Routine (or the New Normal)

I’m working part-time at a group home for teenagers. The kids are there because of stuff they did or because of stuff done to them. In most cases, though certainly not all, these kids have lived a life of routine that does not have a discernable pattern – or in other words – no routine.

For years, I viewed the concept of routine as a Great Evil to avoid at all cost. I was, and perhaps still am, convinced that routine stunts creativity and turns us into automatons. But more on that later.

Anyone who has been charged with the responsibility of taking care of a three-year-old understands the importance of routine in a child’s life. Toddlers without a routine are some of the most miserable beings on the planet. More importantly, they know this. If you change a toddler’s routine for any reason, in most cases (aside from holidays, vacations, etc.), the toddler will scream blue-bloody murder.

When Chef Boy R’ Mine was that age, any deviation from the weekly routine turned him into a hyperactive monster prone to tears, rage, and publicly embarrassing behavior. Being sufficiently enlightened, knowledgeable about child development, and having examined all of my parents’ shortcomings as parents, I, like nearly every other parent, was convinced that my child would always be happy and well-adjusted. It’s such a rude awakening when enlightenment, knowledge and introspection does not, in fact, make a damn bit of difference as to whether or not the child is going to have a tantrum at the Kroger.

Anyway.

The older the boy got and the older I got, the more I realized that routine is not just important to toddlers, it’s important to everyone. It’s not the blanket evil I was once believed to be true.

My first day of school.

My first day of school.

The beginning of the school year was always a time of relief and rejoicing. Staples used to run a commercial with a happy, frolicking father tossing school supplies into the basket with great glee. His two disgruntled children watch. I laughed every time I saw it and said Amen! I thoughtfully provided the commercial at the beginning of this post.

The start of school signaled a return to routine. After a couple of months of flexible bedtimes, erratic meals, impromptu outings, and any number of unscheduled activities, we were all worn out from too much deviation.

Now of course, school brought its own challenges, but there was a carved in stone routine that was only interrupted by Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Those interludes provided needed respite from the grind, but like the first day of school in August, I always looked forward to January 2nd when the holidays were officially over and we could get back to the routine.

At the group home, the first thing we do is put these kids on a schedule. They have standard mealtimes, standard bedtimes, and a daily rhythm that doesn’t vary too wildly. They chafe at first, but like the toddlers they come to both expect it and need it. The minute something gets off-kilter, they get hyperactive and there are tears, rage, and the occasional tantrum. Routine is good.

As the years went by and I began noticing how much I looked forward to the first day of school (and January 2nd), I realized that routine was important in my life too. While it does inhibit my creativity and does, to some extent, turn me into an automaton, the emotional equilibrium that routine provides does mitigate the downside. For the most part.

Several years ago, I became disgusted with my routine and made some sweeping life changes. I do not regret this.

Can you see John Lennon's head?

Can you see John's head?

However, these sweeping changes punctuated by some disasters of varying importance have left me, metaphorically, in the cereal aisle at Kroger having a tantrum. Everything is in flux and while I can envision the goal line, I cannot see it. (I can’t believe I’m using a sports metaphor, but there you have it.) I had a plan and I have goals, but I don’t see the plan being executed for another 5 to 7 years which means attainment of the goals are going to take even longer. I have resisted looking that truth in the eye.

I am emotionally exhausted and prone to rage and tantrums. I am simply tired of not knowing what I can expect from the next day, the next month or the next year. I’m fond, perhaps too fond, of quoting John Lennon’s “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” It’s good to have goals, but that doesn’t preclude having a routine or abandoning a plan that can’t be executed under the circumstances. Muttering “This too shall pass” has been comforting. It may very well be passing, but the movement is so slow as to be imperceptible.

I have chafed at the routine that is trying to emerge, because it is in direct opposition to my goals and expectations. I had a major setback yesterday. I’m still reeling. I do know that the chafing, the grumpiness, the rage and the tantrums have not changed one damn thing. I need to embrace the latent routine and accept my New Normal.

So. My task for the day is to try and fine tune the routine that I think circumstances are dictating; and tweak it enough to insure I don’t become a bitter, old woman whose creativity is limited to seeing what happens when she substitutes Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for the Cream of Mushroom in the tuna casserole.

The New Normal I’m trying to talk myself into embracing is so far outside my realm of experience (and not in a good way) that figuring out how to turn it into something that’s going to work for me is daunting. I do know that viewing it as temporary is not working. For years now, I’ve hung onto arbitrary timeframes uttered by doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs that have proved to be complete fiction. There is no goal line in sight. (Damn it, did it again.)

So, channeling the sentiments of many sages, the goal is to be right here, right now with a routine, day in and day out, that doesn’t ignore the future, but doesn’t treat the now as the aberration. The now is the future. I will resist discussing quantum physics to make this point.

And this all seems much grimmer and whiny than is my intention. I’m more at peace right now than I have been. Years ago when the New Normal began, I would have told you I couldn’t have gotten to this day without losing my mind. While my mental health has ups and downs, I have not worn a strait jacket or been prescribed haloperidol. While I’m not dancing around singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” I am also not railing at the universe.

Now then. If you’ll excuse me, I have a set of chores that I’ve previously allotted 9 hours to, but which the New Normal dictates must be done in 45 minutes. I need to get cracking.

4 Comments

Filed under August 2009

4 responses to “Routine (or the New Normal)

  1. Roseann

    It does sound somewhat dire… I think it’s the parenthesis “(and not in a good way)” that gives it that ‘verdict’ sort of sound; like you don’t have a lot of choices and you’re feeling trapped. Of course, nothing is so constant as change so perhaps some as yet unforeseen situation will make a big difference in a short time. Whatever happens, I hope it’s to your liking–in both the short and long run (and that’s probably a sport’s metaphor too).

  2. Hmm. I didn’t word myself well. Yesterday I needed hugs. Today is good. This is how things are. They may get better or worse tomorrow, but getting through today with grace and style is the goal; and the routine needs to reflect that.

    About a month ago, I purchased a peace plant for my office. What with one thing and another it has been languishing untended in a corner of my kitchen. I dragged it out today, drowned it in water, cut off the dead and dying parts. It looked pretty pitiful. I left for 8 hours and found it had perked up and was looking pretty spiffy. It’s not blooming and there aren’t any buds that are going to bloom in the near future, but it’s an attractive plant even if it is no longer the glorious one I bought. <— and that's what I was trying to say. I think.

  3. Roseann

    Now that’s a metaphor I can ‘dig’

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