List of Five

Oh dear. I’ve been remiss. September is always a hectic month, but added to the general chaos of the end of summer and the beginning of a school year, this year we traveled to Taiwan for a couple weeks. Yes, right after school started.

Funny thing is, my now-in-middle-school son keeps saying he misses Taiwan. And I do too. It’s easy to forget about the real-feel 106 degree weather, and the long slogs with our luggage through underground malls, and the sewer smells intermingled with pollution…

But after a while, even these things are part of the endearing qualities of Taiwan.

So I’ll devote a few separate posts to some thoughts and revelations I came upon during that adventure.

But for now, I’ll focus on my current list of five key words:

1. Distractions: Life is infinitely distracting. One sad thing about doing things distractedly (ever daydreamed all the way to work and wondered how you even got there?) is that half the time, because you only devoted 50% or less of your focus on one thing, you can’t even remember what you were doing. Then you have to go back and recreate the whole thing because you couldn’t recall the details.

That would be the role of mindfulness, an ever-hot topic these days.

One of my favorite authors of children’s books is Jon J Muth. Not only do his beautiful watercolors adorn the pages, but the stories inevitably contain a moral, possibly lost to the child until a later age, but somehow these little ditties become ingrained into my consciousness better than any article written for an adult audience.

The Three Questions is based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy; the gist is that the most important thing in life is to be completely present in the moment. This short story was written in 1885, more than 130 years ago. Funny how things never change.

I would say that being completely present and in the moment, especially where parenting is concerned, is a big struggle for me, to say the least. I’ve been trying to explore my feelings when I feel distracted while interacting with my kids: sometimes it’s boredom, sometimes it’s anxiety from feeling pulled by a task that I feel is more pressing at the moment, sometimes it’s fatigue, and sometimes it’s even anger and resentment that I am “having” to spend my time in the company of a child and not an adult. Some people just seem to be kids at heart and playful without effort. That’s not me. It takes a huge effort for me – not that I don’t enjoy it – and it’s rather exhausting. But, I have found that with a mind shift – that to mindfully trying to enjoy the moment – it’s infinitely more enjoyable and comes more easily. It’s easier for me to do that with any child that isn’t my own child – why is that? I think it’s because I’ve had more practice with other kids – working with kids at work requires it. At home, I just want to unwind – and for me, that’s doing adult stuff.

But who considers me one of the most important adults in their life? Certainly my own children, more likely than any other child. So it behooves me to be at least as present and playful and mindful when I’m with my own children.

That brings me to the next word on my list:

2. Screenagers: Introduced to this documentary and website by my sister (Thanks, Sis!), it explores the role of media and screen time in the lives of tweens and teenagers, and by the same token, their families. It gives awesome discussion topics to explore with slightly older kids (I would say a mature 8 year old and up) on how to responsibly incorporate screen time into their lives. Did you know that Bill Gates imposed probably some of the strictest screen time rules on his kids and didn’t let his kids get their first mobile phone till they were 14? I’d say I definitely lean toward this model. Of course, every child is different, and every household is different, so decisions are multifactorial. But still.

3. Prioritizing: It isn’t the new year yet, but I’m feeling the pull to make resolutions, and to review my priorities. I think travel helps with that. Some time before January 1st, I recommend sitting down with a cup of tea and making a list of priorities. Be they personal, social, professional, or other, think about what is really important to you – to focus on over the coming week, or month, then the coming year, and then long-term. Then, for each priority, think about what you’ve accomplished, and what needs to be accomplished. And make a working plan, either in your mind, or on paper.

The exercise alone may be instructional. Another interesting exercise is to then consider the time you spend on various things each day. How much time is spent on things that aren’t even on your priority list? How much of your life is spent in the clutches of irrelevant “static”?

4. Autumn: This is a very important key word for me! Autumn is my all-time favorite time of year. Everything about it – the cooler weather, the changing colors of leaves and the changing quality of light, the stews and roasted veggies and spices coming from the kitchen, and the anticipation of holidays and gatherings with friends and family – brings me bounding, bursting joy. Possibly even the fact that it is a time of transition – as opposed to summer or winter, which to me seem to be final destinations – is part of the appeal.

Perhaps that’s why to me it seems to be a natural time to review priorities. If the season will not bring much time with friends or family for whatever reason, then I inevitably gravitate towards volunteering and getting into schools or other places, simply to put myself in the company of others. Especially given that people tend to start moving inwards with the cooler weather, I find that it’s particularly important to seek ways to continue nurturing positive relationships.

5. Rest: This may sound extreme, but I schedule a lot of alarms for myself on my mobile phone. I’ve got one to get me up in the morning for my half hour to myself before anyone is awake (except the dog, who always gets up with me) – to do some yoga, meditation, and drink a warm mug of apple cider vinegar; then I’ve got another that reminds me in the late afternoon to re-energize myself with a simple smoothie or a piece of fruit (rather than high-energy snack foods); another in the evening to get myself out of the kitchen after dinner so I don’t mindlessly snack; and finally, one to remind me to go to sleep. This last one I just added recently. And I’ve found that the most important one of the four is this one. If I catch the peak of sleepiness, I generally have a restful sleep, and healthful decisions the following day naturally follow. If I ignore my call to sleep, then I sleep poorly, wake fatigued, and inevitably have no brain power left towards mid-afternoon to make any decisions at all – and give in to all sorts of food-related temptations as well as emotional impulses.

So take it from a chronic intermittent insomniac: give yourself the gift of sleep at the moment of sleepiness. Your body and mind (and probably everyone you interact with) will thank you.

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