Turns out, I need structure

NS September 22nd, 2009

The Noble Child started at her pre-school last Friday and is now going four mornings a week. The other morning, Thursday, she goes to her grandma’s house for the day. That means that every day of the week we have to be out of the house by 9am sharp. It also means she’s out of my house every morning. This has turned out to be a very good thing. Not just for her, but for me.

Before she started, I often shuddered at the thought of having to go from lazing around all morning to performing the military operation of getting children and self ready and out the door on time for school. I thought of myself as more free-spirited, less regimented than that. School uniforms on, bags packed, breakfast made and eaten, showered, dressed, hair combed and tied back, appropriate shoes and jackets located, snacks/lunches packed, pushchair and scooter ready to go (or kids in carseats, if driving), all before 9am?! You’re mad, I would’ve said. M-A-D. There is NO way this will happen, or at least it won’t happen without tears, tantrums and frantic last-minute dashes back inside the house for forgotten items, half-eaten toast and skimming of crumpled newsletters outlining what the children should bring with them or do on that particular day as I smack a palm to my forehead in panic.

I will crumble under the pressure, under the authoritarianism of it all, I thought. I’m not one of those super-efficient working mothers who does this every day without blinking, I’m a lazy, coddled SAHM who doesn’t HAVE to be anywhere, really. I won’t be able to hack it. But it turns out, I was wrong. Really wrong.

Not ony have I managed to get us all ready and there with time to spare, but I’ve been so much more productive in all other areas of my life as well. Being showered and fed and out the door seems to be curing what I thought was my laziness and gives me some kind of strange energy I had forgotten I ever possessed. I’ve been ticking things off of my to-do list, engaging more fully and happily with the children, getting more housework done, cooking healthier meals, spending less time on the internet and more time reading and working on my book, and I even applied for a full-time freelance job. I’m in the middle of this starburst of creativity and patience and, dare I say, contentment.

So this is what it must feel like to be one of those happy SAHMs, I realise, not the miserable, snarling, impatient onesĀ  who just wants FIVE MINUTES TO HER FREAKIN’ SELF isthatsomuchtoaskhmm? before her goddamn head explodes and the wine is poured prompty at five because it’s the only thing keeping her hanging onto a very thin thread.

I feel content. I feel fulfilled. I feel happy.

I haven’t said those words (and meant them) in a very long time, it seems. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not been so down that I haven’t had moments of contentment or happiness or fulfillment, but not all three. Not all at once, for more than a few hours, or a day.

Granted, I realise that the first week of school often does this to people (from what I’ve read on mothers with more experience under their belts) and that inertia may eventually set in again, but even if it does, I now know that as much as I resisted the idea, I need structure to my days. I am a much better parent when I keep going and stay busy, not allowing myself to sit down and think too much about all the things that are going wrong or that I’d rather be doing. I thrive on having a full, varied schedule with the children, even if it’s just “Tuesday: cafe for tea. Wednesday: playground with friend down the road. Friday: ballet and then out for ice cream.” Or whatever. But I’ve noticed that if I take the kids out twice a day, even if it’s just to the shops or the library or to climb to the top of a hill and then race down, we all get on so much better. I suppose being cooped up in a small terraced house all day, tripping over one another and generally just getting on each other’s nerves is a recipe for disaster, really. It’s a wonder we’re all still alive. Cramped spaces make everything seem worse, don’t they?

I know that once winter sets in and life settles down again and the newness wears off, I might find myself backsliding to that place, the one I now know was teetering on the edge of depression, but for now I’m enjoying the moment. I’m connecting with my kids, especially TNC, like I haven’t in quite awhile. Our relationship is thriving. They deserve a better, happier, more balanced mother. And it turns out, all I needed to make that happen was an early shower and spending a lot more time out of the house. Who knew?

All I can say is thank god for the iPhone. Instead of wanting to get back home because I’m bored stiff at the playground and want to check emails, I can just park myself on a bench and keep one eye on my progeny while the other composes electronic messages.

Technology, you will be either the undoing of me or the making of me. I guess we’ll find out which soon enough.

16 Responses to “Turns out, I need structure”

  1. A Free Man says:

    Enjoy it while it lasts and here’s hoping it does. In fact, it probably will. I thrive with a bit of structure myself. Which, of course, is why I’m not thriving right now.

  2. Iota says:

    “If in doubt, get them out” (meaning the children) was my motto for many years. I’ve never been so much an SAHM as an GOHM (get out of the home mom).

    Not always so easy in the English weather…

  3. Yes. Yes. Yes. When DS was born, I was at home for a year. A Very Long Year. I felt awful, under stimulated and depressed. Some of that had to do with falling into the “wrong crowd” of yummy-wealthy-owners-of-6-bedroom-houses-and-3-cars-and-everything-is-a-competition-which-I-fail-because-we-rent-and-my-child-cries-a lot-mummies. But a lot if it was simply that I need structure and to be out of my house and have acheivements for the day that can be calculated (doing the dishes for the 6th time doesn’t really count). Working part time came as a welcome relief. Being able to to to the bathroom on my own and drink hot coffee a couple times a week meant that I too had more to give.

    For me, it underlines the fact that this kind of motherhood where we are alone all day with children isn’t natural. We are social active beings who need to do things and be in the world. Of course, paid work is not the only way to get there, but as we no longer live in community/family groups that need to complete tasks for survival, the gap needs to be filled somewhere and the civil service works ok for me.

    Good luck with the job.

  4. So happy for you. For me, after about two years of chaos, it all came together. Yay school!

  5. Charlotte says:

    Yes! Routine is good for kids, but I’ve also discovered it’s good for parents too. I am embracing the routine that back-to-school brings after our six week summer holiday, and am also being more efficient, patient and effective.

    Go, Ms Noble Savage!

  6. I know exactly what you mean about being a better person when you’ve got out of the house – even if only for 10 minutes to post a letter – for some reason it seems to make both Toddlergirl and I happier

    I also love my iphone – I love that I can take photos of her and send them to Mr Muddling, read my emails, have a quick look at the web and so on

    Just need to find a good blogging app so I can do that on the move too!

  7. Excellent. I made a similar discovery, perhaps when I was at my lowest ebb. Getting up, ready, and out, sets everyone up for a good day. I would notice a difference in me, and my child. Plus it is like a machine, that keeps turning, the motivation just seems to come from somewhere, and while you can still be tired, you get used to it.

  8. Oooh that all sounds wonderful!!

    I’m still firmly in the ‘head is about to explode’ stage and probably will be for some time to come, but still – nice to know I have calm contentment to look forward to!

    You enjoy x

  9. Potty Mummy says:

    So so true. With Husband travelling as much as he does, I spend a lot of time on my own with the kids and frankly, if we didn’t have nursery and school and the structure that goes with them, I would go crazy. When people ask me how I cope all week with no help I’m always surprised how I find myself saying that it’s fine as long as you do the prep (breakfast put out the night before, shoes always in the same place etc etc. You know, the stuff you used to laugh at your mum for doing…) – and actually meaning it. What are the chances of that? Not high when I look back to pre-school days, I have to say.

  10. April says:

    This SO resonates with me. I totally get it. I love love LOVE having stuff to do during the day. I too find a first thing shower is a wonderful thing, and it also wakes me up and motivates me to do all the things I normally hate doing. I would often put off taking a shower and launch into the making breakfast/lunch for husband/checking emails (which is a time pit)/getting bits of housework done…and suddenly it’s like..nearly noon and I just feel so flipping lazy….whereas if I start the day with a shower, I’m much more into it. Another thing I find helpfull is making the bed asap.
    Although I know there is value in having lazy days at home and not to HAVE to be out of the house….but I am so much happier and so is Iona, when we are out and about and doing things.
    Anyway glad your days are taking shape!!!! Very inspiring! :)

  11. Irene says:

    Good for you and try to keep up the pace. Don’t be discouraged if you have an off day every now and then. They can’t all be perfect. As long as most of your days are like this, you will be so much happier. It is good to have your kids in school and to have time for yourself. It will make you feel sane again. Too much togetherness is not good. Alone time is superb. Enjoy it and be productive. You will like the children better if you aren’t stuck around them all day long.

  12. Katy Murr says:

    Delicious. Free, luxury structure.

    What about when you have to self-impose structure though, because you know you need it, but there isn’t any already there? Hmmn.

  13. Cave Mother says:

    I’ve noticed how my days feel so much more productive, and pass more happily, when they start with a proper activity. It only needs to be a toddler group but if it is an organised event, where people expect me to turn up, it gives me that little push to get moving in the morning. Even if I am shattered I can forget about it and put my public face on while I am with company. The baby usually sleeps better when she has been out of the house as well.I start four days a week with a pre-organised activity which means I really look forward to my “day off” on Monday.

    I have a rule like some of the other commenters: if things are going badly, if the baby’s moany or I’m feeling rubbish, just get out of the house. It doesn’t even matter where. Just get out.

  14. the bad aunt says:

    start getting a plan for the winter days. Jot down ideas of things to do or places to go, so you are not trying to come up with ideas at the last minute. That will help keep the stress down on those days, to already have options available.

  15. I absolutely feel you on this one! I learned early on that I had to get out of the house. At first it was just for walks to the park and around the neighborhood, but it was every single day. Now we leave the house at least once a day (pre- and post-nap). It means so much more than just getting out of the house: it means I’m ready to be seen, to socialize (even if it’s just with strangers), to explore and try something new or even old (like grocery shopping). Some days I even leave things off my list knowing that I’ll need something to do the following day and I don’t want to knock everything off my list in one go.

    My next big challenge, once my back is 100%, is to exercise early in the morning before everyone else wakes up. Those rare days when I’ve exercised, showered, and dressed before 8 have gone splendidly well. I feel like a freaking super star.

    I’m rooting for more of your continued structured success!!

  16. geekymummy says:

    Yay for routine! you read my blog so know we live according to a military schedule of work and daycare, but it is comforting in its regularity for everyone, if rather intense.

    Personally I feel that the more I do, the more I can do. Work and structure somehow begets more work and structure and productivity. Hope it keeps up, and thanks for sharing.