In the last two or three weeks I’ve had just a couple small jobs, plus my online writing class to teach. In that time, I’ve rested a bit (though less than I would have expected), spaced out a bit, and started to take care of a few things on my I’m-unemployed list. I’ve also been working on a project even bigger than anything I put on that list, which is to turn my daily and weekly routines more or less upside down. For example: No more squeezing zazen and poetry writing between putting the Critter to bed and my night shift of paid work. Instead, I’ve been meditating in the afternoons — after lunch when the Critter is at school or during his nap when he’s at home. And I’ve been writing in the hour or so after I bring the Critter to school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
“Du mußt dein Leben ändern,” says the archaic torso of Apollo, and now I’m actually listening, actually trying to prioritize what matters to me most so that it doesn’t get sabotaged by other commitments or my own laziness. And so in reflecting on and changing my routines, I’ve also been asking myself a question that surfaced earlier this year, when I was much, much, much busier with paid work. In that busy time, there were a few days (two? three? more?) when, under the pressure of a deadline, I spent most of the day working even though the Critter was here with me — and only me — at home. I hated it. I felt like a terrible, awful, no good, very neglectful mother. Yes, I know that throughout history — and prehistory — mothers have worked alongside their children. But. Were those mothers and their children so isolated from others as the Critter and I often are when we stay at home? Were those mothers doing anything so abstract in the eyes of their children as what I do while working: stare at a screen and tap-tap-tap away at a keyboard? When it comes to working from home, I know what’s in it for me: no commute, a more flexible schedule, and opportunities to try out different kinds of work. But what’s in it for the Critter?
Of course, I do have a few answers to that question. For one thing, the Critter benefits just as much as I do — perhaps even more — from my flexibility as a work-at-home mother. For example, when it seems best to keep him home from school, I can usually do so without as much disruption to my professional commitments as I might suffer if I had a regular job. (Though, as my husband and I learned in February, I cannot be the only one to care for the Critter when he is sick during the work week.) And, even better, because nobody really cares when I do my work, I can work odd hours at night and have two days each week — Mondays and Thursdays — to give to the Critter.
But what are we doing with those days? I’m not, alas, making backyard kitchens where the Critter can gleefully make mud pies. (In my defense, of course, is the not-so-small detail that, as apartment dwellers, we have no yard.) OK, but we do get to the park and the botanic garden and the zoo — though the truth is, I often feel that we’re rushing to get there, or rushing while we’re there, or, even worse, arguing about the whole thing. That gorgeous expanse of bluebells that bloomed at the beginning of May? We got to see it — just before the garden closed! — only because of my great determination and quite a bit of cranky pleading with the Critter, who really would rather have watched the ants crawling around the compost bins near the herb garden.
And now, in all of this rushing rushing rushing I can see that even when I don’t have too much to do, I’m still trying to do too much. On Mondays especially, we’re always getting out of the apartment later than I had originally planned — and sometimes even later than my spur-of-the-moment revised plan has it — because I’m always trying to do just one more thing: wipe the table, clean my desk (again), make a phone call, send an e-mail, whatever. Am I (egads!) more task oriented than people oriented? Maybe so, maybe not; I’d rather not reify my behavior by saying that I am one thing or another. But at times it seems that I’m more connected with the items on my to-do list or with my ever-frustrated attempts to put our home into order than I am with the Critter.
What to do? I think it’s time for a bit of what Michelle of The Parent Vortex calls playful self-discipline. The idea is to try out a solution with the understanding that the solution is provisional. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t; the important thing is to try it out and see — and learn from — what happens.
So, along with changing my routines, I’m putting myself on a schedule. It’s a simple schedule, with specific times for waking up, getting outside, lunch, an afternoon nap (for the Critter), dinner, and bedtime (one for the Critter and one for me). And honestly, it’s not that much different from what we’ve been doing, except that now I’m writing down times and committing to them, with some reasonable flexibility. Typically I prefer to think in terms of rhythm, which is of the body, rather than in terms of clock time or schedules, which are mental constructs. Plus, clock time and I don’t really get along. But I want to try out a schedule for these two reasons:
- I hate the feeling of being late and rushing all the time. Can a schedule help me let go of some of the too much that I’m trying to do, in favor of getting the Critter and me to where we really need to be (such as to the playground about a half hour from now as I type these words)?
- I feel I’m giving too much time to things that really don’t matter so much to me. Can a schedule focused on the Critter’s needs — to get outside in the morning, to get a decent nap in the afternoon, to get a good night’s sleep — help me to focus my attention where it really belongs?
We’ll see what my answers to these questions turn out to be. My hope is that I can use the schedule as a musician uses a metronome: that is, use it until I find my rhythm and can just play.
Do you follow a schedule or routine? How do you regain — or change — your rhythm?