Thursday, January 10, 2019

Resolved: To Get Back on the Wagon

I crave routine.

I crave habits. They are the glue that holds my days together. They help me accomplish all the things I need and want to do every day without the exhaustion of making a million small decisions. They automate my life, so I can focus my mental energy on higher order things.

But the conundrum I've been dealing with forever is that so many of my routines get disrupted frequently, regularly, annoyingly. I implement practices with the best intentions, trying to squeeze the most value out of my time and life, when something comes along and throws a wrench in all the delicate cogwork of these routines and I get all out of sorts. Everything falls apart.

Here are my disrupters:

-New babies (massive disrupters, and super tricky because they disrupt things for months, then years).
-Illness (my own, or anyone in my family)
-Lack of sleep (usually due to babies, but also due to deadlines, illness, peer pressure)
-Children (like babies, very needy, just older and able to express those needs)
-Husbands (particularly ones who have habits that conflict with my own, like staying up late when I'd like to get to bed early)

At one point in 2018, I was doing really pretty good with my routines. My morning routine is the most important, as it sets the tone for my entire day. Over the summer and through the first part of fall semester, I was doing great at getting to bed early, and then waking up at 5:30 every morning to get all of my personal care in (exercise, scripture/mediation, shower/dressed, etc.) long before the kids were awake. The routine felt solid, and life felt good.

But then things got tougher. Everyone kept getting sick. My youngest rotated through periods of teething (2 year molars are beastly) and minor colds that kept her nose so clogged she couldn't sleep. So instead of the routine of solid sleep we developed the routine of waking up crying several times a night, leaving me exhausted and ragged in the mornings. Poof, there goes the morning routine of virtue!

Then things got busier at school. Papers and projects started piling up, and other things started slipping, like the laundry and any semblance of cleanliness. Our already chaotic mornings were now in even worse shape due to the prolonged searches for wearable clothes through the piles of mostly clean, sometimes dirty laundry strung around my bedroom. I shamefully ushered guests out of the boys bathroom on the second floor, redirecting them to the (marginally) cleaner guest bathroom in the basement, because at least that toilet wasn't encrusted in layers of urine from two young boys with terrible aim. Every floor of every room was barely visible under the layers of clothes, books, legos, and general grime.

Then the holidays happened, with all the chaos and disruption those bring. My schedule relaxed once the semester ended, but life was still full with to-dos and activities and birthdays and family parties and more illness and less sleep and still no routines.

I suppose I could pat myself on the back for the routines that did manage to survive the chaos. I seem incapable of losing my death grip on our meal planning/dinner making routine (I just don't have a drive-through/take-out easy button in my personality, and the only time I've ever served cold cereal is in the depths of first-trimester pregnancy). I managed to keep up my routine of a hot vegetable breakfast almost every morning (more on this later). I showered mostly every day. So you know, we're not talking newborn-stage chaos here.

Just life.

Just a busy, full, wonderful life, and life is full of disruptions. I'm am (slowly, oh so slowly) coming to terms with the fact that I must make peace with disruption. I must figure out, mentally and emotionally, how to roll with the punches, pick myself back up, and, metaphorically speaking, get back on the wagon.

My habits are only habits if they resurface after the disruptions are past. It takes months and months of effort sometimes to establish healthy routines, but it only takes a day to derail everything. And once a routine or a habit is derailed, it can take just as much effort to get it back on track as it took to start it initially.

Which is why my New Year's resolution, or intention for the year, or whatever we want to call it, is to simply get back on the wagon.

When everyone gets sick, take care of the bodies and when things feel healthy enough, get back on the wagon.

When life gets busy at school, pare life down to the minimum to get through and when the deadline is past, get back on the wagon.

When it's been a while since I've done something I want to be a habit, stop berating myself for the failure and just get back on the wagon.

Disruptions will come. Life will change. People will need things. So I must change and adjust and be flexible too, and as soon as life lets me, I must get back on the wagon.

Here are some habits and routines where I particularly want to cultivate this mindset in this year:

The Morning Routine
I've talked about this one enough that I'm sure you all get it. This is foundational to my day, my self-care, my everything. When I get up early and get things done, I feel awesome about life.

My biggest disrupter here is lack of sleep. Sometimes I'm in control of this (see later on, about getting to bed earlier), but recently I've not had much control over this. As any new mom will tell you, when you wake up multiple times a night, you're just dead the next morning, and my two-year-old has been as bad as a newborn recently (and when it's not her, it'll be my middle child getting disoriented after a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip, or something else, it's inevitable). But that just means I need to work extra hard to make up the lost sleep elsewhere so that I can get back to waking up early without feeling like death.

Also this next semester, I'm going to have my earliest leave-the-house time on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays (I have to get myself and the two littles out the door by 7:45 AM AT THE LATEST), and I'm anxious about how this will affect my morning routine. On the pro side, it will force me to wake up early because I actually have to get out the door. On the con side, I'll probably be tempted to cut corners and drop my ideal morning routine to make it out the door on time. My goal is to make my mornings feel as satisfying as possible, so we'll see how this goes.

Usually this one is part of my morning routine, so when the morning routine dies, I don't get any exercise. But I'd like to work on the mindset that if it doesn't happen in the morning, it can happen at some other point.

Like I mentioned earlier, I had a rough semester at the end this past year, and I was feeling the tension of it. So for Christmas, I asked for a massage. After getting all situated on the table, my masseuse came in, and barely graced my neck with her fingers before she exclaimed, "Oh my goodness, are you in pain?!?!" Apparently I was hard as a rock, and she just couldn't believe that I was functioning. Throughout the entire massage, she kept dropping comments like, "Wow, are you sure this isn't hurting you? I mean, you've got a lot of issues here, and that's kind of an understatement. Are you sure you're not in pain?" While I'm not in pain most of the time, yes, I can feel the tension in my shoulders and neck, and I have a history of debilitating neck problems caused by stress (one happened right before my wedding, another after the birth of my third child and before our cross-country move). The long story short is that, if I don't want to end up a dysfunctional stress basket, I NEED to stretch more. I need to keep up with my yoga. I need to take care of my body.

I need exercise to be more of a priority, and I need this habit to stick in my life even when the routine it's tied to gets disrupted. The mindset is not if I'm going to exercise today, but when am I going to fit it in.

Spiritual Care
This one on a daily level, like exercise, is usually tied to my morning routine, which means if my morning routine falls apart, this one can be neglected. However, I've been much better with this one about moving it around to other times of the day when it doesn't happen in the morning.

I still need a better routine for getting to the temple. This past year I finally reconciled myself to the fact that at this stage in our lives, going alone is easier than finding childcare to go as a couple, and that drastically improved my attendance. But the second mental hurdle I'm still grappling with is the fact that the most convenient session to get to is the 8 PM one on Friday evenings. We have the long standing tradition of Friday night movie night followed by an in-home date night, and it does feel like a sacrifice to miss out on that family/couple time, but I just need to tell myself that missing once a month is not the end of the world.

Laura Vanderkam, an author I follow who writes a lot about time management, suggests that home cleaning is one area where maybe we could all afford to lower our standards. This isn't the 1950s anymore, she counsels, and we can let standards go to free up time for other more important things. She suggests that women should step back from house-cleaning chores and just see what happens... eventually, if things get bad enough, someone else (a husband, maybe even an older child) is bound to step in and pick up the slack.



From my experience at the end of last semester, what happens when I stop cleaning is that things degrade to bachelor pad levels. Okay, that's not entirely fair. The one cleaning routine we did manage to hold on to was the daily dishes routine. So at some point every day, at least the dishes would get done, either by me or my husband. And often, that means counters would get wiped and occasionally even the kitchen floor would get swept. But honestly, that was it. Every other room in our house was pretty much a cesspit. I've already mentioned the state of our bathrooms. There is a point where it just becomes unlivable. In this new year, something's got to change. This has got to be a higher priority, or the quality of my daily happiness and life will seriously deteriorate.

I would love, of course, to be able to hire a regular cleaning service, but frankly, we have too many other financial goals that are a higher priority. And while a cleaning service would definitely fix the problem of pee-crusted toilets, they wouldn't do much in the way of solving my daily laundry problems, or the endless piles of paper clutter that seem to build up everywhere, nor will they do the dishes for me everyday. So I've just got to figure out some new routines, or at least some new mindsets, to help me tackle this area of my life.

One of my big problems is that I always feel like I need a good chunk of time, two or three hours, to really tackle an area or a room and get it back up to snuff. I don't have that kind of time. But (as I learned here) I do occasionally find fifteen minute chunks of time. Doing something small may feel like not nearly enough, but it's got to be loads better than doing nothing at all. Right? (Well, not according to Laura). That's the mindset I want to cultivate. Do as much as you can, when you can. A little bit is better than nothing. Small habits build up. Cleanliness does a lot to improve my mood and sense of control, so it's okay for it to be a priority.

Nighttime Routine

My ideal here is to start the nighttime routine by 9 PM and be in bed/asleep by 9:30 PM (9:30 to 5:30 = 8 hours of sleep = my happy place). But I've got several major disrupters here. There's the pull of all the things I could do once the kids are asleep (and during the busiest parts of the semester, evenings are my work time). There's also the peer pressure from my husband, who is a natural night owl and likes to hang out in the evenings. This is my biggest problem because, you know, I like the guy, and I only get so much time with him (and kid-free time is at even more of a premium).

But (as my husband is well aware of) I am just not a happy person when I don't get enough sleep. So this is definitely one of those areas that I just want to keep pushing at, keep reaching for, keep getting back on the wagon with. Maybe I'll have a late night of work stuff, but that doesn't have to be every night. I just need to keep working at getting enough sleep, because everything else is better when I do.


What do I mean by this? How do you have routines of play? I don't know, but this is definitely something I need more of in my life, and when I need more of something, I try to figure out how to make it a routine. This one is actually almost a contradiction to everything I'm trying to establish in all my other routines, because what I want here is more time with my people, more time relaxing, more time just being chill. But usually to get there, I have to sacrifice sleep, or time spent on personal care, or work, or cleaning or whatever. There are just never enough hours in the day, ever. But play is important too. Giving my kids and spouse quality time with me is important too. So what does this mean? I don't know yet. Only that I don't get enough of it and I need more. So I'll spend this year thinking about it and see if I can't figure out what it means to have a routine for play.

So I'm not mentioning here the routines that already seem to be pretty well in place, the ones that don't seem to be getting disrupted as much (like how I manage to make dinner every day, or read to my children every day). Nor does this include other areas of my life that I'd love to implement routines for but that just aren't reaching the right priority level for me right now. But they all play into the idea of how I want my life to run: automatically, in grooves that are familiar and help me find time for all the best things in life. These may not be SMART goals here, but this is what I want to spend this year focusing on. The mindset. The priorities. Find a way to make these things a regular part of daily, weekly, monthly life.

And when life gets in the way, when the disruptions come and everything falls apart?

Get back on the wagon.


  1. Reading this makes me totally want to get back onto my own wagon here, especially with my morning routine (see = newborn) and my exercise routine (see = me also needing a massage therapist to make my back/neck even moveable again). Best of luck to you navigating this crazy year again! Thankfully this is just for a season, and then at least your life should get a *little* less hectic :)

    1. Yep, newborns make routines tough all around. Also, so sorry about your back issues, hope you get that worked through!