Polly Greeks’ Blog: Embracing routine


Polly had long feared of a life built around routine. But just as seasons change and mountains rise, she realises that routines are a natural phase in life. 

Sometimes not a lot seems to happen. In the thick heat of summer, our valley resembles an armpit; close, sweaty and perpetually sprouting. Tucked away in this enclosed world, I cycle through daily routines; hurrying to water the gardens before the sun splats the land like a gold-loaded paintbrush.

I peg another load of laundry out to dry, sweep floors of the detritus carried constantly in, mix sour-dough to rise, and feed the squawking children whose frequent hungers come on like clockwork.

I used to be astonished to find myself in the smallness of this domestic world. At home with a baby; then a toddler and a baby, I raged against the repetition of little jobs that were never completed – only temporarily managed.

Female friends caught in similar routines shared my incredulity. It was the 21st century; we’d all travelled widely, pursued higher learning and stimulating jobs and considered ourselves independent and free compared to the generations of women who came before, yet here we all were, suddenly mired in laundry, mess, meals and the mind-numbing dialogue that accompanies tiny vocabularies.

I hadn’t expected the division of labour. James cooks and cleans with the best of them when he’s around, but it didn’t make sense for him to man the domestic sphere when I was the lactating mammal. Sometimes, with a baby strapped to my back and a three-year-old hanging off a leg, I waded through chores while wiping away angry tears. I felt shrunken; somehow squandered.

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How had this happened? We were off-grid, in remote forest but suddenly where was the adventure?

“Don’t end up like this,” I’d fiercely advise my mystified toddler-daughter. “Make sure you live a big life.” If she’d questioned me, we’d have ascertained I had no real idea what I meant; it was just that folding endless laundry was so insignificantly small and unrewarding.

When James came home from building, or returned indoors from working on our land, I would compare his day’s achievements with my own. His successes seemed measurable. A wall had been raised, or a tree felled and firewood chopped. He’d made progress. I moved in circles, tidying, cleaning while little people followed in my wake, undoing my efforts.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my children and rated their arrivals amongst the best things to have happened in my life. Kids are naturally joyful. They see everything for the first time and share their delighted wonder. They love to laugh and have fun. I’d just failed to realise there was so much accompanying domestic drudgery and routine.

Really, I needed to grow up. My abhorrence of routine was old. It had seen me quit numerous good jobs, and bolt from any date who confessed to suburban aspirations. I thought routine equalled monotony equalled a slow death stuck in the known; that staid, safe place where you rode time like a conveyor belt through a predictable theatre.

I’d been running away for a long time. Sometimes I still fantasised about doing it.

When a friend suggested I make housework my spiritual practise, her words faintly glowed like the eastern horizon in the blueness of dawn. Hope rises like light. It hadn’t occurred to me to turn the tedium into something good. The wearisome cooking and cleaning could be acts of giving and service. I could do with some lessons in unselfishness. Isn’t freedom a state of mind? This was an opportunity to work on my attitude.

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Something happens when we stop resisting the things that we hate. They don’t necessarily disappear but the battle does. Anger, resentment and struggle require a hardness of muscle and mind. Softening allows for an opening of eyes and heart.

I’ll never love housework. It’s repetitive, dull and myopically-focused. The million daddy-long-leg spiders we cohabit with exist because there are better things to do than focus on rafters and cobwebs. As the kids have emerged from their early years, I’ve re-appeared from the swampy morass of their needs. The routines have loosened and I’ve accepted the bottomless laundry basket is part of this phase of life.

Sometimes in the valley not a lot happens but that’s okay. I peg out the washing to birdsong and savour the children’s smallness as I hang up little t-shirts and shorts. I marvel at the amount of dog hair swept from the floor – enough to sculpt a small puppy! I watch for the magical moment when flour, water and sourdough culture suddenly combine as I’m mixing the bread ingredients.

Life is built upon routines. Seasons, cycles, mountains rising and falling are all timetables of a sort. Routines provide structure but they don’t have to be a cage. And nothing is really known if you’re wide awake. The present moment is constantly rearranging and new, even in the sleepy heat of a still, summer day.

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