exceptions or excuses?
My parents and brother are visiting us at the moment. They’re still recovering from jet lag, poor things, but they’re here for more than a week and we’re bound to be out and about, exploring and experiencing the stuff of Paris. It’s Ian’s choice, really. He only gets a week here, whereas Mum and Dad will be back again and again over the next six months.
I haven’t touched my novel for a couple of days. My excuse: my visitors. We’ve been catching up, in between and during looking after the babies and, as ever, doing laundry… it never ends.
It’s an excuse, and perhaps a poor one, but it’s also an exception. The rule is writing every day. But inevitably, on occasion, I break the rule. Sometimes I have a really good reason… like having a baby. Sometimes the reasons aren’t so solid, like in the past few days. But I am happy to say that these are exceptions.
With the babies we try to follow a kind of routine, or more accurately, a sequence of events. It’s a well-known method and, as with all parenting strategies, a bit controversial. I make no claims that it’s the great solve-all easy-parenting secret. In fact, it’s not easy. But we try to stick to the whole feed-wake-sleep cycle put forward in ‘Baby Wise’. It worked a treat with Louis. He’s a good little sleeping machine, most of the time. We’re trying it with Elena and I don’t remember it being this difficult, but my memory is pretty rubbish.
Exceptions get made. It’d be easy to feel like we’re failing, like we’re messing up the whole thing and teaching Elena bad habits… but the fact is, in order for there to be an exception there has to be a set habit in the first place.
Most of the time Elena wakes from a nap, hungry, and then gets a big, full feed. After her feed she’s awake, though often this kind of gets lost in the newborn sleepiness which is only just starting to pass. And then she goes to bed, awake but dozy (not always awake but if she’s had an awake time then yeah…) and then she sleeps. Of course, sometimes, there is a little crying. Often it feels like a lot, but then you look at the clock and, what do you know? Less than two minutes has passed. Naturally, while I’m writing this, she woke from her nap and went beserk. This often happens after only 45 minutes and, in theory, she should sleep for twice that. I went in to calm her down. She’s supposed to be learning, through all this, to calm herself, to go to sleep by herself, to connect her sleep cycles… anyway, I don’t mean to preach the parenting tactics, though I have found them effective.
No, I’m preaching the balance between discipline and dogma. It’s important to practice discipline in whatever is important to you, whatever you believe in. All good parents do this, even if they believe in a very different parenting philosophy. What’s important is that they are disciplined in following that which they believe, in aid of that which is most valuable to them (their kids). I don’t limit this to parenting, by any means. In pursuing creative arts (something very important to me) I must be disciplined also.
If I take it too far and become dogmatic, then when an exception is made, no matter how good the excuse, I feel guilty. That starts me on a destructive path. Eventually, I think, I would resent the things I value. Guilt is not motivating; it is paralyzing. I must be free to make exceptions, when there is good reason. But they can only really be exceptions when there is a set routine to begin with. A day off, an afternoon, even on a regular basis, are not the end of the good habit. They might be disruptive and difficult, but they are temporary changes. Afterwards, we go back to the routine. If the time off was longer, the change more dramatic, then it might be more difficult to get back into the routine. That’s the price. C’est la vie. No big deal in the long term.
It’s important to keep perspective, to remember that one day is just one day, that these few weeks, even months, are only a small period in the great scheme of things. I have to remind myself at the moment that Elena’s first few months will probably be a difficult time but that it will pass and things will settle down.
Louis’ brilliant sleep habits were not the work of a couple of disciplined weeks. We stuck to our guns for many months – nearly two years now. A great novel, even a kind of average to good one, is not the work of a single really committed month. If I want to be a good writer I’m going to have to stick at it for much longer than that. And, due to the nature of my life (and most people have more than one thing going on) I’m going to have to allow for exceptions to the routine. I’m going to have to allow them, and then get right back to the good habits.
Tomorrow, I hope, I will get back to the novel. Finishing this blog post within one day was mission enough for today.