Archive | December, 2012

Managing a Large Family

A reader asked me a while back about managing so many kids as far as morning and evening routines (sorry it’s taken me this long to remember to get to this, Amy!).  It isn’t easy!

First, I will say that I’m a stickler for routine.  Being the type-A personality that I am, organization is a must.  That is not to say that I run things around here with military precision (if only!), or that things even tend to run very smoothly (they usually don’t), but in order to have some small modicum of orderliness, we try to stick to a general routine:

On school days, I set my alarm for 6:15.  Kevin has zero period, so he starts school at 7:00 a.m.  He was walking to school until I realized, before we changed the clocks recently at the end of Daylight Savings Time, that it was still dark when he left the house at 6:20.  Call me an overprotective, paranoid mom, but I suddenly began having visions of  – well, let’s just say horrible visions, even though he’s almost 16.  So I started driving him to school, intending to have him start walking again with the time change.  However, of course, my driving him has stuck, so, yeah, I drive him to school.

The other kids start school at 8:40.  The girls – Annabelle, Daisy, and Lilah, that is (who share a room) – get up around 6:00 a.m. no matter if it’s a school day or not, regardless of what time they go to bed.  So on school days, I don’t have to get them up, because chances are, they’re up already.  The rule is, if Daddy or I aren’t up already and it’s a school day, they are to stay in their room quietly until we get up.  However, it’s not uncommon for the three of them to be in their room raising hell at 5:30 a.m.

If Michael isn’t in a rush to get to work, he’ll get the kids their cereal in the morning.  Sometimes I do it when I get back from taking Kevin to school.  They’re getting better about getting it themselves, but in all honesty, I’d rather Michael or I do it so as to control the portions and the mess.  The girls and Joey, of course, get themselves dressed, etc. (although they apparently need twenty reminders every single day).  I let Scarlett lay in our bed after I get up for as long as she’s willing to; first thing in the morning seems to be her most content part of the day, and she will often lay in our bed amusing herself by staring at her hands or chewing on the covers for an hour.  I get Finn up around 7:00, and I try to spend some quiet time with him, sitting in the rocking chair in his room.  Then he and I have a quick breakfast together.  I make the kids’ sandwiches the night before, and they finish up making their lunches for school after they get dressed in the morning.  After they’re all dressed, teeth are brushed, lunches are made, etc., they’re allowed to watch TV until it’s time to go.  Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen, make the beds (I know it’s ridiculous, but I cannot leave the house in the morning with unmade beds), and I might throw a load of laundry in the washing machine.  We leave the house at about 8:25 to head to school; in good weather and if I’m feeling ambitious, I walk the kids to school.  If I’m feeling lazy and/or on days Finn has preschool, I drive them to school.

The kids get out of school at 3:00 p.m. (except Wednesdays, with the exception of Kevin, they get out at 1:00ish).  When we get home, they have snacks and then do their homework.

Have I mentioned how much I hate elementary school homework?  In case I haven’t, let me just say it: I HATE HOMEWORK.  You can make all the arguments in favor of it that you want, but you will not sell me on the idea that homework in the primary grades does anything except rob kids of free time (which they should have after spending 6+ hours of their day at school), rob families of family time, create tension between kids and parents, and foster resentment – not love – of schoolwork.

So they spend their afternoon doing homework.  It usually involves much whining, or at the very least, stalling.  The teachers say that a first grader (Lilah) should be spending no more than 20 minutes on her homework, plus 20 minutes of mandatory reading, and third graders (Annabelle and Daisy) should be spending no more than about 40 minutes a day on homework (plus mandatory reading).  It never works out that way – ever.  It always takes at least twice as long as the prescribed time, no matter what threats, bargaining tools, reasoning, or rewards I offer.

When they do finally complete their homework (and I’m mainly talking about the three girls; Joey and Kevin, thank goodness, are both pretty self-directed as far as homework goes), it’s 4:30 – 5:00.  No time to go play outside.  I have the three girls take their showers before dinner because with this many kids, we’d be up until midnight having them all take their showers after dinner.  Kevin and Joey shower after dinner.  Bath time for Finn and Scarlett is much more lax, as I can bathe them during the day when everyone else is at school, and neither of them even require daily baths yet; I bathe them about every other day.

I try to get dinner started by 5:00 – 5:30, with the hope of having dinner on the table by 6:00 – 6:30 (which is roughly when Michael usually gets home from work).  Michael and I share kitchen clean-up duties, and then we divide and conquer to get the kids to bed.  We try to have Finn and the girls in bed by 7:30 (that’s right!).  Kevin and Joey are allowed to stay up until 8:30, and then they can read in bed until 9:00, and then lights out.  Yes, my teenager has a 9:00 bedtime.  He needs the sleep – and I need the sanity of having them all in bed at a decent time.  Right now, Scarlett is usually a wreck by early evening due to the fact that she’s kind of a horrible napper, so I wrap her up tight, nurse her to sleep and put her in her swing around the time we’re sitting down to dinner, and if things go well, she’ll stay there until I’m ready to go to bed around 10:00 – 10:30.  Then I put her in bed with me – not so much because I’m a big believer in co-sleeping (whatever works for you, I say), but because it’s the only way I can get a decent night’s sleep.  If my husband doesn’t keep me awake with his snoring, that is . . . but that’s a topic for a different day.

So there you have it: semi-sanity, summed up.

Bad Elf

Two years ago I bought into the whole Elf on the Shelf phenom.  It seemed like every family I knew suddenly had one, and not wanting to be the bad mom and cheat my kids, I succumbed.  At first blush, it seemed like a fun tradition to start, and the bonus would be motivating my kids to toe the line – at least during the holiday season, right?  Santa’s little narc, right here in our very own home.

Well, the experience didn’t go so well.  My kids were terrified of the thing (come walk down Memory Lane with me, won’t you?).  Plus, I quickly realized that “tradition” translates to “giant pain in the ass.”  Mom’s ass, to be specific, because it ain’t Dad thinking up creative places to place the Elf, and remembering to do it every damn night.

(Really, this is just another sadistic twist in the competitive game of Motherhood, isn’t it?  The good moms not only remember to move the Elf, and find super fun things for the Elf to do in order to amuse their kids and keep the holiday magic alive, but they take photos of their Elves and post them to Facebook so that we slacker moms can feel like the losers we are.)

Well, after that scarring experience two years ago, I said “no more!” and stuffed the blasted Elf into a drawer where it’s remained, forgotten about, all this time.

Forgotten about until a couple of days ago, that is.  Suddenly Annabelle (the child who was most terrified of it a couple years ago) got it in her head that the Elf must return, post haste! “Call Santa, Mommy, and tell him to send the Elf back!  I’m not afraid anymore!”  She said.  “Mommy, did you call Santa yet?”  “No.”  “Mommy, will you call Santa tonight and tell him to send the Elf back to our house?”  “Mommy, did you call Santa?”  “Mommy, when will you call Santa?!?!”

Great balls of fire!

So, against my better judgment, I dug the Elf out last night and put him up on the top of the mirror in our dining room.  The kids were thrilled to see him up there this morning.

Now, let me just stop for a second and wonder aloud how it is that Joey, age 10, no longer believes in the Halloween Ghost (an apparition who appears on Halloween night after the kids have gone to sleep and exchanges most of their candy haul for a toy or book; I made this up when Kevin was a tyke in order to convince him to willingly part with most of the crap he got trick-or-treating), but does still believe not only in Santa, but that this stupid, fake-looking Elf doll is a real elf.  Go figure.

Then the questions start:

“Mommy, when did he get here?”

“Did you see him come in?”

“How did he get in the house?”

“Does he fly?”

“Does he talk?”

“Why does he look like a doll?”

“Will he talk to you while we’re at school?”

“Will he still be here when we get home from school?”

My favorite: “Mommy, I saw a bunch of boxes at Target that said ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ on them.  What are those for?”

And leave it to Annabelle to climb up onto a chair to get a closer look.  “Mommy, why does it look like he’s taped to the wall?  I can see tape behind him.  How come there’s tape on him?”

Listen, kid.  If you keep up with the questions, your pal the Elf is going to take a header into the nearest garbage can.

I’m just not good at making up lies on the spot.  I need time to weave my lies to make them more believable, so if my kids are expecting wise, magical answers from me, I’m sure they’re sorely disappointed.  I give my standard answer to all of their questions pertaining to the Elf: “I.  Don’t.  Know.”

In any event, it does seem that our Elf is quite the rascal.

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There he is, up on the dining room mirror (pretend you don’t see the dust up there).  Oh my goodness, what in the world . . . ??

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Well, I never!

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Hey!  That’s my vodka!!

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Elf, you dawg!  You da man!

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Oh look!  He shits mini chocolate chips!  Isn’t it precious?

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Happy freakin’ holidays!