Monday, October 7, 2013

Distracted Living

Last week, I almost killed my daughter.

It started off as really any other week ever does. My husband had been travelling pretty much non-stop for nearly the entire month. Whether we wanted to or not, we were all falling into a fairly regular rhythm without him, at least Monday-Friday. With school and activities and for better or worse, the days seemed to move rather quickly but by evening all three of us were stretched thin. Collectively, we all seemed to peek at maximum crabbiness somewhere around 6pm. It was shortly after this time last Wednesday night that I brought the kids upstairs to help them get washed up for bed.
My daughter had an upset stomach for most of the day but I hadn’t thought much of it. She was otherwise happy and playing and generally herself. I did know that she was very tired. Still, we were a good hour and a half from her usual bedtime of around 8pm. I put her in the bath and let it start to fill and left the room to go start the shower for my son. This is something I’ve taken to doing quite often with her. She is coming up on four and I am less concerned about leaving her alone in the tub. Plus, the need to get both baths and showers started at the same time feels like a multi-tasking necessity when it’s the end of the day and I’m slogging through it on my own. I love them but I’m just so tired. I don’t want to rush through their bath and bedtime but I do. Because I just want to collapse on the couch at 8pm and just be with my own thoughts and my own space. Bath time has increasingly become yet another thing to check off the list. And so I’m more rushed and careless than I should be.

So I left her for about two minutes while I went to go find my five year old and get him in the shower. I heard the ping of the iPad and saw an email from my friend. There was zero urgency about responding but inexplicably I felt the need to, right then and there.
And in doing so, I left her alone in the tub for two minutes.

On any other night this would’ve been fine. But this night was different. She was really tired and the water was warm and she just fell asleep; completely and totally asleep. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I went back in two minutes later and by the grace of God she had managed to fall asleep sitting up, slumped against the side of the tub. But it wouldn’t have been much longer (how much longer, seconds?) before she would’ve slipped under the water. She would’ve drowned. It would have been entirely my fault.
I screamed. I slapped her face. She didn’t wake up. But she seemed to be breathing and was otherwise alright, just asleep. I lifted her out of the water and carried her into her room where she took the world’s weirdest, wettest, shortest power nap ever. And at 6:30 promptly woke up refreshed, soaking wet, and ready to play and with zero understanding of the gravity of what almost could’ve happened.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
For awhile now, I have felt that I have been losing the ability to single task; that is to say, the ability to do one thing well, at a time. I recognize that this hasn’t happened in isolation. What I’m feeling is a larger reflection of a culture that has literally consumed us over the past 5 years or so. In particular, becoming a parent during the rapid rise of the era of tablets and smart phones, I have lost the ability to be present and do one thing at a time. It scares me. And on this night, it could have cost me everything. It wouldn’t have taken more than two minutes or two seconds to change our lives forever. I can't even begin to process how much I regularly try to squeeze into those same two minutes. About how much I could’ve lost in the same amount of time.

We live in an age where we are constantly fed messages that we should try to do as much as we can as fast as we can; to live at maximum efficiency. Except when we shouldn’t. How many homework assignments and extracurricular activities and educational apps and appointments and meetings and spin classes and returned email messages and social media sites and DVRd shows and any number of things with varying degrees of importance do we try to cram into any one day? Sometimes I feel like we are multi-tasking ourselves right past the point of it all anyway.
If we begin to itemize our daily lives as a series of tasks to be checked off and juggled and done while doing other things, I’m not sure we’re ever fully present in any of it. As if we’re always straddling different dimensions. Our bodies exist in one place, our hearts and minds in another. Space and time feel disjointed. People write largely in shorthand largely because we are living that way. At least I have been living that way. But last week was my wake up call. I will get less done. Everything might take longer but with more time and attention to whatever that first thing is. This just might be okay.

People talk about distracted driving but it’s more than that. It’s distracted living. And that doesn’t just leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied. As I proved to myself and to my daughter, it can be downright dangerous.

44 comments:

  1. you are not alone.
    i have 3 kids, can totally relate to starting the tub/showers, etc...and then multitasking w/ laundry. this helped me to know that I am also NOT ALONE in doing what I do...

    if it helps you feel better, school mornings are so insane at our house...that I overdosed my littlest (she will be 2 in 2 weeks) on her Zantac several days in a row. Fortunately the pediatrician wasn't worried, didn't even feel the need to see her, and she is fine. But we moms have to learn to slow down.

    The question is...HOW?

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. I can imagine how hard this was to write...

    HUGS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for this Erin. I have no idea how. Although I think I used to. So I suppose finding a way to get back to that. One step at a time. Thank you so much for sharing your story - very brave.

      Delete
  2. I totally leave him in the bath all the time while I run to get the towel or washcloth I inevitably forgot. I get it. I so get it.

    Your point about "distracted living" is a good one, though, in a larger context. Sarah at LeftBrainBuddha.com writes a lot about mindful parenting. We are all trying to get there one way or another.

    Please don't be too hard on yourself. Thank you for sharing this, it was very brave. Big hug.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Deb. The comments from you and other folks I've heard from have really meant so much. Will definitely check out leftbrainbuddha.

      Delete
  3. How brave of you to write something that, no doubt, MANY parents...many PEOPLE need to read and learn from. You are 100% correct in that our world revolves around distracted living these days. Thank goodness Ruby is ok. Isn't it amazing how we can learn SO much from such little ones? I think if we adults can learn to live much more like our young children then we would love life so much more. Stare at flowers in amazement, take our time getting to wherever we are going (aside from the fact that operating on 'toddler time' would get us fired), become totally immersed in one task at a time and enjoy the process... it CAN be done and I dare say, maybe this article is what can start the movement. Good for you for writing this, opening yourself up and also for being normal - you didnt do anything that so many other people haven't done in one way or another. Thank you for starting this dialogue!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Ally! Yes, just today I was amazed at this tiny little flower Ruby found in a sea of weeds. Kids have an amazing ability to focus. We need to learn from them!

      Delete
  4. So well written, and a wake up call for all of us. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Sharon for your kind words!

      Delete
  5. I completely understand the need to do as much as you can at a time to just get the next thing checked off your to do list. So glad that you got there when you did and that it all ended well this time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words and understanding Robbie - appreciated!

      Delete
  6. Hello Jen. We love your blog and would be interested in talking to you about publishing some if your entries in our magazine. If you are interested please email me: Aleesha.newsyneighbour@gmail.com
    Thanks is much and keep up the good parenting and writing :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reaching out Aleesha.

      Delete
  7. I'm not that kind of doctor, but being unresponsive for several minutes (particularly to things that really ought to wake someone up) sounds like it could be indicative of a neurological condition, for example, some sort of childhood epilepsy. Never take medical advice from strangers on the Internet, but it still might be a good idea to have your daughter seen by a medical doctor.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It could have been me telling this story. I'm just gonna check my email for a "second". I'll be there in a minute! It just takes one moment to change you're whole life. I'm glad, deeply touched in fact, that yours was a realization and not something else. It could have been me, it's been me. Thanks for your bravery for sharing!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kelly. I don't feel very brave, but very glad indeed to hear from other folks like yourself who do understand :)

      Delete
  9. Jenn,

    Read your post and had to reply. It has been 27 years now but my son was three at the time...I was out shopping for his birthday party and my husband was home with my son. He put him in the bath and left him for a moment to get him a toy. My son evidently stood in the tub, slipped, hit his head on the faucet and fell face down in the water. He died of a cerebral hemmorhage 3 days later from the blow to his head.

    I am a respite care provider, and no matter how much I see the parents leave their children in the tub and go off to make a Sandwich and the like, I will not leave. The image has never left me and even though time heals some wouldn't loosing a child is something one does not want to bear.

    Technology was not a big thing back then, just life. I am so grateful your children are well and have such and awesome Mom to be aware and write a wonderful post.

    Thank you for enlightening others!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so humbled, so sad to hear of your loss. Thank you so much for sharing your story. So very brave of you. Sending you much virtual love and hugs :)

      Delete
  10. I have had this happen with my son when he was 4 maybe 5. After playing outside all day be needed a bath and I would put him in the tub while I worked on dinner. He would get bored in about 10 minutes and I knew it was time to wash him and get him in his PJs for the night. Time went by and no call from the bathroom....I went to the bathroom to find him sound asleep leaning against the side of the tub also. I sat and cried realizing that I could have lost him that night just because we as busy mom's are always trying to multi-task. I have learned that when children no matter how young or old are around water whether it be the pool, beach or tub an adult must always provide their total attention because all it takes is a minute to lose the most precious gift we have been given.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your honesty and understanding Debra

      Delete
  11. Jenn,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with such honesty. You are very brave. I have a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes because I SO get it. While I haven't had an experience like this YET, I can relate. Distracted living is such a great phrase to describe how I have been living my life the past year. I feel like Pavlov's dog when my iDevices ping. And I don't like it. It is up to me to change it. I want to be in the moment, whatever that moment is. Thank you for the wake up call! Your post is like a public service announcement. I wish you the best of luck in battling distracted living! If you come up with any great strategies, please let me know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Cindy. Still struggling as it seems many of us are to find the balance!

      Delete
  12. I couldn't agree more. Lately, I've been thinking about how distracted I've become because of that little iPhone. I'm ashamed to say that on many occasions I've had my eyes glued to that screen while my kids try to talk to me. I'm really ashamed and kicking myself. I'm with them for so few hours in the day, they deserve my undivided attention when we're together. And when I think about it, what example am I setting? They'll be teenagers before you know it with their own iDevices. I don't want them tuned out when we're spending time together. Time to get a handle on "distraced living".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so hard. It always feels like something is tugging at us, doesn't it? We're all struggling together :)

      Delete
  13. Jenn- Thank you for sharing this. I am a soon to be mom (still pregnant), and this is something that I think about a lot- being present and parenting mindfully. Seeing that I am a 'tech-whore' it worries me a lot. I am also constantly worried about how it will be managing my energy when juggling babies, work and life. Your article is a wake-up call to me in ways you cannot imagine. I am going to practice being mindful starting now, so that when the baby gets here I can try and be as present as I can be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congratulations on your baby! And thank you for taking a minute to read and share your own thoughts

      Delete
  14. Thank you for sharing. Such a wake up call. I always try to be aware of any danger and try to keep my kids as safe as possible but there are many times I am distracted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh, we all are Brian. Thank you for your honesty!

      Delete
  15. Thanks for sharing this Jenn..I can totally relate to this and have been struggling with distractions all the time and trying to squeeze "n" number of things at all times.

    Something similar happened with my 4 months old daughter. She was laying in her portable swing and playing, when I headed to the kitchen for a minute and when I got back I was horrified. She had kicked the base and was lying with half her body dangling out from the swing and no crying or sound from her. It was very traumatizing for me, she was okay the moment I picked her up and all fine now. But, another few seconds would have cost me like anything.

    I can't tell you how much I could relate to this article to this very day.. an eye opener to everyone. Just want to get over this distraction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so glad she is okay! Things can happen in an instant - grateful that this connected with you and for your honesty and willingness to share.

      Delete
  16. Thank you for sharing! I am so very guilty of distracted living, and I think to myself my boys aren't going to be little for very long. It's so hard to try to slow down when we feel like we have this crazy long to do list hanging over our heads every day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh that list will never go away, will it?! It's so hard - thank you for sharing your own struggles here. So grateful for your honesty!

      Delete
  17. Thank you for sharing this very important story! I linked to you on my website to help spread the word and encourage everyone to become more mindful and present in each moment.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Jen... the same thing happened to me 20 years ago and I still think back to that night and how I could have lost my now 22 yr old amazing 4th son. While my older 3 boys were doing homework or playing I bathed my youngest. I had let most of the water out of the tub and the phone rang and it was my husband calling from overseas.. and I got distracted. A few minutes later I returned to see my little boy face down asleep in the tub and thank God the water had drained out.. but the washcloth was over the drain and could have prevented the water from draining all the way.. If that had happened he would have drowned. It is a recurring nightmare of what could have been and it has never gone away. That night was a wake up call big time!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, such a wake up call. Thank you for sharing your story!

      Delete
  19. Thank you for your message! You are brave and kind! What a wake up call to all of us. I wrote about your vulnerability in my latest blog. Truly, from teh bottom of my heart, thank you for reminding me to stay present. xox Jensy http://jensyscarola.blogspot.com/2013/10/are-we-separate-human-beings.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words Jenny.

      Delete
  20. We all thank god, that it didn't happen! So it can be a wake up call for us all being at the moment all the time and not caught up in multitasking we all are forced to do or imagine we can do so. Thank you much for telling your story and best wishes for you!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Just found your blog through 'Becoming Minimalist.' Yesterday I received my 3rd speeding ticket in the past year. (I have never received a speeding ticket before this year and I'm 45). In the past 24 hours I've been overcome with the feeling that the universe is telling me to slow down in all areas of my life. Your post couldn't have come at a better time. So happy to hear that your daughter is okay!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. You too are reminding me of the importance of slowing down - thank you!

      Delete
  22. Oh Dear God - I can barely breathe after reading this. Thank God your little one is ok. Thanks for sharing this - that takes a lot of guts and you may well have just awakened other over-burdened parents. One thing we did when our kids were little was turn off EVERYTHING from the time they got home from school until they were safely snug in bed and yes - that did include the telephone. It's really just a matter of a few hours and it brings some sanity back into the home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, thank you. Everything off. Great tip!

      Delete
  23. Dear Jen,

    Thank you for the eye opening post. The year I worked as a teacher 6 years ago, my older one was 8 and younger one 2. I can't count the number of times I forgot to give my older child his asthma medicine simply because I was too tired to think straight. After the 4th visit to the emergency, I decided to give up my job and have been home since. It is a lot less money and a lot letting go in terms of my personal ambitions, but I have not regretted it. I use my degree to teach my kids and the results have been truly rewarding. I hope you will always see your children as your greatest creative adventure and nurture them and enjoy them in different phases of their childhood.

    ReplyDelete