Rituals

Originally Posted on September 1, 2011

We have rituals in Casa de Jones. Things that are done every day, without fail. I’ve been told that routine and rituals instill a sense of security in little ones, and so there are some things that always get done, no matter what.

First thing in the morning once the kids get out of bed is “tea in a bottle” time. The babies still go to bed with a bottle at night. I retrieve their bottles and make a nice, sweet rooibos tea with some milk in it, and give it to them while they watch a little CBeebees (we recently had DSTV installed. To my American friends, DSTV is basically Direct TV, and CBeebees is the BBC kids channel. Like Nick Jr., but, sadly, without Blue’s Clues). This happens every day, without fail.

We go to Faye Faye’s playschool every day, except during holidays, which are sheer, unbridled hell. Not really, they’re good kids. But I’m sort of starting to understand why kids in Japan are made to go to school all year round…

We nap every day, without fail. Actually, we fail on this one often. But every day, as far as I can manage it, they at least go into their room (Seanie naps on my bed) with a bottle and have to spend time on their own. Sophie almost always sleeps. Seanie does maybe 3 times out of 5. He’s growing out of it, but he’s so much more pleasant when he naps.

We bathe every day without fail. Actually, we also fail this one from time to time. But not tonight. Tonight I got behind their ears!

We have suppertime at the table, every day, without fail. Unless we’re having a braai or something at granny and grandpa’s house. Then it’s whatever goes. Laps, coffee table. Sometimes the TV stays on. But if we’re at home, the box is off and we sit at the dinner table and eat as a family.

And, lastly, every day, without fail, we read stories. Usually three, but tonight we read four, because the new book to capture their fancy is the hilarious Skippy Jon Jones, which was given to us by the amazing Salfrank clan along with several other books.

This book is so fun it’s ridiculous. Actually, the book is ridiculous, but in the best possible way. It’s about a little siamese cat with a huge imagination, which carries him off to old Mexico to battle a giant bean-eating bumblebee. It allows me to put on my broadest latino accent and hoot and holler lots, which the kids love. We read it tonight. Funny thing is, we weren’t going to.

See, we had already read our complement of three stories. But then Seanie put on this little look, like he was really bummed out that story time was over. So being the huge sucker that I am, I said “how about just for tonight we have another story?” Below is an example of Seanie’s 50,000 megawatt smile:

MDWW

Seanie’s famous 50,000 megawatt smile

You’d think I had just told him Santa Claus was real and was unloading the sled in our lounge at that very moment.

So we read Skippy Jon Jones with all accents and sound effects thrown in. It’s too much fun, actually. I was worried all the excitement of the story would keep them awake, but it’s now 40 minutes since I put them down and not a sound.

Funny thing about this story is I’ve read it to them a few times in the past. But last night and again tonight, they actually sat there and listened to it. And they loved it. Like, sheer, unvarnished pleasure. There’s something about the way little kids get into things. Fair enough, most things are still new to them, but… I don’t know. Magic is made of this kind of stuff. I feel like Gandalf on happy pills right now.

Parenting is difficult. Single parenting is even more so, but there is no doubt that it is rewarding. That I can provide these kids with a sense of continuity in the midst of this disaster is affirming. It affirms my sense of self worth and competence. I’m not a great parent, but I am the parent of these two brilliant children. I am rising to this challenge, if fitfully. There are days when I am an enormous turd. But kids are forgiving by default, they don’t hold grudges, and love spurs me on to become a better version of myself for them. This is a good thing, despite the circumstances.

These little rituals are an enormous blessing, too. They know that certain things happen at certain times, and if they go amiss, they ask about it. No bath tonight? Really? Are you sure? I want to hear them say that. It means I’m keeping them on metre, following the rhythm of our new life. This is a grace, a bit like an invisible helper. My mantra has become to “never break routine” if at all possible.

There are other rituals. Saturdays we go to the farmers market. Sundays we go to church. Thursdays, they spend the night at granny and grandpa’s house. Daily rhythms interspersed with weekly ones. Rhythms, like the lulling rise and fall of the waves on the ocean. Like day turns to night. Like seasons. I suppose they provide security because it gives the illusion of control. Janie’s death was completely out of our control and it has rocked us all to core of our beings.

Ultimately, Janie’s death is an interruption. That may sound calloused, but allow me to explain: we had our previous rhythm, our previous life. Janie is no longer present for it. However… life carries on. We are, in a very real sense, starting over. Some facets of life have carried over from our previous one, such as Faye Faye’s playschool, bathtime and bedtime rituals, etc. Others are new, such as the weekly farmers market jaunts, Thursdays at granny and grandpas, and so on.

The point is that in order to establish a “new normal,” we have to find our rhythm. Having two babies has helped me enormously in this sense. I must take the lead and set the pace. The pace needs a rhythm, a drum beat, like the way the armies of old would march to the time of the drummer boy. I’m not big on military imagery, but in this sense it is entirely appropriate. Death is as cruel as it is inevitable. When it arrives early, you have to, in a sense, rally the troops, lay down a new rhythm and march on. Because to fail to do so is not just to lose a battle but the whole damn war. And I will not lose this war. There’s too much at stake.

In the grand scheme of things, these little rituals may seem like they account for little, if anything. However, just as nothing happens in a vacuum, these tiny, little, seemingly insignificant things add up to something big over time.

Being a pastor’s son, I’ll use an illustration to drive home the point: who here has watched The Karate Kid? Daniel san, do small circle left, small circle right, breathe. Daniel san, paint fence long stroke up, long stroke down, breathe. Inane, little tasks. In the end, he was learning how to fight through the insignificant little things he was doing on a day to day basis.

I kind of lost my way in this post! I started out talking about routines and then wound up fighting wars and doing a crane kick. I suppose the lesson in this is to not disdain the little things. Routine is important for the security it imparts in little ones, and because it builds in them a pattern for keeping at minutia and seemingly pointless tasks that build up towards something lasting. We are raising tomorrow’s leaders, after all. As a parent, I forget that. It’s good to remember that little things count, and that a lot of little things add up to one big thing: wholeness.

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