Easier said than done.

Vacation contraban
Vacation contraband. For one week, there were 4 phones in the bowl and 2 additional laptops left off.

Many things are often easier said than done. Childbirth is an obvious example. Another is planting a summer garden. I’ve done both and both were, and are, a lot of work! If any woman truly contemplated the labor involved in delivery, no woman would ever become pregnant. If farmers really considered the hours of tilling, amending, and watering the soil in hopes of a precious sprout, most of the nation would go hungry. Good thing the backbone of the human spirit is rooted in optimism, perseverance, and a heaping dose of naiveté.

When I found our summer vacation cabin rental online, I studied the description carefully. I had created a checklist to ensure everyone’s comfort:

  • Secluded and heavily wooded; check.  (See the proof in yesterday’s post.)
  •  3 bedrooms and plenty of nooks to afford “alone time” for each of us; check, check
  • A large window seat for many cozy reading hours and watching wildlife, a comfortable kitchen, and a large table for sharing meals and family games; check, check, and check.
  • Not on my list, though listed in the description, was a large TV and Wi-Fi ( in case a week proved to be too much togetherness); eh, OK, check

Many years ago, when the girls were small (3 and 6) and we were new to Colorado, we had taken a long weekend to escape town. We rented a small, rustic, 1920’s farmhouse cottage situated on  a working cattle ranch. In description, secluded would be an understatement, but perfection would be too. Our getaway came somewhere around the end of September/early October. Though I no longer recall the specific dates, I remember it was at the time of year when snow was possible but too early to be common or predictable. The drive was clear and the roads easy. We entered the cabin with great enthusiasm, excited to be away from the stressors of jobs and for the chance to step back in time. Upon entry, I disappointedly noticed the TV. It wasn’t large but it was there, and I quickly covered it with a blanket before the girls caught site of its “rabbit ears antenna.” They never noticed. We spent the entire weekend without technology. There was no phone in the cabin and, though I had a cell phone, texting and “mobile data” were not yet routine, nor were Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. “Unplugging” wasn’t difficult then, simply because the technology of today didn’t exist. We never missed the modern day intrusions. I read D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths aloud until I was hoarse. On our second day, we awoke to a dusting of snow, limiting our time outdoors. We wandered out only long enough to say hello to an occasional passing cow before retreating to our isolated wonderland to play games and read some more.

I don’t recall many details beyond these, but above all, I remember the feelings of connection to my children, my husband, and myself. And more importantly, so do my girls, which is why, when discussing our plans for this family vacation, C proposed a “no technology” week—no TV, cell phones, or internet. The motion passed without contest.

It’s easier  to unplug when children are small. They demand it. Diapers can’t (or shouldn’t) be changed while updating a status on Facebook. No one from Pinterest makes house calls when a child is teething, going through a growth spurt, or trying to master the monkey bars. Well, it was easier to unplug when mine were small and the various flavors of social media and email weren’t available on the playground.. or while changing a diaper…or at a remote rustic cottage.

Today, it is harder for us to unplug, all of us, regardless of our stage in life: student, single, married, or parent. The internet, despite its many wonderful attributes, is addicting and far more like a spider’s web than any could have predicted two decades ago; once caught, it can be daunting to escape.

Unexpectedly, I found myself still ensnared when we arrived at our secluded cabin in the woods. The cabin I had searched for to offer a respite from the 24/7-availability-to-the-world I had grown weary of and from.  The cabin that had (I thought) promised Wi-Fi in its listing had NONE, I discovered upon arrival. Despite our many family discussions of leaving technology behind, I panicked. I admit it. I panicked, and I’m not proud of it. However, after a few deep breaths, I settled down and settled into idea of morning coffee sans internet. It’s like going on a diet, I resolved, and getting rid of all the junk food in the house. Sometimes, success is easier without temptations and plugging back in would be far too easy with a wireless router at my disposal. I dropped my phone into the week’s designated “phone bowl” and secretly reminded myself of my convenient mobile data plan.

On day 2, while everyone slept, I slipped out into the crisp morning air and flipped on my mobile data. Yes, I know I was being sneaky, but it was all for not when I (painfully) discovered  my 4G phone could barely muster out 1X of connectivity at our little paradise in the woods. Quietly I pleaded, “Can you hear me now?”  I wandered around the deck, trying my best to become a 5’4″ cell tower, standing on chairs, reaching my arm up into the air while I toyed with the idea of wrapping foil around my outstretched hand. Nothing.  My stomach knotted and my teeth clenched as I thought about all those unopened emails. I felt like a skydiver free-falling with a jammed ‘chute; I was free-falling into the realm of  “truly unplugged”–and I wanted nothing more than to post about it on Facebook.

Defeated, I sat down, journal in hand, and pondered my reaction.  Had I been able to connect, a quick email check would have causally become a visit to Facebook, Pinterest, and various news sites.  And, the sounds of the birds and the gentle babbling creek  drowned out by the sound of tapping keys; my week away would have  expired without the benefits I had sought. So, too, would the opportunity to capture those feelings and memories created once upon a time at a picturesque cottage on a cattle ranch.

Like so many of life’s surprises, there was no mistake here, only blessings. A week without WiFi gave me plenty of opportunities to connect with the people in front of me rather than behind a screen, reminding me that real connections are often made when connectivity is lost.

What unexpected mistakes opportunities turned into lessons in your life?

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19 thoughts on “Easier said than done.”

  1. I so related to this, and totally understand why you panicked. Our best family vacations have been the ones where we had little or no internet access, the ones where we were forced to actually be present in life. It’s too bad I don’t seem to have the discipline to do this at home, too.

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  2. I can so relate to walking around with my finger in the air, yelling at the top of my lungs, “Can you hear me now? Hello? Helllllllooooooo?” Every year the family goes to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota…remote is a polite way of saying it’s technologically barren. No electricity, so no TV, radio, lights, not too mention no plumbing either. But I’m a loving mom and wife and let them go anyway. 😀

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  3. I was cracking up picturing you trying to connect on your phone at the cabin, LOL! I feel blessed that I do not own a smartphone, can’t afford one, and honestly try to create situation where I can ignore my cell phone whenever possible, ha, ha. I also disconnected the Internet at home so that when I collapse at night I’m not prone to wander the depths of the deep abyss. When at the ranch, unless I’m trying to connect with someone on horse-related issues, the phone stays in the car. As for an unexpected (mistake) opportunity…I could very easily relay the rescuing of our horse as such. We thought we were going to check out healthy older horse to ride, and instead we found her emaciated and starving. Being in my single mama shoes, most opinions were: don’t do it, don’t be a bleeding heart. But, I couldn’t leave her to be neglected, and now, we’ve had more wonderful experiences and made so many great new friendships and connections, number one being with Fancy, that there’s no doubt in my mind I made the right choice. Good for you for embracing the techno turn-off, even if it was because you were forced to! XOXO-Kasey

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    1. Kasey, your comments always fill my heart!
      We finally gave in and got Smart phones for all 4 of us last year when the “dumb phones” we had (for years!) finally started to break. With C getting ready to head off to college, my husband’s need for work, my need for my work as a tutor, and A’s scheduled activities outside of the house, it made sense to take the plunge. However, they have become crutches in ways I never thought would happen and I’m not so keen on them.

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  4. I’m a little bit glad to hear that you panicked for a moment upon discovering the lack of Wi-fi. Because that’s exactly how I would have reacted. 🙂

    When I was a kid we had a camp on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. No phone, no cable tv, and (back in the 1970s) technology was a deck of cards and a jigsaw puzzle. I’d love to spend a week the way you described. Right after I recovered from hyperventilating.

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    1. Lisha, I think it would get easier with practice, but I’m a little afraid to venture into the deep again. On the other hand, flipping through the photos of this vacation again recently reminded me it was worth every minute. Panic attack and all.

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  5. Heavily wooded and secluded were exactly what I looked for and found this summer. Wifi was promised, but the hours were abbreviated and involved sitting on a cold rock outside of a laundry room. We never once considered turning on the flat screen TV, but doing without Wifi was hard for me. Maybe it is to that lack that I can credit the morning (and often afternoon and evening) swims in the pleasant pond?

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    1. Thanks for sharing.
      Isn’t is funny how, if left to our own devices, we wouldn’t unplug, or say we will, but the time lost on the web ticks away. I really did find my reaction almost as unnerving as going without WiFi first felt, and yet, I’m so thankful for it. It made me aware of how attached I am to the WWW, and sharing this post reminded me of it as well.

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  6. i have a VERY basic phone for only talk & text so it is a bit easier for e to unplug in some ways since I can’t really take it with me. However when I’m home the technology is easily accessible & i probably rely on it too often.

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    1. We just upgraded to Smartphones last year. Prior to that, my husband and I both carried the same flip phones we had for the previous 5 years, and our daughters shared an old slider-style phone. We didn’t text and we certainly weren’t surfing the web. I reluctantly upgraded all of us out of necessity and, whereas I love being able to text with my daughter while she’s away in college, I really hate seeing just the tops of heads (with faces almost kissing a 5 inch screen while surfing) in the living room. Sadly, I know I’ve been guilty of the same.
      Thanks for sharing, Robbie!

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  7. I recently messed up my e-mail account and now I can’t get e-mail on my almost obsolete smartphone. At first, it was maddening. But now I rather like it. And my daughters know to send texts. Sometimes we forget that there was once life without technology.
    Great post!

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    1. Thanks!
      Working for a communications company back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I won a cell phone (from my company) when they first hit the consumer market.(Remember the brick phones? I used to joke that is was a weapon and a phone.) Because the pager I carried already made me available 24/7, I didn’t jump at activating it. Seems I’ve come a long way since then and I rather miss the old days when I didn’t have to make the conscious decision to unplug because there was nothing to unplug.
      However, with C away at school, I don’t know what I’d do without texting. 🙂

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