One thing at a time

When I took my first child to the pediatrician, she told me something really interesting that I didn’t know about children: They tend to only do one thing at a time.

When she’s growing taller, she won’t grow plump at the same time. When she’s sick, she actually won’t grow at all. When her body needs cucumbers, she may reject a banana, even though she ate three of them yesterday.

In this fast-paced society where we are regularly evaluated by how well we can spin a gazillion dishes up in the air, I seriously envy the focus of a small body to stick to one thing at a time! And now that I have three littles running around, I’m noticing the pattern at work in just about every aspect of my children’s lives.

Baby stuck with crawling while she worked on growing her teeth. Now that she has eight teeth in, she is working out! Doing squats, standing without support, and starting to take steps.

Middle child was concentrating on putting a foot into her boot the other day, and she loudly protested when I prompted her to put on her jacket at the same time. And when she’s working on holding still at church, she can’t keep her mouth from talking. (Better to let her move around a bit, I say.)

I’m getting the message. And my kids are much happier for it.

Just a few weeks ago, I was doing a whole lot of multi-tasking (read: worrying) about my eldest daughter’s mathematical understanding. She’s six, and the wheels in my former-kindergarten teacher brain wouldn’t stop turning…looking for her “deficits” that may need intervention, and seeking smarter balance** of all good things to be learned at her age (you know, according to those standards that college boards and business people passed down from on high that got pounded into my head).

But then I noticed that she was reading words all over the place! On the fridge. On the road sign. In the paper. On the food label. She wrote thank you cards all of January and then switched to Valentine’s Day notes for loved ones. She has all those standard letter-writing phrases like “Thank you for the…” and “Love…” memorized down pat!

So I shut up all those worries in a box and sat down at the table with her at lunchtime. We started to play hangman, that game where you guess the letters to build the word the other person has in their mind. Sort of like Wheel of Fortune. My Little Vanna almost had me stumped! Maybe it’s alright to set aside math for a bit while she’s so busy working with words.

Mommy takeaway: I am going to try slowing down. Train myself to focus on the one (or two or three) things in front of me and stop worrying about the rest. It will make me more efficient in the long run. Less stressed out, too.

Why is it so hard for me to be like a child, focusing on one thing at a time?! It really would be such a relief. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the belief that multitasking and to-do lists and hyper-efficiency was the crown jewel of adult life.

“Adulting” they call it.

But the truth is, we can’t multi-task anyways — none of us — according to research. It’s just called “task switching”. As we practice and mature much of life becomes automatic.

Some of us are better managers than others, but honestly, for most of us, it’s hard. If I’m trying to clean the bathroom, stay on top of a load or two in the wash, and get food on the table, all while scrambling to meet my kids’ many needs, and edit something for the blog, I’m bound to forget something; like adding the salt. Or worse.

It happens.

For me, disaster often strikes in the laundry room. We have a slightly defunct washer, so if I forget about it, I’ve got about a 50/50 chance that the valve won’t shut off after the final spin, and I’ll be mopping water off the floor. Even with the buzzer up as high as it will go, I am often juggling so much that my brain doesn’t even register the sound!

My friend’s washer sings a special song to her. Odds are, I’d tune into that a lot better than the grating sound my old thing produces. I guess I should have gone to Sav-Mart…(did you notice they’re getting the Garden Center ready?!)

I’m going to revise my New Year’s resolution from whatever it was to this: Become a napper.

At least if I can learn to shut it off for 20 minutes every so often and take a nap, that’s one thing I can do in isolation. I can’t juggle while I sleep. Maybe penciling in a bit of rest will give me energy for the final blitz of cleaning, dinner, and tucking the kids in to bed, anyways.

**Pun intended. But if you don’t follow public education, “Smarter Balance” is the name of the state’s standardized test…or at least it was a few years back. The name tends to change a lot.