Routine

We’re stepping into a new era in our house: one that incorporates routine. I’ve always recognized that children thrive on routine. For the brief spurts that I’ve been able to impose and maintain order in this house, it’s almost always been because I’ve adhered to some form of routine.

Oddly enough, having kids has forced me to follow more routine than at any other time in my life. If it wasn’t for my time in school (including through college), who knows how fractured my behavior could have been. Instead of having ten concurrent projects in my parents garage I could have had 30, but that’s another story.

As many young parents discover, I quickly found the more consistent I was with my boys when they were young, the more consistent their patterns became. And the more consistent they’re behavior was the more this made me want to continue the pattern since consistent behaviors meant a greater level of sanity for me. If I knew that every day at 3:30 my oldest would start to get a little torqued because he was ready for his afternoon nap, at least it was part of a pattern and a routine that I could plan around and work with.

Those days were exceptionally hard, but routine made them much easier. Until, of course, your children reminded you that they will not be two years-old forever. They continue to grow and develop physically, mentally, and developmentally, and then, suddenly, the old routines don’t work any more and you have to come up with new routines to handle the new, frequently inconsolable mass of screaming toddler that stands before you.

When the boys were first born we were living in Boston. There we were, the young urban couple with the two kids. We were so progressive that my staying at home with the kids was a choice, not an inevitability born out of circumstance. OK, my wife was making three times what I was with my own business, and “working from home” created a certain level of flexibility that leant itself well to raising kids, so maybe the choice obvious.

Back then, if the kids were fussy or you wanted to go expose them to something new, it was easy. Open the door, toss ‘em in the stroller, and off you went. Immediate sensory stimulation. From city buses driving past, to rolling on the grass at the Bunker Hill Monument as actors in period costume fired muskets at the top of the hill. All of this was just steps outside of our door.

Then we moved to Walnut Creek, CA. Suburbia. Bucolic. Everything we had hoped for. Honestly, there’s little sarcasm in that last statement. There was a moment in the routine of our day in Boston when I was chasing our oldest around the playground of the local elementary school. There were four saplings planted in a row. He ran around one, then careened around the next, and as he neared the third he looked back at me and yelled, “C’mon daddy, chase me through the forest!” That’s when I decided we needed to move out of the city.

Changes in scenery, however, are more difficult to come by in suburbia. Most excursions require a car, and that’s not a routine I was (or still am) used to. And we’re a pretty typical family. We don’t take advantage of all of the amenities and attractions a region has to offer. When we moved to Walnut Creek we said, “oh, and we can go into San Francisco all of the time. Our house is so close to BART, it’ll be so easy!”

Then the routine gets in the way. Nap time routines, slide into school time routines, slide into sports-schedules that get complicated by music lessons. Oh, and our family, collectively, keeps talking about wanting to take Spanish lessons. Spanish was not as high on the list of language-needs in Boston as it is in California.

So now our routine is more apt to take us to Heather Farms park for soccer practice than to Golden Gate Park for outdoor music festivals.

But the boys are getting older and their routines are yet again changing. So, with this change, yesterday I saw an opportunity, more born out of my own changing routines than anything.

For the past two years I’d been strung out, let me rephrase, I strung myself out by saying “yes” to too many volunteering obligations. I had to force myself to write “obligations” instead of “opportunities.” These opportunities, to use the word, had gotten in the way of me. So much so that when my first opportunity – and this is the correct use of the word – came up to write for Patch.com, I was unable to take advantage of it because I was too busy giving my time to others. Then the volunteering started getting in the way of already existing work I had already been contracted to do for money. Volunteering was affecting my home.

Then I really thought about what it was affecting and I saw that the PTA Presidency, the swim team directorship, and the other volunteering obligations were also getting in the way of the time I had for my kids. This is what really threw me. So I finally started saying “no,” and finally started looking for more help, and if I couldn’t find the help I resolved myself to saying that some things wouldn’t get done, which was OK.

And yesterday was a big day. It was the first day in literally years when I managed all of the time in my own day rationally and reasonably. I took a trip into and out of San Francisco. I billed time working for my client. I did three loads of laundry. I made myself a substantial lunch, and even cleaned up afterward. I found time to workout. I drove to school and picked up the kids: actually getting there on time, and not speeding through yellow lights to get there before the school’s office called wondering if I was going to pick up my kids.

Part of our recent routine has been a fall swimming clinic. Since the clinic started, every day I’d look at my computer, realize that I had spaced on the time, run downstairs and rush my children along, getting mad at them because I was late in getting them started out the door.

Yesterday? Calm. Ten minutes before the clinic, I got up from my PC, walked downstairs and got them organized. I calmly helped them find towels and their bathing suits, which I had also washed. As we got in the car, our youngest said, “I forgot my goggles!” He was expecting me to get upset. Calmly I asked, “Do you know where they are?” He said he did. I calmly replied, “Great. Just wanted to know if you needed help. We’ve got time.”

And then it dawned on me. Now I can spend time on helping my kids develop a new routine. The boys always have had chores around the house but my obligations got in the way of my managing my time and theirs. So now each day the boys can have a defined, specific, manageable task around the house, and so will I. These days of rushing, rushing, rushing, of turning around and wondering why the house is such a shambles, of getting frustrated with my kids for not being more proactive (they’re 8 and eleven!), of feeling like I could never get enough time to write or get ahead personally, are over.

It’s the dawning of a new era. For now, at least.

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