Friday, February 13, 2015

On Routines: Steps Simplified and Anxieties Eased

Sometimes I think a lot about the extent to which my life is dominated by routines. This is partly a necessary condition of my personality and my sanity and partly a necessary condition of this station and season in my life-- a necessary condition of my children's safety and well being.

Some of our routines are ones I dread. Brushing and flossing, for example. I think it's because it comes at the end of the day when I'm slightly touched out and ready to be surrounded by my own thoughts and that of another adult's for an extended period of time. I think it's partly because the bigger they get the more the flossing grosses me (and yes, certainly we're nearing the point where Annie could take responsibility for getting the food out from between her own teeth but she's had two cavities filled that together probably cost more than my car is worth and I'm not ready to cede control on that). Anyway, I would gladly extend their read-aloud time by ten, even twenty minutes, if I could get out of the teeth routine. And that's exactly what I do when Peyton's around. 

Some of our routines are ones I almost always view with pleasure, if not excitement. Namely, the previously mentioned reading aloud. Even on the nights with the most pressing to-do list, with the smallest amount of patience, with the most painful headache I can usually get through it and with a sense of enjoyment. 

And some (many) fall somewhere in the middle. Making sandwiches and pouring milk and sweeping crumbs and pulling on boots and zipping jackets. They are mostly mundane and unenjoyable, but I find satisfaction in being the one who gets to do them for my small people. 

One thing I have been thinking about lately, though, is routines that are particular to here. Routines that find their origin and reason for existing specifically because we live where we do in this season.

I was thinking about our transit routines. How I put Graves in the carrier before we leave the apartment, Annie buckles it in the back and then I put on my coat and hat and gloves. This is exactly opposite of what Peyton does because he wears Graves on his back. He puts his coat on first, then his little boy. And he needs help getting him seated rather than buckled.  

But more specifically when we're actually making the trip. When I have the children by myself if Graves is in the stroller, when I get to a set of stairs I tell Annie "Go ahead- get a head start!". If I don't, I know I'll have to stop behind her, holding the stroller. That's not only terribly uncomfortable/marginally painful, but if I don't have the forward inertia, it feels dangerous and I feel unsteady. 

When Graves is in the carrier, especially when we arrive at a busy station (Metropolitan in Brooklyn or Union Square in Manhattan, for example) I always take Annie's right hand in my left hand as we exit the train. When we approach the stairs I scoot her ahead of me and physically place her little hand on rail to her right (subway etiquette dictates you go up stairs the way you drive- stay to your right). She typically has a toy in her one hand and this prevents her from holding up people behind us as she switches the toy from her right hand to her left; trying to go to the opposite side of the stairs and go up the left, putting her in the position of facing oncoming traffic; trying to go up the stairs sideways holding on to the rail on the right with her left hand; or worst of all not holding onto anything. She's astoundingly capable when it comes to transit in general, but she's a clumsy soul and I saw this becoming an issue at first so I established a routine that would simplify our steps. 

I think that's why I crave routines. They do simplify our steps. They also ease my anxiety when (in this case) I don't have to spend what little mental energy I have worrying about my child getting trampled, cussed at, or injured. I execute my routine confidently, and at this point subconsciously, and my discomfort with these trips is lessened.

On a less significant level, routines and "policies" (ahh, Harry Wong, I'm still your fangirl after all these years) alleviate anxiety in my life in a different form- the kind that is less worry and more stress/frustration. When my kids know what to expect- for example that at lunch they get one snack-ish thing (Incan corn or plantain chips or when we were in Mississippi, goldfish) and the rest is produce and a sandwich they're much more compliant with eating what I serve them. It lets them know what to expect. Which really, I think, is only fair.

In yet another way building positive routines of self care for myself and the kids brings a ton of harmony to our lives. This Winter that's looked like them playing independently for a while in the morning while I plan for the day, take my bath, check in on things on the computer, do a few daily chores, and read a devotion. At first I felt ALOT of guilt about it and I still sometimes do, but it's good for us in this season on so many levels. Annie and Graves have learned to be the best playmates I've ever seen, I accomplish a ton more than if they're not in their room, and I start my day in a much more calm, confident place. I'm also less stressed about what all I need to do at rest time since I now use part of that time for school with Annie. I've learned that on the days that Peyton is gone for fifteen hours, it is healthy for me to give myself this time even though I know I'll also have an hour and a half to two hours (including schooling Annie) in the afternoon when Graves is "resting".

This Summer self-care for all three of us looked like making daily trips to our neighborhood park a huge priority when Peyton was working. Sometimes it stressed me out, but once I made it a semi non negotiable part of our routine, it made us all feel more healthy and happy.

And obviously, one huge non negotiable routine is writing here. It brings so much health and wholeness and it's incredibly worth it to carve out space for it.

It's taken me awhile, but I'm figuring out things that help me maintain a sense of peace and routines are a huge help as they simplify my steps and ease my anxieties.

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