The Return of Routine

The Return of Routine

“And so, once upon a time, Fred Rogers took off his jacket and put on a sweater his mother had made him, a cardigan with a zipper. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of navy-blue canvas boating sneakers. He did the same thing the next day, and then the next… until he had done the same things, those things, 865 times, at the beginning of 865 television programs, over a span of thirty-one years. ”

The new school year has arrived and I’ll admit I revel in the routine a school-year imparts. I guess that’s because for the most part I enjoy a good schedule. I’m the kind of person who likes to know what we’re doing next.  Don’t get me wrong, I love summer for what it is, but this time of year calls us to a different schedule and routine. Even those who don’t have children in school alter their routine for commuting to work or the grocery store in order to deal with increased traffic and school buses on the road.

Because of our three school-aged children I welcome the weekday routines of alarms, showers, breakfast, and driving to school and work. The after-school routines of sports practices, homework, cooking dinner, and a regular bedtime are welcome too. Maybe it’s the fact that most of my work activities are centered in our home, around my kitchen and my computer, that I welcome these routines, but I also know I am fond of them because routines give structure to my day. They provide a sense of predictability in a world where life isn’t always predictable.

When I stop and pay attention I can see that routines are, and have always been, part of my life. When my father retired from his work as a civil engineer what he missed most was he workday routine that involved driving us to school, going to work, coming home for lunch, returning to the office for the afternoon, only to be followed by coming home again after work for a cocktail, dinner, and TV. After he retired he worked to carve out new routines based on yard work, trips to the post office, and volunteer work at our home parish. These regular routines helped replace the work routine and gave some structure and meaning to his day.

One of my sisters lives in Lexington and she drives 20 miles on two-lane roads for her commute to work. Part of her routine involves driving out of her driveway 15 minutes earlier than she needs to so she can drive in a relaxed and leisurely fashion on the way to work. The roads wind down and across the Kentucky River south of Lexington and are too curvy to drive too fast. Plus, my sister knows if she drives fast she’ll miss the blooming trees and flowers or the water that trickles down the rocks surrounding the road. Her routine provides a sense of calm and peace because she’s not rushing to work, plus the added side benefit of time to notice the beauty of Kentucky nature during her commute.

When I was in the midst of writing the manuscript for my cookbook I knew the book would never get finished unless I set up a routine to write every day.  Because I work best early in the morning I made the decision to get up one hour earlier, pour coffee in my favorite mug, and sit down at the computer to write for one hour. This routine gave me a greater sense of control over the project and greater freedom to focus on other parts of my life outside of my writing time. In essence, because I was routinely writing, I wasn’t chiding myself all day long with “you should be writing”.

A bit closer to the kitchen, the farmers that grow our food are creatures of routine. I suspect most farmers live by a calendar of planting and harvesting, and routinely check the daily weather report. It’s no secret that we’ve had an unusually hot, dry summer. Due to the weather our CSA farmer Trisha has added a watering routine to her farming. Thanks to her diligence, and this added routine of watering our CSA deliveries have included an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini.

So, it’s true, we don’t all have school -aged children, nor are we all Mr.  Rogers changing our jacket for a sweater and our shoes for a comfortable pair of sneakers over and over again. But, whether we parent, exercise, write, garden, or volunteer, I appreciate the predictability found in routines, and the comfort they can impart when embraced as part of my daily life.

Photo credit: tyhatch on Flickr

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