Lesson 3: Communication Isn’t What It Used to Be

Forgive my absence for the past couple weeks. The end of the semester came with more struggles than I anticipated. The holiday break couldn’t come quickly enough. The struggles we are seeing in the halls of the school this year surmount anything we have seen before. The year and a half spent locked away has truly hurt the way teens communicate with the people and world around them.

Unfortunately, teens are not the only ones affected. Due to the lack of face to face communication and the majority of our interaction being conducted over a screen, our society has changed the way we absorb information all together.

Scrolling through social media has become a part of our daily routine. Wake up, grab the phone, tap the screen, click the icon: blue, yellow, black, pink; we each have our own drug of choice. No matter which icon chosen, the addiction is the same– an abundance of information thrown at us in a short amount of time.

Double tap, scroll; click the heart, scroll; read the first line, not interested, scroll; hold the thumb-do I laugh react-definitely only worthy of a like, scroll.

THIS is how we now interact.

We gather information at breakneck speed, and we forget to fully engage.

So often I hear teens, tween, colleagues, and even my 7 year old niece say, “I learned this thing on TikTok!” If you’ve ever been on TikTok you know, each video is 15 to 60 seconds long. Each of these individuals are passing on information they learned in approximately 35 seconds.

There have been many times recently I’ve heard someone proclaim, “I saw this thing on Facebook…” and they proceed to tell me everything that is wrong with the world. That meme that took 3 seconds to read has taught them something they feel is important.

It’s hard to believe it takes less than 60 seconds to learn a completely new concept, but that is how our world now functions, in the blink of an eye.

We no longer laugh, we lol or *laughing emoji.” No longer will we “talk to you later;” we ttyl. No longer do I tell my loved one I’m “on my way,” I tap OMW!, and they know I’ll be there soon. As a matter of fact, as I typed OMW, my computer keeps autocorrecting it to “On my way!” Many people don’t even take the time to capitalize those all too familiar initialisms because the extra click of the screen takes too much time and focus.

What I’ve yet to determine is, is this phenomenon a good thing or a bad thing? While I’m seeing so many negative affects, I’m wondering just how detrimental gathering new information in under 60 seconds is on society. What are we gaining from this new way of communicating?

Let me know below what you feel are some positives that can come from 60 seconds worth of info.



Lesson 2: Don’t Take the Meme Bait, Parents

As delicious as it looks, it’s not always what’s best.

As a mom, I am constantly searching for ways to be better, often feeling as though who I am isn’t enough because I didn’t have some great example of a mom to imitate. My mom was the epitome of what NOT to do as a parent, so I’ve navigated the world of “momming” on my own these past 19 years. I’ve worked to be the best mom I can be without being too hard on myself for all my shortcomings. However, I’ve learned, sometimes, the advice I come across is often counterproductive and causes more pain and anguish than it does help.

I find myself, a tiny bit of downtime, sitting at Jiu Jitsu practice, waiting for dinner to need to be stirred again, sitting in the car waiting for my daughter to get out of basketball practice, or let’s be honest, even sitting in the bathroom on the toilet because there is peace and quiet in there. I scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to pass the time just to zone out for a minute or two. Other moms glide across my screen as I swipe up across the glass. I imagine that’s how many of them may walk too, gliding. So many od them seem to have it all together, and they flash across every feed. They post their wonderful memes which seem so perfect and so enlightening.

I hate those memes! They begin to make me question every move I’ve ever made as a mom. I see the memes with “I’m the mom who…” insert anything a wonderful mom would do here. I see the square with the flowery words exclaiming, “your children need…” with a list of advice that rarely worked for me. My mind reals, my heart rate quickens. Oh, I have done so much so wrong! Many of these words of wisdom, from people with a PhD or perfect parenting skills, are foreign and add to my already heavy weight of anxiety that piles on my shoulders. They tend to do nothing but make me feel like more of a failure as a mom. I don’t understand them. I don’t agree with them, but of course, I do not comment my true feelings for fear of being rejected by all the “perfect” parents. They make me feel as though there is something wrong with me as a mom.

After much thought, I’ve made myself a goal: trying to rid myself of this melancholy social media creates. It keeps me up at night, agonizing over how to be like the memes. Visions of the memes creep into my thoughts long after I’ve shut my phone, while I’m watering the plants, vacuuming the floor, or any of the other things that take me away from spending that “special time” that so many memes tell me I should be devoting to every child, every minute of every day. Why do allow it to get to me at such a high level? When these thoughts throw themselves against the forefront of my brain and begin to drag me into despair, I have started to remind myself, what if my thought process isn’t wrong? Even better, what if I stop caring about what is right for others and what others think? What if I stop obsessing over the memes that always tend to stress me out and leave me lying awake at night wondering if I’m screwing up my kids at every turn? What if I realize, those memes suck and are written by someone who doesn’t know me and who doesn’t know my children? What if I focus on the facts that every child is different; every parent is different; every situation is different; every home is different; every relationship is different.

Don’t get me wrong, I know these memes, words of wisdom, fun little quips about what every child needs are well meaning. Honestly, I may have shared them myself as I try to “be a better parent.” But, I’m learning to realize, they make me feel as if who I currently am isn’t good enough.

One such meme so graciously tells me, “When little people are overwhelmed with big emotions, it’s our job to share the calm, not join in their chaos.” L R Knost

Thank you for such enlightening words of wisdom that will surely make me stop in my tracks each time I see our child melting down over me asking her to clean the bathroom that only she uses. I wish I could say “thank you” to the fabulous L.R. sincerely, but honestly, I can’t. To me, those words of wisdom are a reminder of every failure I’ve made each time I didn’t bring calm to the situation.

Do I try? Absolutely! Am I sometimes successful through all of their chaos? Certainly! Are there many times I’m successful in remaining calm for the first 10 minutes of a meltdown before I begin “joining their chaos?” YEP! Are their times where I just snap quickly and don’t even know I’ve immediately added to their chaos before I know what’s hit me? More often than I care to admit.

Let’s be real for a moment: when my daughter knows she’s to clean her room every Saturday morning, and she’s outside playing basketball instead of cleaning up the tiled floor she’s turned into a carpet with her clothes in the bathroom, it annoys me to no end. I ask, “did you clean your room?”

“Noooo,” she whines.
“Go clean your bathroom, please.” I repeat as I do every Saturday morning.

“But, I’m hungry. I need to eat.”

*Insert mom eye roll* “You didn’t need to eat before basketball, but you do now.”

“I wasn’t hungry then.”

“Of course you weren’t. Okay, eat breakfast then go clean your bathroom.”

She eats breakfast, very slowly I might add, then gets distracted then gets lost in the craft room because—I have no idea—but, it happens.

I get annoyed. She gets whiny. I repeat myself, again. She gets more whiny. She refuses saying, “It’s my room! I don’t know why I can’t keep my room how I want it!”

My voice raises. This can go back and forth for quite a while. Does it make me a bad mom because I raised my voice when she refused to listen to me?

This meme slides into my mind, making me feel small after I finally got her to be responsible and clean up after herself. I go from feeling like it’s a success because she’s finally cleaning her bathroom to, “oh no! Did I just damage my kid? Did I just become a monster? How could I raise my voice? Am I being controlling? Am I creating a power struggle?”

No, L. R., I’m not. I’m not screwing up my kid because I may have added to her chaos, so she’d clean her bathroom. I was being a decent mom and teaching her to be responsible. Guess what, L. R., this is not the only time I’ve added to chaos to get my kids to listen either, and that’s okay.

Picture this: one fantastic weekday morning my daughter comes to get me from my bathroom just as I was squeezing myself into my work pants. “Mom, A is being mean to C. A said really mean things to C, and now he’s following him around and in his face. C even tried to put on his headphones and walk away, but A just keeps following him.”

Me: *sighs* “okay, I’m on my way.”

By the time I finished the pants-dance where my pants and I must come to terms with the fact that we must get along because I refuse to buy a bigger size, my husband is in the living room talking to a very teary-eyed A. *insert eye roll only I can detect* He’s recently started crying every time he’s done something wrong because my husband takes it easier on him when tears are involved.

Me: *steps in, so my husband could get back to what he was doing* “What’s up? What’s going on? Did you say these things to your brother?”

A: “I said ‘sorry,’ and he ignored me.”

We go back and forth with why, just because he says sorry doesn’t mean his brother has to accept the apology. Side note: no, I do not make my children accept an apology when the behavior continues time and time again. At that point, apologies are useless. Eventually, I send A to his room until it’s time to leave for the bus. He begins methodically hitting the walls to let us know just how annoyed he is the tears were all in vain.

As I pull C to the side to explain how he could have easily said, “I hear your apology,” I notice the time creeping dangerously close to the time I must leave. The methodical thump, thump, thump, overhead continues, rhythmically, monotonously, and I’m grateful when my conversation with C is over and I can go to work.

I hug the little people and rush out the door, no time my makeup on at home, and head for work.

60 seconds later my phone dings. It dings again. It dings again and again. Stuck at a stop sign that is notorious for backing up, I check my phone. 7 blank messages are lighting up my screen. *HUH?!*

There it is. A has gone through every thread our family has and begun sending blank messages. Just me-2 blank messages, another ding; message to me and my husband- 3 blank messages; message to me, C, daughter, and husband, 1 blank message. Before I can tell Siri to call “ICE,” a total of 13 dings in less than 60 seconds.

Me: “Tell him to knock it off! I’m done! I’m over it! I’m going to work! This is nuts and ridiculous! What kind of passive-aggressive tendencies must one possess to find a way to annoy so methodically and monotonously someone who isn’t even home to hear the knocking on the walls?! Seriously! UGH! Make it stop! No one has time for that!”

Let me be very clear: my calm lasted as I discussed the issue with him following his brother after saying hateful things. My calm lasted as I explained to my sensitive boy how he could have handled the situation a little better. My calm lasted through the methodically hitting of the walls as I gathered my things to leave the house. My calm lasted as I realized I would be putting my makeup on at my desk that morning. However, my calm did not last through the passive aggressive relentless dings from the empty text messages. Do I count it as a failure because my calm snapped as I quickly told Siri to call my husband, so he could make the dinging stop, my calm melting as it begins adding to the chaos? Nope!

Guess what: I am still a good mom, even if it sometimes does look differently than someone else’s version of a good mom. I am still a good mom even if my cracked patience contributes to the chaos once in a while.

Guess what else: when I got sassy, the passive-aggressive behavior took a back seat to “ah, damn-she means business.” My son learned his pre-teen, passive aggressive attitude was done. My son learned he doesn’t get to be so annoying just because he feels like it. However, the meme creeps in as I drive to work. “You added to the chaos. You didn’t keep the calm the whole time. Did you mess up your kid? Is he going to be scarred for life?”

Unfortunately, the onslaught of being made to feel like a failure thanks to a well-meaning meme does not end with just one meme. There are a plethora in many forms that, while meaning no harm, are condescending and unhelpful.

The one that hits even more painfully than “Keep your calm; don’t add to their chaos,” tells me, “Your words sow seeds in your children’s hearts. From those seeds spring up either confidence or uncertainty, dignity or dishonor, worth or worthlessness. Your words create the beginning of their life stories, and they will carry this story with them always. ~Rebecca Eanes

“Ouch, Rebecca!”

OUCH, Rebecca! That hurts.

As a teacher, I see students whose parents are doing their best, saying all the positive things, trying their hardest to show their child they are loved. Parents drop everything, take their child to every doctor’s appointment, every therapist appointment, all the places, but their efforts do not instill confidence or dignity. This does not make them a parenting failure, but this meme creeps into their thoughts, making them feel “less than” because their words don’t have the impact the memes tells them it should.

As a mom, I try hard to build up my children. That does not stop their own fears and anxieties, triggered by a chemical imbalance that I have no control over, from creeping into their deepest thoughts. I tell my children how loved they are, how much they matter, how smart and capable they are, how funny they are, and how much joy they bring to the world. This does not stop my pre-teen child from feeling unloved at the slightest altercation with a sibling. This does not stop my daughter, who has already graduated high school, from texting me from the bathroom floor at work because she became overwhelmed and overstimulated.

What happens when, no matter how much love we show our children, our child tries, or even worse, succeeds in committing suicide? Is it because my words sprouted in my child’s mind as dishonor and worthlessness?

NO! It means, the memes are not for you! They do not know you! They don’t know the love you pour into your children, only for them to rebel. They do not know how hard you try to help them, only for them to do what they damn well please. They do not know many hours you spend trying to console them, only for them to still have extreme anxiety.  

The next time you are mindlessly scrolling through the never-ending feed of Facebook and see that painfully perfect quote that makes you feel as though you are failing at life and should live as a cat lady because you’re clearly only equipped to care for a feline, ignore it!

In fact, not only ignore it, refute it ! Remind yourself, comparing yourself to another to the point of it causing you anxiety and sleepless nights is beyond counter intuitive. You’re a badass, and the meme is taking your mind away from what really matters, being yourself, because yourself is who your children need you to be. You are good enough. You are not measured by a meme. Your worth is not measured by the words of a stranger who writes a book on how to be perfect.

Lesson 1: Seek Adventures, Always

Successfully calm and energized 💚 Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas 2021

As someone who often needs to find their calm in the chaos of life, I’ve learned to get creative. When I need to regain focus, I can’t walk into a mall– where arms heavy with bags will bump into me, or Target– where buggies will box me in, or a crowded park– where kids are climbing and screaming and consider it relaxing. I need something more “outside the box” to sooth my nerves when they get frayed. And, I must do this without denting the bank too much.

Between teens at work, with their fists flying into each other’s jaw lines, their sassy attitudes, and their lawnmower parents, and my own children at home, who are expecting some perfectly prepared Bento Box lunch adorned with heart shaped sandwiches and little sticks of celery, I often find myself seeking some random adventure in order to escape and find myself for a bit.

Unfortunately, no matter how badly I want it, it can’t always be a grand, big adventure. Yes, sometimes, my adventures consist of traveling across the country, tugging the family along for day activities, then exploring on my own in the wee hours of the morning before the sun has pried apart the eyes of my loved ones. Others, the adventure consists of a few hours, stolen on a Sunday morning, while the house is still groggy from Saturday night’s sleep and little feet are barely hitting the hardwood floors with their owners seeking breakfast. While the first is my favorite, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance and beauty of the small adventure.

No matter how big or small, somewhere along the way on these wonderful adventures, I learned, I love snapping photos on my phone of beautiful places, so they can continue to transport me into an amazingly magical place long after I’ve stepped away from the beauty.

I love capturing these moments in time so much, I have taken to hanging these photos, so they adorn my walls. Some are stretched across wood on canvas, others stuck to boards by CVS employees. Most are arranged on a wall to form a collage in my hall. I have a large sea turtle with its heads not yet breaking the surface of the cobalt blue salt waters of the Caribbean. I have pictures of a bridge, thick and heavy with ivy, in Ireland as water rushes below, as the white caps of the rushing water hugs and whooshes around the rocks on its descent down the slight incline.

Sea turtle in the Caribbean of St. John 2021

My greatest photo, however, is a canvas print of the “Ristorante Italiano” hung prominently in my living room. It’s beauty, frozen in time, the rose vine climbing and guarding the front door to the little restaurant. The sign, with the “r” in Ristorante slightly askew-with all letters painted a warm gold, creates a scene straight out of some beloved romantic comedy. The mahogany tables, with their matching wicker chairs pushed in neatly, surround the outside of the building along the sidewalk. Between the table and the red brick hangs and climbs greenery from all directions and angles to give the patron the illusion they’ve stepped across the Atlantic and into a genuine, Italian ristorante. I snapped the photo while perusing the streets of Little Italy, a small suburb of New York City, this past summer on one of my independent adventures. I had woken up hours before everyone else to take the subway to Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown the last morning we were there. It was worth every moment! I relish in that memory of independence and leisure.

Ristorante Italiano, Little Italy, NYC 2021

But, alas, not all adventures can consist of such magical, far-off places. Therefore, I’ve begun exploring my own city. Surely, with thousands flocking to my city each year for vacation, there is beauty here I’ve overlooked, taken for granted, and become accustomed to without knowing it.

Recently, I realized I had been feeling suffocated by the needs of everyone around me— students with trouble home lives, my own children arguing over who was listening to whose conversation and who touched what, even the dog with the incessant squeaking of the rubber chicken that screams each and every time its touched. When I realized the dog toy was getting to me that badly, I knew the discontent had begun setting in. I was noticing it more and more as it clawed up my spine and settled into my shoulders with a weight that evoked tension and tight muscles. I needed to shake it off. The best way to do so, for me, is to explore!

I took to Instagram. One by one, I typed “#fortworth #fortworthtravel #fortworthphotographer #fortworthphoto #sundancesquare #sundancesquarefortworth in the search bar at the top of the page. Success! I found magical places amidst the concrete jungle closest to home, and suddenly, I had a plan. Okay, honestly, I had no plan. I had as much of a plan as I usually do during these crazy moments of mine. I knew the general vicinity of where I was headed, and that was about it. That’s the extent of my planning when it comes to these adventures. Decide, get to someplace in the general area, then explore!

I woke up at my usual weekday time; my eyes are normally open at that time anyways no matter what day of the week it is. It just meant I wouldn’t waste 2 hours scrolling Facebook. Instead, I got dressed, not to impress but to “feel fancy,” as I like to put it. It’s not about how others perceive me. It’s more about how I feel, and I wanted to feel cute, so I made it happen for no one other than myself! I set out in basic, white-girl fashion, with a mobile order to Starbucks, complete with peppermint syrup in my English Breakfast tea and a chocolate croissant. This is not something I do regularly. I’m too (literally) basic for this to be a regular thing. Once my order was placed, I was I kissed the heads of each of my loved ones and set out for my solo adventure.

After a quick stop to grab my Starbucks, I headed to Sundance Square, right in the middle of downtown Fort Worth, to find my calm. It was a brisk, 58 degrees F. The autumn air wasn’t cold, but it was crisp. It was slightly damp from a rain the night before. The sun was rising but wasn’t yet blazing. It was gorgeous.

I quickly found a place to park, despite the weekend parking being nil, and parallel parked. I set out with just my phone and my Holiday Starbucks cup, complete with the little green pick poking from the top. I crossed the little flat, square, concrete walkway that is synonymous with Sundance Square. If I were a month later, a ginormous Christmas tree would be standing regally right where I walked. Today, however, it was bare, flat, smooth. I walked, with purpose, towards Main Street, as I searched for the clock that stood on the corner in front of the jewelry store. It’s so photogenic, and when one hides behind the nearby flowers, it sets a beautiful shot for any amateur photographer. I grabbed some shots of the clock on the corner, but this was not my ultimate destination on today’s journey. I grabbed my drink from where I had sat it down moments before and made a right, past the little Cajun restaurant on the opposing corner from the clock.

Just past the last window featuring fried gator, I found the little alley way I had seen on Insta. Making an immediate right, I walked through the brick archway. I was encased and surrounded by white—white balloons overhead and white concrete stretching from the ground up. The white concrete hugged the balloons in place before disappearing. Then, there it was. I was transported into a little sanctuary, hidden, and secluded from the hustle and bustle and traffic merely a yard away.

Here, the white, concrete walls and opaque balloons turned to red brick. The balloons overhead opened to a canopy of trees with rays of sunlight peeking through. In front of me was a strip of cobblestone lined with plants, potted, some with big leaves shaggy and lazy, others with vines overflowing and cascading to kiss the ground, many with vines wrapped around sticks which were hired to train the vines to defy gravity, while more still held little bushed which demanded their leaves stand strong and at attention like little soldiers.

To my right, a little sitting area was hidden behind a large tree trunk and concrete pillars. Encircling the trunk of the tree nearest to me was an army of plants in little plastic containers as though they had recently been plucked from their parent plant and transplanted to grow on their own.

I ventured a few steps farther, ready to take pictures of where I stood. I remember thinking how beautiful it would be for a shot. However, as I stepped in a little farther, I was quickly surprised and easily sidetracked by the quaint, autumn set up one of the nearby shop owners created. Fall themed, pumpkins everywhere, hay styled just perfectly into a bench, it was all asking for me to photograph it. I couldn’t help but oblige the call of the scene. It was magnificent. The tree being guarded by little green minions was quickly forgotten.

I propped up my phone on its little ring, which is stuck to its back. I pulled up my camera app on my Apple watch, and I began conducting my own little, silly, fun, adventurous photoshoot. I know, so silly for an almost 40-year-old woman to do such a thing, but it’s fun and simple and easy and creative. It’s relaxing. It’s one of my adventures.

I love the freedom in it. The freedom to look less studious and create wild poses and funny faces with no one there to judge me. No child is nearby insisting I’m embarrassing them. Occasionally, an older person with a small dog on a leash, or a young couple out for an early morning jog would stroll into my private oasis, but their interruption was short-lived. Once I felt I had enough shots on the little autumn refuge, I grabbed my phone and coat and moved to the next spot.

Everywhere I turned was a “next spot.” Amazing shots were in each direction I turned. I could face one direction and be greeted by the beauty of autumn oranges and reds only to do an about-face and be confronted with a vibrant green back drop where the leaves and limbs were climbing walls as they escape their small, terracotta pots. I spent a long while in the tranquility found in the middle of downtown Fort Worth that day. This is a spot I never knew existed, and it was just minutes from my home. This was the calm I needed.

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas–2021

I always knew I had to find a place to find a stillness. The peace, for me, isn’t found in the middle of my busy day in the classroom. It’s not found striving and thriving in the kitchen all day, every day. It’s not found in some great joy some parents get in creating those little Bento Boxes. Yes, I love my career, but it’s taxing and exhausting. Yes, I love to cook and bake, but that’s not my existence. Yes, those boxes get made to ensure my daughter, who has an autoimmune disorder, and my sons are eating healthy foods.

While I used to always look for a far-off adventure to find my respite from the day to day life, and I’d constantly seek the road trip, thinking that was the only way I’d find an escape, I’ve since learned, the serenity I often crave is just as much close to home and as cheap as the gas it takes to drive 15 minutes down the road. This calm cost me $7.04; it could have been free if I’d chosen to forgo the Starbucks treat.

I’m enough of an introvert that I must have time away, but I’m also enough of an extrovert that I still want to be around my people. It’s a balancing act I walk daily. This was a beautiful balance of the two. I was able to get away from all the stress and responsibility for a few hours while still being able to come back home for hugs when I’d had my fill of the quiet to recharge. A busy mall or a crowded Target are not my ideas of calm. I get claustrophobic and anxious. Just the thought of a Walmart sends the claws climbing the muscles that encase my spine. This once, I found my “outside of the box” adventure in the middle of large, brick buildings, in the middle of a concrete jungle.