We had a particularly challenging week, a few years ago when my husband's parents were staying with us.
My mother-in-law knocked on our door at 3.00 am because a pipe that had burst from the basement toilet, emitted tens of gallons of water directly into the basement bedroom where my parents-in-law were sleeping. My father-in-law in trying to wade into the bathroom and turn off the water, slipped and hurt his arm and the basement was floating in debris.
As Jonny pulled out of the drive way at 4.00am to take his father to the emergency room, I, only half awake, tried to mop up some of the water and rescue my parents-in-laws' belongings. Of course this was also the day that Jonny was going away for a few days to New York leaving me to find a company to come and drain the basement, rescue the carpet and clear up the mess.
As that week finally came to an end and all returned to a calmer pace, my friends wished me a normal week to come. A week in which nothing unusual happened, where everything went according to plan and calm reigned in the Cannon household.
If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that "normal" is not a word we often use to describe weeks in our house. Between the many health issues we have handled, the crises Jonny as a Head of School has had to deal with over the years and the unexpected fire/ flooding / family events we have had to respond to, normal is not a normal word in our family's vocabulary.
But when I think about all the times, particularly the toughest ones such as when Jonny had to have brain surgery, Benjy had two heart surgeries and my father was very sick, what helped get us through were the very mundane 'normal' pieces of our daily routines.
There is a plethora of information written about the importance of providing routine for babies and children. Within these structures a child has a sense of normality, safety and security.
There can be big changes in any family. They can be planned or unplanned, and sometimes in combination: a new baby, job loss, divorce, serious illness, death of a loved one or a move to a new city, state or country. When these happen, routine becomes the glue that keeps children grounded. It is the expected that helps them handle the unknown. It is the familiarity of tried and tested mealtime, bath and bedtime routines that gives children and teens confidence in knowing that their lives are not completely upended.
School routines, playdates and camp are refuges. Carpool and regular meals with familiar people are comforting.
But I have learned that in the face of crisis and uncertainty, routine and structure is also an adult's friend.
When life does not feel cozy and straightforward, little rituals and routines that have been embedded in our way of life for years, become comforting life-lines to hold on to, when chaos breaks loose.
These routines are ways of putting one foot in front of the other without having to think too hard.
These routines are so automated our brains can go on auto-pilot and things still get done.
Over the last few weeks, in our relatively small community there have been three sudden, tragic deaths, As we each try to make sense of these losses, routine can act as a band aid to carry us and the mourners and their family and friends through these unfathomable first weeks and months.
These routines can include:
- Making your morning coffee or tea and sitting quietly for a few minutes.
- Taking your usual morning walk/ run/ bike ride,
- Keeping your children's morning and bedtime routines as stable as possible,
- Eating your evening meal as a family,
- Taking time for self-care with a hot bath or a chance to read the paper or a book.
As we have tried to bring comfort to the families themselves, there are no words that can take away the deep pain of these deaths. But trying to help the families, particularly the children and their family friends maintain some semblance of normality, in the chaos of grief, is one way we can reach out and one way we can help ourselves through these difficult times.
Please tell me how a routine has helped you in some way or a way in which you have helped someone else maintain some semblance of normality in a difficult time.
Wishing you all a peaceful, calm and blissfully normal week.
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