Lately the kids and I have been in a bit of a rut; maybe even a funk. Whatever its title, I have noticed that there has been an increase in the general level of whining and bickering and unmanageable messes, and a decrease in attention. I noticed I was back to throwing on an episode or two on the television, which we normally only use for emergencies or illness, to get a few moments of peace.
It was time to change things up.
Being on vacation with my parents gave me a bit of time to think and reflect on why we were so snippity back at home. January was a month full of very sick little ones. There were more visits to the hospital than we liked (although we are thankful to have a hospital to go to), too many doctors appointments, too many days off from school. Thinking about it a bit more, it became pretty clear that all that chaos at the beginning of the year had gotten us out of our daily rhythm and that we were all suffering because of it.
The overall plan to correct for this was simple :: carve out some time each day to change our environments as well as the way we interact with each other. Of course it would be great if we could run out to the playground or the beach or the local library, but with one in school and three at home with conflicting nap schedules we needed something a bit, erm, closer. With this in mind, I got to work on the library as soon as we returned, although there was not so much to do since my husband cleaned up and organized significantly while we were gone. I also decided it was time to implement afternoon tea.
I didn’t grow up with afternoon tea, but my husband, a German national, did. It is a ritual we enjoy when visiting his family, and something I’ve been thinking about beginning with our family since our eldest began school. Hot beverages, good company, and cookies? What’s not to love?
Why I waited so long getting to it is beyond my understanding as it has worked better than I could have expected! Library time gives us all a chance to catch up on some reading, whether it’s the biggest sister reading to her siblings while mama’s on her laptop checking up on a few blogs, or me reading to all the kids, or all of us absorbed in our own book or activity. It has become an hour (or more!) in the day we look forward to greatly.
And tea? Well, tea is the perfect way for us to decompress and process the day’s events as we shift gears and head into its close. We all sit down, regroup, talk a bit about what we did and thought and felt; I watch all our shoulders relax and our breath deepen. I notice that I’m more interested in what the kids have to say instead of wishing they would hurry along so I can get to my next task. It’s as great an opportunity for our first grader to take a break from the fast pace of school and homework as it is for me to gather my resources before I head into dinner prep and bedtimes. The baby gets her meal before she heads up for the night, and the middle two get a little snack and a break from the messes they become so invested in making.
All of this has me thinking about rhythm and ritual and how vitally important it is to our family. Here we seem to thrive on structure and predictability. It seems that the rituals we observe, however small or insignificant, build a framework that supports us through the day. The way we prepare the morning coffee, or fit in feeding the dog between reheating the second cup and emptying the dishwasher, putting on our shoes before our coats, the things my daughter and I speak about on the way to school, snack time, then lunch, then naps… all of it, as monotonous as it may sound, breaks the day into moments of activity and rest, thought and movement… an ebb and flow, a rhythm from one ritual to the next with room for bits of the inevitable chaos in between. When that rhythm shifts without our mindfulness of it, that is when our family seems to grind through the day instead of meld into it. Making it through feels more like a herculean task than a pleasant, exploratory journey through time.
I’m not sure how long these particular rituals of library sits and afternoon tea will keep my littles’ interested, but for now I’m thankful for the breaks it provides in our day and the adjustment it brings to our dispositions.