". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I remember one day last year when I was helping out in Evan's (my 5-year-old's) Sunday School class (he was 4 at the time). The teacher, a friend of mine and the mom of one of Evan's friends, had just announced that it was time to switch activities. After several children loudly and emotionally protested, she looked at me and said, "Transitions. I keep forgetting about transitions."

My friend, who is studying for a Master's degree in child development, was referring to the importance of taking time to prepare the child for a change in activity and to allow him to adjust to the change gradually. Her comment about transitions came back to me today as I was doing some thinking and realized that a lot of the stress in my life comes from transitions. It dawned on me that Evan's mommy does not handle them any better than he and his classmates do.

One aspect of being a mom, particularly a homeschooling mom, is the ability to keep track of a multiplicity of wide-ranging demands. The demands may be physical, mental, or emotional, and they may come in various forms: people talking to me, people wanting me to do something for them, household tasks, errands, and so forth. Sometimes the demand isn't even something that seems like a demand but is instead something lovely, like a family member interrupting my washing of the dishes to give me a hug. Nevertheless, a gesture like that sometimes gets lost in the crush of stimuli that don't politely queue up and wait their turn in line, but instead come en masse and from all directions, seemingly materializing out of nowhere like the birds in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller:

In my younger days I think I handled the onslaught better than I do now, easily switching my attention from one person to the next and one need to the next with a minimum of angst. Or maybe in my younger days there just weren't so many "birds" flying at me at any given time. But at the very least, I think I was able to hang in longer before having to run for cover.

These days, however, it seems like it only takes a couple of "incoming" before either my flight response kicks in or I have a meltdown. And by meltdown I don't mean that I turn into a blubbering, incoherent mess (although that does happen sometimes). Instead I mean a brain meltdown, a locking up or shutting down that makes me feel almost like I can't process the things that are going on around me. Maybe it would be more accurately called a brain freeze. Whatever it is, I think it comes of an increasing practice of compartmentalizing the various aspects of my life. That compartmentalization manifests itself in a number of different ways, and maybe I'll write more about that in a future post. But it goes beyond difficulty switching among activities on the micro level (although that's part of it). It also has to do with the various "threads" of my life and how they weave together on the macro level. In other words, I am finding that I can be a wife, or a mother, or a cleaning lady, or a cook, or a teacher, or a pianist, or the cantor's wife, or a friend, or a blogger, or an editor, or a daughter, but when it comes to playing more than one role at a time or quickly switching among them, I don't do so readily or easily. So I'll be in "cook" and "mommy" mode, trying to get supper on the table, and my husband will come in the front door and want to switch me in to "wife" mode so that he can share something about the day, and it's a huge effort to adjust. I find it almost impossible to keep on with the task at hand while I listen to him. And even if there is no shortage of time, so that it would not be a problem for me to simply stop what I am doing and turn my attention to my dear husband, I find it very difficult to do so at a moment's notice knowing that in a few more minutes I'll have to go back into "cook" and "mommy" mode.

Here's another example, independent of the "people are depending on me, I need to get this done" dynamic. If I see someone in one place that I normally associate with another place, such as running into someone from church at a music concert, I can find myself totally disoriented and either not immediately recognize the individual or not understand the things to which he or she refers. I'm at a concert, you see, not at church, so what are you doing talking to me about something that happened at church? And who ARE you, anyway? It takes a concerted effort to reset my brain to "church mode" and try to figure out who this person is and what he or she is talking about.

I think the compartmentalization is also why I find it so very difficult to relax in my own home. I am so used to seeing it as my workplace, and it is no simple matter to change that perspective.

So . . . the problem seems to be transitions--transitions from one task to another, one place to another, or one vocational "hat" to another. The question now is what to do? If I listen to my friend who has studied this issue with regard to children, I need to ease into and out of them (transitions, that is--not children). I need time to process them. Only life doesn't tend to work that way. Life doesn't care about my need to adjust. Life is just what it is, which is most often an unpredictable, out-of-control mess. But people . . . now there's a thought. Maybe the people in my life--the people I know love and care about me--can help. Maybe, like the teacher or parent trying to gently move the tunnel-visioned preschooler from building with blocks to coloring at the table, there are some things my housemates (at least the older ones) can do to facilitate the transitions that I seem to have such trouble with. No doubt there are some things I can do as well. But that's for another post.


Elephantschild said...

This is it! This is why I'm so toasted at the end of the day. I'm constantly transitioning from one thing to the next thing to the next thing which will surely be interrupted anyway.

There is no white space in my brain!

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post! I'm a Homeschooling mom (6th and 3rd graders), as well as a full-time telecommuter teaching for an online university and I know exactly how you feel. My dh sometimes (who also telecommutes for a different company) sometimes asks me why I'm so "tense". I think it's because I'm trying to do so much, all at the same time and trying to stay focused. Sometimes, I just have to put everything on hold and hideout for a nap . . . just so my brain can have some quiet. I thought that was bad, but hearing your experiences makes me realized I'm not weird :-)