A perfectly beautiful messy routine: New baby edition

Week #3 of life at home. What have I learned?

  • Things get tense at home when you are home all the time with the same people, even if you live in paradise.
  • Weather affects us. Have you noticed a difference between sunny days and cloudy days? One perhaps a little more cheerful than the other.
  • Routine is beauty. This was a phrase I heard repeatedly while training for a year of missionary work at age 18. Routine is beauty. Now, more than ever, when a lot of our external structure has dissolved through government mandates. Routine is beauty.

Routine can go like this:

  • 7:30 a.m. wake,
  • exercise,
  • shower,
  • dress,
  • eat healthful breakfast,
  • begin distance learning or online work,
  • break for healthful lunch,
  • read a chapter from classic literature,
  • take a walk in the sunshine,
  • return to distance learning or online work,
  • prepare a well-balanced and nutritious but still interesting dinner,
  • say prayers,
  • tuck perfect children into bed,
  • relax with a glass of wine with your partner and retire at a reasonable time.

I feel more relaxed and successful just writing that out.

People jumping for joy. A smart routine makes us feel successful.
Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

Or routine can go like this:

  • baby wakes, hand baby to the spouse, sleep longer, wake, dress or feed baby, dress other kids, yell to kids to do their morning chores while nursing baby again, eat cold scrambled eggs made an hour ago by an ambitious 9-year-old, begin schoolwork sometime around 9 a.m., get distracted by online work while pretending to teach children, send a child out at the sound of a school district van honking with free lunches, steal chips from child’s lunch because, come on, they’re Sun Chips, forget if children are indoors or out after lunch because it feels so good outdoors, put toddler down for a nap, put baby down, remember to wash dishes, feed baby, try to pass her off to spouse, be reminded spouse has online lessons to give, walk about backyard with baby in a stroller, ask children if they finished their work, gather all the vegetables in the fridge and mix with rice for dinner, make a drink, maybe make a second drink, and binge watch “The Office” with the spouse.

I don’t feel quite as relaxed in that one.

Wide-eyed face expression. Lack of routine can make us feel anxious and out of control.
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

But it is real life.

Routine may be as beautiful as the calligraphy-laden cardstock or it might be the messy chaos of a schedule that is never quite certain.

The routine I am learning is one I once knew. Act when the baby is asleep; let everything stop when the is awake.

The key to mastering your routine: accept its place in your real life.

I may want my routine to operate by the clock. I may think of how much more other mothers’ are accomplishing during this quarantine. But right now, that is not my home. And that is okay.

In utilizing the small breaks offered to me I am trying to make sure a few things fit into my day: a short time of prayer/meditation, reading time for myself and reading time to my kids, writing time, time outside in the sun weather permitting and time moving.

Last week I had to be intentional about staying off social media. Now, I find the news posts and the encouraging posts draining because I want us to live life! Not just live coronavirus. So my appetite for scrolling has gone down.

My shortlist is not one I will complete every day, and I may lose some of those moments to a much-needed phone call with a friend or a wrestling match with the kids, but it gives me something to aim for. That, in itself, helps build structure, structure that also serves as self-care.

Those without a baby will find their time looks different.

For this next week, in a long series of stay-at-home weeks, what’s on your list of essential business? How can you prioritize the care of your heart and mind, as well as your body?

You may not manage it every day, since we know life cannot be perfect. Since life cannot be perfect, managing just some days means success.

That is beautiful.

Mother walking with child in the forest. A routine grounded in real life allows for unexpected blessings if we are open to it.
Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

Are we Okay?

I am an extrovert.

On Social Media, introverts had the first laugh about social distancing, shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders being the things they prepared for all their lives.

Next came the writers and artists who necessarily do their meatiest work at home, often choosing self-isolation when deadlines loomed near.

Then, the extroverts called for help. “Introverts, you may want to check on your extrovert friends. We are not okay.”

We are told repeatedly online and in-person about the dire need to quarantine if you have symptoms and stay at home, limiting outings as much as possible. Aside from those you live with, handshakes, hugs, any contact within six feet is considered a risk, as so many of us might be carrying the coronavirus without realizing it.

It is devastating.

Cases in Stanislaus County are growing slowly, but by and large, it is still possible to not know anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, we feel the pinch socially, emotionally and financially.

Socially, obvious enough. If we knew we needed relationships before or in contact with others outside the home, that need is so much more clear now. Conversation, physical touch, face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by social media. Not even video chats can quite compare to the pleasure of, as Arnold Lobel described Frog and Toad, “They sat there, feeling happy together.”

Digital communication generally requires us to talk about something or perform in some way. In-person, we can stare at the same sky, observe the same people, feel the same breeze.

There is a loss.

Which leads me to ask, emotionally, how are you?

I mean, really, how are you?

If you are an extrovert or surrounded by children, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are home taking in the news and following the COVID-19 threads, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If your income is about to take a hit because your employer cannot provide paid time off or because you’re in the commission-only business or you have to lay off your employees because if you cannot pay rent you will lose your business, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are part of or caring for someone or love someone who is part of the identified vulnerable population, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

What does all this say about the world? Where is this all leading? Where are our social buffers? Where is our spiritual comfort?

In times like these, with our usual supports out of alignment, you might even be feeling a little bit depressed.

There is a crisis taking place in the world, and unfortunately, the effort to slow down the spread, to flatten the curve, so hospitals do not become overloaded as we saw in Italy, has its own costs.

I want to ask you to take an honest look at what those costs are in your own life. Maybe right now means Netflix and sleeping in. Or maybe it means something much harder.

Somehow, I think some good is going to come out of these dark times.

Yesterday, overwhelmed with the anxiety of caring for my needy newborn, of working from home at the same time, of uncertain income, I got on my bike for the first time in a year.

The streets are clear because more people are at home. I rode as fast as my legs could carry me.

Home again, I got out a book, the book that brought me back to reading four years ago.

And the baby got a pacifier for the first time.

Then that very night, she slept for six hours.

In the morning, I drank coffee with my husband.

Somehow, some good will come, even if it feels a long time getting there.

If you can, try to find meaning in the moments, in the little goods that crop up here and there. Begin that gratitude journal again. Watch the rain. Draw in chalk on your sidewalk. Reach out for a telephone session with a therapist if anxiety or depressive symptoms are starting to interfere with your daily duties.

Have daily duties.

And somehow, we will get through this, together.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

The Changes We Can Make Amid COVID-19

Throughout the public sector

non-essential operations have been suspended during this health emergency. The libraries have canceled programming and are open only for the pick-up and drop-off of books. Public schools are now closed. Religious and private schools are closed. Most public religious services are suspended.

And while cancellation after cancellation pours in while shelves continue to empty out, more goes on beneath the surface of anxiety and pantry stocking. Dollar General has begun an hour reserved for senior citizens to shop from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning.

City employees continue to work and carry out their essential functions such as public safety, water and sewer, customer service and more. 

Addressing the needs of the private sector

the Lions Club, a recent addition to the Hughson landscape, seeks to help the elderly men and women of our community by picking up supplies from the store. Those in need can contact them through the Hughson Lions Facebook page or a member of the club with a name, phone number, and address of the seniors in need.

Social media, often considered the source of manufactured rage or fake news, becomes a hub where concerned citizens have offered grocery runs to neighbors or to help with supplies when possible. 

Facebook groups like Hughson Moms and Catholic Moms of the Central Valley offer online social opportunities and outreach to each other. Parents who find themselves suddenly required to homeschool their children share moments of solidarity and humor online, while already-homeschooling parents offer their tried-and-true experiences. Some stay-at-home-mothers make offers to watch children whose families are unable to find childcare.

What about the personal sector? 

There is a choice to be made, now more than ever. How will we face the current crisis? Some question its gravity. Others are in a panic. What we can control is right in front of us. I can decide to stay-at-home with my family.

I can decide whether or not to be filled with fear or to mitigate that fear by asking myself, “what am I afraid of?” and get to the heart of it. Because fear looms large when it is not identified. When it is named, only then can it be tamed.

I have to discern the right words to share with my children. I have to discern when my thoughts circle too strong around one point. Name the point. And move on. 

My husband’s places of work are all closed. It is the same for many others. I was already swimming in the sea of social media and news updates. The more chaotic the world seems, the more, I think, maybe a schedule will help.

Mornings: a ten-minute meditation while I nurse the baby to quiet my thoughts and prepare my heart for the day.

I can read the news and do my work in the mornings while assisting my children with their schoolwork. We set in place work-from-home hours for my husband for the remote teaching put in place by his employers. Those hours include a break midday for me when he holds the baby.

We will eat meals together. I will set my computer aside in the afternoons. 

We will pray together and read together in the evenings. It interrupts the free-falling action of the day that sometimes occurs with spring-fevered children at home without access to their usual playmates and favorite librarians.

It is still Lent.

Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

And in the reflection of what these sacrifices mean, I call into question how I am receiving the present suffering. Do I remember that the world is a bigger place than my little home, that it has a past that goes far back beyond me and a future that will stretch far beyond this moment? Connecting to a sense of the transcendent puts into perspective this moment. 

As does finding meaning. These hard times, from wherever the hardship comes, brings into focus the things that matter most to our hearts and if they might, perhaps, need some reordering.

With hope and humility, I am going to try.