New York Times op-ed: Why I Didn’t Answer Your Email: Because My Inbox Will Always Be Waiting For Me, But My Children Will Not, by KJ Dell’Antonia:
I’m 47 years old. Two days ago, you sent me an email, which I did not answer. I didn’t answer it, in part, because I am 47 years old.
I appreciated your email. You are a person, who has written an email, and I am a person, who should reply to that email. However, your email arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and just as I opened it, my 16-year-old son came in. He wanted to describe to me an app he is in the process of developing. Then he showed me a funny article someone had sent him, and I showed him a funny article someone had sent me. ...
I was so inspired by this that I abandoned your email, and I applied myself to my work. I would have replied to your email ..., I am certain, except that my 11-year-old daughter came in. ...
I think that I would have answered your email if you had sent it earlier, by which I mean several years earlier, when these children were smaller and their conversation more repetitive. I would have been hidden in my office, a younger, more driven me, instead of sitting, as I often do now, in the middle of the house, an invitation to interruption. ...
I almost answered your email later, after bedtime, which is when I have often answered emails. My laptop was perched on my bedside table. My husband was perched on his side of the bed, and he leaned back and asked me if I’d given any thought to whether the chickens would need to be kept away from the apple trees after he sprayed them with something to keep the bugs away.
We moved on to the children’s math grades, then to the way they just take their socks off and leave them, inside out, no matter where they are. I looked at the clock and saw that it was not as early as I’d thought, not for a lot of things, and so we turned off the light, and I did not answer your email.
Your email sat among emails from bosses and editors and orthodontists all through the next workday. ... I thought about answering your email in the afternoon, while my older daughter and I waited outside the school for her sister to finish a piano lesson. My daughter probably would not have minded. She is almost 13, and sometimes, when she sits in the house texting while I try to talk to her, I squirt her with the bottle I keep on the counter to spray the cats when they start scratching the back of the sofa. I could have answered your email then. I admit it. We could have sat there, in peaceful silence, each staring at our phone. I had time to answer your email, and I did not.
I snuggled my youngest son at bedtime that night, because he asked. I snuggled him even though your email was calling, and some part of me wanted to pull away from the tedium of bedtime and reply. Replying would have felt fresh and new, while bedtime felt old and stale, although it has grown far less demanding of late, with no more reading out loud and no more splashing baths, many of which I spent answering emails, which was fine, because there were so many bedtimes and so many baths, so very, very many of them, until suddenly there weren’t, although there were still a lot of emails.
I would like to say I snuggled my son and did not give your email one single thought, but that would not be true, and it would also be rude, even though it is a state of mind to which many of us aspire. Instead, I hovered somewhere between mindful presence in the bedtime moment and awareness of your email and many others. I spend a lot of time in that gap, sometimes drafting mental responses to emails, which I am later surprised and dismayed to find I have not actually sent.
It is possible that I will answer your email later, in a few hours, or in a few years, maybe when I am 57, and I will be so happy to have your email. We will trade words, and those words will again seem so real to me, a whole world in my laptop, where I live, sometimes, because there is so much that is seductive in there, where time moves fast and yet never moves at all. I will take my laptop outside and I will sit among the trees, listening for the voices of children who are no longer home, and I will answer your email.
It is also possible that I will not — that I, in fact, will never answer your email. If that is the case, if the people and the places and the things around me still press upon me with more urgency than your email and so many others, I hope that you will forgive me. I have already forgiven myself.