It’s what time?
A couple of weeks ago, in the days before, the battery on the little clock near my treadmill died and the clock, predictably, stopped. Equally predictably, it didn’t much matter. I’m a creature of habit. So long as I’m on my treadmill by 5:30am (alarm: 5:05), I’m back upstairs by 6:20 and while it’s a frenetic twenty-odd minutes, I can get Thirteen’s lunch made and shuttle her to the bus stop by 6:45. Back up the hill and into the garage, the next hour focuses on Sixteen, his departure for high school on a full belly with a lunch box full of leftovers. My own morning routine threads through the minutes in between, and by 8 the day is on schedule and well underway.
I’ve been thinking a shift would come when Thirteen no longer rides her early bus to junior high. But in my imagination, the break would not mean altering the order of things, just the time at which it would all get rolling. I should insert here that I’ve been walking on my treadmill first thing weekday mornings since March 2001. When there have been breaks in the routine, they’ve always been those kind of gaps where something feels a little out of whack all day long.
That doesn’t mean I don’t take a day off once in a while. I did just that last Monday, Sixteen’s first day as a civil servant. Leaving high school early to “serve his country” (as his band director put it while excusing him from the semester final), Sixteen started his new gig as a page in the Iowa Senate. The first day of the legislative term was his first day on the job—a whole new reality of getting up, getting washed and brushed and pressed in his dress clothes and heading east into rush hour traffic to commute from our house in the western suburbs to the gorgeous Iowa Capitol. I opted to lend him my support from the alarm clock on, so skipped the treadmill and was happy to be on hand to wave him out the door.
The next morning, versed in the experience of the day before and knowing that this day two lunches needed to be ready by 6:45 (the food at the Capitol is decent but expensive reports our Page), I woke early enough to hit the treadmill and stretched, turned, and snuggled deeper under the covers. I let the day roll around in my head, thoughts emerging for things that needed attending to, ideas forming, and, when the cacophony of alarms started sounding down the hall, I got up, jotted down my to-do list, and headed to the kitchen for tea. The peeps were out the door with lunches and thermoses, Thirteen complete with her viola and almost warm-enough clothing for the weather, Sixteen on the way to day two of his job.
I stuck to my Tuesday rounds—the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, my desk—finding my way onto the treadmill about 3:30 in the afternoon.
On Wednesday, it was 1pm. On Thursday, shortly after 2. Friday, even though the resident civil servant had the day off, I opted to continue my delicious morning lie-in (yes, it feels like sleeping in when I don’t get up until 5:45), and headed to the basement for a walk only after I’d had enough time to digest the delicious breakfast Sixteen and I enjoyed together.
At one point I looked at the clock: the little hand was on the ten and the big hand was on the two, in the classic formation of clocks and watches for sale. My first thought was the clock had stopped again—didn’t I just replace that battery I wondered? Could it have been already depleted or from a bad batch? Had I put it in backwards? It took a few steps for me to realize, no, wait, it really was ten minutes after ten. And with that dawning of understanding came delight. Too often in the past when the routine changed, I had let my treadmill time or other things important to me go in favor of the to-do list or, even more likely, meeting everyone else’s needs. But this week I didn’t do that. I walked, instead, every day, including Saturday when I never do, and hit 18 miles for the week. And even though the time never correlated with my internal idea of when I should walk, it worked. I found myself looking forward to my walk, whatever time it happened.
Another week and the timetable hasn’t gotten any less topsy-turvy. Walking around the clock still feels a bit off to me, but I’m pleased that I’ve embraced the shift and prioritized the time anyway. I started walking first thing in the morning years ago because it’s important. But in the literature surrounding just about any self-care practice, that is always the advice: do X first. Want to build a good exercise or meditation habit? Interested in drinking lemon water in the morning or getting organized for a successful day? Trying to write a novel? No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish the advice is always the same: do it first thing in the morning. The reality is I can only do one thing first thing, so I am learning to prioritize the activities in a day that are important to me. With twenty-four hours available each day, selecting how I will best live them is what’s important. Rather than routine or schedule, I’m subscribing to rhythm and liking all the possibilities of each moment
The full Wolf Moon of January shines all over the world—if it’s not behind the snow clouds. Hoping wherever you are, you and yours are safe and warm and digging your own new year’s rhythm. Thanks for attending my journey with me, xoR