Order From Chaos

Despite my absence here for the last month and a half, I have not been master goddess of my domestic realm. I am always surprised when I take a break from blogging, I mean you’d think that the extra 1-2 hours per day would get me something. And of course it does, it gets me a slower pace of life, a calm that I do appreciate when I can manage to acknowledge it. But it does not get me a cleaner house or happier children. At this very moment (and most others) the kitchen is a mess, the table is stacked with four loads of clean laundry waiting to be put away, the floors are disgusting, and I have no idea what I’m cooking for dinner. I feel that depthless falling feeling lately. The list, by which I mean The List, is miles long and filled with projects like “replace linoleum in the kitchen,” “put up the year’s worth of salmon,” “rebuild collapsed woodshed roof,” and subsequently “cut and stack five cords of firewood for the winter.”

And I can’t even get the fucking laundry put away.

The disappointment of times like this always starts me to grasping for a cure, and lately my obsession has been the Waldorf concept of Rhythm. The idea is that a flexible but regular schedule is essential for children; that knowing, generally, how their days will unfold gives them a sense of peace and stability.

Duh.

One of the things I hate about parenting dogmas is how impervious they are to differences in personality. Although I think a predictable schedule is generally agreed to be good for kids, I suspect there are kids who will never adapt to a schedule and furthermore don’t need to, as well as kids who’s lives could be turned around by a strong rhythm. Those are the kids who thrive on Waldorf, and “prove” the success of the ideology.

What I am realizing lately is that I was one of those kids, who’s need for a predictable, peaceful and quiet daily routine was never satisfied as a child. And as happens in a developing brain when a need is unmet, I am consequently malformed.

I have always had a near obsession with routine and yet an inability to actually execute it to any satisfying degree. I need it because I didn’t get it as a child, but I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t get it as a child. My journals are always studded with multiple attempts to corral the chaos of my days. Literally,

“Summer Schedule
6:00 wake up, coffee
7:00 breakfast
7:30 walk
9:00 outside chores”
etc, etc.

I write it all out, earnestly believing every time that the mere act of writing will create the calm rhythm and self disciplined schedule I crave. Later I am convinced that it hasn’t worked because I just haven’t gotten it right, haven’t divined the Perfect Schedule. Inviting yet another attempt.

That’s me– forever believing that there is a formula for perfection. Not universal, but personal to me. If only I could figure it out.

Having kids of my own I have only stepped up this madness. Desperate for a handle on life, I feel sure that I am just missing something. If I could just get the kids to eat right, they wouldn’t have these stubborn screaming fits. If I could just get the house clean and stay on top of it, we would all feel so much more calm and relaxed. If the 2yo would just consistently sleep enough at night. If I got the kids enough exercise and peer play every day. If… If….

And then the kingpin– If only I could get us on a schedule, then I would (magically) have time to fit all this in to every single day.

Then, then! Life would be all soft watercolors and silk scarves. Hallelujah.

Looking around online for Waldorf rhythm is excessively discouraging. The blogshine that I always rail against is rampant in the Waldorf crowd. One that I read this morning went on for an entire post about their morning ritual of waking softly, lighting candles and singing morning songs and how sweet and perfect it all was. Well, perfect pink wool felting mothers of the world, damn you if you’re lying, and damn you more if you’re not.

I started this post weeks ago, in the midst of an obsession. Now as I come back to finish what seems worth finishing, I am trying to divine the lesson. Did I learn something? I do in fact feel like in the last few weeks I created some kind of order in my universe– the house is clean, the laundry is caught up, the kids are happy. But as usual, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if I created that order and peace, or if it created itself.

Do I follow a pattern of sinking to the bottom and then pulling myself up by the bootstraps? Or does life follow a pattern of chaos and hard times, which lead inevitably to a relative peace and better times? Or is it (more likely) both? Do we feed off of each other, me and life, and oh– don’t forget the kids, in their own two separate cycles.

Waldorf appeals to my depressed self because it is based on the premise that if you do everything “right” (and they’ll tell you how) your life and your children will be sweet and quiet. It taps directly into my innate compulsion to believe that there is a Perfect Way, I just have to figure out what it is. It feeds heavily on my propensity for mama-guilt, because if my life is not so perfectly sweet and quiet, it is my own fault. I have failed myself and my family.

Like any religion, it takes a human being in their weakened state of sad, disappointed confusion, and props them up on the idea that there is a prescribed way out. Just follow the master plan, and it will all be taken care of. The idea that there is in fact an underlying order, a secret to life, is so incredibly seductive to us. We want so desperately to believe, to be Believers.

For whatever cosmic reason, me and the kids were at a real low. I was desperate, I was vulnerable. I delved into the ‘rhythm as panacea’ concept, even started doing a Waldorf circle time with the kids every afternoon. I summoned my will and attempted to implement a stronger routine than what we already had. I checked out Over the Rainbow Bridge from the library. I berated myself appropriately over their movie watching, the overflow of plastic toys and my own yelling mad self. (This last one works wonders– beat yourself up about being a mean mom. Just see how sweet it makes you. Wow. It was from this place of yelling at myself for yelling at the kids that I told them I wanted to chain them up so I could just please fucking carry the fucking groceries the two blocks up the fucking hill to our house.)

The problem, for me at least, is that feeding the belief in achievable order interferes with the work I really need to be doing. Accepting the chaos.

Submitting.

Shit, there it is again. Not submitting to motherhood this time. But submitting to life. The universe. Everything. The greater-than-me. The things I can never know, and never understand. The mystery. Submitting to the fact that I am not ruler of this world, or even my world. There is no plan so perfect that it will tame my wild children. Thank god! My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects. My kids are LOUD because they are full of piss and vinegar, they run around the house breaking shit because they are full of nearly explosive curiosity for how the world works.

We are movers and shakers, a whole fam damily of them. Our life together is bound to be complex.

I’m not altogether done with the rhythm concept, or Waldorf in general. Of course, just because they have not created The Master Plan doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable takeaway. Just because a solid rhythm would not singlehandedly create peace on earth, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help create a bit more peace in our own household. Or at the very least, in my own brain.

As usual, I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch, and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down. I guess my real work in this life is to just be without need to label, to search without need to find, to try without need to master, to take what comes as it comes. Chaos, order, chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

16 thoughts on “Order From Chaos

  1. Okay, I don’t want to come across as stalker crazy or worshipful, but I swear sometimes that we’re living the same life in different places. The main exception being that I had an extremely rigid structure imposed on me throughout most of my childhood, which I promptly rejected as adult,and since that structure was imposed, I never actually learned to set my own routine. I have been clawing desperately for some sense of routine that would give me the peaceful existence always envisioned for myself. Why on earth I would actually envision that is beyond me because it seems pretty ridiculous to imagine that adding children to my life would actually result in the ability to develop a balanced routine more naturally.

    Thank you for writing so eloquently what I wish I could express so much of the time. I totally understand your need and desire to lessen the amount of time you spend on the blog but please don’t disappear entirely.

  2. that. was. amazing. you so perfectly articulated the way i have… the way many… have struggled to find peace in our mama days. it really struck a chord with me as i am totally recovering from my waldorf perfection obsessession. i would read the blogs and the books, create rhythms and plans that were totally artificial for my family. my boys *hated* it. i frequently berated myself and my oldest over “screen time” not even noticing the joy he got from gaming and how well he balanced it with outdoor time/art projects/potion-making/reading when given the space to do so. i was so effing miserable and trying to control every aspect of our lives. it was exhausting…. so i let go. i discovered unschooling and never looked back! yeah, our days are not blissfully rhythmic. some days are chaotic. but we’re happy, and we’re true to ourselves. we follow our passions and interests. we don’t fear tv, video games, or painting with the color black. the dogma is gone and replaced by authenticity. the days are not all rainbows and butterflies but they are real and they are ours.

  3. Me reading (in no particular order, ha!):
    *nods*
    *nods*
    *shakes head slowly*
    *nods*
    *blank look*
    *nods head furiously*
    *half nod half shake head*
    *nods*
    *kinda nods*

    you get the idea. I hear you. I hear you in me (my head, that is).
    But then I think well hang on… it does’t fix anything just because there’s more than one person out there who ‘gets it’… right? And no it doesn’t but that’s better than no one else getting it as well as me not being able to fix it.
    Cheers.

  4. Some days, be thankful for your lack of routine. For the past couple of years, I’ve been feeling as if my life is far, far too structured. Most of my days are dominated by Work, and the schedule that necessitates. My weeks are rotated in threes, because of my husband’s work schedule (two on/one off) and it’s driving me CRAZY to feel like I can’t ever be spontaneous! There’s no room in my life, at this point, to say, “Fuck it. Let’s just go camping.” I feel like everything’s so freaking structured, and it makes me feel like a stodgy old adult.
    Embrace the chaos. Order is not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it’s nice to have SOME order, but the chaos is wonderful too.

  5. I can really identify with this. I haven’t focused on my daily routine as the magic bullet, but I continually keep looking around for it. If I just don’t do paying work, I will feel less stretched (not really); if I start homeschooling my oldest, our days will have opportunity to slow down (a bit, sure, but it is not the peaceful vision I had in my mind); if I find just the right piece of furniture that we can keep stuff out of the toddler/baby’s reach and not on the dining room table, our house will feel less chaotic (still haven’t found it so I don’t know yet); etc etc etc.

    Recently two people on separate occasions have said things that really have me thinking. One, that life is a stretch. Every time I have a bit of room, whether physical, temporal, emotional, or intellectual, I want to cram something in because there is just so much interesting stuff in the world and I want to try it all.

    Two, that when you are literally balancing on one foot, your foot is not still. It’s in constant movement. So balance is really constant movement. I’m still really trying to wrap my head around it, but maybe one day I’ll give myself permission to do it badly and just live with my imperfect attempt.

    1. I’m also, always! cramming more into any leftover space. It’s almost a disease.
      I like that bit about balance. That’s good. So true.

  6. Can I just say – you are amazing! How you put into words what is in my head, I find really bizarre. I find the chaos/calm feeling of the house to be cyclical and have not really been able to put my finger on what makes it swing one way or the other. One possible factor is when I’m feeling like I have enough time for ‘myself’, I know I am less ‘yelling mum’ and happier to do all the other stuff. And by time, I mean maybe 1/2 hour during the day where I’m happy to ignore the kids, couldn’t care less if they’re watching tv, as long as they’re not killing each other, and I can just do my own thing for a bit. Also dinner menu planning – a new thing to me, and my only real ‘routine/planning’ in day. I never thought I could possibly love this so much, but I find it takes one unknown out of the day, something I just don’t have to think about. (Glad you’re back here, I really enjoy your writing. I’m not a blogger myself, I don’t know where I’d fit it into my day and I’m not a writer, but I’m happy there’s people like you, such thoughtful/interesting things to say, that really hit the nail on the head).

  7. I too have always felt the pull of ‘routine’ and in the middle of the overwhelming, anxiety-ridden, feeling like shit lows, I believe it would fix everything just to have some semblance of order. What actually fixes (most) everything, is letting go. Yea, that submission thing again. Realising that a reliable, dependable ‘routine’ isn’t ever going to happen, and I probably wouldn’t want it to anyways. What does work (mostly) is trying to focus on the task at hand, and going back to getting the basics done. And not trying to fit in reading a book about how to make it fucking better! Esp. one that says you should feel guilty letting them watch some TV or DVD’s.

  8. Hello Lovely,

    Oh you do manage to hit sooo many nails on the head you eloquent women you. As one of those Waldorf / Steiner mamas you speak of, I can speak with utter authority that my life mirrors your experience to a T. As a passionate embracer of Steiner philosphy I feel I can, with authenticity, reflect that there are puritans in any religion / belief and these folk have their blinkers so firmly attached to their noggins that they can’t SEE the chaos swirling around their feet, really they can’t, they are so caught up in THEIR truth, they have no space for the reality of life. Of course life is a roller coaster of peace, order and rainbow coloured fleecey goodness interspersed with complete crap. And the crap smells bad. But the joy, the bit that I do little skips of middle aged women joy for, is when I get that, even when crap reigns supreme, that life is as it should be, that this has it’s rightful and important place in our lives. Oh how smug I feel at that moment. SMUG.
    .

    So puritans be damed to your shallow experience of life. Give me life … full, rich, crappy, joyful life anyday.

    NowI must go and fold that 5 loads of laundry… x Katja

    PS Judging by the other Mamas leaving comments, I’d say this post is going to become another classic!

    1. “everyone becomes someone who, by default, will attempt to A) think their way out B) work their way out or C) plan their way out. You, me, and clearly your readership are all Cs. We just think if we can get the PLAN right then everything else will fall into place.”
      Spot on, because if I plan correctly, then doing B makes sense. How can I work at it if there’s no plan?! :) The problem I think is about wanting/needing/compulsion to do it ALL and do it all ‘perfectly’ (or really well at least) to satisfy our own standards. But I think in the end if we ask the impossible of ourselves, it just aint gonna work.

      PS Steiner Mum here too. But definately not at either end of the scale of ‘Steinerishness’ but rather somewhere in the middle and not there for the philosophical base.

  9. Hey look, you’re back and better than ever. At least in your writing. Sorry about the fuck and the hill and the groceries and the fuck again. I had one of those a little bit ago but it was the zoo. The kids are probably ruined for life now for petting zoos and will have mean mama flashbacks any time they see a goat. So, um, yeah. Ditto, I guess. Beautifully expressed.

    I have a theory that there are three ways to deal with TOO MUCH (stress, work, mess, chaos, mushrooms growing in the carpet, whatever). Because of nature or nurture or whatever inner-child shit we have, everyone becomes someone who, by default, will attempt to A) think their way out B) work their way out or C) plan their way out. You, me, and clearly your readership are all Cs. We just think if we can get the PLAN right then everything else will fall into place. Other people (my husband) will happily PONDER their Too Much situation…um…forever. Yet others, like my BIL, will put his shoulders up, turn his head into the wind and just Work and Work and Work at whatever it is that needs addressing.

    I think in truth to move beyond /solve whatever it is Too Much everyone needs to do a little of all three. But when we are stressed we default to our one way and it’s hard to move out of the default. It’s like a bad joke. “Three personality types walk into Waldorf Circle Time…”

  10. Thank the gods you are back writing, proper. Shit I have missed your ramblings, mama! I am totally incapable of following through for very long when we put structures in place and it infuriates me that I’m so weak and give in so easily, my resolve lying in a puddle at my feet. I am permanently fighting with myself, feeling attracted to opposing philosophies. I am stuck going round and round in circles trying to truly surrender to unschooling philosophy – it sounds so shiny and joyful and wholesome and healthy and emotionally fool-proof, parents giving autonomy to the kids, while they sweetly learn to self regulate and not watch tv for 6 hours straight, or eat nothing but junk for days on end. It’s a lie. It’s a beautiful lie that in every last case of letting children choose they will all learn self-control, everyone will magically become really democratic and nice to each other and we all go round in one big goofy happy heart-soaked satisfied gang. actually it’s really hard work, and every family dynamic is unique. Unschooling blogs give helpful snippets of lofty ideals to aim for, and they are a double edged sword – making you feel great when it works out for you, and a total shitty failure when it isn’t going that way. Unschooling is like every other educational /lifestyle approach – its not the single best in and of its own right because there is no such thing as the best. When people can let go of their way being the best it opens up possibilities for more than one truth, more than one best, let go of being right. When we surrender and don’t try and be right, let go from trying to pin our shadow down and just be free and ourselves, we can embrace the moment, here and now. that’s all we ever need to do. ‘Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose’ ……. JJ ain’t that the truth?

  11. Without structure, I get depressed. Without flexibility, I suffocate. I have found that a delicate dance between both routine and spontaneity is the key. And that means a constant, never-ending need to tweak one side or the other (and a fuck of a lot of depression and suffocating while I get it wrong…and then peace when it sits right for a few moments, hours, days).

    Thank you so very much for this excellent perfect post.

  12. Right…I am just going to spurt it out.

    I fucking love you.

    I really fucking do.

    I am a failed montessori mum, and to be honest I tried my biggest to be one. To do toddler led walking and fucking patiently patiently losing my noodle over the awesomeness of my kid copying the exact same things as the other kids. To accept that ”he just might not be a montessori child” because he was Bored Outta His Brain and didn’t want to go to school any more. At four. Wasn’t that supposed to be the new shit? The stuff kids couldn’t get enough of and were growing in to self-determining little beings?

    And then I realised that if he went to mainstream school, I was the one with the biggest problem. He WOULD NOT fall behind, become a drug addict or be bullied because of this one decision. He was five by then.

    I have now come to a point where I accept the shit I can do on a day to day basis. If I cannot really remember the last time I cleaned the floor, then I promise to get to it tomorrow or the next day. If my daughter (who is now 2.5yrs) watches the entire Ice Age trilogy today because I am trying to Get Shit Done, we’ll do something different tomorrow. Meanwhile I had to make this mama-gig something I was interested in as well.

    I’ve just really started to promise myself that I won’t beat myself up over Not Being The Same as Others any more. There are dozens of women who like to clean, cook like Masterchef wannabe’s and spend $50 on a pair of shoes for their kid, and that’s great. But when they’re standing there at school, and I feel like they’re rubbing my nose in it, I just laugh it off now. Cos it’s never gunna happen. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t care about a lot of the mainstream crap that they do.

    And if we can agree to disagree on that, and they give me 20mins to clean the floor if they’re coming over, then I’m fucking fine with that!

    Kylie.

  13. Wow. Somehow I missed this post and then I wrote the Soule-Crushing Mama one 2 or 3 weeks later, which means we were pretty much on the same channel of life at virtually the same time. What a trip. However, I must say, you did it much more eloquently than I did, and I think you nailed what I was trying to say. “My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects.” I’m serious. I had not read this before I wrote it, which makes me now, officially, trippin’, and absolutely sure we must meet one of these days.

    This shit ain’t normal.

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