Routine, Unsplash

Finding a routine when nothing is normal

Wake up. Yoga. Shower and get dressed. Tiptoe out of the house at 7. Bus and tube. Write my gratitudes. Another tube. Short walk to the building and greet the team. Cereal with yogurt checking the morning emails. Work. Coffee. Work. Grab lunch to the desk. Work. Meetings. It’s getting late. Run back, Jubilee is congested, I am going to be late for dinner. Run into the house past 7. Dinner and bedtime. Charity time. Bedtime. Start again. This is a routine. One that many of you will recognise. An accumulation of daily habits and rituals. And it’s all upside down.

No routine

For a few weeks, there was no routine. I was ill and trying to still work, thinking I just had a flu. But I still isolated. Then I was fine and tried to work again a few days. After I was worried if Baby S would catch Covid19. And then I was sure I had it. That was just before I got worse.

At the end of it, I had so little routines that I felt like I did not know what I was doing. There was no point in having an alarm clock as I could not get up until one of the kids would walk into the room. There was also no point in trying yoga as I could barely breathe properly anyway. I tried journaling to make sure I kept the sanity but I don’t even remembered when I did that. I must have done it, as I see gratitudes in my journal for those days. Some habits are hard to lose. 3 weeks went in a blur. I am not sure I will ever be able to be super precise about what I did.

You may think that maybe it’s OK not to have a routine. And in fact, it can be OK to break it entirely to shake up the system and re-start. But in fact it would have made my life easier I feel. It would have given me an automatic pilot in a time where I could not process much. Routine allows your body and mind to follow cues and act in response without even disbursing too much brainpower or energy. You do it because you do it.

The School Routine

Shortly after I stayed home ill, the rule came out that the entire household had to be isolated if one person was ill. Pleased that I could finally take Little Girl C from school, we started our day 1 of Home-schooling before most schools closed.

With no support from the school in the first few days, I was sure of one thing. The kids were going to need a routine and a schedule. I knew we were in it for the long run, and so I had to start it the right way, to make everyone’s adjustment smoother. And to give them predictability amidst the absolute upside down scenario they were now facing.

Whilst Little Girl C could understand the concept of illness and (roughly) people dying, Baby S just thinks it must be weekend if he is not going to school. For the first few days it was even funny. Knowing I was home, he kept showing off his cough to say he was ill and could not go to school. I explained he was not going to school anytime soon, irrespective of his cough. Just in case, he repeated his ritual for another week until he figured out there was no need.

Home schedule

So our home school had a schedule and rituals from day 1 (rituals help creating new routines). We had a good morning mix of a pre-school circle time and a catholic primary school morning prayer. The kids found it funny, but 3 days into it they knew to be in the living room at 9 o’clock. When it got to Saturday evening, Baby S complained that day we did not do circle time. I explained it was for school days only. He asked to go swimming then. I said pools were closed and that was not going to be possible for a while. He has asked every Saturday still. Routines matter to them.

My New Routine

When I finally felt well enough to go back to work full time, I worried. I know I have an organized mind with always too much going on. I also knew my potential to be so immersed in work, home-schooling, charity, supermarket shopping and God knows what else that I was unlikely to find any time to keep mental sanity. And I also know how easy it is to just try and do everything and do nothing at all. I had not been out in 4 weeks. Even though I did not miss it, I also knew that meant I had not had a moment to myself (except those when I was so ill I just stayed in bed). This was not sustainable.

So last week, I started instituting routines, trialing a few variations in different days, adding new pieces that worked, removing or adjusting those that did not. I am now on week 2 of this routine and it is giving me some balance, even today as the kids were officially not in school – but I still made them “go” to school.

Wake up. Yoga. Shower and get dressed. (If early enough) tip toe upstairs and do some work until kids wake up. But if not early enough, don’t beat myself up. (If early calls) try to finish for 9 o’clock circle time and eat later. If not, eat with the children. Novelty.

Circle time and good morning. Baby S created his own new routine last week – take him to school, aka, the kitchen. He hugs me goodbye and says “I love you Mummy”. I reluctantly leave after making myself a coffee.

Light work and calls whilst home-schooling Year 2 maths. I now know the teacher always sends maths at 9.30 so I know Little Girl C will need support.

At 10.30 there is Action Amanda live and Little Girl C is losing steam. Time for them to do yoga or play outside. I enter my most productive time and make all the calls I need as I can work uninterrupted until 1 pm.

I grab lunch and may even sit down away from my desk for 10 minutes. Wow. I watch the kids in the patio. It’s not all bad. Actually, I like this ritual of observing them play. Without feeling the guilt or need to intervene and be there. Afternoon of light work for another 2 hours whilst I support whatever assignment comes next. By 3 o’clock we enter free play and I get another pass for productive work and more calls.

As I realized I was going to continue straight till dinner time, I found myself a new ritual – hula hooping. Yes, you read me right. Hula-hooping. It had been years since I properly used my hoop and it is now my commute back. Music blasting, out in the garden working out and releasing my mind from the day. Let go of the frustrations of what I did not accomplish. Enjoy the moment of what I can do.

Playtime before dinner. Unheard of. Dinner and bedtime. Stories and cuddles. No anxiety about me being there the next morning. I allow myself to browse news, check in with friends and back to charity. Gratitudes. Bedtime.

Here we are, a new world.

The importance of a routine

All in all, some people think routines are only for OCD people. They are not. I did not go through my routine in excruciating detail because I want you to remember what I ate for dinner yesterday. In fact, I don’t remember myself.

The point is routines are a force of normality and a form of conversion to normality. And you can chose yours. 

Keeping constant elements

If you notice my 2 routines (despite not too much detail on the hamster wheel routine), there are a few similar points. Yoga. Coffee only after a few things get done. A reinvented commute back. Journaling (the times vary, it is the act that remains constant). Quickly, I found ways to keep a few routines in amidst the chaos that this new life may represent to many. I do that for me and I do that for the children.

For that, I replicate their school schedules, their morning breaks, their good morning rituals and after school activity schedules even. Baby S no longer asks much for the iPad in the morning, he only comes and check if I put it on the schedule for the afternoon by now. And if I don’t respond, he will just stop me and say “just think about it Mummy”, avoiding me saying no. He comes after his nap time which he does not do anymore and claims he napped to see if it is now time. Knowing it is on the schedule is enough for him (most days).

Adding new rituals

I could not keep with all my routines. I can’t walk in and greet the team. Or I can’t walk to the 12th floor for coffee in my re-usable cup. I can’t get my mid-morning toast and walk into familiar offices for meetings. Stand-up at my desk when my back complains. Walk out to get lunch when or hear my podcast on my way home. That is not available and not in the horizon for the foreseeable future.

However, it is the meaning of some of these routines that help. I greet my team on Skype and I call them on zoom. And I walk to the kitchen instead for my morning coffee and have it with me for endless hours going cold, as I always do. I dial in to meetings and do my best not to multi-task when I am on them. I found a new physical activity, a new way to listen to music (which I greatly missed in my real life routine), a new way to listen to my audio book (even if it is when I am brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed), and even a new time to write my gratitudes, which to be honest feels better than the previous one.

The Future Routine

I don’t think about it much right now. I have a profound belief our lives will change immensely after this. Maybe something for another reflection. At work, we have started discussing what this will mean. After we have all finally adjusted to this new routines in this new normal, the normal will go back to normal and we will again feel lost. I will miss the wake-up and the morning breakfast, I will miss watching them from the window when I get my lunch, or getting a spontaneous hug in the middle of the day. As ever, humans will re-adjust and find other rituals. For now, I focus on the ones I have ahead of me. And they are working. What is your routine?

unsplash-logoAndrik Langfield

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