As a pediatric occupational therapist, I often find myself faced with the sometimes-daunting prospect of what is known as habituation. In the OT world, habituation can be a good thing or a bad thing. Habituation is the decrease in response (physical or emotional) to a stimulus after repeated presentation. For example, maybe a child is easily distracted by a certain noise, but once that noise is repeated enough times, the child habituates to the noise and is no longer distracted. On the other hand, sometimes the treatment techniques that we use become habituated to. As a result, the child stops responding to the treatment. Our brains filter out that which does not pose a threat to our existence and tunes it out!
Well, as a parent, I often find myself faced with the prospect of habituation. I will admit it. I have habituated to my children. I have habituated to their smiles, their pouts, their fingers, and their toes. I have habituated to the way the sunlight hits their eyes and makes them light up. I have habituated to the wind blowing in their hair and I have habituated to their peaceful sleeping faces. I have habituated to their messy rooms, the ever present and overflowing laundry that they create, and the trail of mud that they leave behind as they come in from the rain. I don’t pay too much attention to the everyday nuances every single day because I am exposed to them CONSTANTLY! My brain tunes them out because life is freaking busy and messy rooms don’t threaten my actual existence.
The threat that we, as parents and humans, have habituated to is not found directly in today, but it is in tomorrow. It is found in tomorrow when you catch that first glimpse of a young lady standing in the shoes of your once little girl. The threat is when you now have to look up instead of down at your rambunctious little boy. What is that old adage? The days are long, but the years are short. For sure! I know this feeling all too well. But I am here to tell you that we can hold onto those moments and revisit them. We can experience them one more time. We can make our brains take notice and never forget. As documentary photographers, we train to slay habituation. To be present and quietly wait for those subtle expressions, postures, preferences, and aversions. We find the trail of mud and turn it into a reminder of the beautiful story that is life. Beautiful, messy, authentic life.