It starts at about 5:30am. My wife gets out of bed first, her iPhone flashlight leading her way down the hallway. I stretch and look out the window, a soft gray backdrop against the silhouettes of large oak and bay trunks. The sun won’t rise for another hour.
I lie awake for ten minutes, anticipating the day. I remind myself what work lies ahead, what the kids’ schedule will be (Is the tutor coming today? It’s not “wacky Wednesday” on Zoom Kindergarten again, is it?) and whether or not my call schedule will allow for a morning jog. After ten minutes of this, I’m up.
I take my synthetic thyroid hormone with a swig of water, a routine I’ve had now for three years, and follow my wife’s footsteps into the hallway, through the sitting room with our Clavinova, and into the galley kitchen that connects our living room to the rest of the house. It’s winter now, so our Malm fireplace is on. I walk over and kiss my wife, pat my dog, and then return to the kitchen to grind the Peet’s and make a fresh pot of coffee.
While the coffee maker hisses and gargles, I roll out the yoga mat and perform what has become a critical part of my day: a ten-minute body-weight core routine. I start with a straight-arm plank. The Peloton series with this workout topped out at 90 seconds. I hold it now for four minutes. I then do a sequence of moves from the “Crush Your Core” workout with Emma Lovewell and go back to a one to two-minute plank with some added moves (knee to elbow, rolling push ups, etc.) and finish, as Peloton has taught me to do, with about 30 seconds of bicycle crunches.
Sweat is still on my brow as I pour that cup of coffee at about 6:15am. With coffee in one hand and my MacBook in the other, I head to my Eames chair and turn on whatever segments of Morning Joe that the Roku app has queued for me. My wife and I watch together for 15 minutes, and then she’ll usually head to our office cottage in the backyard to begin her work day (her calls are primarily east coast hours) and I clear out my inbox as much as possible before our two daughters pitter patter into the room just before 7am and settle in for about an hour of cartoons.
Around 7:15am they will ask for breakfast. After I pour their cereal, I’ll walk down the driveway in my plaid pajamas and pick up the East Bay Times. I’ll eat breakfast while reading the paper until about 8am, when it’s time to get the kids dressed, teeth brushed, and in front of our respective screens by 8:30am: one daughter doing online Kindergarten, the other doing online cartoons, and me doing online work.
This is my morning, a clockwork set of routines we’ve adopted due to the pandemic. I don’t mind waking up early. I’m grateful for the ten-minute core. This daily morning structure sets me up for what has become an unpredictable period between 8:30am and 5pm. The children of our cul de sac, the neighbors we’ve come to rely more than ever in this pandemic, come out around 1pm. If the weather is good, our kids will play until dusk. If one of them is not feeling well, or if it’s raining, then the indoor activity saps my work focus. I try to make up for it after bed.
I can’t count on the late mornings and afternoons, but I have the early morning trained well, and it is good. I’ve come to accept and appreciate both the structured and unstructured parts of my day. Most of all, I’ve learned not to fight them.
Over a decade ago my wife and I did the Israel Outdoors Birthright trip. We spent nine days in Israel and had an incredible time. I enjoyed every moment of that adventure. Because of the timing, we were able to have two Shabbat celebrations with our Birthright group.
I knew of Shabbat but I never practiced it, certainly not religiously. However, in Israel, in that setting, with those people, I embraced it. I sang the songs and lit the candles and appreciated the emphasis on personal and community well-being. For a few weeks, maybe even a few months after we returned, my wife and I tried to keep the Friday sundown to Saturday sundown schedule of intentional reflection and rest. We even lit the candles, but it didn’t last long. A few months later, it was forgotten.
The pandemic brought Shabbat back to my routine. For months now, I’ve been enjoying a Saturday free of work. When we’re not under lockdown restriction, I find something to do with my girls. I take them to see my mom. We go on bike rides with neighbors, or if the neighborhood kids just want to play on the court, then I pull up a guitar or a New Yorker magazine and do that. My phone is gone, powered off. My laptop is too. Saturdays are my time to read, play music, be with my kids, and not care at all what the Internet is doing or what my Google Calendar is alerting. For one day each week, I’m free.
I’ve extended this Shabbat concept to my diet as well. This area has not been as rigorous, but the rules I’m trying to follow are:
Outside of Shabbat
- No red meat
- No special dessert-like treats
- No seconds; be slightly hungry as much as possible
- No full servings of alcohol (okay to split a beer with wife or have a small glass of red wine)
- Order the healthiest thing on the menu when dining out
- Eat as much of whatever I want
- Day drinking is acceptable behavior
- Expensive wine permitted
- Sleep in and skip the core workout
The more strict I am during the week, the more I feel entitled to be a glutton on Saturdays. I’ve noticed, though, that the allure of the 16oz rib-eye steak has faded on Friday nights. I’ll drink that 3pm Saturday beer but it’s not as satisfying as it once was. I see this as a good thing.
The healthier I feel during the week, the less I want to go crazy and spoil it. That doesn’t mean I don’t. I mean, having a second cocktail on Friday night, engrossed in a Netflix series (no computer, remember?) is quite a treat. I look forward to it every time. It makes the weeks go by fast.
And perhaps the biggest Shabbat routine of them all is my sourdough bake. I make three rounds every Saturday and give away one or two of them, depending on how generous we feel. The process begins Thursday night when I take my sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and feed it. I make the rounds on Friday morning and let them prove in the refrigerator until Saturday morning, when I bake.
Having fresh sourdough on Saturday mornings has become a bit of a family tradition. My girls love it. I like having an excuse to eat copious amounts of it. My wife looks forward to it too. This is my Shabbat, my cheat day, after all. And my neighbors get to be surprised with a text every few weeks as I roll through the rolodex, asking myself who I should deliver to next.
Whatever this is, whatever you call it, it’s working for me. Bedtime routines help children sleep, and these daily and weekly routines help parents cope and survive. It’s my new routine, and I think at least my core workouts and sourdough bakes will stand the test of time.