Circling Back at the End of the Day: Family Connection Routine

Evenings are rough. At the of a long day, everyone’s harried and tired, yet the to-do list is unyielding. But we’ve found a way to circle back and connect before day’s end, and it’s so simple. It only takes 5 minutes.

Each evening, after I shower, I call down to the kids to turn off the TV,  clean up the playroom, and pick books. This has been our routine for years. Recently, after a 4AM epiphany, I added another step to the the nightly pattern.

I grabbed my favorite circle blanket, placed it on the playroom floor, and asked everyone to take a seat. We began a new evening ritual that is now so treasured that my 6-year-old races to fetch the circle blanket each night in happy anticipation.

IMG_20180124_060204_232All three kids sit on the circle blanket but, really, only the 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and I participate (the 2-year-old bobs in and out and acts as enforcer when someone speaks out of turn.) I begin by asking who wants to go first. Sometimes I am volunteered, sometimes someone in particular is raring to speak. One at a time, we list the following items without explanation or interruption before we move on to the next speaker:

1. Three things we didn’t like about our day,

2. Three things we did like about our day,

3. One thing we would’ve done differently that day,

4. One thing we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Some days the kids have three good things but only one bad thing to note. Some days the good things are hard to come by, but together we recall even the minute intricacies — like a yummy lunch or a nice breeze or a smile from a friend — to flesh out our positive trio.

Very often, I’ve found, that the kids are surprised by one another’s lists. They often don’t realize the impact of their actions and words on another’s day, but this activity is helping shed light on their affect on others.

The other night, my middle son listed his sister not including him on the playground as one of his three dislikes du jour. His sister looked offended and scoffed. I reminded her that we don’t interrupt during circle time. Then, during my daughter’s review, she noted that the one thing she would’ve done differently that day was include her brother on the playground. They’re getting it!!

My middle son and my daughter have both come to me separately saying how much they appreciate circle time. And, you know what? I do too. I can voice my missteps of the day (ex: yelling when I wish I hadn’t, not cheering up someone I wish I had, messing up a recipe, etc.) so that they know I make mistakes and feel remorse too. I also get to hear about their days and they hear about mine. We all get a glimpse at how one another processes the day’s events and what one another values, as well as finds particularly hurtful. We learn about each other’s triumphs and hurdles. It’s enlightening, connecting, healing, bonding. And it only takes 5 minutes.

Then, after we’ve completed our sharing, we return to our old routine: story time as usual. Each child hands me his or her selected book then sits in my lap while I read it. Sometimes only one child sits on my legs, other times I’m balancing all three. Either way, my heart — like my lap — is full.

Maybe this circle time routine would work for you. Give it a whirl for a week and let me know how it goes. Worst case, you waste five minutes. Best case, your bonds grow stronger. That’s a gamble worth taking in my book!

Mom Confession: I Lost My Sh*t

Remember when I said, here, that I was not at all looking forward to homework? Well, homework happened about 2 minutes before bedtime on a Sunday evening after a long day. And I lost my sh*t… all of it.

6:55pm, my kindergartener realizes she hasn’t sharpened her pencils and crayons for school the next day. Her teacher is all about the kids taking responsibility for this task, and I am adamantly behind that perspective. The problem: my kindergartener hasn’t mastered the firm-yet-gentle pressure required to sharpen a pencil without snapping it, which means I have to help.

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So, instead of herding my trio upstairs for baths and bed, my daughter and I sit twirling writing utensils in a plastic sharpener. Then she realizes something: the class bear — which comes with a blank “all about me” poster and a weekend write-up to be completed with appended printed photos — was due back tomorrow, not the following week as she’d originally told us. Out come the project materials!

It is 6:58pm. My 1.5-year-old is melting down because it’s 2 minutes until his bedtime. My preschooler is repeatedly calling my name. I am at the kitchen table helping my kindergartener draw stick figures. This is not how I planned to spend my Sunday evening!

“Mommy! Mommy! Mooooommy!” My preschooler calls. I’m trying to hurriedly complete the ginormous blank poster that requires a sketch for each question. “What is your favorite song?” I read from the posterboard. How in the hell do you draw a song?  My kindergartener can’t remember her favorite tune. What conveniently timed senility!

My preschooler is STILL calling my name. “WHAT?” I growl. “I cleaned up.” My preschooler falsely claims, pointing at two books he returned to the shelf as he’s surrounded by toy calamity. I roar some unintelligible Mommy-has-lost-every-last-shred-of-patience retort. He shriek-cries. “Sia!” My kindergartener shouts. My husband stands in the middle of the kitchen bearing witness but not wanting to breathe for fear of drawing my wrath.

I take a deep breath and try to help my kindergartener draw her favorite song — we have a low bar… she writes the name “Sia” and draws a couple of  music notes — as my preschooler sobs. Now my 1.5-year-old is full-on crying too because it’s past his bedtime and our house is bedlam. I ask, with the gentility of a constipated bull moose, for my husband to comfort the preschooler as I coach our kindergartener through drawing a family portait. “Maybe you shouldn’t have yelled at him.” He says calmly. I shoot him a death glare. It is as if he wants to save money on the eventual vasectomy by having me castrate him right then and there.

Still, he’s right. I know he’s right. It doesn’t mean that I like it though.

I leave my kindergartener to draw a stick figure version of herself on a sliding board. I go to my preschooler, crouch down to his level, look him in his doe-like blue eyes, and apologize. We hug it out, him still crying in a mixture of exhaustion and release. I tell him to clean up the rest of the playroom, head back to the kindergartener, and shoot my husband one more glare to clearly communicate: “no more words.”

I sit down with a great exhale. “C’mon, let’s get this thing finished,” I tell her. “We’re aiming for ‘completed’, not ‘good.'” Parent of the year, right here!

By 7:20 my kindergartener has finished her portion of the project. Now I get to write a report about our weekend comings-and-goings while my toddler and preschooler serenade me in simultaneous fatigue freak-outs from the playroom. My husband takes the kindergartener and preschooler up for baths.

It’s 7:30… report complete. It’s a half-hour past my littlest’s bedtime. I decide to leave the photo collage until the morning and get my snot and tear smeared toddler to bed.

I apologize to my husband later that evening and thank him for being more patient than I. A hug seals the resolution. “I’m not that patient.” He says. “You’re a good mom,” He reassures me.

I lost my sh*t… all of it. I’m a mom. Moreover, I’m a human. It happens. Apologize, hug, and move along. This is life. It’s imperfect and so are we.

Mini-Mommy

At 4.5-years-old and the eldest sibling, #1 has some strong maternal inclinations showing through. She rushes downstairs in the morning, breezing past me and lobbing a quick “good morning” to her dad, as she belines it for #3. Hugs, cuddles, happy morning greetings, and excited playtime ensues.

After pre-bed storytime, which #1 and #2 like to do in my husband’s and my bed, #1 now likes to tuck in #2. She pulls up his covers, hands him his pacifier, sings him a song, then kisses him goodnight before gently closing his door and heading to her room for her tuck-in.

#1 has begun helping #2 go to the potty now too. She can be a little overbearing — insisting on a potty seat despite #2 not needing one — but is really quite thorough.

I may be able to take some time off if this continues!