Monday, March 17, 2014

The Sound of Quality Time

Looking at the bell here, at Montgomery Area Nontraditional Equestrians (MANE), got me thinking about the idea of the bells of time, signaling listeners to hear their calling.  Its what got me thinking about the idea of time and how we choose to spend it, with whom we choose to spend this precious time, and what quality time involves and means to a special needs family like ours.

A creative approach to life's daily in's and out's makes it a more bearable and interesting reality.  My creative approach stems from a musical background.  You see, certain musical theories have been ingrained into my mind over the years.  Since music is a language, like other languages, it encompasses structure, nuances, a rhythmic flow and meaning.  Whether or not I am actively engaged in my craft, it will always be integral to my overall outlook and experience.  

Music is the language that I fall back on.  It is the sounding board that I default to, when I look for quality in whatever my focus may be.  I don't have to actively be engaged in the music making process in order to feel the benefits of its effects.  Through years of study and making music, its lingering existence continues to spread its wings and hover over my life long-term; as if these wings cocoon me in a protective shield.  For instance, I'll catch myself walking around hearing music in my head as well as wake up in the middle of the night from a dream where I am composing or playing music.  
“Get your studies out of the way while you’re still young,” my father used to say, in an urgent tone.  That seems like years ago, and yet, the past twenty years have come and gone.  I am glad that I followed his wise words, because it was a challenge to complete my studies, just being a single person, living away from home.  I had always been very family minded, and the daily absence of my family during my college years was not an easy thing.  In fact, I often felt that there was a hole in my heart.  That missing piece of a future family of my own would eventually fill that void.

I don’t know how my parents did it – getting their advanced degrees while working full time and raising us three kids.  Perhaps it was their creative approach that cocooned us as youngsters from their coexisting reality of study, work and parenthood.  Pursuing it without dependents was hard enough for me.  

On a beautiful sunny day at MANE
My upbringing, in this sense, had directly influenced me.  I am glad that I completed my studies before getting married and having children, even if the process took me into my thirties.  I was able to close that chapter in my life and focus on the following pages in the next chapter.  I had no idea, as a student, what type of challenges lay ahead for me.  I am now able to devote most of my time and energy to our kids.  I don't feel like I am missing out on something as substantial as an education, and I don't have to worry about returning to my studies at some later point.

At the time, getting my doctorate was the most important thing for me.  With it, that phase presented its own trying challenges.  It is interesting though, that just a few short years later, my priorities had taken a drastically different turn.  As driven and as motivated as I was to pursue my life's passion, things quickly took an unexpected direction, and another new passion had evolved in my life.   

From the start, after Jake was born, my focus was on raising and nurturing this beautiful child; he had my heart from the very beginning.  The first couple of years were as typical as to be expected of these early years.  We were very happy first time parents and we took Jake everywhere with us.  Perhaps that is why he usually does pretty well with flights and trips.  Jake's development seemed to be meeting all of his developmental milestones.  However, during Alex's deployment in 2008, I started observing some signs that pointed to (what I didn't yet know) autism.  By the age of two and a half (he is now seven) he was diagnosed with autism shortly after our twins were born.  

I continued to be active in music since Jake came into our lives, but music quickly took a back seat to the demands of motherhood, special needs and a military lifestyle.  I put all of my energy into our three kids, and as I share in my second post: 1, 2, 3 and Nobody's Talking, , there were speech delay issues with the twins as well for a few years.  By the time that the twins were fifteen months old they were both in speech therapy every week, so between all of the kids' therapies and my part time music work, I was running around from place to place feeling like I was treading water much of the time.    

The thing that got me through it was the love that I had in my heart for each one of the kids.   I made a point of enjoying something about them every single day.   It didn't have to be anything big, it could just be a look, a smile, a laugh, or an interaction.  I love the relationship that I have with my mother, and I always wanted to have the same type of close relationship with my own kids.  I remember telling her that once and she said that it starts from the mother, and how a mother interacts with her kids from early on in life.

As life passions go, I had noticed that if I was not involved in something creative, that my spirit would suffer greatly.   It felt like part of me was starting to die, like leaves drying up on a plant, much too soon.  I would go in waves of creativity when I found the energy for it, or when I needed an escape from reality, but most of the time, I was running on fumes.  In the back of my head I always thought that this was the time to be devoted to the kids, and these were incredibly precious years that we would never get back.     

The twins playing in a toy house

Jake at an occupational therapy session 2014

Alex and I became very passionate about autism advocacy and special needs, as we lived and learned about this new world; experiencing autism first hand at home.  Teaching music at a university level took a back seat to quality time with my family.  Jake's diagnosis caused me to refocus my attentions.  It was my turn to provide that cocooning shelter for my fledgling family.  We didn't really know what we were doing back then, as first time parents dealing with special needs.  Everything was all of a sudden new for us, but we tried to make the best of a very unique situation.  We headed into it as a team, preparing to embrace this next chapter with open arms.

As we have learned along the way, through the daily ups and downs, quality time for ourselves is a precious gift.  This holds true with giving a similar gift to each of the kids as well.  With Jake, it is only natural to want to give him lots of special time.  He also needs quiet time with one of us parents, away from his siblings.  When his senses get overloaded he needs to remove himself from the family room and recollect himself.  It's easy to let Jake be the main focus for us, especially since living with and learning about autism is an on-going journey. Therefore, it is equally important to give the twins quality time of their own.  This way, they feel as meaningful and special, and not jealous of their older brother.  I write a lot about needing and achieving different types of balance in our lives.  This is one such scenario, where we wouldn't want there to be a sibling imbalance.  

As for the quantity of time that I had spent on my musical studies, and how that time affects my life today, I pace myself in shorter spurts of creativity and music making. These days, those shorter spurts go further.  The times when I teach, practice or dabble in artistic projects, hold a deeper meaning for me today, because they are framed by a different context.  It is not a context of learning anymore (although we constantly grow and evolve at every stage in our life) , but rather, it is a wider scope that embraces a new type of quality; a new time signature.  

I think more about maximizing little spurts of time and making the most out of that quality of time.  I refer to it as "smart practice" with my piano students as far as maximizing their own time at the instrument.  There are moments of action, and there are moments of reflection.  There are moments of expression, and there are moments of introspection and repose.   Each of these types of moments are like seasons in our lives that have their own purpose and timing, and are therefore equally meaningful and worthy of experiencing.  So even when we are not the most productive or thrilled with ourselves and our productivity, but where we may be in a moment of reflection or a moment of repose and rest, we are still doing what we need to be doing in that moment in time.  

Overlooking a serene pond at MANE at Jake's equine therapy

Looking back, I realize that music never stopped playing in my head along my personal journey.  My life-long friend had always been there with me, even when I wasn't aware so much of its presence.  It was still there with me while I focused on other things like children and family.  It kept me company, knowing I would return to it whenever I could.  As the kids get older, I am able to find more time to get back to playing the piano, either to pull out some of my old favorite repertoire, or savoring learning new pieces again while getting reacquainted with some old loves of my life: Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Schumann, are amongst some of my favorites.  

The sonata I've recently begun practicing - Op. 81
I feel very fortunate to have been able to find part time university work in music, that enables me to have enough time with the kids.  I have managed to balance that sort of work with teaching private piano lessons as well as performing in a few musicals over the past few years.  Along with the hurdles and challenges of special needs, speech delays, military deployment and growing into my forties, this past decade has been incredibly enriching and rewarding on so many levels. 

So there it is - for me it takes a creative approach to life's daily in's and out's in order to make it a more bearable and interesting reality.  Just as in music, it takes knowing the rules very well, so that we can then get to break them.  It is in those moments where rules are broken, that true beauty and creativity takes place.  The key is to break up the normalcy; to step out of the expectation.  Similarly, with autism and special needs, it takes thinking outside the box type of mentality, or approach, in order to thrive and move forward.  It is all about connecting the dots in a slightly different way then usual.  That's where the magic happens!  Isn't that the same exact thing as creativity?  

If you had something that you were passionate about at some earlier point in your life, and haven't spend time with it lately, see if you can reconnect once again.  It is what has worked for me and has helped me along some of the most meaningful times (good and bad) in my life.  Reconnecting to our passions is what helps us find and achieve balance in our individual journeys.  It is the best sort of gift that we could give ourselves.  Consequently, our reality becomes what we choose to believe is our truth, and what we choose to surround ourselves with as our personal truth, what is so dear and precious to us - for me it is my family, people that I treasure, and creativity, hold the highest quality of all.   

I can hear the bells of time ringing now, 
calling us to find our passions once again;
it is the sound of quality time.