It all started when I was in grade two: The Igloo Project.
Baffled, my mom watched as I scrambled at 7 a.m. one school morning, in search of odd supplies.
“Mom?” I asked. “Do we have cotton balls?”
“Where’s the glue?”
Next thing she knew, I’d built an igloo—the same igloo my cousin had been working on for weeks. I’d never mentioned we had a project to do, let alone that it was due that morning. My mom was furious. When the teacher handed it back to us, my mom refused the glowing grade and insisted I do the whole thing over again so I could learn my lesson.
I can’t tell you how many times my mom has told this story. It was a defining moment in my life, and indeed, of my character. I don’t do organization. The whole routine thing and I just don’t mesh.
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The “Igloo Project phenomenon” followed me through to graduate school, where I’d regularly pull day-before-deadline all-nighters—all the while marvelling at my friends’ meticulous agenda books, neatly-tabbed notebooks and how they worked on essays weeks in advance.
Then, I had kids. And suddenly everything was about routine, routine, routine.
When my daughter, Joey, now eight, arrived, I did my best to implement a schedule. It’s what all the top baby whisperers said to do: Without a solid schedule, my child was doomed!
Poop charts, sleep charts, chore charts and meal plans. The same. Bedtime. Routine. Every. Night. I tried it all. Oh, how I tried! I just couldn’t stick to any of it without losing my mind, and of course, feeling guilty about being such an epic failure as a parent, one uncharted poop at a time.
Then one day, a few months after my son, Ryan, now six, was born, it hit me: When one who is intrinsically unorganized gives birth, is she expected to magically transform into a Routine Zen Master?
No, I was never going to be that mom. And, you know what? I decided that’s OK.
After that glorious epiphany, I starting focusing on the parenting attributes I do have: I’m loving, intuitive, creative, oh-so-much fun and pretty patient.
Of course, there are glimmers of structure in our lives. Since I do yoga every morning, lunches are made and water bottles filled the night before. Homework is always submitted on time, and, despite the mad rush, we’re never late for school or programs.
Weekends, however, are a bit of a blur. We eat when we’re hungry, and I shrink a little when I hear parents at karate rushing home to prepare lunch—on a Sunday? Sleepovers with my kids are a standing nightmare for my relatives. Are they going to go to bed at 10 p.m. (and could they please keep it down so their cousins could get to sleep on time), or is it going to be an early night?
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But, I’m happy to report, even without a strict routine my kids miraculously are not doomed. In fact, they may have benefited. They’ve gotten a crash course in self-management and are pros at going with the flow.
Although… Ryan may have scored himself that elusive organization gene. His grade-one teacher has nicknamed him Calendar Boy because he knows exactly what’s coming up in class and when—and may the force be with her if she strays from the class plan. Joey, on the other hand, is more of a dreamer and needs a nudge to get from one task to the next, but wow, is she creative! Like me, structure isn’t her forte, but we’re both working on it.
Oh, crap! I have to go. This article’s due in an hour, and I’ve still got to get the kids to school.
Haley Overland is a writer, editor and the social media queen at Today’s Parent.
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue with the headline “Chaos theory,” p.26.