Editor’s note: Today’s guest post is by Caroline McGraw. Caroline is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned storyteller, digging for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities (and empowering caregivers to do the same).
If you’re anything like me, you love Tammy’s My Morning View series because it speaks to you of possibility. In a world obsessed with being busy, it reminds you of what mornings could be like. When you look at her photos, you think, Wow. Maybe I could start my day a little slower. I could take a picture, take a breath, take a moment to appreciate the world around me.
Nevertheless, I know how difficult it can be to actually make those changes. But the good news is that it’s possible. Even if you shoulder the responsibility of caring for others each day, it is possible to change your morning view and cultivate strong relationships too.
A Caregiver’s Morning View
After graduating from a top college in 2007, I didn’t seek out a ‘traditional’ job. Instead, I signed on to be a live-in direct-care assistant for adults with special needs at L’Arche DC. L’Arche (which is French for, ‘The Ark’) is a worldwide organization that creates homes wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together in community.
During my time as assistant, part of my role involved helping up to 4 people get ready for work in the morning. In this capacity, I’d assist with showers and clothing choices, make breakfast, give medications, and make sure everyone got out the door on time.
Given the high degree of responsibility, my mornings often passed in a blur! Looking back, though, I can see an evolution of ‘my morning view’ at L’Arche.
When I was a brand-new assistant, I’d set my alarm for 6 am or earlier. I wanted time to get dressed, grab a cup of coffee, and review my routine notes. (L’Arche routines are very detailed and daunting to the untrained eye. Some individual routines can run up to three pages of typed, single-spaced notes!)
However, when I’d been an assistant for a month or so, I started setting my alarm for later times. 6:10 am, 6:15 am, and then, finally, 6:20 am. I’d figured out that 10 minutes was the absolute minimum time it would take to get dressed (or simply put on shoes – assistants often choose pajamas that can double as morning routine clothes) and fly downstairs.
In those days, I’d start my routines on time, but just barely. Assistants work long hours and need as much sleep as they can get; understandably, I wanted to stay in bed as long as possible. But waking up later meant that I started the day feeling rushed, and that feeling carried over into my caregiving.
A Small Shift Makes A Big Difference
Fortunately, I figured out that this wasn’t how I wanted to be. A morning routine is about getting ready to go for work on time, true, but it’s also about setting the tone for the day ahead. It’s about starting the day in a way that’s conducive to cultivating relationships, a way that’s peaceful rather than pushy.
And so, when I’d been at L’Arche a few months longer, I started setting my alarm for 6 am again. I started my routines just a little bit earlier so that I could enjoy a more relaxed pace. Even though I could complete routines swiftly if I had to, I opted for having ‘extra’ time. Whenever possible, I chose margin. I trusted that doing so would be a gift to those around me.
Motivation and Margin
What kept me motivated to make that choice day in and day out? Very simply, I noticed that my favorite moments always happened on the mornings that included ‘extra’ time … or perhaps I was more able to open my eyes and be present when I built margin into the routines.
I came to see that magical moments were always available; the question was, would I rush past them, or would I notice, appreciate, and savor? Just a few seconds could make the difference. Beauty wasn’t far away; it was right there, waiting for me to pay attention.
One day, for example, a friend and L’Arche member I’ll call Miguel directed my attention to a lovely morning view. I later wrote about that experience in these words:
“Miguel’s not moving as quickly as I’d like. At first, I’m frustrated. But then I see: he’s gazing with wonder at two sparrows that have flown into the holly-bush just outside his window. I follow his line of sight, and for once I don’t try to turn his attention back to the pills and the medicine cup in his hand.
For once, I forget about the task at hand and consider twirling instead…the twirling of tiny wings, the dance of birds in the bush. Light streams in. And I feel like even though the world in all its misery and unfulfilled hope rushes by, the same as ever . . . we are different, Miguel and I. We take pause. We see life flutter in winter.”
Of course, it can be challenging to keep margin in one’s life, to keep oneself open to magic. Though I work for myself now, I do have days wherein I slip into old habits: I book appointments back-to-back, say, or I don’t allocate a realistic amount of time to get from point A to point B.
But when I realize that margin is missing from my days, I remember my friends at L’Arche and begin again. I remind myself that pretty much everything can wait until tomorrow … everything, that is, except the tiny beautiful moments that belong to today.