Monday, March 01, 2010

Finding Focus -- by Jamie

I’m back in college after an almost 20-year hiatus, and attending my classes has been a bit of a juggling act, between dropping Jayda off at daycare at her designated hour (and not earlier, because I’m trying to save money), and then trying to beat traffic and snag decent street parking near Queens College—to say nothing of the challenges of participating in the classes, and doing the class work, while still freelancing and being a devoted single mom. But one glitch I didn’t expect is that I’d feel like my three-year-old daughter when it comes to studying for my tests: I just can’t focus.

This past December, my mother gave Jayda a LeapFrog computer for Hanukkah. Jayda was thrilled when she unwrapped the gift, and squealed with delight. She then insisted we hook it up right away so she could test it out. I rushed to attach the device to the television as fast as I could, and as soon as I turned it on, Jayda sat in front of her new “puter” and started to play; less than five minutes later she stopped and stood up: “I done!” she announced, and ran off to do one of her puzzles. My mother’s jaw dropped and she turned to me questioningly. I just shrugged; this was normal Jayda-behavior. My daughter rarely focuses on any activity for longer than a few minutes. She doesn’t even like to watch TV for very long…which is probably a very good thing, developmentally
(though at times when I’d love to keep Jayda occupied while I’m cooking dinner or attending to an important task, I don’t always see it that way).

Similarly, Jayda is still too young and “unfocused” to sit through a movie, or any theater performances. When we went to see “Disney on Ice,” she loved it, but by the end of the first act, she was pretty much “over” it, and was much happier walking back and forth to the bathroom with me and visiting the refreshment stand. And on President’s Day, when we attended a 1-hour “Blues Clues Live” show, Jayda eagerly watched for 50 minutes (while periodically digging into her bag of popcorn, turning around to watch the other kids, and chatting with me about the show), and then squirmed off of my lap and announced “I ready to go home now” before ever discovering the last clue.

As a 40-year-old, I’m much more focused than Jayda—I can certainly watch three-hour movies and Broadway shows—and these days I can even sit through a not-so-scintillating two-hour Social Statistics lecture once a week. But when it comes to studying…oh my. Last week, I faced my first big test since returning to college, and preparing for it was a nightmare.

My biggest mistake was sitting by my computer to study. First, there was the “ding” of my incoming emails to distract me…and of course, I had to check every one. And if any of those emails included a Facebook comment, I then logged on to my Facebook account to take a closer look. Talk about a time-suck! Sitting by my computer also tempted me to do my “regular” work—instead of studying. Of course this was work that I did need to do—but not imminently. Now, as a freelancer, I’m used to working from home, but for some reason, studying requires much more discipline from me than working…and I’m more easily distracted from it, no matter what mundane tasks are calling to me; on my study days, I easily found myself “escaping” to do laundry, to clean the bathroom, or to run out “just for a few minutes” to do some food shopping. Anything to avoid my text book. When it’s pre-test time for me, just like Jayda racing from toy to toy at a play date, I find myself moving around my house taking care of anything and everything that isn’t related to college coursework.

Back in my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, I often studied at night for a few hours—and then met my friends at a college bar afterwards. Thinking back on that astounds me because these days, I can barely keep my eyes open after 9 pm. But I guess the lesson here is that back at the U of M, I rewarded myself for my studying and, ultimately, I have to learn to do that now. I need to find something to inspire myself (other than a Long Island Ice Tea and a chance to see my latest crush) to get through my next studying ordeal. Because I know my unfocused three-year-old also performs better when she gets rewards…and clearly we have a lot in common.

They say as we grow older, regression eventually sets in. True, I’m only 40…but maybe it’s already starting to happen to me, because one thing is for certain—I can sure use a nap right about now!

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