A different destination revelling in routine

Karen Casey used to wander the world… now she revels in routine.

For aspects of family life that we are repeatedly told require routine, kids sure are well rehearsed at taking orders and launching them out the window. When you want them to sleep, they don’t. When you don’t want them to sleep, they do. When you plan an outing weeks in advance, you can bet your life that they will get sick, cut the biggest tooth ever seen or have a nappy explosion on the way out the door.

My husband and I were never particularly ‘routine’ people, but we did have a sketchy plan for life, or at least a set of goals. We wanted to travel overseas. We wanted to travel around Australia. We wanted to buy or build a house somewhere spacious, get a pig to name Snot, and rear chickens and, eventually, angelic children.

These goals were mostly achieved in a haphazard, wandering manner. In a five-minute conversation, we decided to move to Northern Ireland for a year. While there, we wandered to Canada, then back towards Australia via train through Europe. We carried a travel guide, but flicked through it only when we bumped into something that looked significant. We travelled Australia in much the same manner.

We bought that house somewhere spacious, obtained and ate the pig without naming it, and reared the chickens. We achieved and enjoyed our goals, sketchy as they were. But somewhere between then and parenthood I lost that ability to go with the flow.

The night before we became parents, my husband and I kicked back on a hospital bed eating pizza (bad, bad idea) and watching trashy TV. We were carefree, excited and nervous. As we had no idea what we were doing, we maintained this feeling for at least a week after our son was born. But when the honeymoon ended and life with a screaming, insatiable newborn kicked in, I realised my ‘go with the flow’ mojo was gone. The words ‘routine’, ‘normal’ and ‘must’ popped up in the most unsuspecting places. I took on all opinion and advice, and frequently wound myself into a tight little ball of panic when my child did not do as all other babies apparently did.

Being away at work all day, my husband didn’t see the problem if our baby didn’t stick to the routine. What did it matter if he slept one hour instead of two? And why worry if he downed formula on top of a breastfeed, then woke 40 minutes later to gnaw at my chest again?

On the occasions when our routine survived, baby was lovely. He was well rested and fed, as was I, and the two of us were brave enough to venture beyond the threshold into some form of normal civilisation. The only things out of routine on those occasions were the extra kisses slobbered all over that beautiful button nose.

Pre-children, it didn’t matter if routines or plans were out of whack. Life was lovely either way, because there were no consequences for sleeping a little less or eating a little more. Children, on the other hand, share the love. If they are tired, they scream. If they are hungry, they scream. Abandoning them is illegal, and as a parent all you really want (for both loving and sanity reasons) is to make that little face happy again.

It wasn’t until I had my second son that I finally found a healthy balance between sticking to the routine and letting it fly. I used to panic if son number one didn’t sleep well during the day. When son number two came along, I realised that a little less sleep was not going to kill him, nor would a hearty little cry.

Children are confusing little contradictions, needing routine but constantly breaking it. There is no doubt that they change your life, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss being fancy-free at times. But they are absolutely worth the change (see paragraph regarding button nose). And besides, I never did discover where I left my ability to go with the flow anyway. Somewhere back on the hospital floor with the pizza, I suspect.

Illustrations by Natasja van Vlimmeren