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The Meaning of Repair

The Meaning of Repair

Not much turns out the same after being torn, bent, or broken. No matter how carefully something’s been straightened out or stuck back together, there are usually some telltale signs of the repair. It’s simply a matter of degree. Sometimes the mark is obvious while other times obscured. Either way, there’s always evidence after a trauma.

There’s not much to be done about that. We can choose to embrace the scars or not. Wabi sabi, or “flawed beauty” in Japanese philosophy, teaches us that that there is loveliness to be found in every aspect of imperfection in nature. Many find greater beauty when there’s a flaw – the scar tells a story and the attraction becomes more real.

Beyond the philosophy’s notions of beauty being found in natural inconsistencies, it reminds us that there are unavoidable cycles in life. All things – including you, me, and all of our relationships – are impermanent, incomplete, and imperfect. And we can’t escape the fundamental truth that everything eventually grows, ages, and decays.

What we often get wrong is thinking that this process is one of decline only. The truth is that while one thing is coming apart, there is always another thing being directly strengthened by its breakdown. Taking an example from nature, the vital last third of a tree’s lifecycle is actually in its decomposition when it plays a crucial role in nourishing, strengthening and supporting all the life around it.

How does this relate to our daily lives? As we age and as our families move from generation to generation, the presence of grace accompanies decline. While our bodies weaken, our connections and spirit strengthen. The parent-child bond is a prime illustration. From day-to-day and over the course of decades, repair and renewal shapes the way we raise our kids.

Right now I have the privilege of experiencing multiple phases of the parent-child relationship each day with a grade schooler, preteen, and teenager in my home. Relational dynamics, power differentials, physical needs, and emotional connection with each one of my children is in constant flux. Inevitably, someone misreads the expectations or norms and as a result, conflict and breakage occurs.

What follows can be an all-out fight, a quiet pout, a calm conversation, or a combination thereof. But however the repair occurs, it ultimately results in an important shift within the relationship. Rips, bends and breaks are fixed and what’s left behind is a direct outcome of both wisdom and strength developed in their wake.

Steady states are transient, both in the physical world and within relationships. So rather than thinking of the changes in terms of deterioration or loss, maybe we can think of them as opportunities to experience a new kind of beauty. Each phase of existence offers us something wonderfully fresh – if  we stay open-minded enough to see it.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Embrace Family Weirdness

Embrace Family Weirdness

Young kids tend to live with the comforting belief that what happens in their home is the norm. Every home has a vibe and a flow that is unique, and the family culture is integrated into a child’s identity and understanding of life from the very beginning. There might be some early small cracks in the veneer for your child, times when you’re required to impatiently explain that staying out late or eating junk food might be fine for Tommy’s family, “but we do things differently here!” Even so, in a younger child’s eyes, family routines and practices are usually taken for granted as the standard way of being.

One of the biggest shocks to an older child’s system is the dawning realization that their family is “weird.” Perspectives begin to shift once a preteen starts to spend more time out in the world on their own, stacking up revelatory observations all along the way. What follows is oftentimes a healthy period of scorn and disdain when they’re expected to take part in family routines and practices they once accepted as the status quo.

If we’re lucky, they’ll eventually come full circle. Sooner or later, it will begin to sink in for them that all families are, in fact, weird…and that maybe some of your family’s own brand of weirdness is actually worth embracing. It’s unlikely that your child will tell you outright when they’ve come to appreciate your family’s proclivities, especially in the midst of deep sighs and eye rolls – but you might see some subtle evidence.

They may tell you in the way they make space for family traditions, especially the unique little ones. In my home, we occasionally decorate a small Charlie Brown-esque tree for “off” holidays like Halloween and Easter. Of my kids ranging from 9 to 15 years old, guess which one is the first to ask if we can pull it out of storage? He’s also the first to bring up the names of the imaginary family mascots who were born over a decade ago to help kickstart dinnertime conversation with our reluctant preschoolers (a motley trio named Bat, Ghost, & Treefrog). And he’s the one who can reliably be found in the kitchen happily making the bizarre Welsh dish we discovered when researching a third-grade genealogy project, which has long since become a family staple.

Household customs, idiosyncrasies, habits, and patterns of moving together combine to form the fabric of our kids’ foundations from toddlerhood right up until they launch into the world as young adults – and even beyond. All children are deeply influenced by their surroundings, in ways that they (and you) may not realize. Usually, the truth of this becomes even more evident as they enter the later stages of childhood. The touchstone of your family, in all its glorious weirdness, remains vital.

It’s easier than you think to nurture the foundation that supports our kids’ sense of belonging and meaning. I’m willing to bet your family already has more than a few quirky rituals that are more special to your kids than you realize. While the teen years may seem like a good time to pay them less mind, resist the impulse to fade them back. They make up the very ground on which your children stand – especially when the winds outside are making them feel unsteady. So, play up your particularities. Embrace your weirdness, especially when it looks like your kids aren’t paying attention. They are.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure

Imagine if you could compose a story about your ideal day – from the first thing you see when you wake up to every little interaction that fills each minute, all the way up to the moment your head hits the pillow again at night. Who and what would you include? Now, what if you could somehow magically turn all of that into your real, lived experience?

We don’t have any actual magic to make this happen, of course. What we do have is the power of choice. Believe it or not, you get to choose exactly the type of day you’ll have, beginning with each new sunrise. You might feel an urge to argue about that. “Choice is a luxury I don’t have!” I get it.

Our worlds expand quickly as adults – less freedom and more responsibility. Our waking hours get filled by the taxi service to soccer practices and dance classes. Once the kiddos are in bed, it’s all we can do to tackle the day’s checklist before conking out. Choose my adventure?

You’d be absolutely right in many ways. I’ll admit that we can’t avoid many of the monotonous parts of “adulting”: making enough money to keep food on the table and a roof over our head, fulfilling our responsibilities, and providing for those who depend upon us. Laundry, dishes, taking the garbage out, hygiene, preventing our kids from self-destruction…they’re all very real and unavoidable tasks.

We also don’t get to choose where and to whom we’re born, what kind of DNA we possess, the precise content of our experiences, most of the people who enter and exit our days, or how any of those aforementioned people behave in relation to us.

All true.

 

But here’s what we do get to choose…

…how much time to carve out for the things that feed our soul.

…the sacrifices and consequences we’re willing to accept to protect that time.

…whether to indulge ourselves in the moment, or exercise self-control in favor of greater goals.

…whether to plan for the future, or to allow things to unfold.

…whether to push toward bigger and better things, or to play it safe.

 

And let’s widen the lens. We also get to choose…

…the moods we indulge.

…how we interpret the things people do and say.

…the specific ways we react to situations and interactions.

…the things we notice about the world around us (& whether to color them as ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’).

…how and where to spend our finite attention and resources.

…which things and people we value most, in our hearts and through our actions.

 

The list is long, and could be made much, much longer. It’s these choices that shape our days, and ultimately shape our lives.

Emily Dickinson said it simply: “Forever – Is composed of Nows –”

 

Nobody else can make your choices for you. Rather than be intimidated by your power to choose, or pretend it’s not there, try intentionally taking it by the reigns. Are you the driver or the passenger in your life? Are you reacting to where life takes you or steering to the places you’d most like to go?

Just like in those children’s books that allow you to make the decisions for the characters and therefore alter their journeys, each choice you make will inevitably lead to a better or worse outcome. The day you’ll experience and the path you’ll traverse is entirely up to you. You might be surprised by how much better you begin to feel when you remember that you’re always in control of your own adventure, in all the ways that matter most.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

The Good Things

The Good Things

It’s been an almost laughably rough stretch of time. No one has been immune to the emotional repercussions of the changes that began in early 2020 when Covid-19 first entered our awareness, but the particulars of each of our struggles have differed. Some of us have grappled with disruptions to our vital routines and healthy outlets, while others have been consumed by isolation and innumerable examples of loss. And let’s not make the mistake of discounting the ripple effects of prolonged fear and uncertainty on wellness in each of our lives.

Even in a relatively calm phase, moms and dads are usually experts at navigating challenges of their kids. It comes with the territory. But now, even after nearly two years, we continue to find ourselves in uncharted waters. In addition to the usual parenting stressors, we’re faced with ongoing upset to school schedules and relationships, the task of helping our children understand the reasons for each of the disruptions, and – perhaps hardest of all – the weight of having to be role models of adaptability at a time when our own footing is off balance.

It’s clear that modern-day parenting is not for the faint of heart, so it’s more important than ever to fortify ourselves by focusing on some of the good stuff. Just as you would take a vitamin to boost your health, make sure to carve out some time to remember life’s high points, both big and small. Many wonderful things can be found in the minutia of your days, even the bad ones. There are lovely truths about parenting (and life) that transcend the difficult period of history we’re living, and there are even more personal bits of goodness that are exclusive to just your family.

Here are just a handful of the universal good things to get you started:

  • The sun keeps rising. We get to open our eyes to a new day.
  • There is always so much love in our lives, even when it feels obscured.
  • No matter the challenge, the formula for blue-ribbon parenting remains beautifully basic: simply keep showing up with compassion & good intention.
  • Possibilities never, ever run out. For each door that closes, another is guaranteed to have opened somewhere else.
  • Family foundations tend to get bolstered and strengthened with shared experience – especially experience with the tough stuff.
  • Your bond with your child is far more enduring than any passing trial…and they’re all passing trials.

Now it’s your turn. What are your universal “good things”? The way your cat purrs when sitting in your lap? The smell of soup cooking in the kitchen on the first cool autumn day? The sound of the belly laugh your son or daughter emits when they are playing on their own? The same irresistible dimples appearing on both your child and your spouse whenever they smile? The list is endless. Expand the list and keep it near & dear to your heart. Revisit it often.

 

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Don’t Stop Time

Don’t Stop Time

I recently had a golden opportunity to sit quietly on my porch while my kids were busy outside. I watched the leaves quake in the trees with each breeze. I listened to the cheerful summer bird chatter. I observed all the neighborhood kids shout and play as they zoomed up and down the sidewalk. The perfect everyday ordinariness of the domestic scene was dazzling in both its complexity and simplicity, striking in its quiet pauses and in its bursts of noise and motion.

Like many moms at one time or another, I felt a strong, nearly frantic desire to stop time in its tracks. I wanted things to stay exactly that way forever. I found myself trying to preserve a picture in my mind to revisit on a dark, cold winter day or when my kids are grown and have flown the nest.

Then I realized my mistake.

It was precisely the sweet fleetingness that mattered. The stillness of a freeze-frame could never capture why I was enjoying the afternoon. Accepting its impermanence was the very thing that imparted it with so much meaning. The mental image I was trying to make permanent would never measure up to the magic of the moment. Stopping time only ends the magic.

Knowing that my hiatus on the porch had a time limit, that my kids won’t be running up and down the block in just a few short years, and that the trees will soon be bare after autumn was what made it special. It helped me to pay better attention. It put me in a calm state of mindfulness.

The act of living is a constant exercise in transformation. Choosing to accept the reality of change, and even loss, makes everything shine a little brighter. Appreciating the “glimmer” of our everyday moments requires welcoming movement with open arms – the polar opposite of trying to stop it.

Accepting change is often a retrospective decision after something we value has left. Appreciating the gift of movement makes us a participant rather than an observer during these transitions. All the resistance disappears.

The same is true with our relationships, but most poignantly, the ones we have with our kids. When we remember that tomorrow’s version of our child will be different from today’s, we also remember to stay more connected to the child we have right in front of us. As paradoxical as it seems, embracing their endless growth is the secret ingredient that’s guaranteed to make our present moments with them burn brighter, grow bigger and last longer.

Life is always in motion – and that’s a big part of what makes parenthood so wonderful.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

One Sentence

One Sentence

What is the meaning of life?

The question feels colossal. Maybe even unanswerable at first. When we’re young, we plan for our ideal adulthood via main plot points:

√   Pick a career
√   Get married
√   Have kids

Then we grow older and begin to understand that those checkboxes aren’t everything. Successful careers and thriving families are merely the cumulative results of some larger force that drives each of us in unique ways.

One of my favorite games growing up was Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life. I recently played it with my family, and was amused to see my kids react the same way I did at their age. “Yes! I got the best salary!” “It’s not fair! I wanted to be a doctor!” “I hope I get twins!” Of course, the game’s ultimate winner is defined by who has the most money. My boys were being taught the same unconscious lessons I absorbed when I was a kid.

I watched as they became swept up by imagination, seeing their “lives” unfold through the events marked by a large “STOP!” sign on the gameboard. They raced each other to see who could start a career, buy a house, build a family, and collect a payout the fastest. But even as I delighted in their enthusiasm, I was struck by a disquieting thought.

The big events provide a necessary chassis, sure – but what about those more common spaces on the gameboard we barely pause to read? The ones that say, “Go Fishing,” “Plant a Tree,” or “Visit a Museum.” Aren’t those just as important? How about coffee dates? Laughter during family dinner? Still moments to observe the clouds float across the sky? Why don’t these moments earn checkboxes?

These moments are literally what make up a life. The weight and meaning of our experiences are ours alone, but more importantly, they are ours to own. We get to direct our energy and attention toward whatever we value most. Each hour, you’re making the decision to focus on past performance, current experiences, or future plans. We get to decide when to be the driver and when to be the passenger in that little red car filled with pink and blue pegs.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. We all extract different significance from our days for different reasons. Yet when there are kids (pink and blue pegs) in our orbit, our choices about what’s important have influence. We navigate the “Game of Life” differently when there is precious cargo onboard. It’s worth noticing your personal tendencies and becoming clear on your answers to the big questions. What you find is what you’re teaching your children by example. Is finishing the game with the most money and accolades really the way you win? What is most important?

Widen the lens. Try to take on the big questions (“What is the meaning of life?”) with little answers. What if you could only respond with one grammatically correct sentence (no run-ons)? There are many questions to answer beyond figuring out the meaning of life. What is the role of joy and sorrow? What is the balance between work and play? How are pain and growth related? The point of limiting yourself to little answers is to force clarity. So here’s today’s big question: Why were you placed on this planet in this moment?

Define your purpose. You have one sentence available for your answer.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning.