Well, that got your attention, didn’t it?
Yes, that is my jaw. And yes, I had surgery this fall to stick that screw there. On purpose. And because of the screw I am now sporting a retainer that reminds me of the post-braces days- except instead of a thin wire circumnavigating the front of my teeth, my retainer has a composite tooth on it. Which, let’s be honest, was really fun to play with in front of the kids’ friends on Halloween.
And once the initial healing was over, it hasn’t been a problem at all. Except that I get really thirsty. Which, one could argue, is not a problem. Upside- it means I’m actually staying hydrated. Downside- it means I’m getting up more often in the middle of the night. The only other problem is that I can’t chew gum. Well, that is an exaggeration. I can chew gum, I just have to think about it. Pay complete attention to it. If I’m not constantly changing the position of the gum in my mouth it will stick to the retainer. Adhere might be a more accurate term. Adhere strongly enough that I have to remove my retainer and peel off the gum. Which is kinda embarrassing in mixed company. (I know what you are thinking- quit chewing gum. I’m considering it.)
And I can read your mind again and hear you thinking overshare. What does this even remotely have to do with parenting? Stick with me…
My need to use my full Jedi mind powers on chewing gum reminds we of when we were trying to teach Cole to chew – but not swallow—his gum. He wanted to chew gum so badly, but after about 52 seconds he’d get distracted and a moment later down it would go. So we devised a plan. I would sit down next to him on the floor. He could chew the gum for as long as he wanted. Just sit and chew. No toys. No books. No distractions. The moment he was done he would spit it out and be on his way. I have no recollection how long we did this (Carie, do you remember?) but it worked. He learned to chew gum without swallowing.
And this reminds me of the research on multitasking, which researchers are now calling task-switching. Because we aren’t actually doing multiple things at one time, instead we are asking our brains to quickly transfer focus from one task to the next to the next to the next and back to the beginning all over again. And they say this results in a loss of up to 40% of our efficiency. 40%! In kid parlance that’s an iron-clad guarantee of going from a D to an A if we just put down our distractions.
Which many of us are trying to do. We are in our mid-lives trying to break a long ingrained habit. Trying to slow down, trying to focus on one thing, trying to be fully present, trying to unlearn the myth of multitasking. Yet ironically and unwittingly, we are teaching our kids to do the exact opposite. We are training them to live on the dark side- to be little task-switchers.
We are born zen. Okay, sometimes zen mixed with colic. Less poetically, but maybe more on point, we are born fully present mono-taskers. As children we are only aware of the now, and to the now we fully commit. Follow the crack on the sidewalk. Stop and pull every dandelion in the yard. Dance with wild abandon to the tunes of the street buskers. In childhood we simply are. Then as parents we come along and teach them how to rush and rush and do, do, do. (not doo-doo, we’re trying to be adults here, remember?)
This morning I asked Eleanor to tie her shoe while telling me about her dream, then later reminded her to actually eat her breakfast as she listened to the story I was reading. For an adult, those are mundane tasks. But we forget that for a child, those are events that take full concentration. It’s like asking an adult to text and drive. Or parent and drive, for that matter.
And let’s be honest, when we try to task-switch is when we make mistakes. We hit ‘reply all’ instead of ‘reply’. We knock over a cup of coffee not paying attention to the edge of the table. And the clean up from either of those takes much longer than if we had just focused on it completely the first time. The more we try to multitask the more frantic we get, the more crazed we become, the more exhausted we are, the worse we sleep, the more coffee we drink. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The funny thing is, when we slow down, we get it done. Rushing doesn’t make it happen faster. It’s as if, in being fully present with the current task, we are able to stretch time to meet our own speed, our own needs. Time warping? A Jedi mind trick, to be sure.
In this season of hustle and bustle and rush and wrap, what if we don’t? What if we walk away from the frantic? What if we just follow the call of the events in front of us? And allow space for our children to continue doing the same? As for me, my Jedi mind and I will be sitting in the corner chewing gum. Will it work? I’ll keep you posted.