Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Creatures of Habit: A Breakfast Schedule

Food preparation with three kids is like a fascinating puzzle that's not really meant to be solved. Just when I think I know who is eating what (or most often what they are NOT eating) and how much, something changes. Somebody develops a weird texture issue, or the eggs they proclaimed to loooove last week bring a visible recoiling when the plate is set in front of them.

With school back in session a military level of precision has to come to certain areas of our lives. Not all because I'm way too lazy and ill-equipped for that kind of commitment but food is the thing I feel like I have the strongest grasp on, even as the laundry piles up and the inside of my car looks like we just came from a yard sale. Years ago I was introduced to the weekly meal provided at my son's Waldorf preschool; on Mondays it was folding and oatmeal, Tuesdays were for painting and millet, etc. Before my kids knew the days of the week, they would wake up groggy and ask in a sleepy voice, "is today muffins and beeswax?" before deciding if it was worth willingly getting out of bed. It was something they could count on, and I came to appreciate it, too. Having a breakfast schedule brings an anchor to the morning rush, one of a few areas I have identified as a time when I feel most frazzled and anxious, so for the last couple years I've put us on a program. It rotates occasionally but I've found that a quick scan of the cupboard keeps me in check with what we need and reminds me to keep my more ambitious breakfast plans reserved for slow Sunday mornings, not white-knuckle Thursdays.

It's also worth noting that the point of this is a consistent breakfast schedule to help everyone get their bearings and start the day right, even if the offerings are a steady rotation of cereal, hard boiled eggs and avocado toast with the black part of the avocado scraped off...it's okay. I have to think that my good health as an adult may have a little something to do with constantly being fed the heel of the loaf, where the mold was usually a little too thick to fully remove.

Monday: Granola or Oatmeal with hard boiled eggs
Tuesday: Sausages, toast with butter or bagels with cream cheese and fruit
Wednesday: Cereal, scrambled eggs
Thursday: French toast or pancakes
Friday: Paleo scone or muffin and bacon

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chores: An Ongoing Saga

We're doing our best to soak up our last weekend of summer over here, a challenge given the lineup of soccer tournament games and back to school picnics. As we've run through the list of what everybody needs for the first day we've also come around to the topic of our annual chore-divvy.

I wrote about our philosophy on chores here years ago and reading through it today was very amusing - oh how simple life seemed before we entered the activity phase of parenting and threw a third kid into the mix! Our philosophy on chores/allowance has largely stayed the same, although we are considering other options for our soon-to-be teenager.  I'm not sure what that will look like just yet but I'm motivated to get creative.

Typically the way this shakes out is that I seal the doors and windows and force the kids to help me come up with a list of what needs to happen around here on a daily basis. I let them pick the things they want to do and then I divide the unpicked tasks as fairly as possible. To me, chores are something that are vital to a smooth-running home. By sharing the work load we all have a better gauge of what is expected of us and what fun things we are able to do. By being clear about expectations kids don't feel sidelined or put out (generally) when they are asked or reminded to do something. One thing that has come up, thanks to some advice from a friend, is being a bit more stern about complaining. She said that if you complained relentlessly or shirked your chores, you got to do your sibling's, too. YIKES! I'm not there yet but given our latest taste of what's to come in the teen years I'm not ruling that out.

So, here is what the kids will be doing for the coming school year, with items they have chosen marked with an *. I would LOVE to hear some other ideas about the whole allowance/money responsibility thing from those who are in the same boat with older kids.

Flynn, 11

  • Make bed each morning
  • Feed, water, let out bunny and clean his cage every third day
  • Pack sports bags
  • Use iPod to communicate with sports coaches, check schedules, weather delays, etc (yes, he has an iPod which has worked really well as a tool to help with his schedule)
  • Pack at least part of school lunch each day
  • Pack snacks for practices and games
  • Empty the dishwasher*
  • Load and start the washing machine when it's ready*
  • Put clean laundry away
  • Clean up dog poop in the yard
  • Cook a meal once a week for the whole family (this is a whole other thing and we definitely let him slide over the summer)
  • Vacuum room once a week
Jonah, 7
  • Make bed each morning
  • Help Indy feed the dogs each morning/night
  • Care for Sun, the leopard gecko
  • Pack soccer bag
  • Help with school lunch each day
  • Pack snacks for practices and games
  • Wash dishes on non-practice nights*
  • Sweep the floor after dinner*
  • Use the Shark mop on wood floors once a week*
  • Load and start the washing machine when it's ready*
  • Put clean laundry away
  • Clean up dog poop in the yard
  • Vacuum room once a week
Indy, almost 3
  • Put stuffed animals back in crib, pull up covers each morning
  • Open blinds in the living room (the perks of being an early riser)
  • Help set the table
  • Tidy toys and books each day
  • Feed the dogs with Jonah's help*
  • Brush dogs and bunny
  • Put dirty napkins into the laundry after each meal
  • Carry folded laundry to his room and put them in a drawer. Any drawer.
  • Sweep porch
  • Help water plants and garden
When I see it all written out like this it seems like a lot to do but it's really not, and I often find that we do our best chatting while we're all working away at our own tasks, bumping elbows in our little kitchen. I think it's also realistic that if they had a particularly long day, aren't feeling well or are just exhausted I'm quick to recognize that and we'll all pitch in to take over someone's chores for the day. 

Another point that's worth mentioning is that we have a cleaning lady who comes every other week. As much as I may want to feel guilty about this, I just don't. Over the last 6 or 7 years that we've had this service I've learned to let go of the need to justify it and just enjoy it. I thrive in a tidy house but don't get a lot of satisfaction from cleaning my own oven or wiping down wood blinds. And oddly, I know some people who do! These are also often the same people who feel a sense of dread at the thought of cooking dinner or making lunches, which I would say is my happy place. We all have our gifts and passions and delegating the others is okay. I realize that having a cleaning person come twice a month is a treat and I forego some other things to make that happen, knowing that if money is ever an issue that particular extravagance is the first to go and I'll be right back to scrubbing toilets with my headphones on at 10pm. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Up and Back

There are certain things you can only truly appreciate with age; actual people manning the customer service phones, well lit restaurants, books with a slightly larger font...clich├ęd, yes, but appreciated. Not to be overlooked is the simple pleasure of easy friendships, the kind where adults and kids alike greet the news of a weekend away together with equal enthusiasm. A couple days crammed into a calendar where practices, school preparations and work obligations threaten to overtake every square, leaving us with the reminder that we're playing checkers all year long, just with a more worthy opponent from August to June.

We pack up the cars, knowing that we have overpacked and still likely forgotten something crucial but we don't worry too much because we know that whatever we forgot will likely be the very things our friends bought in bulk on the way up. We'll laugh at our lack of bug spray or diapers but feel deeply relieved that our true necessities - coffee filters, good olive oil, more books than we could read in a week and assorted spices are all accounted for. The kids will form a loud, shaggy pack that divides and unites every hour or so. When one has had enough of a sibling or tag they'll head indoors for some time with a book or a turn at the big table, quickly littered with watercolor supplies and game pieces, only to be joined by everyone else shortly after. The grown ups congregate on the porch or the kitchen, catching up, talking shop, sharing beer and wine offerings and talking about the best things we've read, heard or eaten lately. Every once in a while one of us will glance up, suddenly remembering that we have a half dozen kids out in the woods only to see them off in the distance, one of them dutifully toting around a surly toddler. Occasionally at bedtime a kid will yell, "Where's the light switch in here?" before they are reminded that there's no electricity by their laughing playmates. The more grave reminder will, of course be, "DON'T drink the water from the faucet!" and conversations about what, exactly, would happen if they DID drink the water will ensue. 

Breakfast dishes being done always creates a nice segue to "What's for lunch?" and plates of snacks will be dispatched to appease, buying time for a hike or puttering around outside. Forts will be constructed and occupied, freshly picked wild flowers start to take up residence in every water glass and jackets are draped every every deck and railing. Watching this unfold in our friends' family cabin, nearly 100 years old, we're reminded that there is a natural order of things, that although we don't get weekends like this as often as we'd like, it all works out because we all jump back in each time, picking up right where we left off. Standing on a rock outcropping looking into the distance I was reminded that this place was built as a respite from something even before the days of cell phones, email and the 24 hour news cycle. 

The goodbyes won't be tearful because the reality is we live 15 minutes apart. And later, when we get home and look through the hundreds of photos from the weekend I'll realize that all the pictures of the adults I snapped make us look overtired, lost in thought or very confused about how to open something. Likely because we were? Maybe so, but it will still serve as a reminder to stage a few of all of us at our best...next time. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


There are certain times each year that feel especially bittersweet; the day after Christmas, when a kid's birthday party has wrapped up and you survey a house strewn with used paper plates, crumpled wrapping paper and discarded toys. But no day draws conflicting emotions quite like the first day of school - I think it will forever remain King. I spend a lot of early summer trying not to think of that looming square on the calendar and in those first days of freedom it's easy to do. The summer stretches out before us full of anticipation and excitement and we sit around asking, "What should we do this summer?" then feel slightly punchy and giddy when the answer is, "We can do anything! We have the WHOLE SUMMER!" It feels as if time is standing still, just for us, so we can soak up long days of alternating between activity and laziness. We fall into a rhythm, we forget that we ever lived differently. We talk about last year's teachers and assignments as if we were visiting home decades later. We tick things off our little bucket list, we plan days with friends we miss and we put on a big show of getting up each morning and packing up for one of our few camps..."It's so early! I can't believe I'll have to be up even earlier for this when school starts!" "I forgot how to pack a lunch."

For my part, I make an ambitious list of home projects and personal improvements I want to tackle each summer. Some come to fruition, some fall by the wayside. I alternate between jumping in whole heartedly with the boys and their friends and feeling angsty and overwhelmed that I'm suddenly on the hook to be cruise director, camp counselor, play mate and fully functioning adult. And then, at some point, I'll be walking up the street or pulling into the driveway and I'll notice that one of our many sunflowers has opened. We'll ooh and ahh over the first bloom and then, just as quickly as my excitement appeared, it will be overtaken by a sudden panic as I remember how long ago it felt that we'd noticed the slender stalks emerging from the ground, the times we'd casually commented on how numerous the sunflowers were this year, the moments when I'd furrowed my brow and felt slightly annoyed that when our yard was at its mangiest and most unkept the sunflowers did little to help keep our lawn from looking like an overgrown forest.

Once this feeling hits I suddenly spend a significant amount of time beating it back. Potential land mines of comparison and FOMO are all around and I regret our decision to not take a big vacation. I worry that I didn't plan enough, that they'll head back to school with too little to bolster them for a year of schedules and confinement. I'll berate myself for the nights that I spent inside, folding laundry and watching bad tv instead of sitting on the back patio drinking wine and listening to records under the lights. And then, to solidify my worst fear, that summer is winding down and I will be forced to part with my boys and all the chaos they bring, the emails start to roll in. First from the school, then from teachers. Soccer coaches, always a particularly overeager bunch, will already have held team meetings and started bombarding us with dates and motivational texts. I'll sit anxiously and consider the reality of homeschooling. I'll feverishly try to book in that one last camping trip or quick getaway on Orbitz. Basically, I'll feel like a failure, like I frittered away an entire summer. And then, I'll look through my pictures. I'm quickly reminded of the first water balloon fight of summer, of nights spent out driving with the radio up loud and the windows down, of coming around the corner in the backyard to find a guilty looking toddler and dog crouched over the plate of watermelon they'd stolen, rinds scattered near their feet. We'll hit our favorite public pool and I'll feel grateful that we've managed to make it at least once a week so far this summer and as I'm mumbling about how messy the house is while scooping up armloads of laundry the boys will casually mention that they are headed out on their bikes and ask when they should be back. The water at the creek near our house will start to drop enough for kayaking and tubing and we'll savor the lessened crowds, allowing us a couple morning hours with our favorite spots all to ourselves each day. We'll start the annual debate on whether an 8pm dip in the rushing water does or does not qualify as a shower. I'll rally. I always do. I'll kick the can down the road for another month or so, reminding myself that summer isn't really over until the novelty of a garden bed overrun with squash has worn off and the first crickets start chirping.