In my agency job, we talk often of a concept called context switching.
It describes the process of switching from one project, task, client, to another.
We talk of how context switching often requires more time and energy than we expect. And, logically, it makes sense. When you begin a new task, it takes time to get into your rhythm. It takes time to get to the place of focus where your brain is fully engaged and you are making real, efficient, effective progress. It takes time to get into the ‘zone.’ To put thoughts of your previous work aside and focus on the new work laying in front of you.
Context switching also happens, I have learned, in parenting.
I spend my days, quietly, peacefully, almost lazily, with my newborn. He sleeps, he eats. These are quiet activities. Even his wakeful playtime is soft and peaceful. He doesn’t run; I don’t have to chase him. He coos but rarely screams; his voice doesn’t rise to high octaves or decibels. Together we sit and sing and gaze at the sun and the clouds and the trees outside our window.
I photograph him easily and without coaxing. He doesn’t run or turn from the camera.
I get into the newborn rhythm. I talk in soft tones, slightly high-pitched. I coo and shh. By afternoon, I am squarely in the newborn zone. Efficient. Effective. Engaged.
And then, we bring home my girl.
She is three. She runs, she jumps. These are not quiet activities. Her playtime is full-on energetic and exciting. She talks constantly, sometimes loudly, sharing the stories of her day and the ones she’s created in her beautiful imagination. She craves conversation and entertainment. Together we build tall, intricate lego towers, draw pictures upon pictures with markers and crayons and paint. We create messes.
We, too, take notice of the sun and the clouds and the trees. But we don’t just gaze. We talk about the sun, whether it is rising or setting, waking or sleeping. Where it goes when it sets. How the moon sometimes rises before the sun has left the sky and how can that be. We notice shapes in the clouds. Dinosaurs and butterflies. We count the leaves on the trees. The colors. The fact that most fall but some remain all year long.
I mostly keep my camera tucked away. The number of blurry shots that fill my photo files, of a hand or a dark-haired head dashing out of focus, is shocking.
Switching from the newborn zone to the preschool zone is tough. It takes time. It is not as simple as picking her up and buckling her into the car.
I’ve begun to appreciate the energy required for this context switching.
I’ve begun to use our drives home from preschool as my zone-switching time. In easy, contained conversations. Sitting as the world passes by, sipping a cup of coffee, easing my brain into the place where I can make riveting preschool conversation.
By the time I get home, I’ve got one foot solidly in the preschool zone and the other still firmly planted in newborn territory. I volley back and forth until, as dinner time rolls around, I jump with both feet into the world of Mom. Mom to all. Cooker of dinner, packer of lunch, feeder of baby and reacher of crayons stored on the top shelf.
With practice, I’m getting better. I remember (most of the time) that different parenting skills are required for each right now. The preschooler requires extra patience, she doesn’t simply sit where I put her or coo quietly while I load the dishwasher. The newborn requires food and love that he can’t ask for or get himself.
By the time dinner dishes are being put away and bedtime is drawing near, I am in the zone. Responding to baby coos and cries, managing preschooler requests for games and dessert, bouncing from one to the other.
And then, they sleep. And I quietly exit the zone. And promptly collapse on the couch.