Routine Details

An interested reader recently had a pointed comment to last month’s post on routines. “Details!” she cried. What kinds of details can I add to the story of regaining my sanity after installing some new routines in our household?

All of the changes and additions started with my finally starting to say “no.” And I’m not talking about just telling my kids to stop doing things. I’m talking about saying “no” when I’m asked to help out around the community. Honestly, it’s not that I’ve said “no” that often, more that I have stopped saying “yes” every time the opportunity has arisen.

In Walnut Creek, like in many towns and cities across the country, when you are a parent who wants to be engaged and involved in your child’s development there are more than enough places to donate your time and money. There are countless places at the elementary school: helping in the classroom, driving on field trips, helping out with PE, traffic guard duty, School Site Council, PTA. Then there are organizations related to the school that need assistance with either time or money: Walnut Creek Educational Foundation is one; it finances art music and PE in our school district.

And of course there are all of the extra-curricular activities that require time and money like Cub Scouts, but they are typically sports. Swim Teams. Little League. Walnut Creek Soccer Club. Walnut Creek Athletic Association. Beyond needing coaches, all of these organizations need managers for each team, some need treasurers, all of them need refs, and all of these jobs are filled by volunteers.

Who has that kind of time? Evidently not too many people. When I first opened my mouth to help out in the classroom when our oldest was in Kindergarten, that lead to an invitation to direct traffic, which lead to an invitation to serve on the School Site Council. And once that pattern was set, when the boys went into sports, I immediately signed up to coach. Anyone who has read my postings for a while knows that at one time I was serving as the director of a swim team, Cub Master of the local Cub Scout Pack, President of the PTA, traffic crossing guard, and helping in the kids’ classrooms.

So what changed? Previously, when no one would say anything, I would step forward and volunteer. I stopped stepping forward.

Why spend so much time on this part of the story? Because this is the meat of it. I could never get a handle on life at home until I had a handle on the rest of my life. Without time there’s no way to control what goes on at home.

This is not a demonization of all volunteering. I do still volunteer my time, I just make sure that I have the time to spare before I say yes, or step forward.

So what is the new routine?

Following Ben Franklin’s credo, it’s now early to bed, early to rise. I used to stay up until 12:30 / 1:00 AM to do my writing. I noticed that I wasn’t sleeping well. I read recent literature on screen time, and more specifically how late night screen time (TV and computer) too soon before sleeping is disruptive to sleep patterns, so I decided to apply that knowledge to my own life. Now I’m in bed a little after the boys, reading for 30 minutes or more, then knocking off to sleep. Waking up is close to 5:00 / 5:15 AM. I groggily empty the dishwasher, get the day going, and get a pot of coffee going. A little reading of the news, then it’s 30 minutes or more of writing before the rest of the house wakes up. Really, I’m waking up early to have time to myself: checking emails, reading the newspaper, or just sitting quietly with a cup of coffee.

Once the house is up it’s off to the races. Prep for school. Eating. Brushing teeth. Getting dressed. Car pool to school. Then it’s time to put in time for my clients. On a quiet day I can squeeze in more writing time. I like those days. Then it’s 2:00PM. Time to get the kids from school, which is a small waste of time since one gets out of school at 2:00 PM, the other at 2:25 PM, which means 25 minutes of standing around and supervising. Nothing more.

Once home, the routine varies by the day. There is a consistency in the pattern, however. Homework is always first off the list, then the kids get time for themselves. Any given day, however, might have a swimming clinic, soccer practice, guitar lesson, or orthodontist appointment.

Unfortunately for the kids, those activities eat into their personal time. The boys are 8 and 11, not too early to start understanding that if they want more time, something has to give, and to start asking what’s really important to them.

We had a couple of seasons when sports overlapped with each other and our afternoons would be spent racing from practice to practice, eating dinner at 7:30, with homework still not being done. Those days were not good for anyone. We look ahead and try to avoid those scenarios at all cost now.

While I’m cooking dinner that’s the time that the boys have to either finish their homework, if they had an early practice and were unable to finish their homework before, or they have to do a chore: cleaning their room, cleaning the living room, taking out garbage, cleaning out a cat box, filling cat food dishes, and the like.

On any given day all of this can go straight out the window, but with the plan in place, most of the time this is how it works out. The kids know what they’re getting on any given day, and they’ve seemed more relaxed because of it. They’re also jubilant on those days when they get to go over to a friend’s house to play, or they have friends over to our house, since they know that the routine gets mixed up for at least one day. Curiously, however, on the days my boys have friends over to our house, my oldest will say, “OK, but we need to get our homework done first,” all without me asking.

Simple saying it. Keeping it in play…that’s the hard part, but you already know that.

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