When you’re raising six children, you repeat yourself. A lot. Sometimes it’s words: “No singing at the table, please.” Sometimes it’s actions: by the time number six came around, I’d done the “put the kids to bed” thing thousands of times. And often it’s pure joy: I’ll never tire of giving out hugs and kisses, and I’ll never tire of receiving them either.
Fact is, kids thrive on repetition. Knowing what comes next lets them anchor their constantly changing minds and bodies in something steady and unsurprising. If you give them a drink every night before they get in bed and then forget one night, they’ll be up five minutes later reminding you that you missed your cue. If they take a nap every day in the afternoon and for some reason it’s missed, the whining will commence and you’ll know exactly from whence it springs.
The dawning realization I’ve had over the past few months is that it’s not just children that are well served by thoughtful repetition. Turns out I’m a lot happier and healthier when my life has a cadence as well. By dint of living in a house full of little ones I’ve found myself slotted into a whole bunch of different repeating cycles whether I like it or not, and I’m finding that I do like it, and even thrive on it.
Of course as adults we’re used to having a degree of ritual in our life. We typically have some sort of weekday routine - get up, get pretty, get fed, get to work, get working, get home, get relaxed, get to bed - and the weekends are another cycle that repeats every week without fail. But often these are seen as indicative of drudgery, and something we should always be looking for an escape from. “Leave the work-a-day routine behind!” they say, and we nod our heads in agreement as we begrudge each time the wheel goes around and we find ourselves still on it.
But what if the problem isn’t the repitition, but rather our attitudes about it? What if what’s really needed is a more child-like mind, resting in the stability that a routine provides, and delighting in the things that can be learned and experienced within it? Going back to fundamentals, who gets tired of breathing a few times a minute, or eating a few times a day, and wishes they could escape from the terrible sameness of repeating those activities again and again?
I’m finding that my mistake as I left the routines of my parents’ household was that I let routines happen to me, instead of purposefully building routines that I could embrace and enjoy. I know I’ve certainly gone months feeling dislocated each time a particular cycle repeated itself, largely because I’d allowed it to be imposed upon me without ever thinking through whether it was worthwhile or if it could be tweaked to make it more enjoyable. If you’re going to do something over and over again, it ought to be something you enjoy!
When properly applied, repetitive practices are powerful, and an inescapable part of what it means to be alive. I’ve decided to reclaim the word “ritual” from its spot on the list of “things you’d never intentionally add to your life” and use it to describe these patterns that can be really meaningful and powerful if embraced. And in future posts I want to walk through some of the rituals I and our family as a whole now enjoy, and talk about how we’ve both accidentally stumbled into them and at other times deliberately instituted them.
And hopefully, with a bit of “ritual” applied to my writing, it will become regular enough for those future posts to actually happen!