I am a creature of habit.

With rare exceptions, I eat peanut butter toast for breakfast and a big salad for lunch every day. I drive the roads I know. I buy the same items at the grocery store every week. Had I been born a few generations earlier, I would have been one of those women who washed the floors every Monday, did the laundry every Tuesday, served meatloaf on Thursday and leftovers on Friday.

This tendency toward habit became more pronounced after my kids were born. When it comes to my boys - Timothy (age 7); Casey (age 4); and Jordy (age 2) - I am the Queen of Routine. The clock started ticking the moment they were born.

As infants, they were fed every 2½ to 3 hours, even if I had to wake them or keep them awake to eat. They have known the rhythm of daycare and school days since they were roughly eight weeks old. We have followed the same evening routine for seven years - eat dinner, bathe, read, brush teeth, go to sleep. Ideally, the boys have dinner before 6 p.m. and are in bed between 8 and 8:30.

I am very attached to the evening routine because it is as much for my benefit as for theirs. I have a long list of things to do every night after the boys go to bed.

Depending on the day, that list includes cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes, catching up on work, writing, reading, or just sitting still and enjoying the silence. I cannot begin my evening routine until their evening routine ends. As a consequence, I get extremely (my husband, John, would say, 'freakishly') anxious if the boys haven't had dinner by 6.

Summer is hard on the Queen of Routine, but I do my best to stick with it. Jordy and Casey go to school year-round. I fill Tim's days with sports camps and visits with friends. I try to get the boys to bed on time, even if the sun is shining and the sound of kids playing in the street is wafting through the windows along with the breeze.

Despite these efforts, I am occasionally forced out of my routine.

Last week, my dad came to town early Thursday evening for a short visit. All of the boys, even 2-year-old Jordan, were up past 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. They showed no signs of the fatigue they must have been feeling on Saturday, when we spent the day out in the sun on Sauvie Island. A little after 8 that night, we were sitting at our picnic table outside the kitchen window, eating ice cream covered in fresh berries we had picked earlier that day. A light breeze blew across the deck, taking the heat of the day with it. I sat in the shade and watched the ice cream drip from the boys' chins and elbows and listened to them laugh and chatter. Soon, it was going on 9, and the boys had not been bathed or cracked a book. I knew it would be 30 minutes, at least, before I got them all in bed, and yet I was in no hurry to go inside. I was relaxed and content.

Summer had officially arrived, and it felt good.

Missing the old drill

We took my dad to the airport early Sunday morning, and I spent the day with three tired, cranky boys. I couldn't wait to get back to the routine. One week later, I am still trying, but it's proving harder than I thought.

Wading pools and fountains, the park across the street and long days that ease into darkness make it hard to go to bed on time.

So the Queen is adjusting to a new routine.

After the initial shock of several late nights in a row, we're settling into a summer routine. The boys eat dinner later and go to bed later; we squeeze in a bath or reading time each night, but seldom both. I hate to admit it, but it's not easy for me. I miss the old routine. As a working parent, I need that routine. This past weekend with my dad, though, reminded me that kids need the summer. Summer vacation is one of the best things about being a kid; it's a right of childhood; a fact of life that distinguishes childhood from adulthood.

When my boys get older, they won't reminisce about what a great job I did getting them to bed on time. They will remember the times they got to stay up late, throw off the routine and cut loose.

As a parent, that is what I need to remember. Family life cannot always be about fitting the boys into my schedule. Sometimes, it has to be about adjusting my schedule to theirs, as much as the routine and the realities of adulthood will allow.

I can't give my boys a 'traditional' summer vacation. I can, though, give them ice cream on the deck, way past their bedtime, every now and again.

Even the Queen of Routine enjoys that.

Lisa Dunne lives and works in West Linn with her husband, John, and their sons Tim, Casey and Jordan. She writes an occasional column for the Tidings and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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