Transitions When Life is Always the Same

After a particularly dreary winter followed quickly by a stay-at-home order, spring is finally here. Of course, we can’t plant our annuals just yet for fear of another frost, but besides that potential, trees are blooming, windows are wide open for the majority of the day, and the hope of sunshine and an emergence from dormancy are on everyone’s minds.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The changing weather has made me even more aware of our unchanging days. I’m antsy to hang out with my neighbors without hovering at barely six feet away. I want to run to the store without overthinking whether or not it’s truly an essential trip. I want to host friends for dinner and celebrate birthdays and the end of the school year properly.

Our stay-at-home order has changed to a safer-at-home order which really doesn’t change life at all for our family. But the slightly looser mandate combined with the weather have loosened everyone’s outlook on what safety really means. Folks who were vigilant at the beginning are now choosing social functions over staying home. We all perceive “doing our best” and “safer” differently which, for this rule-follower, is stressful.

One friend recently commented that it feels like the beginning of the end. Frank and I were talking later, and reminded of an article that borrowed Winston Churchill’s quote, we’re really at the end of the beginning. We may have enough hospital beds available in this moment but we are far from implementing longterm best practices to safely reopen in a pre-COVID sense of the word.

In a lot of ways, I’m thankful we can at least say there’s a shift from being totally in an unknown state to one that is seeing some sort of change on the horizon. Any sort of movement feels hopeful. But is it?

Next week is Bea’s last week of school. We’re ending early to give staff time to sort out and clean up from distance learning but it means yet another transition, just as we’re settled into a routine. Summer break feels different, too. We’re not anticipating the same need for rest as in years past. Many of our favorite outings will be closed, at least for a little while longer. We’re not sure if summer camp will still be an option to break up the long weeks.

I’ve been thinking about how we can mark transitions in a time when most of our usual markers have been taken away. How can we shift from learning at home to lounging at home? How will we fill our days anew? I have a feeling this summer will be much more structured than years past. Whereas before I had the loosest of loose routines, now I wonder if we’ll need just a bit more guidance to our days.

Maybe this will be the year for each girl to pick one new thing to learn. Maybe we’ll figure out a family project to do. I’ve never been “that” type of summertime mom but maybe this is the year to not only tap into my homeschooling skills but also my organized summer skills. I want to view this next transition as an opportunity to try something new, even if it’s the only year that makes sense for us to do this.

As I watch our trees sprout leaves and our lilac bushes blossom, I’m not as envious at my own lack of change this year. Maybe I’ll have to be more innovative in the transition but it can still be there, teaching me about myself in ways I hadn’t explored before.

How are you viewing the next transitions, whether seasonally or as your own home starts to open up more? How do you mark your days in new ways?

Habits I’m Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

Summer Rhythms

My first summer as a new mom didn’t really feel like summer. I had been staying home nearly a year and so, as I watched moms with older kids reframe their schedules and lament the loss of alone time that school provided, our routine stayed the same. Some things did change. After attending MOPS for that entire school year, I started getting invitations for playdates. A group of moms met for weekly hikes at trails around town and I started experiencing a new world of exploration.

Now, six years later, I’m one of those moms I looked up to. The one who is restructuring schedule and figuring out how to create space for the quiet and alone time I got used to, even with just two mornings a week to myself while our youngest was at preschool.

I hesitate to give advice or share our summer routine because what works for our family could translate to the most stressful summer for yours. One thing I’ve learned over my almost-seven years of motherhood is to try to take the path that is least stressful. If I’m calm and happy, it’s likely my kids will be calm and happy.

Some of my friends make lists of things to do in the summer months so if the kids are bored, they have a preplanned set of ideas to fill the time. I recently read about a mom coordinating her days into “Movement Mondays” and “Water Wednesdays” so their weeks have a rhythm and structure. I know another mom who lets each of her four kids pick one activity they want to do during the summer. She doesn’t guarantee which day they’ll do it but she does promise to make time for those activities.

In our house, summers are for slow mornings in our pajamas, for playdates and water fun, for Costco-sized boxes of OtterPops, for riding bikes after breakfast and before dinner, for extra screen time and reading in our backyard tree castle. As my girls grow, I’m finding a natural rhythm to our days. My oldest thrives on sticker charts and created one for our fridge. I don’t know what reward she’s working toward, but she’ll tidy, sweep, and read to her sister all for the promise of an extra sticker. It works for now.

I thought I’d share a handful of rhythms we’re creating this summer. They didn’t all work last year and they most likely won’t all work next year but in this moment, they are what give me space and the structure I need in these blissfully unstructured days.

Chores Before Screen Time

Normally, I don’t link screen time to a rewards system because screen time is my time. Making my girls give it up means I’m giving up a quiet space in our day. But this year, my almost seven-year-old really wanted to start a chore chart so I did link screen time to her simple chores. Mondays she tidies the main floor, Tuesdays she sweeps, Wednesdays she cleans her bedroom. You get the idea. The baseline is minimal. If she kind of does these chores, she gets screen time. I figure anything is better than nothing and so far it’s decreased my nagging. For me, the key is trying rather than perfection. Our nearly four-year-old is off the hook for this. If she tries at all, we’re good!

Fun Meal Planning

I try to involve my kids in our weekly meal planning anyway, but summers are for saying yes to more. When my youngest asked for cake for dinner, I googled savory cakes and was amazed at the choices! This simple yes means something new in our meal rotation and it feels like a celebration. The other day we ordered pizza, spread the picnic blanket in our front yard, and had an impromptu dinner. Suddenly our normal Friday fare became an out of the norm experience. I’m trying to remember this philosophy in other areas of our days. We have to eat anyway—what’s a simple way to make a normal meal special? What are other daily tasks that can be made fun? Is there a playground next to the grocery store? Can you stop there for a few minutes before your errands? Is there an ice cream shop on the way to another place? Taking some time to mix up your routine feels incredibly special to kids of all ages.

Relaxed Rhythms

Our family works well when we’re on a rhythm rather than a strict schedule. If possible, I like to spend the first few days of summer establishing a new routine. For us, this looks like busier mornings and quieter afternoons. Even though we’re long out of the napping phase, if we’re home we practice an hour of quiet rest after lunch time. Sometimes this means going to our separate rooms with a book. The other day, my girls took their books to the backyard tree fort for the hour. Whatever we do, it has to be an activity that involves minimal interaction with me so that we can all rest.

None of these rhythms happen perfectly on any given day. But because I’m choosing to practice and model them, on those longer days it’s easier to lean into this modified schedule.

If you’re able, take five or ten minutes to think about what gives you the most energy in your mothering. If you need that hour of quiet and space every day, take the time to train your kids to give you that. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. If you thrive on activity and unique experiences, make a list with your kids and plan out some summer adventures! Just remember that whatever you choose, it has to give you joy and life.

I’m leaning into the paradox of embracing the spontaneity summer offers while creating a structure and rhythm to our days that will keep us sane and safe. It’s what works for our family in this given season and I’m remembering to listen to that more than anything.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/summer-rhythms/

Mapping My Hopes With a Foundation of Flexibility

School started last week for Bea and, while we have another week to go until Elle begins her preschool adventure, I’m enjoying the rhythms that the school year has to offer. This summer was pretty unstructured. Outside of a week at zoo camp, we hung out, went swimming, got on each other’s nerves, and played outside a lot. I think that freedom and boredom are incredibly important to a summer schedule, even if I get overwhelmed with the mess and chaos.

IMG_0487Now that school has started, I’m itching to get back into a productive routine. This first weekend of the school year arrived and I found myself out of sorts and frustrated. I looked back on the week and saw all the things I wanted to do that just didn’t get done. Elle and I went to the zoo but I didn’t write as much as I was hoping; we didn’t clean the playroom; we just kind of hung out.

With Elle starting preschool two mornings a week, I’ve been imagining all of the things I’ll get done with those five extra hours each week. I have big plans! I’m going to practice French and work on a project that kept getting shelved over the summer and really go through the closets for a good purge. Frank and I want to have morning-dates and I want to try to find a workout rhythm. I want to volunteer in Bea’s classroom and go to the art museum regularly. I absolutely recognize that I have more planned than I have space for.

Before preschool begins, I’ve started making lists of my hopes for this year. Things I want to accomplish and rhythms I’d like to create. I’m hoping to map out this time so that it’s not wasted away doing things I could do with Elle around.

But I also want to be intentional about this time with Elle. I’m recognizing that these goals and hopes need to be flexible and fluid. I see how quickly the time passed before Bea started full-time school and I want to savor these moments with Elle.

In her reflections on summer routines and the beginning of a fall schedule, author Addie Zierman says,

“And so I’ve come to accept that this summer, for me, was not supposed to be about being productive, or even really functional. It’s been about being grounded.”

Addie Zierman: Field Notes from the End of Summer

As I plan my fall and our new schedule, I need to remember these words. I have hopes of productivity and I know our routine needs to be functional for our family. But above all, I need to find the ways in which we all stay grounded and rooted. How am I building a schedule that leaves me energized and fulfilled for those days I spend with Elle? How can I feel as productive as possible during my alone time so that the after-school flurry feels more energizing rather than draining?

I have a feeling this will take a good amount of trial-and-error and I need to remember that this is part of building rhythms, as well. What is working? What clearly needs to be fixed? How can I read my family and myself through this shift in seasons?

For now, I’ll keep scribbling my lists and goals as I assess what makes the most sense for us, at this moment.

How do you set goals at the beginning of a new season? How do you tweak your plans along the way?

Setting a Rhythm to My Days

Autumn is here! We went from a record-high on the last day of summer to rainy and chilly temperatures by the second official day of fall. This week has been cold and rainy, too which has me all snuggly and ready for hibernation.

IMG_6482While I may be in a cozy mood, Elle has decided to totally switch up her nap routine this week. Some days she’s woken up super early; other days I’ve had to wake her so we can pick up Bea on time. Yesterday, she decided that napping just wasn’t for her. I know this is a typical two-year-old regression, but….

I didn’t realize how much I depended on those two hours each afternoon to be a better mom. I knew they mattered and long ago, I’ve made nap time my time. Very rarely do I do household tasks during these quiet hours. This is my time to write, to read, to send emails, to knit or do nothing at all. I use these precious moments as a time to recharge for the intense after school, before dinner hours.

I know this is atypical and that (hopefully!) we’ll be back on track today or by next week. But it has me thinking about those routines I depend on. How I take for granted moments I have each day to recharge and remember to be fully me. I suppose losing things I find routine is how I best appreciate them.

This regression also has me thinking about how to intentionally use my time. How do I set a rhythm to my days that includes quiet hours but isn’t dependent on them? How do I reframe my mindset to finding rest, even in moments that aren’t peaceful? I’m not sure I’ll ever have those answers or find that magical balance but in some ways, I’m glad for the opportunity to reflect on those moments.

Of course, I’d take a solid nap time above reflective lessons any day!

How do you set a rhythm to your day? Do you need daily stretches of quiet or are you able to find energy in activity? How do you respond when life happens and things are thrown off?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “depend.”