Thursday, October 25, 2007

Routines revisited

A few weeks before I got pregnant with Susie, Craig started teaching college classes. I was taking classes at the time (as well as teaching fourth grade), so we were accustomed to not being together in the evenings. I took my last class a month before she was born, and for the first year or so of her life, Craig's classes were scheduled during the day.

But around the time Alex was born, Craig started teaching evening classes, almost entirely. He even worked another job overnight, one night a week, distributing a weekly newspaper. His schedule was intentional, mostly to accommodate my work schedule (half-days, ending at 2 p.m., eventually shifting later). And the kids and I, we had an evening routine that mostly worked.

With one child, neither of us felt a need to create a schedule for the baby. Susie slept when she slept, ate when she ate, and played when she played. I had a flexible job and Craig was writing his thesis and teaching a couple of classes. We were lucky to have a very, very easy baby (many people accused her of being a robot, not a human), so this approach didn't hurt anything. She was, by nature, a pretty "regular" kid and created her own schedule for napping, sleeping, and eating that worked just fine.

The addition of Alex, however, forced me to be a different kind of mother. The kind of mother who makes a schedule. The kind of mother who uses the word "bedtime" and means it. Since Craig was working most evenings, dinner, bath, and bedtime were my domain. And I was good at it, once I learned how to manage my time well enough to get dinner made and the kids fed before it was dark. And "fall back" was absolutely my favorite time of the year, since the kids couldn't tell time yet. Once it was dark, it was bedtime! And getting them to sleep? Susie has always loved to sleep, and I had the secret weapon that got Alex to sleep every time.

Bedtime is still my domain. Not every night, because sometimes I'm not home when it's bedtime, but most nights. The kids get ready for bed and read for half an hour before lights-out, these days. Even though they aren't looking at the clock, they somehow "know" when it's time. And they start calling down to me, "Come tuck us in!"

This week, I'm back to the part-time single parenting gig, two nights per week for the rest of this semester. Monday didn't go all that well. I was obviously out of practice. Yes, dinner happened, but it was late. The dogs got walked later than they like. Bedtime happened. But there was some chaos mixed in. Last night, however, I was back in my groove. One of the kids joined me when I walked the dogs. I had help in the kitchen getting dinner together. Moods were good, attitudes were good, plates were cleaned. I even managed to convince the children to make their lunches for school and to clean upstairs and bring down the dirty clothes. Two loads of laundry seemed to do themselves as the children worked on their book reports (due next week). We stopped working on those projects to snuggle together and watch Kid Nation. Then teeth, books, tucked in. Very nice.

I love how bedtime works at our house. The routine is great, when we follow it. I give the routine the credit because on the nights we're not in our routine, things don't work nearly as well. What I've learned is that my kids deal with bedtime beautifully when they're tired but not exhausted. If they're exhausted, they become very emotionally fragile, which leads to tears when I tell them "lights out" and they're still doing something (watching a show or a movie or playing on the computer, typical weekend-night activities). If they're just tired, though, they embrace sleep.

Now if I could just convince them to sleep past seven on Saturday mornings.


Hot Librarian said...

I love structure. I enjoyed reading this post. It made me feel all orderly.

Jess said...

Routines are fabulous.

What's currently working for me is to plan the week's dinners ahead of time, along with who is responsible for cooking them on what day, and making sure supper is on the table at 6. Then we have a similar policy to yours, with a half-hour of reading before lights out, but we stagger bedtimes by a half-hour so they're not in the bathroom at the same time and the younger one gets to bed earlier. The trick is to figure out how to get occasional showers into this routine without throwing everything else off. ;-)

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