It’s just a cup. Now breathe.
That’s what I tell myself four times a day, as I scrub out a certain little red sippy cup with flowers on the side. It’s just a cup. Keep breathing.
It’s not a symbol of what my life has become, it’s not a force of evil in the world, it’s not something I want to throw against the wall. Much. It’s just a cup. So relax.
But I can’t relax, because it’s the only cup my little girl will drink her milk out of (yes, I realize I am indulging this particular bit of pickiness on her part but you pick your battles, and no, I can’t find another cup like it because believe me, if I could I would buy 37 of them), so I have to keep it clean, I have to keep scrubbing it out. Over and over. All day long. Week after week. Which turns into months. And then I close my eyes and see myself 30 years from now, gray haired and wrinkly and still standing over the sink scrubbing out this stupid cup, which is, of course, ridiculous, because by then my baby girl will be 31 and if she’s still living at home and drinking out of a sippy cup we have big issues and now I’m feeling dizzy so I really need to just breathe….
It’s just a cup.
But it’s also a constant reminder of the routine that has taken over my life. And just how routine that routine can sometimes feel.
Experts tell us that routines are good, even essential, for kids. The predictability of a routine (bath, bottle, bed for babies; dinner, homework, family time for older kids, etc) teaches kids about expectations and outcomes, and helps them build confidence and a sense of security while reducing anxiety. Routines are healthy, routines are important. And sometimes routines make me want to throw up.
Our two kids are now 3 years and 16 months old and it’s hard to argue with the results of the structure and routines we’ve provided them with. They eat well, play well, and sleep well, and I’m sure much of that is due to the fact that those things happen on cue at the same time almost every day. Sure, there are exceptions and adjustments for special occasions, but for the most part we stick to the routine.
Routines are definitely not something that were part of my own childhood. With two busy, working parents, my brother and I were often left to fend for ourselves with a teenage babysitter who occasionally glanced up from watching General Hospital to make sure we didn’t climb out any windows. Aside from church on Sunday, our lives didn’t have a whole lot of structure. And that was OK with me.
As it turned out, I never became a big planner or one to stick to a firm routine, and working in TV news fed my unstructured side perfectly. From the sublime (helping bring injustices to light) to the ridiculous (I once covered the rescue of 7 ducks from a sewer), every day was different (often changing in the middle of the day), I never knew what to expect walking in the door. And that was more than OK with me.
But balancing that routine with family life proved untenable for me. I spent a difficult year after our first child was born trying to prove I really could have it all, really could do it all. In reality, working weekend nights and swing shifts so we could afford a nanny, never having time off with my husband, prepping dinner in the dark at 6 a.m., and trying to cram all my Mommy Moments into 48 hours (along with cleaning the house, visiting my parents, and going to the grocery store) was slowly sucking the life out of my life. It took a confession to my husband — that I sometimes fantasized about having to have my appendix removed or a minor car accident so I could get some rest — to make me realize this was not at all OK with me anymore.
Shortly before our second child was born I made the decision to leave the full-time work world. Over lunch with one of my stay-at-home-mom neighbors, I attempted to share my fears about the transition but found myself running into a mental wall. “But you’ll be so busy running after two kids!” she insisted. I told her I honestly worried about the monotonous nature of life with two kids might turn my brain (what was left of it) to mush. I’ve barely heard a word from her since.
Now, I’ve been home for 17 months and life has never been more routine. Make breakfast, clean up breakfast. Make lunch, clean up lunch. Nap time. Laundry time. Snack time. Dinner time. Bed time. Fill the sippy cup, scrub the sippy cup. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yes, our days are filled with love and laughter, giggles and bubbles, trips to the park and the zoo and all sorts of different adventures. But there’s also a whole lot of the same.
Something has to change, and I’m not just talking about the sippy cup. Somewhere between “footloose and fancy free” and “If it’s Tuesday it must be time to clean the toilets” there must be a middle ground. I am finding myself bored and restless, in need of a challenge, but lacking the time or energy to even begin to figure out what that might be. The kids need their routine, and I’ll do everything in my power to keep them in it, but I need more as well. Admitting that may make me less of a mom in the eyes of some, but it makes me more of myself in my own and that’s all that matters.
I don’t know what the solution is yet, but I’m committed to finding it. Somewhere there must be a routine that will work for all of us, at least most of the time. Somehow, the (sippy) cup can be half-full again.
Mona Shand is a radio and TV news reporter who doesn’t currently have much to report. You can read more on her blog.