Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can You Spare a Square?? Revelations That Result When the Toilet Paper Runs Out

Last weekend during Andrew's wrestling tournament, while making my hundredth trip to the restroom, I mindlessly wandered into a stall with no toilet paper.  I was probably daydreaming about the German Fest that would take place at our parish the next day - the sauerkraut, the bierocks, the pie - and all the food fascination/distraction left me hanging out in the wrong stall.

No biggie, I thought.  There's a million other moms here, so surely someone will pass me some paper.

Casually I called out for assistance, waiting for a roll to come flying overhead, a stack to be passed underneath, a square to be spared by the neighbor next door. Within seconds, someone was kind enough to share.

My little paperless incident reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine is stuck in a stall with an empty roll, so she sweetly asks the woman next door if she can "spare a square," but her request is only met with rude rejection. That night after asking Steve if he remembered that episode (Seinfeld reruns and spaghetti were a ritual for us back in the college days), we both started to laugh out loud, knowing instantly that we just had to You Tube it.

Sure enough!:

What a scream! It's the one-ply, two-ply banter that gets me every time!

That night, for whatever reason, the idea that our children must feel a lot like Elaine popped into my mind.  They need us every day, in all kinds of situations, and they need us a lot.  And, sometimes, as the hours of the day wind down, along with our nerves, answering their every need and want can become so very difficult, because we feel like we don't have a square to spare, we just can't spare one. more. moment. for someone else.

I've noticed, however, that for me, personally, since I have made the decision to unplug a little this Lent from Facebook, e-mail and even blogging, that I feel much less irritated by being the one who is always on call to answer the kiddo's constant questions, requests and interruptions. 

If I'm really going to be honest with myself, the truth behind the ease in irritation is that my attention isn't being drawn away throughout the day by people and situations, outside of my family, whom I think need me, or expect me to be there for them as well. 

Attention divided.  Time divided.  Heart Divided.
Mind exhausted.  Emotions unraveled.

My phone just beeped....another text, another e-mail, I'd better get that, it might be urgent.
9 times out of 10 it's not.
But 9 times out of 10, in the checking to see who or what is calling, I'm drawn away from the moment, from the task at hand, from the living of the present life, from the noticing....

The noticing of feet swinging freely at the kitchen table as the toddler noshes happily on waffles that run with butter and syrup, swirls of it dripping off his chin, morning sunlight from finger-printed windows streams through blonde locks, cheeks still rosy from being pressed against a warm pillow.  

He's beautiful. Just like this. Just right here.

How many times have I missed this?

I begin to count up all of the times in my mind when my children have come to me with a question or a story while I'm "busy" checking a message, responding to a text, letting a Facebook friend - whom I wouldn't want to think that I don't care - know that I adored their family photo, or am happy for their success or sorry for their struggle, and as I type my children talk to someone who can hear them, but who isn't really listening.

The expectation Steve and I have that our children look at us, really look us in the eye, when we talk to them about all of the important things, has become nothing but hypocrisy, as time after time, I have not been willing to show them why eye contact matters, why attentiveness matters, why acknowledging the other matters.

I start to wonder what if...

What if one of them, or all of them, have had a story to tell, a dream to share, a picture to present, an idea to unravel, a question to be answered, but decided to hold on to it, to tuck it away, to think less of any of it because there wasn't anyone there who was really ready to receive it, to savor it, to ponder it, to share the value of it and to unravel it with them??

I once heard Dr. Dobson say that if you ever visit an orphanage and the children are crying, that it's a good sign, because the little ones know that they will be heard, that their needs will be met and that they still believe someone is coming to reach out for them, to love them.  Silence speaks of the abandonment of trust, of confidence of hope in others to help, to recognize and acknowledge a need.

I don't want that kind of silence in this house.  I want to hear my children, all of them, each and every time - even though I know, without a doubt, that there will be moments when I will feel pressed to the point of crazy. 

I found this little clip on Anne Voskamp's weekend summary of inspirations for her readers to enjoy, and after watching it several times, smiling, smiling so big, I knew I had to share it with you:

Our children are watching us, aren't they?

All of the time.

They notice our actions, our expressions, or eagerness to press on toward good, to make an inconvenient sacrifice. At the same time, they see our preoccupations with less important matters, choosing lesser goods hoping that they'll fulfill greater needs.  They observe with disappointment, but gradual acceptance our hesitations to help those closest to us, to give ourselves to the priorities that matter most.  

We tell our children, every day, loud and clear, what is important in life through our actions.
A big cup of coffee.
An early morning work-out.
Folding the laundry, paying the bills, kissing our husbands good-bye every time they leave for work.

All of that, yes.
Then, we plug in.

Picking up that phone again, and again and again.  A few minutes at the computer here and there, times when we assure ourselves it's okay to check a status, because for the moment the kids are actually sharing and enjoying their toys. When that time runs out we send them outside to soak up some sun, to drink in a little fresh air. Next is giving our consent to snacking or cartooning or suggest that they sit beside a mountainous stack of carefully chosen books and hope that they will read them, one-by-one, until the picture windows of their precious minds are full.

It's okay, then, because they're content, occupied, not needing us, right? Or missing us...
But, what if in 10 or 20 years we wake up and realize that we've missed them?

We were supposed to watch them enjoy the fresh air, cuddle over cartoons, read to them or with them or at least savor the endearing sight of pudgy fingers pointing to page after page of pictures that captivate their attention.

Time flies by, and soon they become the ones sitting across from friends at a restaurant checking their messages instead of engaging, hearing their professors, but not really listening, feeling a false "need" on the other end, a need that presses them in an unnecessary way toward the harsh reality that no matter how many Facebook posts and e-mails they respond to they'll never really know anyone, unless they give to those who are present with them.

All because this - this being plugged in, yet checked out, is what we've shown them to be important.

Our time will come, too, when we will have a story to tell our kids, a dream to share, a picture to present, an idea to unravel, a question to be answered, and wonder if any of it really matters at all, because our kids, now grown, have shown us that there are more important things to do.

I admit that technology will always be a part of our day-to-day life, but less than a week deep into Lent, I've learned that, for me, as much as I think I monitor my attentiveness toward the mighty i-phone, or computer (a moment here, a moment there, after bed-time only....) perhaps my perception of that time has been off. Way off.

And, not only do I want to change that, I need to change that.

So, if I'm not there to "like" your status, or praise your pictures on Facebook, if I'm late returning an e-mail, or delayed in responding to a text, please know that you're important to me, that there's no ill-intent in my inattentiveness.  It's just that I'm being asked, by my precious ones, right here, right now, to "spare a square," and I really don't want to miss a moment of it.


  1. Thank you for the Susan - what a beautiful post and a much-needed reminder.

  2. You are awesome, Susan! I finished Ann Voskamp's book about month ago and am giving a talk tonight at Theology on Tap, called Attitude of Gratitude... I'm stressing out over what to say, so your thoughts helped a ton! Thank you for sharing :-)

    1. Oh boy, I just read back through the post and found 1000 typos!! Uggh!! I'm glad you were able to wade through all of it anyway and found some of it useful. Hope your talk went well!

  3. There is hardly a life situation that doesn't have a Seinfeld episode to go along. :)
    I have been quite aware of this myself lately. I have strict limits about when my kids can use technology, but I never made any for myself. I do now.
    Have a lovely day!

  4. So true....blessings to all :)

  5. Absolutely couldn't agree with this more! I've "unplugged" myself lately too, and I am happier for it. I'm enjoying all the moments with these little people because I'm not concerned about what else is out there to distract my attention from what really matters. I really do miss the days when folks had to leave a message on your answering machine and wait until you were home to get/return the message. Not of a fan of the must-always-be-connected phenomenon.

    1. I wish we lived closer, Jo. It would be so nice to have coffee together and watch our kiddos play!

  6. Absolutely 100% true for me. I'm working on it though. I'll pray for you and all the other mamas who want to be more connected to their kids an to Facebook. Include me in your prayers, too, okay?

  7. This is something I've been struggling with a lot. My biggie is blogging and reading - I try to limit my time to only when they aren't even home but there are times that I'm caught up in something and they come in the room - I try to make an effort to stop completely and even shut my laptop if they are going to stay and chat but some days.....

  8. I've also set strict guidelines for screen time during Lent and it's been so hard! But then I feel bad for admitting that, because I'm noticing that all the time I spend looking at a screen is just empty calories. I know it's not good for me so why do I keep going back for more?? I'm never really satisfied. Satisfaction comes from using my time productively, even my down time is better spent with a book or without electronic distraction. Hoping this Lent I can get into better habits that help me keep my focus where it needs to be.


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