For years, my life was dictated by the school day and The School Calendar. I knew what time I had to be awake, what time everyone else had to be awake, what time breakfast needed to be ready, what time I needed to be home or at the school for pick up, what time dinner needed to be cooked, what time practices/rehearsals/lessons/meetings/performances/games would begin and end. Although my days still held many unknowns, there was comfort in knowing the predictable rhythm of the day.
My annual ritual was to get a new calendar and immediately fill in the dates from the school calendar so I would know when the half days, days off, and vacations would be. My framework for the year was pretty much laid out and determined by what I neatly wrote on those pages. As I carefully printed (and color-coded) the times and dates of all the individual activities, I started to get a sense of what my life would be like for the coming year. As a busy mother to two active daughters, I knew that the schedule would present challenges but I appreciated the clarity of knowing what I was in for. It helped us function as an active family. In fact, we would have not been able to manage life without it.
Over time, I also started to resent the power of "the schedule". Just once I wanted to be able to commit to an appointment or event without checking and double checking the master calendar. I longed to plan a vacation that didn't fit into the neat little confines of the same days off that everyone else had. But alas, the cost of a misplaced dentist appointment or a carelessly agreed to social outing was too great- one little misstep could cause the wheels to come off the family bus and the chaos that ensued was not worth it. So, for 15 years or so I lived by that darn schedule. My kids would harass me about it.
"Why are you always so obsessed with the calendar? Why is it so important? Why do you always have to check your schedule?"
"Because," I'd tell them with an eye roll, "without that super detailed and annoying calendar, nobody would get where they need to be on time, or at all."
As my girls graduated from high school and I inched closer to empty nesting, I started to get excited about the idea of schedule freedom. I began fantasizing about what I would do with all of my time and how wonderful it would be to sleep past 6 am for the first time in years, or travel in the offseason, or schedule appointments without performing the mental gymnastics of how that would impact "the schedule". What would that be like?!?
The reality is that after years of a deeply structured life, a life free of the rigidity of a school or work calendar is wonderful... and terrifying. There is nothing better than the morning when I can wake up at a time of my choosing without having to immediately jump into the chaos of the day! But, without that structure, the days and weeks can look a bit intimidating at times. There is a tremendous freedom in filling days how you choose, but also a tremendous amount of pressure. What am I doing with this gift of time? Am I choosing to spend it well? Or am I being careless with my days?
Another unanticipated consequence of this new phase is that without the commonality of a school schedule, I now zig where others zag. The schedule that once served to bind many of us is now fractured. I no longer travel in the same orbit as my friends with school-aged children. Where we once knew without a doubt where we would be on a Tuesday afternoon or a Friday night, now we can no longer rely on the automatically scheduled opportunities to get together. My fellow empty nesters are also zigging. Visits to college-age students, family obligations, work, and travel pull everyone in new and different orbits. Scheduling is hard. Friendships can be tested without the consistency of the school schedule to bring us together. Some survive, some fall away.
As with all of the experiences in this new stage of life, I am learning from it. I have discovered that a little schedule and routine isn't so bad after all. I have observed that I need some structure to my days. What I once relied on the school calendar for, I now have to do myself- plan times for vacation, organize get-togethers with friends, delineate between work and family time, and schedule outings. "The calendar" was serving a purpose that extended beyond telling me what was happening, it was also serving to give structure to my days, my social life, my edification, and my activity level. The goal now is to develop a routine that not only has enough freedom in it to accommodate a more relaxed and spontaneous life, but also enough structure so that I don't feel like I am drifting through my days without purpose.
The bottom line- I have learned that I need to BE INTENTIONAL! Whatever I choose to do with my hours and days, it is essential that I create a new routine with purpose and intent. And by creating my own new routine, by filling my days with activities and events that I enjoy, I hope to turn the love/hate relationship with routine into just a love relationship!
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