next step. Confident I’d made it to the bottom I took one more step and felt nothing but air.

It’s an odd sensation when you expect there to be firm, solid ground beneath you, only to find yourself wholly unsupported. I went down, falling firmly on my backside, protecting my son from any injury. As white pain shot through my ankles it dawned on me that I would not be rising from this fall under my own steam. Unable to do anything more than gasp, the air itself seemed to hold me down and the searing pain tingled up and down both ankles and feet.

In this fleeting moment I’d managed to sprain both ankles and break my right foot. This split second, this unexpected tumble took away my independence.

I’m thankful that this injury, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively small and unimportant. I have help and employment that doesn’t rely on my feet and ankles being healthy. But, for a period of time I’m learning multitudes about me, the human being.

Being independent has always been a core piece of my identity. On dating sites I used to describe myself as “fiercely independent” and while I have a strong, close knit family I’ve taken great pride in being a single mom who’s quite capable of caring for her family all by herself.

The first 48 hours were the most humbling. Unable to stand unassisted and I didn’t have in my possession any sort of braces, boots, crutches or wheelchair, I was entirely reliant on another person for everything. I felt guilty, not just for leaving all my responsibilities on their shoulders, but adding to that, the burden of caring for my needs. Thirsty and in pain, I’d agonize over how often I was asking for help, asking for a drink, asking to be lifted to the bathroom. All help was freely given, but in my strong independence I felt each request quite deeply.

Once we’d gotten to the doctor and I was armed with a walker, a wheelchair, leg braces and a boot I had slightly more ability to fend for myself. The wheelchair was not one I could propel on my own and I was only to use the walker for very limited movement for the first week. But, I could manage a little scooting here and there and I felt somewhat less of a burden now that I could be pushed, rather than carried.

As healing continued and we ventured out in public I felt my pride prickled more than once. One long, arduous walk to a bathroom at the back of a restaurant left me particularly sore, embarrassed and ready to cry. Each step throbbed, I was embarrassed when I bumped my walker into someone’s chair and I felt everyone was staring at me. It was the ultimate walk of shame. Slow and painstaking I imagined everyone stared at me with disgust. I’d never seen myself this way. I always confidently clickety-clacked on my heels through a room; I’m an attractive woman and I am unused to anyone looking at me with that particular mix of pity, contempt and empathy. It’s human nature, none of us want to be “the cripple” and to block the idea of it from our minds, we ostracize them.

I’m certain I was completely over-reacting. To be honest, I’m sure it was nothing more than a passing moment for them. But, to me it was humbling in the extreme.

Over the last week I’ve faced several small inconveniences, that as they add up, bring me to an entirely new appreciation for anyone dealing with a disability. Do you have any idea how much people love to put seams in the flooring between each room? Every little seam is a bump I have to work across. Trying to navigate through narrow store aisles on a motorized scooter, reaching products up high, even throwing my paper towel away after the bathroom all become tasks that require more planning than you realize.  Everything takes longer and muscles ache in new places as they’ve had to unexpectedly bear more of my body weight to compensate. I look at my walker in disgust, the fleshy parts of my palms and my shoulders ache at the thought of supporting my weight on it for the long trek to the bathroom. Even as I write, I debate that next sip of water, weighing how long it’ll be before I need to make that trip again against my thirst level.

In the end, our lives as we know them are beyond fragile. In one sharp second your entire world can be turned upside down. With a good support system, you can muscle through relatively unscathed, but I shudder to even consider my life the past two weeks without help. It’s been humbling, painful, at times humiliating. By the same token I’ve discovered a new wealth of strength not just in myself, but in the loved ones around me that have sheltered  me, picked me up, helped me dress and bathe myself, fed me, ferried me around and cared for my children. I’ve learned a new appreciation for the challenges people face when they operate outside the norm and deepened the empathy for the struggles others endure.

It’s harder than you imagine, losing that piece of yourself…even when you know you’ll gain it back fairly quickly. I cannot imagine losing it permanently.

Liberating My Facebook


I did it. I finally make that agonizing decision to cut the virtual cord and quit Facebook. 

I announced it publicly both on Facebook and through my blog here. I wanted to give my friends time to download all my information and I knew they didn’t all log in daily.

Then it hit me. That horrible sinking feeling as I realized I didn’t have all their information either. I couldn’t just arrogantly announce I was leaving and expect all of them to contact me if I wasn’t willing to put some effort in from my end.

I suddenly realized that if I didn’t save their information before closing the account it would *poof* vanish into thin air. Terrorized at the thought of all their phone numbers and emails evaporating from my phone in a mere instant, I broke into a cold sweat as I painstakingly attempted to export their data.

Once again I’ve grown lazy. It’s so easy to just link the accounts and never have to manually track phone numbers and emails. And again, the point is crystal clear that I’m not taking ownership of my relationships.

Then, the popular argument for keeping Facebook, “I’m just doing it to stay in contact with my friends” suddenly hit home hard.  As much as I detest how far our interactions have deteriorated, I paused to consider leaving a placeholder behind to keep the contact list. Unfortunately, that would entirely defeat the whole purpose of closing the account. Moving forward, resolved strengthened, I knew I needed to cut off the Facebook serpent right at the head.

This next part is about how I managed to liberate my contacts from the iron-clad Facebook grasp. Facebook clearly didn’t want me leaving but I was determined. Some of you may have different experiences, but I thought I’d share how I finally managed it.

My first stop, the download feature within Facebook turned up fruitless. This only works if people have opted in and all the default email addresses were now Facebook email addresses rather than their main ones. One Google search later yielded the Yahoo – Facebook solution. Seemed simple enough, log into Yahoo and use the import Facebook feature. The problem was, it just hung there. It said it was downloading, but no. No error messages, no completion, just a frustrating, endless loop.

The next time I went to my Yahoo account it gave me the opportunity to sign in with Facebook. When I took that route, the Facebook contacts dropped right in! Better yet, they had their real email addresses. Turns out I had a nice list, but the export function apparently went no where. It seems the Big Bad Facebook worked very hard at breaking as much download functionality as it could muster.

Weary at the prospect of copy/pasting each person into my regular contact list my entire day brightened when my Knight in Shining Armor charged in and automated the process. Fueled by a fierce debate on my Google Plus commentary, he made me a script that gathered the data and saved it nice and neat in a ready to upload CSV file. Want to do the same? He even freely posted it for you: http://campkludge.org/?q=yahoocontactexport

Within minutes my Contacts were complete and I disabled my Facebook account. Of course Facebook tried to guilt me into staying first: Are you sure you want to leave? Your 219 friends will miss you no longer be able to contact you.

Oh yeah? Who cares….I can contact them any time my little heart pleases. Suck on that Facebook. My communications are no longer held hostage by you.

Goodbye Facebook


Let’s get something straight: This is not a Facebook hate post.

That being said, I’m running a little experiment of disabling my Facebook account. Why you ask?

I first joined Facebook to stay in contact with a group of friends I’d met through an online direct sales forum. I was quitting direct sales and no longer visited the forum, but wanted to stay in touch with the friends I’d met there. They were my very first “internet friends” and meant a lot to me, even though I could no longer really relate to their threads any longer. These friends saw me through one of the most challenging times of my life, when money was short and my relationship was in the toilet. Next I had a few “real life”  friends sign up and suddenly I had this beautiful, amazing walled garden where I could let it all out , carefree. I ranted, I raved, I cried, I shouted, I giggled – early on this core group saw an unfiltered version of me.

Then the high school acquaintances, professional connections and more distant family members found me. I made a decision early on to largely keep my professional contacts off Facebook. I’m glad I did so, but my posts became more and more filtered as the “Friend” list increased. Now, they were all getting the facade, the highlights because I donned the “happy” mask. My closer friends were still caught the true story through instant messaging, text messaging and phone calls, but Facebook gave us a new, shared way to communicate with each other.

Facebook was a way to enhance our communication rather than replace it. I felt sublimely connected to my friends and enjoyed reading their posts about what they were doing, seeing pictures of what they were eating and  in general experiencing their lives with them. The great part? We all commented back and forth on each other’s updates and photos. Our conversations spilled over from real life and into the digital realm. All in all, we grew closer as the vines of our lives intertwined and grew together, using Facebook as the connecting fertilizer.

Then something changed.

I can’t place the blame on my friends. The Facebook algorithms prioritize who’s in my Newsfeed and now it’s filled with memes, reshares and fluff. Instead of seeing real updates from my friends, I see content that doesn’t even remotely relate to me. Here’s a classic example: I simply thought one of my friends just didn’t use Facebook very often. One evening, over pizza and wine she’s telling me about a breakup and a poem she posted. I never saw the poem. When I visited her Timeline I realized she had been posting every day and it never once showed up in my Newsfeed. Instead I see a photo of someone I don’t know; gliding down my Newsfeed simply because one of my friends “liked” it and the original poster doesn’t have their privacy settings in place. And don’t get me started on privacy settings, that’s an entirely different collection of posts.

Facebook has become less personal.

Conversing with a friend, I start to share a story I’d earlier posted on Facebook. Since she didn’t comment or “like” the post I guessed she hadn’t yet seen it. Instead, she cuts me short: “Yeah, I saw your post on Facebook.” And that was it. No dialog, no joy at conversing with each other, just friends passively watching each other from a distance. I’m guilty, I’ve done it too. We’ve become quiet ships, passing by in the dark silence of the night.

I’ve made a decision.

I no longer want my friends to have this passive peepshow into my life and I don’t want to have the same view of theirs. I want us to talk. I want a personal email. I want to find a way to share photos in a way that encourages us to talk about them with each other. I want to chortle over sushi about the random events and cry together over wine when heartbreak attacks. In short, I want my friends back. The only way I can do that is to cut the cord.

But wait! There’s more!


After 6 straight days of rain from Tropical Storm Debby I feel that I’m in the middle of an infomercial.

Act now for this exciting opportunity for gusty winds, 12″+ of rain, storm damage and flooding waters. Not enough for you?

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!!

On a more serious note:

If you’ve never driven in tropical storm or hurricane force winds it’s really quite an experience. Sheets of rain come at your car, sharp edge head on as it shatters across your windshield.

All senses are at full alert, you must be ready for random debris in the road, patches of standing water and gusts of wind that can suddenly shift you into the nearby lane. I can only imagine this heightened state mirrors a hunter and its prey. The storm is playing cat and mouse with me and I find I don’t particularly care to be baited by the cheese right now.

Everything is soggy and wet; the sky an unending maelstrom of varying shades of gray. By sharp contrast the trees and grass are a rich, vibrant green and the air has a curious golden/orange tone to it as only small portions of the sun’s yellow-white light permeates the blanketing clouds above.

The trees have given up their harmonious dance in gentle winds as they now convulse in the fighting embrace intensified by the jagged gusts. The wind is far from steady. One moment a wisp, then next the force of mother nature pummels you from an unexpected direction.

Fields have become small ponds, drainage ditches overflow to the ground and streets nearby. On the roads themselves, you can see waves of water dancing in the wind.The water continues to rise, an impending disaster as it looms closer and closer to the only dry spaces you have left, your castle, your fortress, your home.

But you’ve made it. Safely home. Outside the wind and rain battle on….

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!!

Good Time


Warm tears streaming down my face, my body shaking with sobs I drove away from my boys. I’d just dropped them off for two weeks of fun filled summer camp and the bittersweet moment was hitting me full force.

This was the very same summer camp I attended as a child. Completely unplugged from technology, sticky summer days were filled with horseback riding, swimming, tennis, roller skating and a myriad of other activities. I did a lot of growing up there. I learned how to share a cabin (and one bathroom!) with 11 other girls. I had my very first kiss there. I helped younger kids overcome their fear of horses and reaped the rewards of their love and admiration. I mucked stalls. I fell off horses far more often than I care to admit. Huge capture the flag games, watermelon seed spitting contests, dances – all these amazing happy memories.

Driving away, I couldn’t imagine how my parents did it. I was only leaving my boys 2 weeks, but every summer I begged to stay a full 8 weeks. My parents only caved once and every year after told me they missed me too much to let me stay the entire time. I never believed them until the moment I watched my two little boys shoo me away so they could begin their fun.

This year, the camp has a new feature. Every day they upload photos to a secure website and every evening I race home and faithfully stalk the new photos. It’s my new evening ritual, scouring the albums for my boys’ faces. Seeing these photos has helped me cope with leaving them. I can see the happy glow emanating from them.

This proud mama oohs and aahs over a photo of my Little Bit, confidently standing at the top of a zip line, ready to jump! A few days later I puzzle over which critter Big Bit has trapped with a net. I’m not a helicopter parent, but I treasure these glimpses into their daily lives while away. I’m thankful that technology helps connect me to them without intruding on their independence and fun.

Then one evening something unexpected came in the mail:

I lost it. These two simple words meant more to me than all the photos combined. Clearly Little Bit was too busy having his “good time” to do anything more than scratch out these two little words.

I love technology. I love how amazing it is at making distance meaningless. But, sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.

Digital Footprint?


My 6 year old son, Little Bit, steps into a cardboard boat he’s just made with the help of my sister’s boyfriend (The Ginger). As The Ginger steps in, the boat begins to capsize and hilarity ensues. I’ve captured the cardboard boat races, complete with sinking boats, family cheers and heckling on my little waterproof sport camera in crystal clear definition.

The race concludes and I ask The Ginger for his permission to upload the video to YouTube. After a brief moment’s consideration he replies, “Sure, as long as you don’t use my name. I’ve managed to keep my digital footprint pretty invisible so far and I’d like to keep it that way.” Not a problem, I have no issue keeping his name private!

Imagine my thrill of anticipation as I eagerly upload the video….perhaps this could be my very first viral clip!

As any seasoned poster knows to do, I took a moment to review the video again and make sure I’m comfortable with the public content share. Then it dawns on me, we’re repeatedly calling out both The Ginger’s and Little Bit’s names. Am I labeling them on the video? No. Last names? No. But their names are there, nonetheless.

The Ginger’s privacy aside, I’m faced with a connundrum I’m sure many parents face. I have a strong desire to publicly share the video, partially out of pride for my amazing child and partially for the ease of spreading the video to my friends and family. Too tired at the moment to edit out the use of their names, I set the video private and give myself a day or two to ponder the rammifications of posting it, both with and without the use of their names.

I’m accustomed to sharing pictures, videos and events of my son’s lives through my private and trusted core list of friends I have on Facebook. Outside of Facebook though, all videos of my children are set to private and any pictures I’ve posted of my kids are referred to only as “Big Bit” and “Little Bit”. Far beyond the issues I’ve already considered of my own personal privacy and my ability to teach my boys how to filter themselves online, I now have to think about their individual privacy preferences.

My boys may very well grow up to be as comfortable being public as I am. Or, they may grow up to be intensely private . Perhaps they’d like to have a high security clearance job someday or maybe they’d just like to keep future stalker girlfriends from discovering every little moment of their childhood. Either way, they’re too young at the moment to fully understand this decision. As their Mama, I have to take that extra step to provide them with the chance to  make that choice for themselves.

So, my decision at the moment is to keep it private until such time that I can edit out their names. Busy as I am, I may or may not get to it. I’ll continue to keep videos, names and most pictures behind a privacy wall, carefully selecting which content I’m comfortable being available for public consumption.

My blogger parent friends, what is your take? Where do you draw the privacy lines for your children?

In the mean time, here’s a pic of Little Bit in his boat:

A Simple Idea That Simply Changed Everything


Today is YouTube’s 7th birthday. Happy birthday YouTube!

What an amazingly simple idea, start a website where people can upload and share videos publicly and freely. 7 years ago who could have possibly imagined how deeply this simple idea could permeate and change modern daily life?

Today we use YouTube in most aspects of our lives: entertainment, business, personal and educational. Movies host theatrical trailers both on their website and on a YouTube channel. Businesses create marketing campaigns using viral and quirky videos.  A business can create informational content about who they are, their products and industry specific topics.

Now, more than ever, information is just a few simple clicks away. Just this month, YouTube showed me how to change the camera lens cover on my cell phone (bye-bye scratchy photos) and guided my son on how to sync our Xbox remote to a friend’s console.

For some, the YouTube effect is stronger than others. With millions of views per video, Maru, a playful, mischievous Scottish White Fold seduces the internet on a regular basis. I’m sure his owner is more than a little pleased with his success.  If you don’t know Maru, let me educate you now:

 

As a mom, I share home videos of my children with my grandparents who live across the country. I’m able to find funny jokes, inspiring stories and an army of artistic movies, shorts and videos. From my phone, I can privately upload my sons humiliating themselves in dance and karaoke while publicly posting my parents’ little pocket beagle ferociously attacking a feather. And let me tell you, the feather usually wins. Just this weekend I grabbed this little altercation between them:

 

The growing vlogging community is an incredible artistic outlet. YouTube has become a display case for home animation, video rants, home produced films, fan fiction, cooking lessons, college applications and creative resumes.

As features are added and the technology evolves, I can’t help but ponder about where this is headed. The integration of Google, YouTube and Google Plus allows us to seamlessly share and explore things from all areas of our lives. With Hangouts on Air I could broadcast and record family events that distant relatives can’t attend. Weddings, soccer games, birthday parties – suddenly distance is not such a large hurdle for keeping families and friends connected to each other.

It’s just such a simple concept, create a space where people can share their videos. It’s astonishing how simply this idea has changed the way we do business, entertain ourselves and archive our personal lives. Tell me, how has YouTube affected your life?

 

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