The Gift of Routine
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** This post is part of a 14 day series. To read more of my “The Gift of…” posts, scroll to the bottom of this post for links.
I am, and always have been, a morning person.
These days, I wake at 5 a.m. and blink to adjust my eyes in the sudden light of my bedside lamp. My dog, now alert, stretches in a position that is the most literal example of downward dog, and then launches from the bed. His nails, always a centimeter too long, click at the hardwood floor while I fit my feet into camo slippers with a pink bow. His tail hits the door, my dresser, the laundry hamper.
Our arrival to the day is rarely quiet or graceful.
“Okay, let’s go,” I say, and he’s out the bedroom door, taking the stairs two by two, heading for the door of the bathroom because he knows I go before he does. He also knows I start the coffee pot before he goes out.
It’s our routine. It’s our “thing”.
Everyone needs a thing.
Do you know what your routine is?
The crazy thing is, sometimes you don’t even realize you’ve created a “thing”.
Way back in December of 2011 we were preparing to move to our farm. The adults of the household were heavily focused on packing and closing on the farm—more so than anything having to do with Christmas.
Not that we’d forgotten it—we’d secretly shopped for the boys ahead of time and had all the presents taken care of so that we didn’t have to be overwhelmed with Christmas preparations in the middle of moving boxes.
And so it was that my children and I hurried our way through grabbing groceries two weeks before Christmas and my then eight-year-old asked when we were going Christmas shopping. I rushed through my answer of, “Honey, don’t worry about it! I know we’re busy but Christmas will still come and everything is taken care of.”
He started to cry.
Me, being stressed and rushed and hyper-focused on ten million things that needed to be done before moving, didn’t have a clue as to why he’d be upset.
He had heard that Christmas was still coming, right?
He knew there would still be presents under the tree, right?
That’s what eight-year-olds care about, right?
“But mom!” he said. “We’re supposed to go shopping together! I leave in the morning with Dad and you leave with my brother and we shop all morning and we meet for lunch and then I shop with you and my brother shops with Dad and then we all meet at home! That’s what we do, Mom!”
Sniffle. Cry. Sob.
From both the boy and his mom.
It was then I realized that for him, our annual Christmas shopping date wasn’t about the gathering of presents. It wasn’t about the shopping at all.
It was about the event.
It was an occasion. It was a thing, and apparently not one we were going to skip.
The crazy thing is that the “thing” wasn’t anything my husband and I had consciously created. It wasn’t a here’s a great idea that the kids will remember forever and ever! It was something we’d just come up with one year in an effort to save time in everyone’s crazy schedules.
We’d unknowingly created a thing.
And it stuck.
Routine. Tradition. It’s a thing.
There is safety in routine. It’s a blessing to have something expected—something “normal”—to serve as a reference point that things are okay. Routine does not have to mean an hourly schedule. Routine is just the things you’re known to do.
Popping the towel in the dryer three minutes before your kid’s shower is done.
Singing a song to them before bedtime.
Going to breakfast with grandparents every Saturday morning.
It’s not just kids though. We all have routines with ourselves, with our spouses and partners and parents and cousins. It’s the way we do things. It’s how we mark the day. It’s how we know things are okay.
If you can’t think of what those things are, maybe it’s because things are okay right now. But if you walk by your husband and he doesn’t pinch your butt—and that tells you something is wrong—darling, you’ve found one of your things.
Routine isn’t a bad thing.
Now, I know some people hear the word routine and shudder. They immediately see routine as obsessive compulsive planning in an effort to assure every single thing is the same every single day. Or they see falling into a routine as proof that they’ve lost spontaneity and have settled for less than what their day— and ultimately, life—might have been.
That’s not what I mean.
Hear me out.
Routine is simply a collection of things you’re known to do. It’s brushing your teeth before you wash your face. It’s clipping coupons for things you will never buy. It’s conversations while taxiing a child to confirmation class. It’s leaving ten minutes earlier than you have to when it’s time to pick them back up. It’s grabbing your smartphone before you head into the bathroom. It’s having leftovers every Thursday night. It’s never getting to bed before 11 pm.
Routine is my son coming to my door every night at bedtime and saying, “Guten Nighten,” in some odd half-baked, invented German that somehow stuck. It’s my husband saying, “Morning, see you,” to our sons when he leaves for the night shift.
I don’t even remember where these things came from. I don’t remember them ever starting. They’ve just always been there.
These little touchpoints along the way show us that things are okay. That life is in working order. That the day has continued as usual.
And when life isn’t okay?
That’s the beauty of routine. Routine is a gift.
Knowing what comes next is a present that we give to ourselves and those around us. It gives us safety. It helps people know what to expect. It provides them a sort of normal to cozy up to.
As backwards as it seems, having reference points of normal routine during the day helps us stay afloat when our day strays from normal. Routine gives us an established thing to look for next instead of hitting a bump in the road and careening through the sky into Who Knows What.
When the bottom drops out of your normal and you’re sent sinking into the unexpected mucky parts of life, there has to be something you can wedge your foot into to know you’re going to be okay.
Routine is a gift.
I don’t care what your routine is: jogging two miles at noon everyday as a family, singing a certain bedtime song every night, making chocolate chip cookies every Sunday afternoon.
It doesn’t matter what your routine is. Just make sure you have one.
It’s okay to have something expected. Something typical. Something regular.
It gives you—and those you love—something to depend on.
This post is part of a 14 day series, written across both sites that I run.
Gift #1 — The Gift of an Open Door
Gift #2 — The Gift of One of Those Days
Gift #3 —The Gift of a Dog’s Friendship
Gift #4 — The Gift of Mess
Gift #5 — The Gift of Our Silence
Gift #6 — The Gift of Routine
Gift #7 — The Gift of Community
Gift #8 — The Gift of Three Things Unsaid
Gift #9 — The Gift of Perspective
Gift #10 — The Gift of Being Real
Gift #11 — The Gift of a Bowl of Corn
Gift #12 — The Gift of Encouragement
Gift #13 — The Gift of Unanswered Prayers
Gift #14 — The Gift of Actually Listening