A routine might be called a sequence of steps, a procedure to follow, or a fixed program. Maybe you prefer habit, procedure, practice, turn, pattern, or act. You know what I call it? I call it life! We go to the same places, do the same things, see the same things over and over. We become creatures of habit. But for P, it is a matter of making sense of the environment he is in.
It all started when we had our first appointment at the children’s hospital almost 8 years ago now. We were looking for answers to our ADHD questions. We had a few meetings lined up for the day, but sandwiched right there in the middle of it was lunchtime. Usually not a big deal, but for P it was a big deal. We didn’t have enough time to go to our usual standby of McDonald’s where we knew the menu and P understood how things worked there. We took the chance to walk to the hospital cafe to grab a bite to eat and relax for a bit. It wasn’t too busy, so P was excited to check out the food stations. We were able to find something to eat, grab a table, and finish lunch without much fuss. I didn’t think much of it as we headed back to our next appointment. As we left that day, the whole lunch process still didn’t register in my mind as a big deal as we were overwhelmed with the ADHD information given to us by the providers.
The next time we headed to the children’s hospital I was reminded of the previous lunch very very loudly. To P, a routine had been set. One little minor detail was he forgot to tell me. We went through our appointment as we were getting ready to leave I said to P, “All done. Time to go.” Here is the scene: we are in the lobby of the children’s hospital where on the floor is a ginormous blue and gold world map. (The map has become a favorite of P over the years). That day, in particular, P is skipping around the map as I’m telling him “All done. Time to go.” After the third time of hearing me say time to go, P immediately drops down on Madagascar. It was his favorite country thanks to a little movie about escaping zoo animals. He curls up in a ball. I’m feeling impatient as I wrestle with the little wriggly uncooperative boy. I said one last time “Time to go!” It must have been the impatience in my voice that tears streamed down P’s little face. He managed to choke out one word through the tears “Eeaaaaattt?” Then it all clicked. He was expecting us to walk to the hospital cafe one more time. A routine had been born.
P’s life is all about routine. Some we understand and some we don’t. We have been able to end some of his habits. P went wild for parking ramps for a while. We had to park in one when we took his brother D to an appointment. A love affair was born. I guess it was exciting the twisting and turning and climbing up the floors to find a parking spot. After that, anytime and I mean anytime we were near a parking ramp we had a boy pointing and whooping and hollering for a spin through the parking ramp. P was fortunate enough to go to preschool at the science center/performing arts center in our town. Each morning, he would like to look at the displays of upcoming shows, play with the hands-on science displays, and straighten up the magazine racks to make sure they were all in order. P loved the pizza tables from our weekly pizza delivery. When he kept 3 or 4, we thought that was cute as he would stack legos or other trinkets on them. But the collection seemed to multiply. During this time, we were giving P melatonin to help him fall asleep at night. When we opened the bottles, there was cotton on top. P loved the cotton, and he obsessively collected it all. It was an exciting collection of cotton and pizza tables that held P’s fascination.
What’s so wrong with these routines? Essentially nothing. Until the time comes when you can’t fulfill the routine or keep the 25th pizza table or you have no change with you to pay the sixty cents that it costs to drive through the parking ramp. There is always the time when a practice has to be modified or changed. P had a wonderful teacher at school who helped him realize that surprises in our day can happen. And it’s Ok because the surprises can be pleasant. She was gently trying to teach him that routines help us make sense of our days, but we have to be open to some surprises or compromises.
Our latest routine is swimming. There are steps we must do to make it a successful endeavor. First, we must play around the world at the basketball station, and then P will move on to the alligator. Next, on the list is trip across the lily pads, then we visit the warm water pool, and finally, P will sit under the giant bucket that dumps gallons and gallons of water every few minutes. Sometimes, I try to get P do things in a different order. Other times I let him move through the steps at his pace. He loves it and is having a great sensory experience.
This is life. At times I want to say Jesus take the wheel! Once we feel like we have a handle on one routine we are continually monitoring making sure it is not going overboard. We talk to make sure the routine is within our acceptable levels. Just as feel we can breathe a sigh of relief the routine changes or a new habit is brought to our attention. And then it starts all over again. A routine is introduced, we ask can it be managed, does it need to be modified, breathe a sigh of relief, and repeat.
All my best to you,