While cooking this weekend, my mind wandered to back-to-school logistics. I had a nagging feeling of anxiety. It wasn’t about teachers, academics, or IEPs. No, not yet at least. My anxiety was about mornings and had been building for awhile.
The white teardrop center of my halved yellow onion fell onto the cutting board. I put it back into the crispy, potent layers and kept slicing. My eyes started to sting and soon I was chopping with tears running down my cheeks. You’re probably wincing in anticipation of the part where I slice into my finger. That didn’t happen. Our mornings are rough, but [usually] not that rough.
One reason I see similarities between school day mornings and onions is because of the stinging frustration that builds into a blur all too often. Shoot, I need to pack lunches! “Honey, if you don’t get down here now, you won’t get breakfast!” He knows I won’t withhold breakfast. I know yelling from downstairs doesn’t work, so why do I keep doing it? OUCH!! Damn those LEGOS! “Darling, put this on please.” I recall driving to school tense and with a lump in my throat, trying to reassure my angry daughter who has been waiting for a half-hour. I dare not recall last year’s tardy tally.
“This year will be different,” I reassure myself, scraping the chopped onions into the frying pan.
The second reason school day mornings are like onions is that there are so many layers to the issue of what makes mornings challenging. Thinking through the layers has been insightful to me. I hope it resonates with other parents and that my humble reality check is reassuring.
On the outside layer, I’ve long been focused on my son’s autism. I am fluent in the “what might be going on here” lingo: self-care tasks, executive functioning, motor planning, and anxiety. Having a name for what’s happening and knowing what to do are two very different issues. From early childhood to the round of occupational therapy my son just finished, we received ample support, but nothing seems to stick. Honestly, I feel strained and wary of the latest “great idea” for our perennial struggle. With the exceptions of the universally useful checklist on the way out the door and our whiteboard weekly schedule other visuals are initially interesting but not sustained.
Environment is another layer of this metaphorical onion. I realized when puppy proofing our home (add five onion layers) that clutter was a problem. Stacks of books and piles of laundry line our living room. Mail, art, and notebooks clutter our countertops. Legos, dolls, and science projects bury the bedroom floors. Welcoming puppy forced us to declutter. Moving most toys out of my son’s bedroom has made clean-up easier and covering the LEGO table with a sheet at night cuts down on first-thing-in-the-morning building. I feel more focused and less overwhelmed too, at least when the puppy is sleeping.
I know that sensory input and physical activity are another layer. The few mornings that we get outside to swing or take a bike ride before breakfast have been fantastic and refreshing. But urging either child out of bed, through the bathroom, into shoes, and out the door before I have had my coffee is a rare feat.
I am also realizing that my patterns and wellbeing are a central layer. I so enjoy the quiet of the late evening that I stay up too late and shirk my morning prep duties in favor of reading or relaxing. Anticipating our frustrating mornings from my warm pillow makes getting started seem impossible. And, recently, when the occupational therapist named “time management” and “organization” as areas to continue working on with my son, I felt like my cover had been blown. Time management and organization have always been challenging for me! Luckily I have some gradeschool-level supports to help me. So, here I am, at the teardrop center of the onion. This is where little-by-little growth begins. Excuse me while I go pack lunches and get to sleep.