New Apps for Old Skills

There’s nothing quite so pathetic as a blog started with enthusiasm and then left to go dormant after only a few postings. Guilty as charged, but this time I have a valid excuse for my absence to take to the principal’s office.

Shortly after launching the new website and blog in earnest, my family needed me to shift gears and apply my skills to caregiving for several folks with significant health needs. What I thought might require my stepping to the professional sidelines for a month or so stretched to six. There’s nothing like real life to humble the type-A perfectionist.

Yet I am appreciating that the experience has not only presented many personal growth challenges and opportunities, it has actually allowed me to continue practicing my professional communication skills in some new and interesting ways.

I realized this the other day when I discovered that I was not only clearing a flower bed and planting some grass as a therapeutic embrace of a beautiful spring day – I was editing my backyard! Lush healthy grass was choking the daffodils and Knock Out® Roses, while an unsightly patch of red clay interrupted green lawn nearby. These were remnants of a septic system repair last fall where workers ripped through fescue and top soil to reroute a line, leaving only the clay, straw and a few measly grass seeds too late in the season to germinate. With trowel and a bucket of compost in hand, I was effectively cutting and pasting grass where it really needs to be, not to mention feeling in control of something.

My organizational skills are tested and honed each day as I seek to tame the onslaught of junk mail, snail mail, email, insurance, receipts, changing medication regimens, recording of side effects, juggling of appointments, trips to the pharmacy and grocery, while performing acts of laundry, bill paying and the occasional household repair. I am the official reminder, calendar keeper and go-to person about missing coats, shoes, lunchboxes and homework for family members with deficits in executive functioning, despite my own “middle-aged moments” of same. No worries about those multitasking skills slipping from disuse.

What have especially enjoyed a regular workout are common PR skills, such as empathy, anticipation of needs and creative responses to crises, real or imagined. Framing theory was central to my doctoral work in communications and never has it had better application to the raising of two children with special needs. Just yesterday I helped one reframe his “jealousy” of the extra attention his sister has received lately to “a need for some one-on-one time with Mom over, say, a board game after dinner.” One frame is of a painful out-of-control feeling and unmet need, the other is validation of that need and a specific plan for meeting it. Ironically, the later board game time was interrupted by a meltdown over forgotten homework during which I got to – no lie – coach my 4th-grader on how to write a news story and headline.

A colleague of mine in PR once quipped that if she could get her 4-year-old to eat broccoli, why should she feel intimidated about pitching The Wall Street Journal for a client? She is one of many along the way who have offered much-welcome levity and perspective.

Not long ago I feared being sidelined forever professionally and guilty for pining away for a career while my loved ones need me so much. Lately, I have come to realize that interruptions, crises and even adjustments to a new normal actually do strengthen us. And, in the end, all kinds of avenues open up which are not otherwise available without venturing on the side roads of life’s journey.

Until next time …

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