Saturday, December 31, 2011
The Rhythm of Our Family
I have been thinking a lot about rhythms lately, about those tiny little habits in our schedules, the ways that we go about our days and weeks here at home. These years with young children can go by so fast, though the minutes often tick by more slowly than even seems possible. My fear has long been that we would fail to develop traditions of our own, in this great game of just getting through each individual day.
It is so easy, after all, to simply go through the motions, to waste our time mired down in the minutia of life, picking up groceries and making sure the bills are paid, trying in vain to conquer Mount Laundry, and yet finding there isn't enough time to squeeze in the things that really count. But, bedtime story doesn't have to be a chore to be ticked off at the end of the day - it can be a time to revel in the snuggles that will too soon be behind us. Holidays don't have to be only about the big events that we don't even want to be a part of - with the tiniest bit of planning and recognition, we can mark those seasons and those days before they rush on past us.
Amanda Soule writes one of my very favorite blogs, and I have long found inspiration in the way she and her family go slowly about their days, attempting to be fully present in each moment, living mindfully and intentionally. Each of her three books have spoken to me in turn, but this most recent book, The Rhythm of Family, is the first one that I have purchased, and have kept on my bedside table, reading it throughout the year to glean ways for my own family to find our very own rhythms.
Besides, routines work well for children. My kids prefer knowing what is happening each day, that we will do our lessons in the morning hours and then have the afternoons for playtime or errands, and they like the weekly schedule we have for going to the library, to church on Wednesdays and Sundays, to ballet, to PE and art lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays; knowing that we will watch movies together on Sunday afternoons, and that we will find time to spend with our friends when we can.
They remember how we have celebrated various seasons and holidays and life events, no matter how silly or miniscule the ways we have developed to mark the passage of time.
We baked an apple cake for the autumnal equinox this past year, and I fully intend for that to be annual tradition. For the past three or four years, we have gone out for Happy Meals (I know, right?) on Christmas Eve and then eaten greasy french fries while driving around to look at Christmas lights. This year, we added the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church to our schedule, and that is something I would very much like to keep in our repertoire - it is one of my favorite memories of my own childhood, going to the candlelight service with my grandmother at her church in Virginia. And there are other events that we make sure to participate in every year, like corn mazes in October, our tiny town Christmas parade in the beginning of each December, going to a favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner following The Boy Wonder's end-of-the-year performance at his homeschool "school." Little traditions; small, happy habits.
Other of our rhythms need some tweaking though. I allow the children to each pick a cartoon to watch every morning, partly out of my own need to start the days slowly, and also because I am militant about the television being turned off for the rest of the day. But instead of using that time to read my Bible, to practice yoga, to cook a complex and leisurely breakfast, or even to take a shower and pull myself together, I have instead curled up on the sofa next to the kids and wiled away the time on Facebook or on reading blogs that I'm not even terribly interested in. It is wasted time, a 45-minute period that doesn't edify or relax, or do anything to set a positive tone for the day. It is just letting time pass. And that kind of makes me shudder.
This conscious effort I have made for the past six months or so to tend to our larger familial rhythms has been good for all of us. The children have benefited of course, but The Carnivore and I have possibly gained the most from it. He and I both have a tendency to forget about finding ways to make the days special, and if we didn't pay attention, holidays and even whole seasons would speed right on past us before we even noticed them. The simple fact is that most of the time, we would be content to live with our nose in a book. But neither of us wants to turn around one day and find that the kids are teenagers and that we are running out of time to spend all together as a family.
I want to extend this effort though, and that is my sole resolution for this New Year: to find ways to be just as present in the mundane moments as I have learned to be in the special, seasonal times. I want to be fully here, in this place, right now.
It isn't as lofty of a goal as it sounds, it is just the prosaic, ordinary moments that I am referring to, after all, but it is important enough to be my main focus for self-growth for the next twelve months. It takes a lot of focus and tight scheduling to get everything done around here, between homeschooling, running my little bookkeeping business, supporting The Carnivore in the running of his own company, keeping the household afloat with clean clothes and nutritious meals, and carving out deliberate time to tend to my own needs for physical activity, creative expression, and quiet time.
Guess which things are the first to fall by the wayside when the schedule gets out of whack?
Yeah, that needs to change. This week, while my workload has been lighter than usual, I have had the time to ensure a daily yoga practice, to carve out an hour for writing time each evening after dinner, and the effects on my well-being have been tremendous. In just a couple days though, we will jump back into our morning school time, and I will get much busier with work again. Then, the week after that, all of our outside-the-house activities return to our schedule, and if I am not careful, if I am not intentional about the way I spend my time, I will find the minutes gobbled up in ways that actually prevent us all from fully enjoying our days. And time will continue right on shooting past us while we just keep on keeping on.
That's no way to live.
Rather than trying some radical change to our entire schedule and way of life, and then failing miserably in the grand tradition of New Year's Resolutions, I plan to start small. For the past year, instead of coming up with a solution to the madness of my schedule, in which I am essentially running pell-mell from eight in the morning until nine at night, I have complained bitterly about how this tyrannical schedule has prevented me from practicing yoga as often as I like, and from writing during the hours when my brain is still fully operating.
So I shall start with the first part of the mornings. That is the biggest area of time that is dictated by habit rather than by rhythm, and so that is where I will begin. Yoga at 7:30 am, when I am already awake and generally just laying in bed or, worse, just sitting on the sofa with my nose in Twitter, will solve most of the problems of the entire day's schedule, I believe. Most days, I wait until after lunchtime to try to practice yoga, and it is terribly difficult for it to get done properly by that point, especially since either the kids are too noisy for me to focus, or we are in a giant hurry to get to ballet, or I am rushing to get started on the work that my clients have been emailing to me all morning.
The kids usually rise at eight o'clock, and by that time I will be finished with the thirty-minute daily practice that I prefer. While they then watch cartoons, I can drink coffee and wash my face, read the two or three blogs that I like to start my day with, and gather together the materials we will be using for the day's homeschool lessons.
And that is all for now. One little change at a time, I think. This one tiny tweak to the mornings will set the tone for the rest of the day for us all, thus allowing us to move easily into breakfast and our morning lessons, and then lunch. When I feel confident in this one change, when the early mornings have settled into a rhythm, I intend to inject a little creativity into our now-predictable breakfast repertoire. That, too, is a tiny change that I look forward to jumping into.
Picking resolutions that make us happy, that support our peace and the ease in our days, are resolutions worth keeping, I believe. Are there any new rhythms you wish to add to your family's days?