Facebook has a new “responsiveness badge.” The other business owners in my entrepreneurship night class are talking about it. To earn it, page admins must respond to 90% of messages within fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
I snort at the irony. We are in this class because we are independent business owners. We are independent business owners because we like to make our own decisions, choose our hours, define our own paths, liberate ourselves from performance reviews….because we don’t want to have a boss. And yet suddenly, through the power of social media, we have potentially 1.6 billion bosses who can ping into our lives day and night, and the social media giant is counting the seconds until we jump-to with customer service, adding to the online quagmire of public scrutiny and performance evaluations many of the self-employed have worked to avoid.
Until the other day, I wasn’t aware of the “Very Responsive badge” of honor. I don’t allow FB to send me notifications. I find the social media site extremely helpful, but there are times when days, even months, pass before I figure out that there’s a message sitting out there in cyberspace, waiting for me. As I hear my classmates discuss it, how one salon owner feels torn between taking care of the clients in front of her and taking care of the customer on Messenger; how one gym owner has to interrupt dinner out with her husband to flash back a reply to a customer, and another sits at his desk at 3 in the morning, taking care of queries, I think back to my day.
It starts with Ula, curled up in a ball with a stomach virus, followed by a call from Mom. The doctor’s office has summoned her in to the clinic to review some tests early Friday morning. She is scared. She needs me to go with her. I lean away from my desk and put my hand on Ula’s forehead to check for fever. The phone rings again. Dad needs me to to come straight back to the farm after Mom’s doctor’s appointment, because there is a conference call with the hospital where his knee replacement surgery is scheduled for Wednesday. I will be moving in and camping out there with him as his advocate, and we need to review some concerns about care protocol. Saoirse walks in and quietly waits for my attention. She’s excited because I promised her a girls’ day out before the cafe opens in two weeks. We are planning lunch, a field trip to another specialty coffee shop, and finishing up the day at Goodwill, because she has out grown all her jeans. I had promised her this day, but now Ula needs my attention. And the phone keeps ringing. And then there is a knock at the door. It’s Larry, the contractor who’s working on the cafe. We need to have a meeting to review the budget. I try to re-schedule my day out with Saoirse to Thursday, but I need to meet with Kate to find out how things are going for her with her new position as the farm herd manager.
All day long, I feel that, no matter where I am, no matter who I choose to pay attention to, someone else is getting short shrift. Two days later, it only gets worse as I sit in the clinic with my mom while her doctor apprises us of a potentially dangerous condition that she might be developing…One that didn’t require immediate intervention, but one that requires us to make more appointments, see more specialists, spend more time in hospitals and doctors’ offices. We race back to the farm to have the conference call with the hospital, and then, when it is over, I watch my mom and my dad fall back into their chairs and begin to weep about the tenuous nature of life, about aging, about their fears.
I hold myself together only until I get home, where I sink to the kitchen table in emotional exhaustion. Saoirse reminds me that I’d promised to go for a walk with her, and I can barely tear myself from my chair. I want to go to my bed. I want to cry that my mom and dad are supposed to be taking care of me, because that’s how it’s always been. I want to scream in rage at my siblings, who all go to jobs, who all get to earn big fat paychecks, who all get the excuse of “I gotta go to work,” when there is a surgery on the calendar or a summons from the doctors’ office. I want the luxury of a job where I can escape all this for 8 or more hours every day; where I can associate only with people of working age, pretending that they are the real world, that this life of children with needs, parents with needs, a family farm with needs, is merely a sideline hobby.
I want to just turn on my phone, tend to my career and earn my responsiveness badge, or any little merit award that could represent a distraction.
But I can’t, because there’s just too much going on in life to respond to. And my heart only grows heavier as I contemplate mortality, about how much I love my family, the deep happiness it brings me to have my life full of them, and the inevitable fact that, one by one, I will have to face losing them as life changes and evolves. And I wallow in resentment and self-pity that, as this happens, I have to be the one sitting next to the monitors, listening to the doctors’ reports, emptying the piss bottles, trying to learn how we transition through this world with grace, dignity, and happiness. I perpetuate my maudlin mood with despair at my own despair: this is not me. This sadness is not how I want to define my life.
At last, at day’s end, I climb into bed beside Bob. His fingers grip mine as we fall asleep, urging me to take comfort in his immediate touch, rather than agonize over the day when I might lose it. In my mind, I release myself to prayer and meditation, asking myself to let go of these worries, to connect with all that is greater than myself.
And I awake a few hours later to the sound of spring peepers. The night rain has relented, and they are chorusing across the neighboring ponds. I remember my fear and worries from the day before vividly, but suddenly, they are so pale next to the sound of those peepers. I get up, go downstairs, light the fire, and step outside in the dark. I listen intently to their song, remembering all the joy they gave me growing up, how I would leave my window open, no matter what the temperature, to hear those peepers. Next, I hear a woodcock ratchet out its distinctive mating call, followed by the patter of the last few raindrops of the night on the gutters. I find my way in the dark to the wood pile,and my naked fingers trace around each log, choosing which one to bring inside to feed the fire, drinking in the sensation of each knot knot and sliver. I bring the logs in to the fire, then fling open the door, allowing heat and cold to mix, feeling Dusky’s nose in my hand, then her tongue lapping at the inside of my palm.
Four words type themselves across my mind: I am my habitat. I am not these sorrows and fears. As much as I am mother, wife, farmer and daughter, I am the spring peepers and the woodsmoke on rain soaked air. I am not “responsive.” I am embedded. And being embedded into this habitat means occasional camping trips to hospital rooms. It means allowing fears to pass through me, but not allowing them to destroy me. It means hearing the woodcock before the sun rises, and knowing that the hand entwined with mine across the pillow at night will hold me and comfort me unconditionally as my own fingers reach out to do the same for him, for my daughters, for my mom and dad. I don’t get a paycheck or a responsiveness badge for being embedded in this habitat of home, farm, community and family. I just get to be part of it, the gritty and the smooth. That’s the path I’ve defined for myself. That’s the path I will keep walking.