Balancing Act: With A Change In Attitude, Morning Mayhem Can Be An Exercise In Gratitude

By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune.

Can we talk about mornings for a few minutes?

Nothing reveals my poor time management, my refusal to adopt a routine, my inability to plan ahead and my misguided belief that I am capable of fitting in One More Thing Before We Go like mornings.

I used to feel bad about it. I used to get sucked into magazine articles that promised to restore sanity to my mornings. Real Simple runs them practically monthly, and they make so much sense that I actually started resenting them.

Pack lunches the night before? You think I haven't thought of packing lunches the night before? You think I don't regret, five out of five mornings when I ask my daughter for the third time in 10 minutes what she wants for lunch and she reveals that she no longer likes cucumbers, hasn't liked them in, like, days, that I didn't pack her lunch the night before when she wasn't looking?

You think I don't take this opportunity to question my entire approach to parenting? That I don't wonder why I am giving my daughter a say in what goes in her lunch in the first place? That I don't wonder whether my daughter should, in fact, be packing her own lunch? The night before?

To heck with you, Real Simple! To heck with sanity! Where did I leave my coffee!

That kind of thing. It wasn't working so well.

I decided to adopt a different approach, which is to embrace the insanity.

What if I stopped viewing the chaos as a sign of all my deficiencies and started viewing it as proof that my life is full of so many riches that they have no choice but to crash into one another and tumble all over the place like, oh, say, Cheerios?

Speaking of riches ...

I was volunteering recently at my daughter's book fair, one of my favorite activities at her school. Every winter, the miniature auditorium is crammed wall-to-wall with books, and students mingle in and out each hour with their classes, browsing and laughing and chatting about their favorite authors and characters. (At least, that's what I imagine they're laughing and chatting about. Please don't correct me if you know otherwise.)

On this particular day, a teacher informed the volunteers that an assembly of about 100 fourth-graders would be taking place shortly in the auditorium, alongside the books and boxes and cash registers. The kids and their teachers would gather to listen to four members of Sphinx Virtuosi, a professional chamber orchestra made up of some of the best African-American and Latino classical soloists in the nation.

The musicians' appearance was confirmed at the last minute and the school gymnasium was already full, so we would squeeze in and enjoy it together in the slightly less-full auditorium.

It was simply beautiful.

Row upon row of 9- and 10-year-old boys and girls swayed and clapped along to the music. Dozens of them thrust their little arms in the air during the Q&A, eager to ask the performers how often they practice, when they first met, if they have a favorite venue. All the while, of course, we were surrounded by books.

I said a silent prayer of thanks for administrators who don't say, "No, thanks. We don't have room," when such opportunities present themselves.

And this is my new metaphor for mornings.

I have an embarrassment of riches piling on top of one another _ healthy children, more than enough food to feed them, free schools at which to deposit them, a fulfilling job at which to deposit myself. And a kitchen that, admittedly, looks like a roving band of marauders passed through it most mornings. But it's warm and it's mine, and how great is that?

Something in me resists a more organized, routinized approach to life. A quiet house feels peaceful for a minute, and then it feels lonely. I truly admire families who operate like tightly run ships, and yet their methods feel all wrong when I try them on. I kind of love chaos.

I used to view mornings as my moments of reckoning, when all of my shortcomings rise to the surface and sabotage my sanity. No more.

Mornings, I've decided, are a daily reminder that life is crowded and messy and good. And I wouldn't have it any other way. (Someone remind me Monday, when it's time to pack the lunches, that I said this.)

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