"Esther, having just moved to a new place, without good friends on the East Coast, this is not a healthy thing to do. Your San Diego friends won't write you letters. They won't pick up the phone as easily as they might contact you on email or Facebook, and you can't expect them to. You might become very isolated. And that could lead to becoming depressed."
I'm not going to talk today about the isolation that can be a part of life at home with small children. But that kind of loneliness was the context of my friend's concern, and both she and I have a pretty good idea of what that feels like.
A few days ago I wrote about how good it feels to share something wonderful that just happened even when there isn't a live grown up anywhere in sight. If my son has done something thrilling, Daddy is out of contact on his way to work and my West coast friends won't be up for hours, where do I turn? To the internet, of course! No matter what the day or hour, there is somebody on the internet who is listening. The internet itself is listening.
In this case, when I found myself full-to-bursting with the news that my 2-year old is beginning to learn to read, I had less than an hour to wait before I could have picked up the phone and called my husband. Then again, my husband might not have been the best audience for my delight, having recently expressed mild concern after cleaning out my car and finding 1st and 2nd Grade McGraw-Hill reading textbooks tucked underneath the driver's seat. These were the result of a Freecycle mixup, I quickly assured him. I was supposed to get the bag with the cloth barn and farm animals. But he had raised an eyebrow, and I had taken the note.
I could have waited a few more hours and called my homeschooling sister, who would not only have been appreciative of Milo's progress, but could also have helped me understand what to teach next and how best to teach it. Or I could have waited a few more hours after that and called Milo's grandma, who would have been unconditionally tickled. But I didn't call her. I didn't call any of them.
On the same cross country drive that I mentioned in the Open Space post -- the post on which Chelsea commented that media chatter helps protect us from our loneliness -- my family and I stopped to visit my grandmother in her nursing home in northern Utah. For a few hours on a Sunday morning, Milo alternately hid behind Daddy, crawled in and out of his sister's car seat and suspiciously eyed the metal walker, while Stella and I sat -- mostly in silence -- and held my grandma's hand. The centerpiece of her room and of our brief conversation was her bulletin board, which overflows, sometimes two deep, with pictures and letters and postcards from her eight grandchildren and now eleven great-grandchildren. Except, really, only nine great-grandchildren. There were no pictures of my kids. Not one.
Do I have any excuses? Well...I haven't had a way to print pictures. I have a printer, but the color settings are wrong and I don't know how to fix them. And I haven't had a way to take pictures that seemed worth printing, since I have an overdeveloped aesthetic sense and have only recently started learning to control my camera. And I've never had pictures professionally done, because I just have never had the time or the money for things like that. And I've been, you know, so busy, and we do visit her, at least occasionally, and one thing and another, sending pictures to Grandma is something that just never, ever happened.
I finally took the photos. I printed them at Target. I put a stamp on an envelope. I wrote out the address. I wrote my kids' names and ages in black marker on the back of each picture, trusting that somebody other than me will help my grandmother pin them up onto her bulletin board. It wasn't really very much effort, but it was a little bit of effort. It was a little bit of effort targeted directly to a person whom I love.
At least a few days a week I capture something funny or clever or important about my day, and I post it as a status update on Facebook. This also takes a little bit of effort. But instead of sending it to one person, I put it up for anyone to see. Does this interest you? If so, come in and have a conversation. If this interests you, be a part of my relationship circle. Be my friend. Be my family.
We all have seasons in our lives, and for me, this period of having no job and two kids under the age of three is an intense season of family. That's why this blog is so heavily populated with the colorful personalities that I'm bound to by blood or marriage, including the pretty girl in these pictures, who is the daughter of my brother. The transition from work life to family life is a real thing that's happening to me right now, but it isn't at all the point I'm trying to make. Blood family or soul family, either way, what I'm trying to talk about is the locus of intention.
I created a message, yes, but I did I finish the job? Did I decide where to send it?
On that morning a few days ago, when I couldn't wait a single second to express my sense of celebration, I sat down and wrote a letter. (Really? A letter? Who writes letters anymore?) Yes, I think so. I put the words on the page. I put effort into telling the story. The only thing I skipped is the address line. I didn't choose the target. Instead I put the information in the blogosphere, and I waited for the target to choose me.
This consumer-driven exchange may be ideal for information. I can find my way to the "how to" that I'm looking for. I can read the article that interests me. It's lovely for finding other people's insights, and I suppose also for various kinds of solace and inspiration. But for me right now, at this moment in my life, I'm not sure that consumer-driven contact can be a good model for friendship.
Friendship takes work. I'm not great at it. I never have been. And I'd rather face that than to keep my life full of shadows of friendships, electronic maps of who happened to notice what, when, and did I get your attention today, or do you happen to share this particular opinion that defines the two of us as members of one group. I'd rather go to the effort to learn how to take better care of the many wonderful people that I already have. I think in the long run that is what will take better care of me.
And of course, here I am telling you all this in a computerized version of my life, complete with computerized tea dates and computerized discussion, and I've made an effort to attract my San Diego friends, whom I miss, to this blog for just that purpose. Feel free to poke fun at that as you like.