When I first read about slow living–or began seriously overthinking it, truthfully–there was one aspect of the lifestyle that I couldn’t reconcile with my life as a full-time homemaker and mother-of-four. It was the question of where routines and schedules fit in with the concept. In eschewing “busyness”, was slow living attempting to throw off living by a clock? How so? And how much? And was that really possible?
If you have small children at home, you know how quickly things can devolve into disorder if there is not something–or someone–uniting all things in a common purpose and steering everyone’s attention toward that end. Without that anchor, my children (or, really, the three that can move independently) are like ships tossed on the waves of whatever their whims are at the moment, and I am reduced to herding and chasing and nagging and then yelling to get everyone back together. And it always takes longer in the gathering than the scattering.
It has to be said that there really are times that they should be able to pursue their own interests and let their feet run off to wherever their minds will–that’s what our copious amount of time for outdoor play is for, really. But times when it’s time to eat, or sleep, or brush teeth, or whatever things have to be done because they must be done? What then?
One of the first things I did when I moved here was to analyze our routine. It was essential for two reasons: the first, because in the craziness of packing and moving, our routine was absolutely destroyed and involved far, far too much TV time for the older kids, to the extent that everyone kind of forgot how to go about the day without a show being on. The second reason was that we were heading into an entirely new life with an entirely new space called The Outdoors, and I as well as the children had to re-learn how to be out there. (This may sound silly, but it’s really true. After the novelty of the move wore off and everyone wondered where the shows went, it became necessary to enforce a sort of schedule for being outside. And it involved children sitting on the front steps with very sad faces because it was a beautiful day and Mama wouldn’t let them inside to play cars and wake the baby. Of course, these pity parties only lasted mere minutes before someone would suggest some sort of game, and they’d forget that they ever wanted inside in the first place, thankfully.)
The second reason for analyzing the routine was because I wanted to know where this slow living concept fit with it, what kind of busy I was filling our days with, what things could be let go and what needed to stay. Besides, if any place was perfect for days of nothing but wandering and picnics (and pictures of picnics) it was the country, right?
I’ve followed a schedule ever since Ephraim was born. It was what helped me survive those first few months with a new baby (and with every baby since then). Now really, I am not a schedule person. I’m really not. I would love nothing more than to wake up every morning and just make spontaneous decisions about what the day is going to be like. What we do, where we go, who we see. I think that’s why I tend to take the kids on big outings as a kind of coping mechanism for poor sleep. I don’t always like to go places–sometimes I’d rather just stay home–but I don’t always like to know what I’m doing tomorrow until it’s tomorrow. Planning gives me a headache. It’s why meal planning was such a hard thing for me, why my eyes glaze over when people start talking about cleaning schedules, and why I choose paint colors compulsively.
But being random with small children means they will be random right back at you, and since I am only one person and can’t really wrangle four random small people, we do schedules. Or routines, if that’s the term you prefer. So, I posit that some things must happen when one has small children, and the best way to make sure those things happen is to adhere to a good routine. But what was a good routine for us?
I didn’t want to schedule things arbitrarily. So at first I approached our days in a very leisurely manner. The boys got up when their OK-To-Wake light went off like usual, and we meandered through those first couple of hours of the morning in a carefree sort of way. Want to lay in bed instead of getting up? Sure. Want toast instead of oatmeal? No problem. Want to play cars instead of coming to the breakfast table? …Um, Ok? (That one was hard for me, but…slow living? Is this it?)
It only took me a couple of days to realize that approaching our mornings that way only served to create a situation where three self-willed small people inadvertently kept me constantly running, herding, nagging, and forgetting, and wrapped up in the worst kind of busy. And no one’s teeth got brushed.
It was clear that there had to be order if anything necessary was to get done without it taking all morning and making me crazy in the meantime. Thus, a few rules were reinstated. They all get up together. No one leaves the room or takes out a toy until everyone is dressed and the beds are made. Then we head to the bathroom to take care of business and to brush teeth. And what was taking almost two hours to accomplish in between all the free-spiriting that was going on was now taking only ten minutes, maybe, and then we were all truly free. It’s amazing what a little order can do for freedom.
At our old house, we got up, came downstairs and immediately had breakfast. In fact, most days I had their breakfast ready when I went to get them up. It’s just what worked there, and somehow the idea of “immediate breakfast” was embedded in my mind as something that was Completely Necessary.
And so I was perturbed when, one day, Ephraim came down the hallway to sit at the breakfast table and saw Grandfather outside. He begged to go out to him to say good morning, and I reluctantly agreed. And of course, Clive immediately followed him, and then Anselm, not quite as immediately, as it takes him a bit to get down the front steps properly. And suddenly I had all three boys outside and they hadn’t had breakfast yet, which upset me, though I didn’t know why, and I had to sit and think about it.
It became clear that the timing of breakfast was a sort of arbitrary thing. And it was also clear that everyone was in a much better mood and had a better appetite if they could dash about outside for an hour or so before they ate. I couldn’t give a good reason for having to eat breakfast immediately after getting up. After all, when I was growing up, we always went out and did the farm chores before we came in to eat. Why couldn’t we act similarly now? I decided to let it go, but still include the new development in the routine, since it seems to work and breakfast is one of those things that kind of has to happen every day.
So, now in the morning we go through our short chore schedule, then emerge dressed and with teeth brushed to go out and pick berries and run amok and swing on the swingset. And sometimes the later time of eating makes us fortunate enough to have company for breakfast, and Mama also has the time to make breakfast a little more elaborate, which is a blog post of its own and shall be written at a later time.
I am writing about slow living a lot because I am thinking about it a lot. I don’t, however, really think that I know exactly what it is and I’m not really making it a point to make it our lifestyle. I do think it’s an interesting concept and I’m gleaning what I can from it to make our lives richer–and overthinking it, in the meantime, and thus over-writing on it as well.
Do you follow a routine? What are your necessaries and unneccesaries?