Another year in our lives has come and gone. It is a new month, a new week and another cold, but sunny, winter day. One of the perks that I have come to cherish while living in the south is that I can almost always look forward to a sunny blue sky during this time of year. Having recently visited the northwest, I found that I had really missed this element of the season.
I sit here with my musical Soundscapes, the space heater hums away and my down-feathered slipper booties keep me warm and cozy. I have tried to write recently, but I haven't been able to clear my mind and focus. I have to be in a creative mode to write, compose, and to just create in general. If I get in the right mood, things tend to reveal themselves. The last half a year however, has been less about reflecting and more about action - putting thoughts and goals into motion. It's hard to quiet your mind when you are in motion and your wheels are still spinning. That's why I like to find a Zen place in my mind, so that creativity can begin to flow. It is at these mind-freeing moments that I know that all of the rest will take care of itself.
Finding A Balance - Family Needs Versus Self Needs
Over the past few months I have been trying to find a state of balance in my life. More specifically, I have been trying to find it in both larger and smaller scopes. Doing so has enabled me to balance family life with time for myself. This process started with an image; something that embodies the idea of what balance is for me. I asked myself what I need and want, set some goals, came up with a realistic plan, and finally, I took action and followed through with that plan.
The first image that came to my mind was a kaleidoscope. When we look through a kaleidoscope, we see a vibrant image, but are drawn into the smaller details that produce that image. The dual, large and small, shapes coexist and are therefore interconnected. One cannot exist without the other. Likewise, the family unit is that larger image. What our role as parents is within our family unit, in contrast to who we are as individuals, affects and plays into the larger family dynamic. The individual family members are the smaller (but important) details of what makes up the larger image of the family as a single entity. All too often, we tend to put personal needs aside and focus on the larger image, and what's best for the family usually comes first. If our individual needs are not met however, it means that the family unit can’t function at it's best.
The imagery of the kaleidoscope reminded me of something else as well. I had come across the terms macro and micro in a music theory class years ago, as being two distinct ways of looking at a composition. One way, is to look at the larger picture: the form, foundation, shape of the piece, the expression and how everything is held together structurally. Then there are also the smaller details: the notes, rhythms, motives, themes and stylistic nuances. What I didn't realize at the time was what a big role this concept would play in my personal journey and how it would shape my overall perception.
Looking through the kaleidoscope while perceiving the micro/macro structure and details had made a lasting impression on me. It is as if a seed had been planted into my mind, later sprouting branches and leaves that open up into that southern winter sky. They seep in through the lacy intricacies of my life, as swiftly as a breeze blowing in through a soft lace-curtained window. Consequently, it had become almost a theme, or a motive for me after starting a family. Since both large structure and small details exist simultaneously, finding that balance in our lives, in a sense, is a multitasking activity. However, even when we multitask, we still only really do one thing at a time. How can we be at two places at once?
A more literal image that comes to my mind when thinking about balance is a scale; like one of those old manually balancing ones. Depending on which end of the scale things become overburdened, the scale ultimately ends up tipping over towards that one direction. For example, if a spouse is out of town, and we single-parent for say, a week, the stress and irregularity of that week will end up causing us to use up much more of our own energy than what we are used to. Typically, the job is split between two parents. This type of situation, where a spouse pulls double duty, would cause that life-scale to tip to the overburdened side - the spouse in charge of the kids and the house. These type of situations would cause us to feel like we had lost our balance. When we lose our balance, it feels like the spiraling chain reaction signals our brain to think that we need to do a better job at keeping the momentum moving forward. We crave for things to move forward at a comfortable steady pace, in order to keep that dauntingly large life-scale at just the right angle, so that it stays centered. We do this all in order to achieve the all-too-desirable balance.
This process leads me to revisit the question of why then should we bother to find or create a balance, when it takes so much darn energy? Especially when as special needs parents, we don't have much of it to begin with. I mean, is it truly worth all of the effort? Well, if I search deep within and tap into a purely intuitive response, my answer is always: to be happy and to have peace of mind. Part of having that peace of mind however, is to know that I did whatever I could to create that balance, so that later on I could in turn have that peace of mind. The ultimate goal then becomes holding on to that peace (and also, that piece) for as long as possible. But after all, it doesn't last long, unless I work on creating, recreating and achieving that sought-after balance on a regular basis. I truly believe that when we have this precious balance in our lives, we are happy and at peace.
Don't Forget To Nurture (Yourself)
Military life with twins and a special needs child has been a very unique experience. All of our kids have undergone speech therapy. As I've discussed in other posts, for the twins it was a pure speech delay, and for Jake it was autism related. There was a time period when all three kids were in diapers simultaneously and not talking yet. I know that the stress of that time must have taken a toll on me. At the time my focus was on moving forward, no matter how slowly. That seems like ages ago, but it was only a few years ago. Life has definitely caught up to me now in my forties. It is not only about taking care of the family and balancing it with part time music teaching anymore, it is doing so while managing the daily aches and pains that have caught up with my body. This has made me realize that I can’t just keep going and going without taking time to regularly nurture myself.
There is almost an underlying pressure that as special needs parents we have to be a super mom and a super dad, to keep our family unit functional and healthy, as well as to nurture our marriage and relationship. I can assure you that I am no hero. It is a situation where special circumstances had dictated the course of our family path and I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it over again. I truly believe that we were meant to walk this very specific path and learn what it is that we were supposed to learn on our family journey. I try to do what I can for my family, just like everyone else out there who has similar joys and struggles (and there are so many more joys and moments that take my breath away that outweigh any given struggle).
In the past I had fallen into the old motherhood trap, where I focus on mostly everyone else but me. This is something I know many other moms have done and will continue to do. Lets face it - it's in our nature to do so. While this is admirable, it is not the best thing for our health. Granted, certain family situations may be much tougher than others, but we can only experience our own family situation and make it functional for us. When I am having a difficult time, I try to remind myself that there is always someone having a tougher time, as well as someone having an easier time. Thinking about this puts things right back into perspective for me.
The worst thing that we can end up doing to ourselves, in retrospect, is forgetting to nurture and to take care and ourselves too. When we carry on this way for a long time it becomes ingrained into our muscle memory, affecting our daily life and routines. Just like learning a piano piece with the wrong fingerings, or wrong rhythms, where you repeat the wrong motions over and over, it becomes ingrained into muscle memory. This is where repetition of actions leads to an automatic response over time. Subsequently, in order to correct this error, we have to slow down our practicing to the point that we could reconfigure our muscle memory, and relearn the correct motion. Equally, in parenting and special needs, it would be correcting our thinking and behaviors of not making time to nurture ourselves. At that point, it's very difficult to break out of this cycle. Change, as I know all too well, does not happen on its own, out of sheer will. Change initially starts mentally, by slowing ourselves down enough in order shift our attitude, change our habits, and ultimately, taking action in a different direction.
One quote comes to my mind here:
"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."
Neale Donald Walsch
Does this resonate with you too?
Over time, many things for our family have become so much easier. Just the kids getting a little older has made a huge difference. With autism however, as certain things get easier, different life stages present new challenges. These new challenges are unpredictable and are so different for every individual on the spectrum. Ironically, with being in school for so many years and having so many wonderful and beloved teachers, my son Jake has been the best teacher yet. Yes, this cute little guy has been the most amazing teacher for me. He is the one who has taught me to think about things in a completely different way. He has taught me to think outside the box and to see things from new angles. He has taught me to be a better person and a better mother to his younger siblings. He has taught me to embrace life’s challenges and to focus my energy on the most important things. I am so very proud of him and how far he has come. I love his beautiful gentle spirit and his smile that melts my heart. And I am so proud of our family and the love that we have for one another.
Setting A Few Specific Goals
What has probably helped me the most in creating a balance between family life and me time, is setting only a few specific goals and a concrete plan to be successful at achieving them. One of my personal goals was to be more active. So basically, anything new that I was going to start doing would mean being more active. Jokes aside, I have been going for walks more often, and riding my bike when the weather is nice. This is something that I want to keep going for the rest of my life. It was important for me to choose an activity that was not overly taxing, that would be something that I could realistically envision myself continuing long-term. It has become one of my favorite unwinding as well as energizing activities because it gives me a chance to have silence and to clear my head. Silence is golden! As I like to teach my music students: silences are just as important as sound. If we have non-stop sound, our ears get washed out with stimuli. We get tired of filtering information, and then the music becomes the background, and not the most important thing. The same holds true in our lives. We need silence in order to process things and clear our minds. This makes room for new information to soon get processed by an attentive receiver - us. On the other hand, if I happen to crave stimuli, I listen to music while I walk.
"The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between."
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
I prioritized plugging into activities that I enjoy for my down time. Sometimes that means getting together with a friend over coffee, a dinner out, being creative, stretching (I like to do a mishmash of things I’ve picked up over the years: yoga, dance stretches, physical therapy stretches and Pilates). It's easy, as moms, to feel guilty if we're not doing something constantly around the house. After all, when we are at home, there is always something that demands our attention. There is always something that needs to get done - the job is endless. I therefore work on fighting the urge to get house stuff done when I'm exhausted, and I just let my mind and body rest without guilt. I'm not always successful, because just the nature of being home begs to get something done, so I make a conscious effort to make downtime for myself. It is the best gift that I can give myself. This makes me so much more of a quality person for my family.
Moving forward in the new year has been about a journey to find my balance. It is what strikes a chord in me, what motivates and moves me. It sets my wheels in motion. And sometimes, when I am parked in place a little too long and need some support, my husband Alex gives me a gentle loving push on the back and this momentum gets me propelling forward once again. And sometimes, I just take a nap.
How do you like to create your balance? I would love to know what strikes a chord in you. Feel free to share here in the comments bellow. I will part for now with a little old Irish saying, as you move forward in the new year: