I didn’t even know I had it until someone at my LifeWays training mentioned they had caught it when their children were born. C.H.A.O.S., or “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome” is brought on immediately following the birth of your children. You will find your once semi-orderly home slowly becoming untidy, dusty, and in need of some serious TLC. This all goes unnoticed or, let’s be honest, ignored until someone decides to visit. Then there is no time to spare and you create a fury while you sweep through the house grabbing one baby sock here, dirty dishes there, an old banana peel under the dresser… don’t forget to wipe down the toilet and the bathroom sink because they may just ask to use it…and finally throw everything extra into one bedroom and shut the door. Phew. And that’s if it’s planned. If a neighbor happens to knock and want to share some news over tea—well, then you just say you are happy to make some—as long as you drink it out on the porch…
I’ve found the path to relief from this condition is a really simple formula: choose one cleaning or household task to concentrate on each day. This becomes much more manageable than feeling overwhelmed by a constantly dirty home and trying to do it all in one go. So, for example, I know I need to vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom, wash the floors, and take care of laundry. I then assign a particular day to each task. Easier right?
During the LifeWays training, everything we were expected to complete was more than enjoyable, from reading the books and learning songs to making lap puppets and heavy babydolls. Everything, that is, except one thing: the Living Arts Chart [a daily and weekly schedule you develop you all your activities]. I dreaded this. I avoided this. I stalled until I could no longer stall. This chart is meant to help you find your balance and your rhythm. Its goal is to ease any overwhelming feelings you have about your day and to create a manageable resource to help you gain clarity. In theory I found the idea wonderful, but I think that whoever thought up the wonderful idea—seriously underestimated my fear of commitment. I couldn’t complete the Living Arts Chart because I could not commit to what I was assigning under each day, let alone the time in which it should be done.
Eventually, I gathered up my courage and drew the lines of my chart on a large piece of paper and added the days of the week across the top and my waking hours in the column on the left. The following week I made myself add a bit more. It was all filled in by the time I made it to class the next month, but boy was that hard to do. Since then, I have made two others. They are both far simpler, as that helps my daughter and me in the best way possible. The days of the week are still at the top, but there are only three rows underneath. I assigned to each day a household task, a dinner idea, and a fun activity such as sewing or painting. Days free from work are labeled “Family Day” and do not have any activities listed; there are “open” days for dinners too.
Just as baking is a mommy-daughter fun activity, so are the household duties. My daughter comes downstairs and hangs up the wet clothes with me. Sometimes she chooses not to and that’s alright too, but I attempt to incorporate her in those tasks even if it means it takes a little longer or isn’t exactly as dust-free as I would have liked. Allowing her to be present during tasks and giving her responsibility over sock-matching, for example, empowers her and makes her feel proud.
Every little bit helps when creating rhythm with our children, and it begins with restoring balance in our own lives. We can’t always stick to our Chart; sometimes dusting is sacrificed for more outside time, but it is there as our foundation. I have realized having a new baby also means that we have to regroup every week (or sometimes daily) due to sleep schedules, and sometimes both the fun activity and the household task are scrapped just so we get outside. This past weekend several guests came to our home and as I hurried around tidying and dusting, it made me realize just how far off the wagon we had fallen. But I rolled up my sleeves and swatted the dust from my pants and got the house back to order. I forgave my lapse and used the “new look” as a starting point to resume our use of The Chart.
As much as I dreaded making it, I am so happy I did. The Chart benefits us and gives me some grounding, and I find it is wonderful for my daughter to wake up and know the order of our day and be excited for it. My hope, knowing children live in our gesture, is to provide the guidance so that one day my daughters are able to create a sense of balance for their families. As far as my fear of commitment—maybe that’s why they call it rhythm, not routine.
Jennifer Sullivan is a LifeWays certified, Waldorf teacher-in-training, momma of two beautiful girls.