The glories and perils of multitasking…

When I was younger I prided myself in being able to carry on a phone conversation, watch TV, paint my nails, eat a snack and do my homework at the same time.  This, of course, is the arrogance of youth at its most arrogant: I thought I was doing all those things competently.  Age and wisdom (dare I use that word?  Am I “wise?”) have proven that I was carrying on half a conversation, watching half a TV show, smudging my nails massively, eating snacks that ended up embedded in my recently painted and still wet nails and…well, if you read this and went to school with me, you know how the homework thing went.

Every time I’ve been on a job interview since 1982 I’ve been asked if I can multi-task.  The answer has always been yes.  I wouldn’t dare consider that an asset in my present condition.  Factoring in all the time I spend standing in the middle of the stairs wondering if I was going upstairs or downstairs, carrying a book, a jar of some sort of sauce, clothes that I am uncertain -until I smell them- if they are clean or dirty and asking myself if I already did some task that I’d jotted on the next-to-the-bed notepad…no, I can no longer multitask with any degree of efficiency.

That parenting is, in essence and at its core, multitasking scares me.  I am sure that I will someday remember something that I meant to do for, with, to or regarding TGG way back in 1997.  It’s in the tip of one of the folds of my brain right at this moment, and I will remember it one of these nights…quite possibly at four a.m. when something triggers the memory.  I will feel guilty, and I will sit there wondering if my child is somehow scarred for life because I forgot that one thing.

This thought occurred to me as I was clipping PECS for J and imagining how the three timers would look as they simultaneously mark time for tasks and waiting-periods.  “The blue one can mark snack, the yellow one can time task and the green one…”  My brain seized on that thought and I heard the little voice (yes, my very own not-Jiminy Cricket but middle-aged and not as friendly) in my head say “yeah, that’s right!  Teach the person who needs to learn one thing at a time to do THREE things at a time.”  Regrettably, right though that little voice may be, multi-tasking is something that J needs to do and, sadly, it falls on my shoulders to do this…even though I have come to realize that I was never particularly adept at multi-tasking and it probably sapped some of the quality out of all my efforts.  To the statement “I don’t know how she does it,” I’d have to reply “probably not as well as she could or should.”

J’s new schedule board is a thing of beauty.  Perfection not being a requirement, it works in exactly the way we need it to work.  J’s week seems, somehow, fuller…more interesting.  The sight of the empty spot where the old board used to hang gave him pause, but I showed him the new one (as of that moment still without Velcro dots or any items displayed on it) and he seemed interested.  Doubtful, but interested.

By evening, when he was heading downstairs to dinner, J was more inclined to look at this new contraption with less skepticism.  The board measures 24” by 24” and is divided into seven columns, one for each day of the week.  The only piece of information that now travels across the top is “TODAY IS”…the names of the days stay put.  Down each column there are nine Velcro dots open to receive any task or activity J might want on his schedule.  At the bottom of each column sits a little plastic box attached with industrial-strength Velcro, and there can the PECS rest for J to peruse and use.  My work yesterday resulted in several new additions: laminated logos for the stores we frequent most, restaurants where J likes to eat, a picture of his psychiatrist (although not yet one of Resident, A Cute One) and so forth.  On the schedule for Friday we have already displayed our usual J-store-trip.  The week, as I said, looks a lot less dull, and he has a clear view of what chores and activities he will be engaging in each day.

I am encouraged by the fact that he is liking the board I prepared for his room, and that he is getting ready with a lot less prodding from me.  I still need to hover, but I am not considered a witness or spectator anymore.  Of course, J is taking his sweet time and consulting the board; where I would have been brushing my hair and my teeth while pushing my feet into my shoes as I readied myself for the day ahead, J takes each task singly, individually, with intention and efficiency that make me look like the most haphazard teenager that ever lived.

This morning, when I crawled out of bed, my husband was heading up the stairs to let me know coffee was ready.  I asked him how J was doing when he’d poked his head into the room to wake him up.  The answer?  “Oh, he’s doing The Turtle!”  This is how we refer to J’s morning attitude when we enter the room…he is usually curled up, facing the mattress, and as we walk in and say “good morning, J!!!” his back arches up and his head (covered in hats) lifts and turns slowly…BYE!, he says.  OK, he looks more like a tortoise…he is an imposing presence.  Five minutes later he is enthusiastically bouncing down the stairs with a huge smile on his face and saying a hearty GOOD MORNING.  But in the darkened room, make no mistake, he is a lot slower and deliberate.

The kid savors each thing he does…except eating.  He steamrolls through meals and dashes off to his inner sanctum where he, once more, slows down.  But when he’s completing a task or a chore,  J takes his time and proceeds with caution and deliberation.  Even if things don’t turn out perfectly, he can safely say that he has done the best he could.  What’s not to like about that?  I know that I will find his dirty laundry neatly folded in the basket, and that he will take each garment out one by one, placing them in the washer with the awareness that that’s where they go.

All my life I wanted to be the master multi-tasker, and now I’ve had the brakes slammed down on me and I’m forced to reassess each seemingly menial task.  I used to have very little patience (when I was young) for those who dawdled, and now I am impatient with those who rush.  Yes, my kid has turned me into one of those people who suddenly want to walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, observe rather than look…

If I could just get him to savor home-made pasta rather than vacuum it up like it came from a box bought at the store, I’d be styling.  Oh, well…you can’t win them all, can you?


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