There’s comfort in routine

Gus’s days are pretty predictable.  He wakes up with a big stretch and goes downstairs to look out the windows and check what’s doing around the house.  He then goes outside with Jeff for a short run through the park, where he takes care of his morning business.  After coming inside, it’s breakfast time and then he’s ready for a short nap.  He knows that after I’ve had my coffee and breakfast, it’s time for the two of us to set out for our big morning walk.  When I go upstairs to put on my walking gear, he follows me and waits attentively in my room.  He knows that I have to first put on my walking clothes, fill his water bottle and clip on my fanny pack, and then he sits beside me at the door as I tie on my walking shoes.  Then the door is opened, and off we go.

And so it goes.  There’s even a predictable pattern to our walk.  I do have a few different routes to keep things interesting, but for each one there is a familiar path we follow, and Gus always visits the same spots and checks out the same corners.  We’ve both come to expect it, and I even anticipate his pauses and detours as we go.

I remember when Gus was a puppy and we had lots of advice on training.  Everyone we spoke to and every book we read emphasized the importance of establishing a daily routine.  They said it would help with his behaviour if he always knew what was coming next.   It took me back to my early days as a new mom.  The parenting experts also told us back then that babies are more secure and settled when their days are predictable, and their feeding and sleeping schedules are consistent.  I happen to know that today’s moms are given advice to be more flexible, and not to get too hung up on having a set schedule.  I’m not so sure I’d have been happy with that.  I remember looking forward to afternoon nap time every day, because it was the only time in my hectic day when I knew I was sure to be at home, with a little peace and quiet for myself.

Even now, in this grown up and chaotic life that we lead, routine still has a comforting effect.  Many of you are aware that our family is currently dealing with a challenge, as my Dad is quite ill in hospital.  For almost three weeks now our regular schedules have been replaced by endless hours in the hospital, to be by his side and to support our Mom and each other.  It’s easy to forget that the rest of the world is going on as usual outside when your focus has narrowed to a single room in the intensive care unit.

Thank heavens for Gus and the fact that his needs never change.  My kids have been great at taking over and ensuring that he is looked after, so that I am free to be where I am needed most.  However, I am trying my best to keep to my usual schedule whenever I can.  This morning as we strode across the field in the sun, it felt like every other beautiful morning that Gus and I have spent together outside.  For a short while, I forgot about all the adult concerns I am carrying on my shoulders, and we made our way past all of the usual checkpoints.  I threw the ball for a while, and then we rounded the corner past the baseball diamond as we always do.  As we strolled through our neighbourhood towards home, I felt comforted and relaxed by the familiar rhythm of it all.  I think that knowing that this piece of my day is predictable somehow helps me to balance out the other parts that I worry about.  When those we love aren’t well, we seem to be able to cope with what’s in front of us; it’s what’s ahead and unknown that we fear.

One of the regular classes I teach is about stress.  At the end of the physiology part of the lecture, I always try to tie in what else is known about how we are able to cope best with stress.  What comes up over and over again in the research is the fact that people who feel they are in control always do better than those who see themselves as helpless victims of their circumstances.  I guess for me, sticking to my routine is my way of claiming control where I can.  If you are looking for me in the mornings, you can find me in the park.

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