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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. 

Become Your Own Drummer

Become Your Own Drummer

Let’s do a quick exercise. First, read the following sentence and think about the person it could be describing:

“She really marches to the beat of her own drummer!”

Got an image, or maybe even a specific person in mind? Great. Read it again. But this time focus on the person you imagined speaking the phrase. We all have someone in our lives who marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Now spend a couple of seconds considering how you portrayed this person in your mind – did you see them in a flattering or unflattering light? Add to that whatever narrative unfolded in your mind as you thought about this person. Was your private story told with a tinge of admiration or scorn?

Marching to the beat of a different drummer is a cliché that has probably been part of at least a few conversations in your life. The phrase is so well-worn that when it’s uttered, people often just nod and move on with little pause. It can be a convenient way to characterize a surprising observation or to dismiss something/someone we don’t care to take the time to understand.

It’s possibly even spoken with some disdain when gossiping about an outlier: someone who inexplicably isn’t following the expected norms of the community. It’s an offensive defiance that can make us uncomfortable without fully knowing why. Face it, following the crowd is more societally acceptable than charting your own path.

But let’s think about the phrase for just a moment. If we’re not marching to our own drummer, then we must be marching to somebody else’s. Is that really what we want? Perhaps if it’s the drumbeat of a mentor or coach. Usually, though, we’re challenged to find our own voice.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what our own drumbeat sounds like. When we’re surrounded by a cacophony of other sounds, or if there’s a persistent group rhythm drowning out our instinctual beat, we eventually learn to override it.

So, I have a gentle suggestion. As you move through your normal routine today, think about which specific drummers might be compelling you to march. Do they include the “Joneses,” popular media, or any others who might be feeding a subconscious desire for acceptance, admiration, or conformity? You may discover a need to become reacquainted with your own rhythm.

Even if you’re not hearing your own drumbeat clearly, I promise it’s there. You’ll recognize it deep within, behind all of the distracting noise. It’s the one that feels the most steady, the most comfortable, and the most satisfying. The more you practice listening for it, the louder it will become.

It’s an act of courage to try to filter out the other drummers in life. It may require a fair amount of work and vulnerability. You might be judged or criticized. You may pay a heavy price. You may need to confront some deep-seated fears. And, along with these risks, it’s also amazingly worthwhile.

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. 

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Grace under pressure is a gift. Those who can stay poised under adverse circumstances have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They widen the lens, get perspective, and fend off the body’s efforts to move into fight-flight-freeze mode. They can be thoughtful and decisive when it matters most. Sometimes, however, the crisis is bigger than even the most mature adult in the room.

When life gets disrupted by a traumatic event, a calm state of mind can disable the ability to act with urgency. Our bodies move into fight-flight-freeze for a reason. Health and safety become paramount. Zooming out lessens the stress that gives us our fuel to perform.

It’s a delicate balance. Not enough stress subtracts from engagement, while too much stress causes anxiety or even a total meltdown. Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Both detached calm and intense focus are valuable in a crisis and there’s an ideal time for both. Knowing when to narrow or widen the lens is the key. Zoom in when all other input must be blocked out in order to attend to the top priority on the triage list. Zoom out when you need to see the bigger picture and develop a strategy.

Families need both skill sets every day. It doesn’t require a trauma for our grace or our focus to get activated. It simply takes a diagnostic appraisal of the challenge, followed by a decision about which self to bring to the moment. Engagement or distance? Zoom in or zoom out?

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. 

You Have Issues

You Have Issues

This might be tough to hear, but you have issues. It’s okay, though. We all do.

Our issues arise from our imperfect, very human, histories. Sometimes they come from singular events and traumas. Sometimes they build slowly over decades or they’re based in generational trends. They can be on the edge of our awareness or hidden in our blind spot. In any case, we carry them into every meaningful relationship in our lives.

Here are some things to roll around in your mind next time you find your issues floating to the surface:

  • Can you name them? You probably have at least a vague sense of the emotional trap doors that become activated in you on a regular basis. If you haven’t already, bring that fuzzy sense into sharper focus. Put some definition on your patterns.
  • Are they predictable? Our issues are triggered in the context of the historical events and relationships where they began. Recognizing their origins puts you in a better position to know when they’ll emerge so you can prepare for their impact. 
  • How are they impacting your family? That’s one of the hardest questions any of us face. The answer comes from allowing difficult observations to seep in. Consider how you might be making relationships harder and what you are teaching the next generation in the process.
  • How are you working on them? Chipping away at our issues is a lifelong project. Change has a way of slipping backwards. Continual progress only comes from being vulnerable, staying open-minded and moving knowledge into action – again and again. Learn, plan, execute, assess, repeat.
  • What happens when you work on your issues, but other people in your circle don’t? You can only do what you can do. Here’s the thing about families, though – the people in them tend to influence each other in powerful ways. Resolving to stay on an upward trend will create ripple effects, with you at the steady center.
  • What would it be like if they were resolved? Issues don’t form by accident – they serve functions. Letting go of them would result in the loss of the secondary gains they provide (escape, avoidance, etc.). But through making the unconscious conscious, you can turn them into strong footholds for your growth.

Our issues are what make us human. Striving toward simple understanding of them goes a long way to lessen their magnitude. At our best, our issues lend us genuine compassion and empathy for others – a sense of humble humanity that wouldn’t be possible without them.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinical Director 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.