“What about this silly thing?” became a game during the last five minutes of our Tuesday afternoon Target run.
“What about this silly thing?” one would ask, and then make a goofy face or point at something, like a rack of clothing, which looked innocent to me but sent all three kids into peals of laughter. The first twenty minutes of calm vanished almost instantly as their energy bubbled to the surface. They weren’t naughty per se, but they weren’t exactly model children, either. They were mostly loud. (As one might expect with two five-year olds and a three-year old who don’t suffer much from shyness.)
We made it through the check out lane (barely - one kid was banished from the cart aka banished from being in close proximity to his siblings) and out to the car. They were nearly hysterical with laughter at this point. I tried to map the quickest route to the dentist in my head, our next stop, as I loaded both kids and Target bags into the van.
“Guys!” I finally cried, pulling out of the lot, “Be quiet! I just need to think!”
Their giggles filled our minivan and set my teeth on edge. My fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter than was necessary. I took what I thought was the turn for the dentists office and realized almost immediately I’d turned one intersection too soon.
“Why did you go this way?” Caden asked, giggling now at my mistake.
“Because I can’t think!” I said. “You can run around and be loud when we get home but right now I need you to figure out how to control your energy!”
And that’s what they should have been doing before this dentist appointment: running around the backyard, being loud. Needless to say, an afternoon trip to Target is not a part of our normal routine.
Our days have followed a pretty set pattern during the past five-and-a-half years. Routine anchors our days. I’ve read how rhythms and routines are so important for small children, seen how my own kids are thrown off when our groove is broken. Really, though, I’ve created these routines as much for myself as for anyone else. (Enneagram 1, anybody?)
The kids have glommed onto these rituals, too. They know that a 7 on the clock in the am means it’s time for breakfast, while at night it equals bedtime. An 8 indicates it’s time to get ready for the day and a 5 in the late afternoon means dinner is imminent.
They know the pattern of our days: eat breakfast, dress and brush teeth, outing or activity, home for lunch, nap/quiet time, screen time, playtime at home, dinner, bed. They know that Wednesday is grocery day, Saturday mornings are for video chatting with Grandma and Grandpa, that we eat tacos on Tuesdays.
Lunchtime is an important anchor in the day for us all. The kids eat before I settle them in their bedrooms with crayons, paper, puzzles, and LEGOs for quiet time. Occasionally, all too few and far between these days, Nolan takes a nap. I retreat back downstairs to sweep the crumbs off the counter and make my own lunch, sit down and read a book where there was chaos only moments ago.
These fifteen minutes or so are all mine and I savor every bite. It’s the one meal each day where I’m not interrupted with requests for more water, or more pasta, or more of anything. There’s no spilled milk, no reminders to please sit on your butt facing the table, no pleading to eat just one more bite.
Our post-quiet time TV-watching emerged from my reluctance to let go of the quiet. To return back to Earth and the chaos so suddenly once the clock gave them the go-ahead to stampede back downstairs. Instead I turn on the TV and they watch a show or two to ease our return to the real world. I often join them on the couch again with my book or (reality check) some laundry to fold.
I hold tight to these daily rhythms, afraid that if I let them go I’ll lose myself altogether.
Target became a part of our afternoon on Tuesday after Nolan acquired the fifth and final sticker on his quiet time chart, earning him a LEGO set of his choice.
“Let’s go to Target! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he cheered. I couldn’t deny his excitement, especially since we had the time before their dentist appointments. And Target is only a four-minute drive from the dental office, after all.
That Target trip/dentist combo wasn’t the only thing to disrupt our schedule this week. Our routine was also thrown off by afternoon swim camp. Combined with two nights of early evening t-ball games it feels as though our days have both been cut short (dinner at 4:30!) and stretched out longer (bedtime at 7:30...if we’re lucky). I’ve been scarfing my lunch down with the kids, quiet time has been nonexistent, the book I’m reading sits abandoned until I fall into bed at night.
“I haven’t had any time to myself this week!” I told Tyson on Wednesday night, overwhelmed with writing deadlines and grocery orders and emails - things I usually tackle after lunch during the remainder of quiet time. Instead I was with the kids (including a particularly unruly three-year old) from morning to night without even a screen time break. The only time I had to myself (theoretically) was during swim lessons, where I kept one eye on my two swimmers in the water and another on Nolan in the adjacent activity room while also attempting to create a grocery list with the swim school’s spotty Wi-Fi.
I realize now that I’ve structured our days to facilitate rest, both for myself and for the kids, to help prevent any of us from getting burned out. The middle part of our day is so important: the lunch/quiet/screen time part. A breather from the morning hours before tackling the afternoon witching ones. Our routine gives me stability just as much as it does them. When these habits are interrupted it throws me off, as though my very center is off-balance.
This week showed me that my fear is a valid one: once I let go of our daily anchors my day does become unhinged. And so do I.
I had a professor in college who would remind us, during particularly challenging courses, that the semester was only sixteen weeks long. “You can do anything for sixteen weeks,” she would tell us.
It’s only for this week, I remind myself. I can do anything for a week.
And I can. I did. We made it to Friday. The next couple of weeks sit heavy in front of us, without much on the calendar before school begins and we fall into an entirely new routine. But at least in the next two weeks there will be time for regular lunches, normal quiet times, and even — glory hallelujah — daily doses of screen time.