Tuesday, March 30

The Friend I Thought Was An Enemy: Routine

(from the April Montana Woman)

The first few pages of my family heirloom 1961 Betty Crocker cookbook include tips on household management such as: “Have a weekly plan for scheduling such tasks as washing, ironing, baking, shopping, cleaning the refrigerator or washing floors. One task done each day provides a sense of accomplishment and keeps work from piling up.” And, “Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply makeup and a dash of cologne. Does wonders for your morale and your family’s too!”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I thought the first time I read those tips, thinking they were just an amusing glimpse of the ‘olden days.’ Now, after 14 years of marriage, working from home and the office, moving several times and having two children, I see the practical truth in them. Planning what needs to be done, accomplishing a few life chores, and doing a little something for myself every day, keeps me and my family sane.

Now, scheduling a routine is my friend. Routine is my compromise between forcing my children and me into a strict schedule or being dominated by the tyranny of the urgent, dealing with whomever or whatever is crying loudest at the time. Routine gives me the structure to face the never-ending cycle of making clean things dirty and dirty things clean again. Our family routine helps the kids know what to expect and helps the parents accomplish the chores of life.

As Kathy Peel says in her book, The Family Manager Saves the Day, “Hundreds of tasks are required to keep a family going, and many of them can be fitted into routines that make everyone’s life easier. Once you decide how, when, and by whom something should be done, you eliminate questions and arguing—and you stop wasting time on the trivial. … Routines help replace time-stealers with time itself – the most precious commodity. They free us to stick to our priorities, doing what we truly feel is important and essential, and they give family members security because everyone knows what to expect.”

Routines help me with everything from paying bills and serving meals, to training and disciplining children, to deciding what we’ll do for fun this weekend. One of my most useful routines, planning a weekly dinner menu, saves me because I can’t think when I’m hungry. And here is the trick to the menu: you don’t actually have to plan seven dinners! Mondays at our house is enchilada night. Friday is pizza night. Sunday is grilled cheese. And now I only have to come up with four more dinners … that I pick off the list I have scribbled in the front of my recipe box for when I need inspiration.

Routines help me schedule day to day and month to month. On a weekly basis, my routine includes laundry and planning on Monday, a trip to the library for story time on Tuesday and church night on Wednesday. My weekly schedule gives structure, but nothing says that it can’t be changed to take advantage of events that happen sporadically.

There are slushy spring days when I think I cannot possibly hang up one more pair of wet snow pants, build one more train track in our cramped living room, or make one more healthy dinner! And then the sun will come out. Then riding bikes to the nearest playground to bask in the sun becomes better than any routine I had planned for the day, especially if it includes picking up hamburgers for dinner on the way.

The beautiful part of routine is that I have time to take advantage of “unplanned” sunny days because my chores are generally under control. Who would have thought that a Betty Crocker cookbook from 50 years ago would have such helpful advice for today?

Thursday, March 25

Turn and Pivot

While reading Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families, I found a familiar moment mentioned in several essays. It's the dead spot in the conversation after meeting someone and asking each other what we "do."

"I'm home with my kids," I say. "Oh that's nice/great/important," they say. And then ... there is nothing else to say. Turn and pivot.

One writer/mom, Page Evans, found herself at a Washington, D.C., party. "'I'm basically a stay-at-home mom,' she tells a fifty-something man next to her.
'Oh, well, that's such an important job. Kids grow up so fast, don't they?'
'Yeah, they do,' she says.
And that's the end of it. Turn and pivot.
But wait. Wait! Don't you want to know what I think about what's going on in the world? I want to scream out. I've spent the past seven years trying to improve my mind, to prove that I'm more than "just a mom." I see more plays, read more op-eds, take classes, visit museums. ... Driving car pool and discussing favorite food groups is not all I'm about. Yes, I'll gladly discuss those things, but I don't want to be defined by them."

Another writer/mom, Catherine Clifford, writes, "I don't understand why taking care of one's own children is considered hopelessly tedious or brain-deadening. I know well how quickly a new cocktail-party acquaintence needs a fresh drink when he finds out I'm a stay-at-home mother. I find it odd that I'd generate far more interest if I said I raised dogs or horses or chinchillas, but saying, in effect, 'I raise human beings,' is a huge yawn.
It might, in fact, be that boring if child care were simply a series of pink-collar tasks -- bathe, dress, feed, repeat. But observing and participating in a little Homo sapien's development is fascinating to me. Furthermore, being a mother isn't just a 'job' any more than being a wife or daughter is; it's a relationship."

Tuesday, March 23

Story Time Makes Me Cry

Every Tuesday, Ethan and I go to the library for kids' story time. And every week, they sing their welcome song ...

"We're all here for story time, story time, story time, so let's get ready."

And every week, it makes me cry.

The circle of toddlers and preschoolers all cup their little hands around their ears to turn them up high and twist little hands in front of their mouths to turn them down low. And I get weepy standing in the back of the circle of watching moms. Especially if my son looks over his shoulder to check that I'm still there. I stand in the back so the others don't see me wiping the tears away. There is just something about the sweet voices all following the librarian's hand motions that just gets me. I think it's one of those moments that I just want to stamp on my mind and heart to treasure when my kids are not so sweet or not so near, like when they're teenager who don't want me around or when they're all grown up with their own families.

Thursday, March 18

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Well, happy St. Patrick's day one day late. I make a big deal of St. Patrick's day for several reasons. One is that I've been to Ireland so it's a chance to get out the pictures and tell my kids about it. We get books from the library about St. Patrick and Ireland. We cook green treats like cookies or cakes. We cut out shamrocks. And we pretend fun things about leprechauns - for the last couple of years the wee ones have gotten to the children's breakfast cereal and turned their milk green when we weren't looking!

And, every year, I tell them St. Patrick's explanation of the trinity. According to legend, St. Patrick held up an Irish shamrock and said this is a picture of the trinity. Each petal represents one part of God - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - all separate but connected. Who knows if St. Patrick actually did it, but it's one of the clearest explanations of three in one that I've heard. So either my kids will get it, or they'll wonder why they think of shamrocks whenever their Sunday school teachers mention the trinity!