Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don’t Ruin My Ridiculously Rigid Routine, or You’ll Get a Texas Sized Tantrum!

I often wondered if obsessive compulsive disorder is hereditary. A few weeks ago I got solid confirmation that it is. My mother taught me that being on time is a direct reflection of your character. She instilled it in me so much so that I am at least 15 minutes early for everything. I am so early, in fact, that when I think I am running late, I am still early. I have probably wasted a good 10% to 20% of my life on being absurdly early. Though it drives my husband crazy, it is actually a comfort to my 5 year old who craves a strict routine. She has been on such an inflexible timetable from the moment that she was born I can set my clock by when she eats, sleeps, wakes and even poops. Every second of her day is so normal and routine that I have inadvertently caused her to stress out when there are tiny breaks in her daily schedule. Yes, I admit that my timely obsession has carried over to my poor offspring.

Before recent events, everything was normal and regular, predictable. That is just how I like it. However, my kindergartner came home from school with a very important note several weeks ago. Her class was finishing up a section on Texas state history. As a reward for their scholarly feat, they would soon celebrate with a kindergarten rodeo, complete with a stick horse race. We spent several hours one Sunday fashioning a stick horse out of an old paint extender, scrap fabric and a feather boa. We splurged a little on a straw hat, handkerchief and some pink boots. We were ready days in advance for this once-in-a-lifetime event. In classic, hereditary fashion, my child began to remind me (4 days ahead of time) that she could not wear her usual pony tail or Princess Leia buns because her hat would not fit right with her hair that way. She obsessed over this every day, explaining that she needed braids that were flat on her head, “like they are not even there, Momma” she would say.

 “You mean French braids” I would reply.

The stick horse was to be taken to school the day before the rodeo. So I preemptively ironed her outfit, dressed her and took pictures of her with her horse during her usual 30 minute break between homework and supper. She was so happy. We even had time for her to make a couple of practice runs up and down the hall to make sure she could race fast in her new boots. It was all time well spent.

When the day finally arrived, I had already pre-set my alarm clock (which is always set 15 minutes ahead of time anyway) for 20 minutes earlier than my usual 5:27AM awakening. This would account for the extra time it would take to French braid her hair and take additional photos. (Side note: Princess Leia buns only take 7.5 minutes, and pony tails take approximately 5 minutes. French braids are much more time consuming. We reserve this type of hair day only for special occasions.) My child, though groggy, awoke early and sat on the stool in my bathroom to get her cowgirl hairdo done. From the moment I made the first brush through her hair, the criticism and crying began. She wailed, “That is not how I told you to do it, Momma! I didn’t want my hair that way! It is UGLY!”

I argued, “This is what you asked to have done. No one will see it under your hat anyway.”

After considering my point, she began to cry even harder, “…But I can’t wear my hat in PE! I am supposed to wear tennis shoes too! I should not be wearing these clothes! I should take them to change for the rodeo! I can’t wear this!” I reassured her several times that the note said to wear your western clothes to school. I even read it aloud to her. She was inconsolable. Then I realized that the thought of this change in her daily routine (even though it was supposed to be fun) had overwhelmed her to the point of a mega meltdown.

After a quick glance at the clock, I became concerned about my own morning routine and noted that I needed to get a move on. I drug my little girl through the rest of her morning by her arm. She choked down cereal through her tears. I forced her against the wall to take a quick photo. Then I sped off to work, leaving the pouty cowgirl to her daddy. He would take her to school because I needed to get to work. Though I was 5 minutes later than every other day, I was actually still 20 minutes early. Even so, I still had irrational angst because of the slight difference. Then I had an epiphany. If I had allowed myself to take my time and appropriately deal with my child instead of rushing through as if the house was on fire, perhaps she would not have had such a horrible morning. I hoped that I had not ruined her entire day. It was supposed to be special. I should have taken some time away from work and volunteered to help with the rodeo that day too. Why did I feel like I was in such a hurry?

I am now going to challenge myself to do something I have never done in my life. I am going to go against the grain and stop making time such a priority. I confess, children need a stable routine, but there is a fine line between stable and obnoxiously punctual. The time that I will miss out with my child is much more precious to me than the unnoticed overtime I spend fixated on work projects that can wait 20 more minutes. I am officially ashamed of myself. I hope it is not too late to change (no pun intended).

On a lighter note, my daughter claims she won her stick horse race. She had a great time and was elated when I arrived early to pick her up. We also got some hilarious photos. The first one is of her the day before the meltdown. The second speaks for itself. My mother, who started this freakish genetic disorder, is using the pouty pic as her screen saver. I can’t help but think she is laughing inside when she looks at it, thinking I am paying for my raising.

Dustee Morris is a 35-year-old who manages a full time career, being Mom to five-year-old Rian and wife of almost 12 years to husband Brian. In her spare time, she is usually waiting for everyone else to arrive because she is obsessively early for everything.

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