What’s My Commitment?

I briefly interacted with a gal working one of the booths at BottleRock. She wore amazing eye makeup, intensely purple and shimmery, ombre, with thick, expertly-applied liquid cat-eye liner.

Because I believe in freely and generously offering sincere compliments to friends and strangers, I commented on how beautiful her makeup looked. I also asked how long it took to apply, because obviously it took time.

“Forty-five minutes,” she replied matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal.
“Wow, that’s a commitment,” I responded.

To myself I added, That’s not a commitment I’d make!

I wouldn’t know how to spend 45 minutes on makeup. I could watch YouTube eye makeup tutorials, but I wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me to wear that kind of statement makeup.

That interaction has stuck with me. Commitments take time. Time spent = commitment.

Where do I spend my time?

This summer I’ve committed to doing a lot of writing and reading, exercising and praying. But I’ve also noticed the time sucks, the minutes between things where I pick up my phone out of habit and scroll through social media. Periodically I check the “Screen Time” function on my phone which reports how much time I have spent on social media versus reading/research; guess which wins…

I want to say that social media doesn’t matter to me that much, but my time says otherwise.

For now, I’m working on Social-Free Sundays, one day a week when I leave my phone down altogether. I’m also working on microMOVEments, a technique promoted by one of my favorite artists, SARK.

SARK decided that she could motivate herself to get big projects done if she broke, say, “Write a book,” into five minute steps. She could do anything for five minutes, especially if she sprinkled juicy adjectives into the description of each step. For example, one microMOVEment in writing could be: “Write down title.” But it’s so much more fun to “Play amazing title game!”

SARK’s secret is that once you get going, once you commit five minutes to one succulent step towards a larger goal, it’s easier to keep going. But even if you just commit five minutes, that’s still something. You can fill in another five minutes another time. Eventually all the minutes add up.

And what a better use of the in-betweens!

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.


We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.

Cell Phone Rules

cell phoneTween took a sharp turn onto the Adolescent Highway a few weeks ago.

He figured out how to text.

Silly parents, we thought we had years of innocent childhood left to go with this one before he hit Cell Phone Mania. We fought long and hard against the cultural mandate for kids to have cell phones. Teen may truly have been the last kid in his middle school to get a phone. He turned 14 mid-way through 8th grade and received a cell phone for his birthday.

Tween, still in elementary school, was given an iPhone 5 minus the sim card when friends upgraded their phones. Which means it’s not really a phone, right?, essentially the equivalent of an iPod Touch. He can play music and games but that’s about it. Right?

Naive parents! It didn’t take long for Tween, so much more computer savvy than his parents, to figure out that certain apps allowed him to communicate with his friends who also used those apps – the app equivalent of texting.

The apps were all linked to Guy’s email account, which meant that every time Tween got a message – or worse, a Facetime call – it came to Guy’s cell phone as well. That got old quick.

So now Tween has his own gmail account as well. He’s silly excited about this fantastic new development in his social life. Even when he doesn’t have his phone in hand, he wants to talk to his parents about how much fun it is. While we love that he wants to talk to us, he wore out that particular topic almost as soon as it came up (in part because the grown ups are still a little stunned that we fumbled our way down this length of the field, and about three years earlier than intended). He replied, “What? I am new to the wonders of iMessage!

So what’s a parent to do? We recommend having a plan, even if you put it in place retroactively.

Stage 1: We have worked hard to establish relational dominance over technology by implementing a No Screen Time rule Sunday dinner through Friday after school. No TV, no movies, no computer games on any device. Why? Because we want to allow our kids adequate time to get their homework done and then get bored, which encourages creativity. They can read a book, take the dog for a walk, shoot hoops in the cul-de-sac, paint or draw, build something, play with the too-many toys in their rooms, go for a hike in the open space, maybe even play with a friend.

Of course there are exceptions, the occasional family movie night, or when the parents have an evening obligation the kids might have some screen time once their responsibilities have been taken care of.

If you’re a parent of teens, you know it would be impractical to remove Teen’s cell phone from him just because we have a No Screen Time rule. He uses it as a tool to get done all that needs doing in his life. However, as Tween’s phone is for entertainment purposes, Tween does not have a phone Sunday through Friday. His friends can call him on our land line if they need him.

Stage 2: The Cell Phone Rules. I found these online, maybe an article posted on Facebook, some years back just before we gave Teen his cell phone. I don’t think they were original to that mom, either, and she definitely gave permission to tweak the rules to suit the family/child, which I did. We posted these in Teen’s room and talked about them often – we still do. He doesn’t follow them perfectly and we have definitely taken the phone away for periods of time. And while some of the rules may sound shocking, we absolutely encourage up-front honesty and conversation – better to talk about and avoid certain situations than have to deal with the fall-out later.

The Cell Phone Rules

  1. It is our phone. We bought it. We pay for it. We are loaning it to you. Aren’t we great?
  2. We will always know the password.
  3. If it rings, answer it. Say hello, use your manners. Never ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.”
  4. Hand the phone to one of your parents before bed every night.
  5. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.
  6. Put it away in public (for example, in church, restaurants, or movie theaters, wherever you are with other people). You are not rude; do not allow your phone to change that.
  7. Do not use your phone to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first.
  8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
  9. No porn. Nothing you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
  10. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Despite your intelligence, someday you might be tempted to do this. It is risky and could ruin your life.
  11. Take pictures, but don’t forget to live your experiences. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk.
  12. Leave your phone home sometimes and be okay with that decision. Learn to live without it.
  13. Download music that is new or classic or different than your peers. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
  14. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
  15. You will mess up. We will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We will always be learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

By the way, the grown ups in our home try to live by these rules, too. Technology has changed our world in fairly obvious ways, and cell phones have caused generally kind human beings to act in obnoxious ways. We want to model for our kids good relationships and healthy use of technology. We mess up, too, but that’s all part of the ongoing conversation.