I was out and about around dinner time one evening last week, I forget why. It was dark out and the lights were on in my house. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see inside: Loving husband and the elder of the lovely ladies through the kitchen window, laughing; the eldest fine young gent in the dining room wiping the table while one of his brothers put together a puzzle. It was lovely walking in to a cheerful happy home, humming with life and peace, the routine of the way we get our work done and the way we spend our evenings. A few days later, I was talking to Mom, who told me that a tip she'd read long ago in a household management book about choosing one day each week to empty the trash cans instead of waiting until they were overflowing was a real revelation at that time. Management by routine rather than management by crisis; proactive instead of reactive. Later still, during a phone conversation, a friend mentioned how much easier it can be when her children know what to expect.
Don't worry, I'm not about to go all Fly Lady on you. I'm not anti-Fly Lady, by the way. But I'm not exactly in a position to be sharing helpful thoughts on managing household chores either, as my helpful thoughts in this area run along the lines of "Find something more fun to do." But routines are important. As I've been contemplating balance and ways to find and create balance in my life, I've realized that one of the ways this family stays balanced is by creating and maintaining routines that work. Not just chore routines, although those are immmensely helpful. Life routines, the little ways we manage relationships within our family, the kinds of routines that flow from the way we live our lives, the ones that are just the way we do things. Bedtime stories to signal time to settle down, giving goodnight kisses the same way each and every night, consistent discipline and boundaries, the ways we start the day. Those routines make up the loom upon which we can weave the patterns of our days.
Life isn't static. The patterns are always changing. Part of the reason the idea of balance seems pulled to the forefront of my thoughts is because now, as always, the people in our family are changing. The juggling part comes when dynamics shift, needs change, children grow. Our baby days are over; loving husband and I are neither expecting nor caring for a baby for the first time since our honeymoon. We're parenting a just-returned-to-school teenage stepdaughter, a lovely young preteen with autism and the social and behavioral challenges which accompany her disability, an intense bright exuberant young gent who is maturing into a delightful buddy, a preschool "middle child" determined not to disappear in the crowd, and a potty-training two-year-old. When we need to accommodate new activities, different abilities, developmental growth, shifting individual and family needs, life can seem out of balance for a while.
This is the season for me to look at the routines we've created within our family: Are they still meeting our needs? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same? Which routines need our attention, and which can we allow to flourish or die away as they will? We're feeling our way along as we try to create boundaries that allow increased independence and maintain appropriate supervision for our older children; we're creating new routines as the youngest gent outgrows the need for the level of care required by an infant or young toddler. I know we'll find our way. We'll make mistakes and we'll want to tear out our hair and we'll drop some of the balls we've got flying in the air; we'll have our victories and successes and "Aha!" moments too. We'll create new routines and traditions, and old ones will fall away until one day we'll say, "Remember when we used to...?" I will look back on these days and think to myself, "Wasn't that wonderful?" I know this because despite the challenges and frustrations and anxieties I bump into from time to time, I think to myself today, every day, "Isn't this wonderful?" I love my life.
Life is good.
Hug your babies, big and small.