School Daze: Morning Prep

School mornings… as pleasant as a hemorrhoid, no? Early start, grumpy kids (and parents), little time, lots to do, start times, and tantrums (from kids and parents.) Fun!

Though our mornings aren’t scenes of fairytale bliss, and far from serene, they are streamlined. They are organized. How? One word: preparation.

I wake up ahead of everyone to heat breakfasts, pop lunches into backpacks, and begin my day so that by the time my crew shuffles downstairs, the rhythm is already in motion. My first-thing-in-the-morning task load isn’t too great though because I prepare everything I can ahead of time.

Lunches and snacks? Made at the beginning of the week. I simply grab a container stack, the water bottle, and place it in the lunchbox.

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Outfits? Laid out for the school week on Sunday evening based on the weather forecast and week’s schedule. The day’s outfit hung in the bathroom, so there are no clothing battles in the too-early morning.

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Each outfit bundle contains a top, bottom, socks, and underwear

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A week of outfits

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The next day’s outfits

Breakfasts? Prepared and plated the night before. I just heat and place them on the table while my caffeine brews.

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Mama’s caffeine? Set up the night before and ready to brew.

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Mama’s tea

Basically, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of hitting “play” as opposed to scrambling to piece it all together while attempting to ready myself and my minions for the day. (That’s a feat in and of itself.)

We all could use a leg up in the morning. Why not give yourself one with a little prepping?

 

The Gift of Low Expectations: How to Survive Any Errand with Kids

This was me 10 minutes before we headed off to the grocery store. Yep, hiding from my bickering, tantruming, antsy, nap-skipping kids. So, how did I survive a grocery store run with all three mischievous minions in tow? Low expectations.

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Don’t get me wrong I love my kids. I mourned when I thought we couldn’t have our own children. I lament their return to school each fall and celebrate our time together. But some days… woo! Some days I hit a point after 500 snack requests, 20 sibling melees, 3 missing sock expeditions (only to find 1 in the toilet, another on the kitchen table, and 1 forever unfound), and an outing gone awry, that I feel the innate need to hide from my offspring. I’ll quietly slip into a room, close the door, and listen with equally anxious anticipation for the sound of incurred injury or approaching footsteps.

And so, yesterday, after I hid from my children for 5 calming minutes, I made the fateful decision to take my crew to the grocery store.  Because what else did I have to lose?

Had my ever-mothering mind gone berserk? Likely. However, I was armed with something so powerfully self-preserving that no childish onslaughts could undo me: a low bar.

That’s right. I entered the afternoon grocery run fully aware of my fate. I had low expectations, so diminished that simply surviving the errand would stand as a win. This would be a shit show. I owned it.

We shuffled through pre-leaving routine: pottying, pants finding, sock hunting, shoe retrieving, shoe fixing and re-fixing (because despite having only two feet, my 4-year-old can put his shoes on the incorrect feet 6 times in a row), and finally leaving. As I waited for my eldest to get buckled, I texted my dear fellow mom friend and told her of my expectation that my middle son would lose cart privileges before we ever left the produce section. My inkling that my eldest would publicly release a (understandable) fury of frustration upon her irksome younger brothers. My awareness that pushing my toddler in the shopping cart would be akin to maneuvering a rabid kleptomaniacal octopus through narrow aisles of glass jars and delicate produce. This would be a disaster. I knew it. I felt it in my bones. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t fear it. My shame had been whittled down by 6 years of parenthood. I had nothing left to lose but my patience. Her knowing response: “Good luck.”

And so we went. And so the trip descended into chaotic mayhem, with my uncoordinated 6-year-old attempting to simultaneously read a book and walk through the wine section, my 4-year-old hanging in a backbend off of the side of the cart despite my constant reminders that he shouldn’t because his head would get smushed, and my 2-year-old releasing random shrill shrieks just for the hell of it.

At one point, my 6-year-old took to poking plastic bags of bread “because it’s squishy” as my 2-year-old attempted to throw his shoes out of the cart. Then, as I turned to pick up the one jar I needed in the aisle, my 6- and 4-year-olds took off down the pasta aisle in a foot race. Yes, full-on discombobulated running complete with jabbing chicken wing elbows down the grocery aisle of dried noodle and glass-encased marinara. Who does that? Are they new here?

Then, as we reached the furthest back portion of the store: “Need pee-pee! Potty!” Shouts my potty-training 2-year-old. So we haul ass to the front of the store. Every few feet I rerun the kid count: 1-2-3, 1-2… where’s 3? “We’re not buying Fritos. Better catch up or find a new family!” Then we hit a slow moving herd with grandma pushing the shopping cart. They were the hair-ball to the shower drain. As I envisioned a deluge of toddler pee pouring from the shopping cart, I bobbed and weaved pushing my car-shaped cart through the clog, leaving my older two to either follow or flounder: “Better keep up! Your brother has to pee!” I yelled back to them.

We made it. He peed. In the potty. Then there was a meltdown over the hand dryer, but that’s normal. Well, our normal.

Back to the cart we returned. We finished or shopping, skidding into a register lane with the grace of a three-legged water buffalo. There were candy grabs, sibling squabbles, fussing, and “Are we done yet?”s, but we survived. I loaded the minivan and as I shut the trunk door, I felt accomplished. I survived the shit show. I was still smiling. I was certainly laughing. All thanks to my low expectations.

Letting Yourself Slip Through

Sometimes I get so worn down, so caught up in life drama, in external demands, in internal expectations, in arduous plans, and the infinite mom to-do list that I forget about me. I allow myself to fall through the cracks.

I have a few immovable selfish musts that I maintain every day: doing my make-up each morning (as a form of meditation and “me” time) and my pre-bed shower. They are key to me for feeling human.

Still, there are periods of time when I over-exert myself. I give too much. I over-schedule, over-plan, overachieve. In the end, I wind up under-performing (in my own eyes) and suffering mom guilt. Catch 22, right? Do too little: guilt. Do too much: guilt. Dammit!

Nearly five years into this parenting journey, I can distinguish the warning signs when I begin to enter into dangerous over-extended territory: emotional fatigue, lessened patience, foggy memory, and constant underlying or obvious stress. If I don’t watch myself I’ll begin to feel this hazy sense of loneliness even when I would have no logical reason to feel as such. During such times, I feel pressured to do more despite knowing I am already overdoing. If I didn’t heed the warning signs and factor myself back into the to-do list, eventually, I’d burn out.

I’ve never fully burnt out but I’ve definitely had the gas tank light flashing a few times. And so I must seek respite. Without it, I cannot effectively give of myself. And giving is the entirety of motherhood.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” They say. So I must fill my cup, and take meaningful time for me.

Don’t forget to put yourself on your to-do list. You’re important too.

Beach Trips Then and Now

“This will be your last relaxing vacation for at least a decade. Enjoy sitting now!” A mom wrangling three young children on the beach once told me as I sunned my 34-weeks round self on a pre-first-baby vacation. I smiled, thinking that Hubs and I were excited for just that eventuality.

As young beach-going adults, Hubs and I would wake up late, go out to a lazy breakfast, get dressed for the beach, walk to the seaside with a towel over our shoulder and drink in our hand, and find our sandy spot as young families made their naptime exodus.

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Hubs would get restless after a while, but witnessing the antics of children on the beach was enough entertainment to satisfy us both. We loved watching their wobbly trudges through soggy sand, reveled in their youthful fascination with the surf, and speculated about how we’d address hypothetical tantrums. “Beach trips will be so much fun when we have kids,” we’d say imagining sand-dusted baby rolls and seaside castle-building.

After a few hours on the beach, we’d head back to the house, shower, nap, get an afternoon coffee, relax, wander through town, and go out for the evening. Now, a decade and three kids later, our beach trips are much different.

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#3 wakes at 6:15, I lumber downstairs with him to pump while trying not to wake the entire house with his pack-and-play protests, #1 awakes around 7:30am and eats her breakfast while watching a show on the Kindle, #3 plays in the tub while I get ready for the day, then #2 awakes by 8:00am to eat. By 9:15am our cooler is packed and we’re lotioning up for the beach.

Seaside, we unload ourselves from the minivan. With #3 strapped to my chest, #1 and #2 hold my hands as I walk ahead of Hubs who pushes the fully loaded beach cart stacked with beach chairs, a foldable tent, beach toys, the cooler, the diaper bag, and towels. Our herd sets up camp near the ocean and there our morning of wrangling and digging, refereeing and shell-hunting, laughing and eating begins. Sitting happens in 2-3 minute increments. Lounging is a distant memory. Boredom is a forgotten sentiment.

Around midday, #2 and #3 begin to melt. It’s naptime and time to head back. We fold, stack, and pack our beach plot into the cart. We trudge to the minivan, the beach clinging to our sweaty, SPF’ed skin. “Get in you car seats. I’ll check your buckling.” I call to #1 and #2 as they scramble into the van while Hubs loads the trunk and I harness #3 into his car seat.

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As we pull out of our parking space, our former selves walk past us, towel over their shoulder and drink in their hand. By the time they hit the sand, we are home. Exactly where we always wanted to be.

My Morning Routine

Mornings are nuts… always. I plan and prep and rise early to ease the burden, but they’re still dependably bordering on mayhem.

Nearly every day, we venture out for a morning activity and an afternoon activity. Whether it’s preschool, a class at the community center, storytime at the library, a playdate, a walk, a bike ride, a visit with family, or an errand, the kids (and I) do best if we’re out and about often. As Hubs frequently works from home, this provides him with some much-needed quiet time in the otherwise noisy house too.

As the kids get hungry for lunch between 11:00 and 11:30am, we generally need to be out the door for our morning activity by 9am. Here’s what I do to make that happen.

My days start sometime between 5:45am and 6:15am. I brew my green tea, grab my apple, turn on the local news, and pump. By 7:00am #3 is awake and sometimes #1 is too. Hubs brings down #3, changes his diaper, and plops him in the pack-and-play.

Out of sheer pride, #3 disputes his confinement until the local traffic newscaster comes on TV. At which point, he goes quiet and smooshes his fat face against the mesh wall, staring at her like he’s the creepy drunk dude at the end of the bar.

While #3 is distracted, I throw my breast pump parts in very hot soapy water to soak, then bag, label, and freeze the milk. #3 is usually shrieking at me from the pack-and-play by the time I close the freezer door. (The traffic portion is clearly too short for his liking.)

I pour a second mug of green tea, nurse #3, then upstairs we go. I fill our big soaker tub with and inch or so of water and plop #3 in the bath surrounded by floating toys, so that I can get ready for the day.

By 7:45am, I’m toweling off #3 and dressing him. #1 is downstairs usually watching “Dora”, at this point, while lazily eating the breakfast I prepped the evening before.

By 8am, I’m helping #1 do her hair. (If you’ve ever met #1, you know she takes her hair seriously.) As a curly girl myself, I get it.

During the hair routine, #3 is usually trying to eat conditioner, unrolling toilet paper, attempting to lick the toilet, and slamming the bathroom door against my leg. Sometime just before I awake #2 but before #3 manages to French kiss the floor vent, I call Hubs to fetch him to feed him the breakfast I prepped the prior evening.

After successfully styling #1, it’s time to rouse #2. It’s a feat. He loves his bed. We moan and growl our way through the process but, by the time he’s dressed, he’s happily skipping down the stairs to eat his pre-prepared breakfast.

8:15am, I blend the smoothie I prepped the night before, use the second mug of now-luke-warm green tea I had forgotten on the counter to slug down my vitamins, yell at the heathens to stop jumping around like chimpanzees and eat their breakfasts, and — if I’m lucky — pour myself a bowl of Cheerios with cashewmilk. Between bites of cereal or sips of smoothie, I finish feeding #3, clean up breakfasts, rinse my breast pump parts and pop them on the drying rack, then clean up the disaster that is #3’s breakfast area. (Eating is an all-sensory event for #3.)

By 8:30 I am checking #1 and #2’s breakfast progress as I put #3 in the playroom to roam about. I start setting out shoes and jackets, while giving the kids a warning that we’ll be heading out soon. 8:40 is “5-minute warning” time, and at 8:45 #3 is getting his diaper changed, #1 and #2 visit the bathroom, we pull on socks and shoes, squabble about what toy #2 can bring with him in the car, and off we go negotiating who gets to open the minivan door.

People ask me why I get up so early. How could I not? It’s survival.

Smiling through Tears

#1 has completed her final day of preschool. She’s excited for what’s ahead. I’m a wreck.

I know she’ll do great in kindergarten. She’s outgoing, positive, friendly, bright, adaptable, independent, and takes direction well. I have not a single doubt in my mind that she will rock kindergarten. What’s even better: she knows it too. Great, fantastic, perfect, right? Yes! But I’m still a wreck.

My baby — the baby girl I dreamt of, the daughter my husband and I had hoped for, the baby we tried so hard to have, the newborn who fought to make it into and stay in this world, the baby we were told may have cognitive and/or developmental delays, the child who walked late but spoke early and well, the girl who has a tutu in every color and whose favorite colors are “pink, purple, and rainbow”– is growing up way too fast. I feel as if I must be losing vast portions of my memory because there’s no way I could see her every day, spend most of my waking hours in her presence, and yet the time passes so quickly.

My internal mourning is entirely selfish. It’s pointless. It’s silly. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

I smile because I want her to be happy. I want her to crave the growth and change that is life. I want her to feel supported and celebrated in her development and advancement, never held back by my emotions. Never coddled or ensnared.

For me, I want to pause life. To savor it and revel in it. To embed it in my memory. To not feel so lost in the whirlwind. But that isn’t life. Life is fast and ever-changing. I cannot expect it to be any other way, and lamenting that is fruitless.

So, I keep smiling because she needs me to smile. She deserves me to be happy, to cheer her on. Because she is going to do great things and she needs to see that I believe that. And I do. I am proud of her and who she is becoming.

“They’re happy tears,” I’ll tell her. They’re not, but my smile is true.

Wrangling 5 Under 5

Yesterday I took on two additional kids — yes, that means I was watching five children under 5 — for 4 hours. My dear friend had an unexpected move thrust upon her. So I offered to watch her daughters so she could pack uninterrupted.

My friend’s 2-year-old daughter — we’ll call her A — has autism as well as some additional special needs. As a sibling of a special needs individual, I feel at home with the scenario. Well, apparently A was comfy too.

The kids had a blast playing outside, crafting, having a dinner-and-a-movie picnic in the playroom, and A was my cuddly sidekick through it all. She curled up beside me as I nursed #3, she rode on my hip as I loaded the dishwasher, she called me “Mommy” (purely a vocational title, of course) and reached up to me with her perfectly pudgy hands,  then she’d wrigged down to go join the others.

At one point, as I nursed #3, A pulled her pint-sized self up onto the playroom sofa, wiggled herself next to me, spotted #3’s legs sticking out from underneath my flowy top, smiled at me through her pacifier, and laid her blond head in my lap using #3’s belly as a pillow.  It was precious.

#1 adopted A as her own little sister, giving A overzealous hugs and drive-by kisses. A reveled in the attention and pretended to braid #1’s long, blond, curls.

#2 bopped about playing with #1 and A’s older sister, M. #2 and M discussed unicorns and caterpillars, sweeping techniques, and lemonade stand protocol.

M advocated beautifully for verbally-challenged A, yet played perfectly imperfectly and indepently with #1 and #2. She was so tender with #3, even when his slobbery baby kiss turned into a nibble. She was herself — smiles, grumpiness, goofiness, and all — and that was wonderful. She didn’t get lost in her older sibling duties. She felt comfortable enough to be herself.

One of my favorite aspects of the playdate, though, was how it brought out the best in all of us. It enabled our strengths to shine. When Hubs beamed, seeing A happily adjusted to her surroundings, I remembered exactly why I love that man so much. When #1 sat on the deck floor so that A could style her hair, my heart thumped. When M and #2 became enveloped in their imagination game, I grinned. When #3 gave kisses and hugs to A and M, who warmly accepted his juicy affection, I glowed. When A adapted so quickly and became so affectionate, my heart swelled. When M proclaimed she wanted to stay, I was honored.

It was a nutty afternoon but it was beautiful. What a gift these children are!

 

 

The Fear of “What If?”

I was the kid who pretended to be “mommy.” I wrote lists of possible names for my distant-future children. I aspired to be a mother while others dreamt of space exploration or royal appointments. I am now immensely fortunate to be living that dream.

I adore my present life season full of sleeplessness and snuggles, tantrums and tea parties, playdates and potty-training. I treasure the countless memories so much that I frequently attempt to recount past events so as not to allow them to fade from my mind.

Because of my love for this harried but beautiful stage, I fear what lies ahead. I worry about the days when my children don’t want me around as they do now, the days when errands can be quick and bathroom trips can be solitary. The days when people don’t look at me and immediately know I am a mom.

Part of me wants to pull back from my present stage, to stop myself from so wholeheartedly adopting the “mom” identity. The drive is fear for the future — an assumed future — and self-preservation. If I allow myself to dive deep into motherhood, how hurt and confused will I be when the tides change? Who will I be when I am not so completely needed or wanted, when my days and nights no longer center on giving of myself in every way?

There is another part of me — the hippy side, the tender side — that tells myself to revel in the fruition of my life dreams. This is but a fleeting moment in life, but it is a fulfilling one. It is what I’ve always wanted. Why not allow myself to experience it fully? Would I not chastise myself in later years for hindering my own experience due to the fear of “what if?”

Lawyers identify as lawyers, musicians identify as musicians. Why, then, should I not identify as a mother? When an individual’s career path shifts, the challenge to find one’s new identity is considered normal. Why would mothers entering new seasons of their career not be expected and afforded the right to experience the same upheaval?

Life is change. We change continuously throughout our existence, sometimes on imperceptible smaller scales and other times in abrupt, quaking shifts.

I must learn to accept the eventual change without allowing fear to rob me of my present. I am a mom. I will always be a mom. Each stage will simply be different. And that’s ok.

Nursing Tank Must-Haves

I wear a nursing tank daily. Wear it under a cardigan, blazer, kimono, slouchy top, flowy blouse, tunic, or hoodie. Layer on a scarf or chunky necklace. Tuck it into a maxi or skater skirt. Wear it with jeans or yoga pants. All the while, have easy clip-down nursing access and bra-like support.

My favorite two nursing tanks are:

Bravado Dream Nursing Tank which comes in bra-specific sizes from 34B/C to 40F/G.

Bravado Essential Nursing Tank which comes in bra-specific sizes from 34B/C to 44F/G.

A variety of color options can be found on Amazon. Get one (or more) in every color in your size. I know I did!

Sun, Music & Memories

After weeks of rain, the sun peeked through today and allowed us a preview of summer bliss. We attended our much-loved local summer concert series. We danced outside in the evening sun to live music, soaking in the light and memories.

#1 Twirling to the Music

#1 Twirling to the Music

Watching #1 and #2 twirl and run among the other children, I reflected on how last year #1 and #2 were smaller and less coordinated, apple-cheeked 2- and nearly-4-year-olds. How #3 was but a growing expectation in my rounded belly. How at the end of the concert series, #3 was a brand new addition with little infant chicken legs peaking out from the baby carrier.

I recalled how much more challenging things were with a newborn and two preschoolers as I recovered from a c-section, but how much fun we had. I realized how fast the time had spun by, and knew this year would only go faster.

So, I silenced my mind and allowed myself to simply be, to appreciate, to live our present joyful nuttiness. What a beautiful life!