The routine of January is a blessed thing indeed

Back on schedule.
Back on schedule.
Image: AP photo/Mel Evans
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Last night I was in bed before 9pm. I brought with me a cup of mint tea, a novel, and a book of essays. Not long after, I was asleep. The bustle of the holidays may be joyous, but the quiet return to routine come January is sheer heaven.

The last two weeks of the year have been a happy jumble of visiting and visitors, of presents, dinners, long car rides, and maturity-defying patience with my family. It’s been lovely in many ways, but when I got my almost-four-year-old ready for preschool this morning it was a relief to know that we’re back in our routine. School during the week. Pizza and a movie on Friday nights. Lunch with Nana on Sundays.

Part of looking forward to holidays is the break they provide from the normal, humdrum of life. There’s a breaking point, though, where the strain of the season outweighs the pleasures of novelty. For me, that moment came on the Friday night after Christmas, on a day when I had spent close to seven hours in the car with my two children, visiting their great-grandmother. My four-year-old threw up on the way to her house, so I gave him Dramamine for the ride home. He slept the entire way, and then was wide awake for hours past his bedtime.

By New Year’s Day, we had all had it with the lack of schedule. ”What day is today?” My son wanted to know earlier this week. “Tuesday,” I told him. “No, what are we doing today?” he asked, with the exasperation only a misunderstood toddler can muster.

All but the most wild and out-there parenting philosophies make routine a core principle. The Centers for Disease Control offers the very sensible advice for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, “When your daily routines are predictable, your child knows what to expect for the day.” Ask any child rearing expert how to address some thorny issue and their first suggestion is going to be to examine your household routine for possible tweaks to better accommodate napping, healthy eating habits, or whine-free homework completion.

You only have to get through a couple of holiday seasons as a parent to see how valuable this advice is, and how much routine can be a balm—for all of us.

Sure, January is cold, and dark. You have to start thinking about doing your taxes, everyone on social media is bragging about how great it feels to drink only green juice, and there’s a vague pressure to come up with some kind of grand project of self-improvement. It’s also a fantastic month to embrace quiet nights and early bedtimes, to snuggle comfortably into the waiting arms of your old friend, routine.