“Can we do jokes in the morning, Mommy?” Riley asked at bedtime.
He wanted to climb into my bed the next morning and wake me up way too early with an arsenal of poorly executed knock knock jokes like he and Dylan did earlier that day.
“Of course,” I said, my eyes welling up. “I would love that.”
I kissed his head, checked that his water was still icy, turned out the light, and walked out of his room. As I closed the door, his dark room lit up in shades of blue and green and I heard the familiar and irritating sound of Lionmaker Studios and “I put my bootie in your face!” on YouTube.
I froze. First, I thought about what I wanted to do about it. I wanted to go to sleep. I was exhausted. Then, I thought about what I should do about it. Make him shut it off. Take it away. Set stern limits. Then, I thought about what might happen if I did any of those things at ten o’clock at night when everyone, including the dog, was well past the window of coping rationally with a teachable moment.
I might fail. Dealing with his screen dependence felt utterly impossible.
I walked away.
I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and crawled into my bed thinking about that morning. About how the boys climbed into my bed with their crazy morning hair and sleepy faces and assaulted me with endless, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad knock knock jokes. About how we giggled at the bad ones and laughed at the not so bad ones. About how we cuddled together and talked about the day ahead. About how we connected in a spontaneous, delightful, and profound way, that, quite frankly, we often don’t.
I didn’t cry myself to sleep, but I drifted into an uneasy slumber with a heavy heart and a thick sob stuck in the back of my throat.
I have a lot of anxiety about It. About screen time. I’m anxious that my kids have too much of it. I’m anxious that they don’t know what to do without it. I’m anxious that it’s robbing them of the ability or desire to read, think, sleep, or stare out the window of a moving car. I’m anxious that it’s the cause of their anxiety. I’m anxious that it’s my fault, and I’m anxious that even though I’ve allowed it to happen, I feel powerless to change it.
We didn’t do jokes the next morning or the morning after that or the one after that. Not for any particular reason. It’s just that the perfect alignment of who, what, when, and where didn’t happen. We had this gorgeous, fleeting moment of unplanned, untimed, and undistracted togetherness that I couldn’t recreate no matter how much I longed for it.
But it’s not enough. One fleeting moment isn’t nearly enough, and walking away from it isn’t nearly good enough.
There was a time when I gave everything I had to motherhood. No matter what it took, every last nerve ending in my fingers and toes was committed to raising healthy, happy, polite, patient, caring, intelligent, and safe little boys. Somewhere along the way, though, the repetition, work, exhaustion, burden, and anxiety of it all extinguished my flame.
I’m a good mother. This I know for sure. I do my job and I do it lovingly and diligently, but I’ve lost my spark. I move through each day pouring Kefir, pressing the popcorn button on the microwave, listening to mind-numbing Minecraft trivia, and encouraging pleases, thank yous, but I do all of it without a single imaginative thought about how to engage or inspire my kids. I spend the majority of my time (anxiously) scrolling my social media newsfeeds and wondering why my kids spend the majority of their time (anxiously) scrolling YouTube. I’m as distracted as they are, and as a result, I’m as disengaged from them as they are from me. We’re connected all the time, but not to each other.
In an effort to rekindle my personal spark, I returned to yoga. Halfway through my first class, the teacher presented a challenge pose. It was a standing head to toe pose that started in a forward bend. Whatever you do or don’t know about yoga doesn’t matter. Just know that it was a pose that required strength, flexibility, balance, and a prayer because, if nothing else, gravity was like a toxic friend.
I bent down, grabbed my right big toe with my right pinky finger, put my left hand on my left hip, shifted my weight to my left leg, exhaled, and froze. First, I thought about what I wanted to do about it. I wanted to disappear into child’s pose. I was exhausted. Then, I thought about what I should do about it. Engage my core. Push down through my left heel. Lift my leg from the foot. Raise my head to the sky. Then, I thought about what might happen if I did any of those things.
I might fail. Getting from where I was to where I needed to be felt utterly impossible.
“Just try,” the teacher said followed by cacophony of deep breathing, grunting, falling over, and nervous laughter from the room. Attempting other side was equally awkward and grueling.
“Okay,” the teacher said. “Let’s do the right side again.”
There was an audible gasp of disbelief from everyone. Again?
“You might surprise yourself,” she said. “You have the strength you need to do this pose. You just have to trust your muscle memory.”
I reluctantly bent down, grabbed my right big toe with my right pinky finger, put my left hand on my left hip shifted my weight to my left leg, exhaled, and to my great astonishment, I lifted my right leg up from the floor. I shook like a leaf, but I breathed into the pose and kept my balance. The teacher was right. My body knew what to do because it had been there before.
The beauty of yoga for me is that everything that happens in practice applies to everyday life.
Riley’s bedtime plea for morning jokes broke my heart, but it also gave me hope that it’s not too late to change our course. His innocent request confirmed what I already knew – that our WiFi connection is strong, but our personal connection has never been weaker, and perhaps that is the source of our collective anxiety.
It’s not just the screens. It’s us. It’s me, and I’m not powerless to change it. I have to trust my muscle memory and walk toward instead of away from challenges that have no easy or quick answers. I need to have faith that I’ll know what to do – or figure it out as I go along – because after almost nine years of motherhood, I’ve certainly been here before.
And so my practice begins. Ever since the night Riley asked, “Can we do jokes in the morning, Mommy?” I’ve been planting seeds that I hope will distract us from our screens and connect us to what matters the most – each other. We’ve taken walks in our new neighborhood, baked cookies, read stories together, chased fireflies at dusk, and played “Gertie In The Middle,” our new favorite backyard game with the dog. I’ve given both kids weekly chores (more on that later!), and I even cooked a family dinner on Sunday night that lasted about a minute before everyone under the age of 39 abandoned the table. We’re a work in progress as usual, but my spark is returning, even if no one will eat my chicken.
My muscles are sore, but my determination has never been stronger, and I’m anxiously (of course) awaiting my next challenge pose.