A couple of weeks ago, as Nick and I were each in our usual "one-on-one with a child," going through the now-familar getting ready for school process, I overheard my husband saying to one of our sons, "you're focusing on the wrong thing right now. You need to be putting your jacket on, not trying to put a [Batman] watch on!"
Nick was, in that moment, technically right: because we live in Minnesota, and because it's winter, and because a school bus was due to arrive in mere minutes. All valid reasons to focus on the task, the essentials, the end goal; and not on the (seeming) fluff, the superfluous, the right-now-pleasure of the moment.
As parents, Nick and I communicate this message to our kids a lot. Both of our boys have challenges with attention, sensory input, executive functioning, and impulse control. As parents to kids with special needs, we often provide the "scaffolding" to help them make sense of their world; to filter out the unnecessary and create a framework for organizing information. (By the way, for a brilliant, in-depth look at ADHD and Executive Function from premier expert Dr. Russell Barkley, start here with this video. Side note: I really disliked his style the first few times I listened to him, but if you can get past the bedside manner, his information is pure gold.)
We do all of this--this scaffolding--because otherwise everything around us and them dissolves into utter chaos, and because we're trying to help their brains (SLOOOOOOOOOOOLY) rewire as they learn these skills, through repetition and over time, with the help of some medication and simply the passage of time (leading to maturity and social skills development).
As a result, we have lists and guides posted all over our house: how to use the bathroom, how to take a shower or bath, how to get ready for school, what we do after school, etc. All broken down into individual steps. What I have found over the last nearly 7(!) years is that many adaptations and interventions created for individuals on the autism spectrum also work well for our boys, whose social development and executive functioning skills fall along a similar continuum as individuals living with high-functioning autism. We are direct, we simplify, and we practice over and over (and over).
And this is working for us; I'm seeing results--slowly, and over time. I don't have to pre-talk through and physically point to the "getting ready for bed" routine any more. They just know it mentally now. And they can ALMOST do it independently now. This is real progress, and it's extremely satisfying to look back on, especially in our world that can feel very much like "but we just do the same exact thing day in and day out with no change." (Because it's not roses all day long by any measure: we still DO have days with setbacks and regressions.)
But all that is leading me to what I REALLY wanted to contemplate today. That phrase that kept reechoing in my mind: You're focusing on the wrong things.
You're focusing on the wrong things.
YOU'RE focusing on the wrong things!
Wait a second--
Maybe I am.
Maybe I am focused on the wrong things.
No, not all the time. Not when we really do only have about two minutes before the bus will arrive and it's about 1 below zero with a windchill.
Maybe when I just really want to read this super engrossing article I just saw on my phone on
When I am trying to make dinner, and they call to me to come downstairs, just because they want to tell me about and then demonstrate all of the features of their latest Lego build.
When I am SO sick of reading the same few books over and over at bedtime, but they love snuggling under their covers and hearing the familiar stories again (and again. And again...).
Or when I don't really care that the tree topper has fallen off again [due to our cat's insistence on climbing said Christmas tree and it's after Christmas anyway and we're probably taking it down in a few days anyway], but my son is asking (pleading?) if we can please put it back up, because it's just not right if the star isn't up there.
These are the times when I'm focused on the wrong thing, and these are the moments to find the right thing to focus on.
Because childhood is fleeting.
And it's a pretty brilliant teacher, if we would just let it be, because childhood automatically focuses us on the right things: on play, on togetherness, on tradition and ritual, on creativity, on simplicity, on being--fully being in the present, and in the present tense.
I am embarking on a quest to minimize the distractions and the excess in my life.
I am SO not calling this a resolution or even committing it to last for the entirely of 2017: I know myself too well. I am fantastic at starting things and I love new ideas and projects and approaches to old challenges...and when it comes to finishing them, I'm a great sprinter but a lousy marathoner.
I'm saying it here, "out loud," with the intent on making it REAL:
Starting today, I am going to intentionally begin a shift from the extra things--from focusing on the WRONG things: the too many possessions, obligations, activities, etc., and begin a shift to the right things.
(Okay, to be ultra-honest with you, I sort of started dabbling in this about a week ago, but let's not split hairs, shall we?)
I don't even know yet what all of the "right things" are, but I do have some hunches, and I know where the local experts live.
[By the way: you may see this is a wholly-unoriginal bandwagon-onjumping of the recent popular idea of minimalism, or as a component of mindfulness practice, or as a piece of Matthew 6:34 (among many other references), or as a reaction from my recent binge on one too many episodes of Hoarders. Or something else entirely.
That's totally cool with me. I kind of see it as all of the above, by the way. I tend to spend some time ruminating on a given theme internally for awhile, and then I just sort of begin to let it leak out all over my external life.]
And maybe you want to join me?
Happy 2017, reader.