“You have to be like a swan,” somebody told me recently while discussing an event I was organising. “Serene on top but paddling away underneath like billy-oh.”
I tried for a swan-like smile, but the part of me that was under the metaphorical water was screaming, WHAT THE ACTUAL EFF DO YOU THINK I AM DOING HERE, BUDDY? OF COURSE I’M TRYING TO DO A TON OF STUFF AND MAKE IT LOOK EASY. WE ALL KNOW THAT IF A MASSIVE EFFORT LOOKS LIKE A MASSIVE EFFORT, YOU HAVE ESSENTIALLY FAILED AS A FEMALE. AND WHILE WE ARE AT IT, WHO SAYS BILLY-OH?
I have some rage issues. In my defence, I’ve had quite a lot more to do than usual in the past fortnight: the start of a big new work project, a wedding in the family, four lots of visitors, a significant birthday in the family, that awkward baby-weaning phase when they are still doing all the breastfeeds and also sitting in the highchair three times a day, covering themselves and the floor with mush plus a full-scale, kicking and screaming toddler rebellion.
“I don’t know how she does it!” people say, although my nearest and dearest have a pretty good idea. It works like this:
1) Ridiculously uptight scheduling
2) Ridiculously uptight to-do lists
3) Living by the mantra, “Sleep is for wimps”
So when Get the Gloss made “fresh starts” the theme of this week, I knew how I could help. I could bring schedules into your lives. I could tell you to schedule your days from 7am-7pm, and your weeks with notes in books and on the fridge, and your years with online calendars.
Why are schedules so unfashionable? When I told people I was using the Gina Ford routines with my first baby - in which you feed your baby and put it down for sleeps in its cot at the same set times every day - they behaved as if I was giving her the strap. Their eyes would widen. They’d exclaim about wasn’t it amazing HOW DIFFERENT we all were, because they just couldn’t imagine not having the baby in the bed with them. They’re probably right that having kids teaches you about who you really are - an anxious hoverer, an easygoing hippy a competitive hot-houser - and for my part, I’m an uptight schedule freak. I can’t stand chaos and I need to impose systems on it. Naturally, within a week of having my first child I couldn’t cope with the chaos and found a book that told me everything from what time to wake up in the morning to when to have dinner.
Of course, at times when I was trying to make the baby’s routine fit, it felt insane. Waking up a sleeping baby because it wasn’t nap time? Distracting her when she got hungry so as to stretch her feeds a little bit further apart? Sitting on the floor next to the crib during the lunchtime nap, making shushing sounds and trying to stay out of her line of sight? Check, check, check *crosses off to-do list with satisfied flourish*. With my second baby, I had no such qualms about waking her at 7am for a feed on her first day of life, because I knew it was going to work. If you are committed enough to scheduling, you’ll always get it to work; I actually met a lady other day who had 12-week-old TWINS who were sleeping through 7pm-7am after she’d put them on a routine. (I wish I’d thought to get her details, I’d propose her for a CBE.)
Babies like schedules because they know what is going to happen, and they never get overtired, or full of wind from having too many feeds. Uptight parents like schedules because they tell us what to do. And because they give us little predictable windows of time when we can do things - when we HAVE to do things, because there’s no option to leave it until later. Lists and schedules also stop you from forgetting things, which you will if you are getting five to six hours’ sleep a night on average. They help you to prioritise - looking at a list of 12 tasks, I can immediately see which needs to be done first (hanging out the washing) and what can wait a little longer (going to the Post Office) and if necessary set mobile phone reminders for the ones I can’t do right now. I even keep a Guilt List, for jobs that I’m not getting around to, and try to cross one of them off per week.
There is a downside, though, and that is that neither of you is very flexible. So when I got my heavily scheduled baby to the heavily scheduled event I’d planned, she wouldn’t settle to sleep for an hour - probably because I was doing things slightly differently from usual. Another mother would simply have brought the baby down to the party, but instead I stayed upstairs missing all the fun, breastfeeding and weeping tears of frustration at how badly organised I was. By the time I made it, everyone knew I’d been having a mare and my swan impression was ruined.
Would I really advocate that you schedule the joy and fun out of every situation? Probably not. It’s a kind of madness that you either have, or don’t. There are pluses (getting a lot done) and minuses (feeling like a failure if you don’t get everything done). Maybe I need to make my own fresh start this week and try to ease up a little bit. You know, I definitely will. Just as soon as I’ve crossed everything off this list…
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