From overwhelmed parent to grateful parent. Repost.

I decided to repost this blog from May, 2014. It is still relevant, albeit with some minor changes in our lives but I thought it was a good reread for this time of year for parents of three or more kids. Happy reading! 

There are generally three times each school year that leave me feeling breathless, rattled, unsure of my ability to be supermom, flying from this to that. And that was when I had just one kid in school full-time. Having two this year and a third gearing up for kindergarten in September, I wonder how I’m going to handle it all.

The first time is back to school. If you have one or eight kids this is a crazy time as you prepare you little student for their upcoming year. Second is just before Christmas break. Concerts are planned, gingerbread house making nights, presents to buy and the holidays to prepare for. Third is right now – mid-May until mid-June. Four weeks of frantic activity from everyone involved.

The kids start getting their first taste of warm sunshine. They want outside. All the time. Desperate to soak up the rare vitamin D in our part of the world and chase the explosion of white butterflies and bumblebees. Especially after a year like 2014 that has been low on the sunshine and a what seemed like we lived in the movie, “Frozen” where snow and ice-covered our land.  Trying to get them to bed at their regular bedtime is challenging, even with blackout shades as the older ones know how to raise them up and peek out the window at the sunset.

“Mooom!! It’s not bedtime yet. The sun is still out. I can’t possibly sleep when it’s not dark.”

“I know honey, but while school is still on you have to go to bed at your regular time. Read for bit.”

So they read, chat and play and don’t fall asleep until after 9 pm and it is dark outside. For some reason it doesn’t phase them getting up with the chirping robins at 630 am. The only person in the house who is still going to sleep no matter what is Jacob, the three year-old.

“I’m done everything and ready for school. Can I go in the backyard?”

“No dear. There’s still a heavy dew on the grass. You’re feet will be soaked.”

So, trying to match their boundless energy I coerce them into completing homework and practicing for upcoming recitals and performances.

Yes, every single program my kids participate have their end of year performance, recital or celebration within this four week period. If you are blessed with children who like the performing arts, it means costume trials, dress rehearsals and early morning line-ups to buy tickets to your blessed child’s five-minute routine during a three-hour show. It also means trying to prepare them for these routines the best that you can while they blow bubbles in the backyard because how can you deprive them outside playing time when they have waiting almost seven months for warm summer breezes?

But we try. Oh do we try.

end of school year

Another testament to my patience this time of year is the endless “end of school” celebrations. I admire and appreciate the school’s desires to honour parental volunteers and celebrate the end of the year. But between you and me, having three kids means I have to squeeze in trying to attend all of their school-related stuff. Spring concerts, BBQ’s, Fun Fairs and volunteer teas. Not to mention the onslaught of trying to do that last-ditch attempt at fundraising so movie nights and art nights. Trying to attend them all,  I enthusiastically cheer and really do appreciate the time it takes to organize these things and have a lovely time when I’m there. But then my kids can’t complain when their summer clothes are being pulled out of the bins as the temperatures increase and I really can’t send them in cords and long sleeved-shirts any longer. A quick check to see if too wrinkled and a sniff to see if items pass the smell-test I throw summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts their way hoping they haven’t grown out of them. Something has got to give!

Oh, did I mention soccer started? Yes, all the spring activities start during this time frame as well and with that means extra nights for picture nights and Friday evenings fraught with on the go dinners to get two kids to soccer.

In between all of the above are teacher-parent meetings as teacher’s start collecting their marks for the year and parents try to encourage their kids to “give it all you got for these last few weeks!” Time to shop for year-end gifts and decide if other parents are giving the jazz class instructor a token of appreciation and who makes the cut and who doesn’t in my quick and dirty gift-shopping spree. Having three or more kids means you also have to remember, did I give that gift to that teacher last year? Will the bus driver appreciate yet another gift card from me for coffee at Tim Horton’s or should I do something new?

Oh and I’m trying to pack for our first summer trip of the year, finish editing a book (this is where I am glad I finished it before this time period), exercise to get ready for two and a half weeks at the beach and squeeze in those last playdates with my kid’s friends because goodness knows there are some kids they won’t see all summer (gasp!) and they absolutely must have them to our house one more time.

GratitudeCiceroquote

But yet, although I may complain about how crazy life is about to get I am aware this is brought all upon myself. I can pick and choose how absurd our life gets and for that I am thankful. I am thankful I have schools in our area that care enough about their students/teachers/parents to celebrate a successful school year. It is with gratitude I give tokens of appreciation to all the people who taught my children all different things this year or kept them in safe environments. I will buy tickets to support a local community theatre group and try to coerce my relatives to come and see our kids play pirates in an hour-long play or drive to the obscure theatre to watch my daughter dance for five minutes. For these are the markers of another year gone by. One where despite the full and crazy life we have, I manage to get out once a week for a run. I get to travel a little bit with and without the kids. I completed a novel. I took my son to his first professional baseball game. These are the memories they and I will have.

And that, makes it all worth it.

One last note.

Even though all worth it, do not think for a moment that this particular mom of three, will not hesitate to pour a big tumbler of wine after dinner while the kids sing “Let It Go” to the neighbours and sit with my feet up on my toy-laden patio table looking forward to bedtime each night. For it is only after my little darlings are finally asleep and the house is quiet can I permit myself to do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all and for the next four weeks and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

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Helping your kids, helping yourself.

As per my a previous post, I am on a mission to help my kids (and myself) be more organized and teach responsibility. Knowing this needed to be done but also being a parent to three small children, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up and one of my goals is to get ahead of the game. Or at least try to. In doing this, the hope is to help our household run a little better and teach the kids about organization at the same time.

Some of this was derived from report card time. My eldest child, a bright easily distracted nine-year old, is struggling with her current school program. The standard message has come home the last few years,

“Elizabeth is a bright, empathetic child. She would greatly benefit from focusing more during classroom time, completing her work in an organized way and using the resources available to her.”

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

“Yes, we know she can do the work if she wants to, but her work is too inconsistent to be marked at grade level. If she would just focus in class a bit more and take her time, we think there would be huge improvements.”

My standard question is, “What are the resources available during class time and within the school to support this goal of motivating her to focus on her work? Timers? Reward charts? What?”

Usually I am taken through the standard in class resources. But telling me in February that you are just starting to do things like giving her a private area to focus on her work or inviting her to join a guided reading club twice a week at recess is frustrating with more than half the year is gone. I know teachers are limited to what they can do in a day and it is the hardest job. I empathize and know you try your best. But as a parent, I would like not to wait until the year is half over to address concerns, but deal with them as soon as they are noticed and see mechanisms in place after the Progress Report if you think they are needed. Not four months later. As for other available at-school resources outside the classroom for these types of learning skills, well they are non-existent at our school.  Basically the continued message I have received is that she will continue to be marked low until she writes neatly, focuses all the time during class on a more consistent basis and uses the resources for her spelling.

Ummm..okay.

On one level, I can’t argue with them. It is the same frustrating battle I have at home trying to balance her free-spirited ways knowing she understands the material, but she really doesn’t seem to care if she spells are without the “e” because,even though she knows it’s supposed to be there (as she can spell it correctly when she edits her work or spells it orally) so why should she write it down properly? She just wants to finish and get on with the next thing. Sigh…

Trying to walk the line of working with the school system while encouraging them to perhaps look at alternative ways to motivate her, I am tempted to write a standard letter  to every one of her teachers at the beginning of the year.

“Please excuse my daughter. She understands everything you are saying but unless she sees the personal benefit to write neatly and in an organized way, telling her to do it just isn’t going to work. Perhaps rewarding her with smarties will entice her to focus on her work. I invite you to try any positive reinforcement at your disposal but please try those things now and not in March.”

But some teachers may not appreciate my sarcastic sense of humour.

The only thing I can think of as a parent trying to juggle multiple kids homework etc. was to go back to basics. I researched chore lists, homework lists and found some great online free resources. Some of them customizable.

As a first step, I created a simple system to encourage personal responsibility. The system needed to contain visual cues and reminders to teach what is a good use of one’s time as I do have an emerging reader in JK.

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

Each child has a folder jammed full of their specific paperwork, homework, reminders and special pencils. To be cleaned out once a month. (As the picture was taken last week, as you can see not emptied for the month yet!)

Above that, each child has a list of expected age-appropriate daily tasks to be checked off. If the whole week gets checked, they get extra time for a movie on the weekend, or trip to the book store to cash in that last birthday gift card. Some sort of “good job” incentive.

Beneath that, each child has a daily schedule with slotted times for piano practice, homework time, free time, lessons,  extracurricular activities etc. I also included their in school library days, or weekly dictation tests. These will change every four months as activities change. My hope is that if they can visually see how much time they have for items or upcoming due dates prompting  them to use their time wisely.

This is as much for me as for them as my head was getting full of so many school-related details.

Now as simple as this looks (and let’s be real, this is not staged so yes I use markers to draw things and items are askew) the point is that it is there for reference.

We went through a tutorial with each kid outlining their charts with an emphasis on independence. What is that? Simply put, if they don’t know what to do, check the chart first. If they still need help figuring out how to use their time, ask a parent.

This also can help any grandparent, child care provider and Mr. L in the event the main organizer, (me) is ill or away.

We got through week one of using the charts and for the most part it went well. Especially with Elizabeth. She likes knowing what is expected of her and having a resource to refer to. It helps keep her focused on the task at hand. It also helps a mom who hasn’t showered in two days take a breath and state the mantra, “Did you check your lists?” With that reminder, the two eldest children figured out what they were supposed to do without much more input. Also freeing up my time to teach a rambunctious four-year old his alphabet.

Next on my list? Investigating and brainstorming simple but creative ways to entice a nine-year old girl to care about her work without overwhelming her. I want to motivate her but more importantly, I want her to learn to motivate herself and be proud of her accomplishments.

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com

Responsibility – learning it together.

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on. “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

Nine years old. My eldest child is about to turn nine this week. Some days I feel she is wiser beyond her years. Others I have to wonder if she stopped listening at the age of five. Combine that with a blossoming sense of over confidence that she has her world mostly figured out and a girl who since she could speak, has a question or comment on just about anything. Well, if you have or had a nine-year old, you get it.

The topic this week in our household? Responsibility. Honesty. Building a plan to be more responsible. Why? Well, our clever girl, wanting to do well on a presentation for school, decided that because she felt so good about it, to forge a mark on the paper and pass it off that her teacher gave her an A+ on the spot. Thinking back I should have been a little more suspicious when there was no sheet accompanying her speech and that her attempt to explain that the mark was only for the presentation part was a bit far-fetched, but being a distracted mama, I trusted her.

Thankfully, my little girl, having a Jimminy-Cricket voice whisper in her ear, came down at bedtime and confessed the whole thing. At first I was shocked and disappointed. Then sad. Sad that through my overly loud insistence, and ultimately not so nice efforts after hours of frustrating conversations to get her to even prepare for this presentation, she wanted us to be happy with her effort so she felt she had to bring home some sort of mark.

I did what most parents would do at the time. I expressed how disappointed I was but glad she told the truth. Then ushered her upstairs as bedtime was not the moment for confessions. We would discuss it further in the morning after I talked to Mr. L.

Having a heart to heart later that evening with Mr. L about the whole  situation, I made my own confession. I am sinking. Being on my own most nights, trying to manage three kids with activities and homework, (both items that will be increasing the older they get), while getting dinner ready was getting harder and harder. All of the above while trying to ensure they get to bed at a decent time as I don’t believe having a grade three student up at 9:00 pm doing homework does anybody good.

Elizabeth is the type of kid who needs constant reinforcement, reminders to stay on task and someone to push her. She hasn’t yet strengthened her own inner confidence or drive to get through a single study session for a simple dictee. Jacob desperately wants to learn and is, but at a slower pace because in truth, I don’t have as much time to spend one on one with him learning the alphabet or how to print his name. Thank goodness Audrey seems inclined to get things done on her own and will just pick up a book to read if need be, but she is also getting the short end of the stick. She wants to do stuff, I just don’t have the time to come up with interesting extra work. Hopping between three kids while trying to keep my “no television or other electronic device weekly rule” in tact is becoming harder and harder, and they are young. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for all this.

Then, this lie happens and I realize all the fighting about homework the last few weeks, the badgering, the nagging, the shouting, did not make one difference. Until Elizabeth understands about personal responsibility and will internalize it, I am speaking to the wall. All she took away from everything was that we were desperate for her to get a good mark. In reality, we did say we simply wanted her to take some responsibility for her own work and do her best, but all she heard was good marks or else.

This past Friday was a PA Day. I made a last-minute decision to put the younger two in a morning camp and have Elizabeth help me do some cleaning as a consequence for lying (as well as taking away her iPad until I deemed she had earned it back). After dropping off the younger kids, I made a pit stop at the local coffee shop. With coffee and hot chocolate in hand, I sat Elizabeth down and had a serious one on one talk with her asking what she thought her responsibility was at the house. She knows. She parrots back everything I have said to her over the years about how important it was to be responsible for your own work, to be proud of what you can accomplish, how at almost nine, she had to start caring about more than just what she wants to do. I stopped  her mid-sentence.

“I don’t want you to be like a robot and tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to tell me in your own words.”

After a few seconds, she finally started to talk. I listened. I talked.

I think we made progress.

I also realized I need to be an example. Some days I am organized, others I am not. I too have trouble keeping things balanced and organized. Not because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the systems in place quite yet to help me. Systems are hard because you want one that works for your family and then you have to hope your spouse supports the system and the kids understand it.

So I go to seek the systems. The chore/homework charts that may help her. The room she needs as a nine-year old which is different from a six-year-old room that she shares with her sister.

All while standing on my head and planning two little girls birthday parties this week. Is it no wonder that this past weekend, I hid in the house with  my children from friends texting asking for playdates and napped while the kids played one more round of Super Mario during their electronics are okay weekend? I had grand plans to make muffins with them, take out the Scrabble board but with Mr. L gone part of the day, the thought of coaching two kids on the game while the third hurls letters across the room because he doesn’t really understand how to play made me avoid most family activities. I finally stirred after a log of guild ate at me while I read post after post of “Fun Things to do Inside When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside as a Family.” I love family time, but my whole life is family time right now. Scrabble? Who needs it when I have kindergarten Lunch Bag Learning Kits to go through with Jacob before school next week? So I made popcorn, put on a movie and we watched The Chipmunks – Chipwrecked instead.

In this day and age, parents are expected to be involved in everything. Homework is no longer a solitary act but a shared family learning activity. Kids want to try all the wonderful things they can access in their communities. Playdates are planned ahead of time for next weekend. Part of me is all for it or at least parts of it. Another part of me wants to scream.

I know lots of single child parents and they find it hard to do all this with one. Times all of that by three and you have two options. Sink or swim. Some days I have to wonder, do schools/teachers know that some things, although fun to do as a family, when you have three or more all fighting for one’s parent attention to help them or listen to the same book read yesterday, is only setting up parents for potential failure?

Why wasn’t Elizabeth’s speech worked on in class? Or at least some of it? She’s in grade three, not old enough to figure out the nuances of a three-four minute speech without significant guidance. Right now I’m treading water.  I am a big supporter of education, but is pushing our kids younger and younger to make these big jumps in learning with the expectation that a parent is always available to navigate a child through the increasing piles of busy work necessary. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the anomaly who is having a hard time figuring out how to manage three or more kids?

So I forge on, hoping my talk with Elizabeth sticks a little better when delivered during a one on one meeting over hot beverages. I treated her like a big kid. Let’s hope she starts to want to be a big kid. I endeavour to swim so will tread water a little longer until I find the systems I think will work for us and implement them.

What do you use to keep track of your kids activities/chores or homework?  What tactics do you use to help support them and nudge them towards taking personal responsibility? I am on the hunt.

 

Teaching Strength – Morning Musing

 

 

Browsing Facebook this morning I spotted this image on a friend’s timeline. Usually I read these messages, make a brief mental note somewhere in my brain and move on with my day. But this one stuck with me in so much that I went back and reread it for a very specific reason.

My middle daughter, trying to keep up with the reporting tendencies of her older sister, spills all of her daily news as soon as her snowsuit clad legs hit the sidewalk. In the three minutes it takes for us to walk to our driveway, she has tried to fit all her social angst into one conversation ignoring my pleas that we wait until we are inside, warm and all sitting around the kitchen table where I try to negotiate three kids spilling to me about the good and bad of their days.

Yesterday, (as it typical of an almost seven-year old) her daily dose of problems were friend related. For weeks I’ve been quietly observing her kindergarten neighbourhood crew, two other girls, make the transition from “we all play together” mantra to refocusing their energy on each other leaving my girl as the third wheel. It is little things, not intentioned meanly (I hope!) that I can see when they get on the bus together in the morning. Simply put, the other two girls have grown closer leaving my girl feeling left out. Being a bright little girl who listens, she attempts to discuss her feelings with them telling them they are leaving her out and she feels bad.  In reality, they hear her but they are not processing it the same way as she is. They don’t see the big deal. Some days are better than others but my sense is that she is played with on their terms and only if they allow her to play instead of her deciding if she really wants to play with them.

Now in no way do I think these two girls (whose parents I know and this has been discussed how difficult a three-kid friendship can be) are intentionally leaving her out. However, the social nuances pointing to a change in their friendship.  They are increasingly avoiding her and my girl is picking up on that. So what to do?

I have tried the whole, “we should all play together” mantra which is wonderful, but she looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I’ve tried saying that. They ignore me.”

 

“Maybe you can choose to play with someone else?”

“I don’t want to. They’re supposed to include me.”

How do you tell a child that in a perfect world, yes, those kids who were your BFFs in kindergarten would always want to play with you, respect when you feel left out and alter their behaviour accordingly? She gets it. These children do not and truthfully, are only six years old. Her understanding of the situation and how to deal with it may be above what they understand. They are simply playing with who they want, each other.

Being conversation number five on this subject matter, I decided a different approach was needed.

“Do you want me to talk to their parents again? Maybe try to help them understand you feel left out? They are still your friends you know. Friendships just change sometimes.”

“No. I’ve tried telling them. They just ignore me.”

Personally, at this point I don’t think their parents would do anything that hasn’t already been done. How many times can you tell your own child they must include someone when they just don’t want to for whatever reason?

“Well Audrey, let’s think. What are the other options?”

“I could find new people to play with.”

“Yes honey. You know what, stop letting them decide what you do. You do not have to play with them. There are other girls who would love to play with you. You’ve been so focused on these two, you kind of ignore other people. Let the other girls, maybe those in your class get a chance to know you. Ask to play with them. You make the decision. Stop waiting for them to decide to include you. Take charge of what you do.”

“Yeah. I am interested what the other girls play at recess.”

“Then ask to join them. If E. and A want to play with you, let them come and find you and then you can decide if you really want to play with them or your new friends. Just be polite about it. If they want to play only together right now, it doesn’t mean they’re not your friend. But that also means you do not have to drop everything if they come and ask you to join them. You are in charge of your time. Not them.”

“Okay. I’ll try tomorrow.”

My stomach is in knots for her. Then I read this message this morning and think, exactly. That is what I want to teach her. Love yourself more.

We strive so hard to teach our children to be kind, polite and inclusive to all their peers. All wonderful attributes. But do we sometimes forget  to tell them, especially our girls, that you do not need to stay in a friendship that makes you feel bad? That friendships sometimes do not last forever and only so much can be tried before a change is needed? It may be sad, but it will be all right because another friend may be waiting around the corner, perhaps a better suited friend. Or perhaps that friend will come back one day and your friendship will be stronger.

Why are we afraid to tell them that people are agents of their own fates and should not be beholden to others for their happy moments? As long as relationships are managed with consideration, politeness and respect it is okay to walk away. I want to teach my girls to be masters of their own universe and not let their peers dictate what they do. A grand plan that will not always work out I’m sure, but I can try. Is that not my job as their parent?

With bated breath, I await her report at the end of the day and hope for the best.

This kind of week.

Birthday week. The week I dread but look forward to. The week where I am thankful to be a SAHM because in truth, I have no idea how I would pull it off otherwise. Our two girls have birthdays two days apart. They are also now at an age where a mutual party is no longer acceptable. One wants a princess at the house with a few close friends. The other wants her girlfriends to dress up at a fashion party. Thank goodness for a local establishment, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids, who provides a fashion party. Birthday celebrations started yesterday for Elizabeth, now eight years old. She requested a surprise breakfast, homemade angel food cake (she has no idea it came out of a box, but oh well!) and Chinese food for dinner. Thank goodness for delivery. Audrey turns six tomorrow morning. Being a Saturday, she is lucky to get her birthday party on her actual birthday. So Princess Rapunzel is arriving in the early afternoon. Which meant getting the house ready today and all the food. It meant attacking our rec room to make room for twelve little people to sit in a circle and listen to a princess for an hour and a half. Oh, did I mention the family party afterwards? The one where the grandparents are all arriving to celebrate with both the girls? Then Elizabeth’s friend party is Sunday. 

Unable to move after sitting to drink a cup of coffee, I crafted this email to Mr. L. 

Dear Mr. L,

I have grocery shopped, planned three birthday parties, ordered balloons, picked up decorations, ordered a cake, ordered food for our friends, cleaned up the rec room (you will be impressed), moved furniture and tried (in vain) to provide ice removal service for our driveway in anticipation that we have multiple people coming and do not want a lawsuit on our hands. I lifted bags of salt and sand to aid the ice thawing. My lower back is very very sore. I am very very tired. (I’ve given up giving up my afternoon coffee until Monday, what’s the point?) 

 Please come home. 
 
Your main duties before 10 am tomorrow include: 
Clean up of dog poop in backyard so our guests do not need to see dog shit when they eat.
Place a leaf in the kitchen table
Continue with the removal of ice in our driveway. It is fucking dangerous. The kids were falling all over. I have come to realize I do not have the physical capability to break up thawing ice and haul it upwards onto massive snow piles while trying to not slip myself and keep an eye on our kids who decided sledding down one of the snow hills on a sled onto said icy driveway was a “cool idea.” although I gave t a good shot. 
Pour your wife a glass of wine.
Rub her back and feet (sitting – did I do that today?) 
Do the dishes.
Stop at 10 pm and please watch a show with me. In our bed. Comfy where I do not have to move. 
 
I realize you are also insanely busy, but it is nearing 5 pm. Come home and take care of me and help me take care of the house. Please. 
Sincerely, 
Your very tired wife who isn’t sure how she is going to survive another birthday year.
 
Being a nice guy, he jumped the first train home. 
Maybe I can start moving, kick the kids off the TV which I haven’t the energy to turn off and get dinner ready before he gets home. Maybe. 

Sunday Brunch – Where has the food gone?

As a Mom to three growing kids, I know how much the grocery bill has expanded since the little tykes have started eating everyday people food. I am the mom who refuses to make custom-to-go meals at our house. I make one breakfast, one lunch (if we’re home) and one dinner. Lots of sides for picky eaters like we always have cheese, bread and fresh cut veggies, but unless I have already cooked a pasta one with meat sauce for carnivores and one with plain tomato sauce for everyone else, I do not go any further. Even if I felt inclined to make five different meals, I simply do not have the time. The closest the kids every get  the “more than one meal choice” is either at breakfast where one out of three can make her own cheese wrap if she prefers that over oatmeal or it is leftover night where I re-heat and re-use everything in the fridge and put all the dishes in the centre of the table. 

I would love to batch cook on Sundays but up to this point, life gets in the way. With Mr. L working from 1130 am to 3 pm every Sunday, my time is spent on Sunday resting, catching up with kids homework or organization house projects, writing (gasp!) or exercise. That is in between the birthday parties, family get-togethers and other life events that get in the way. On top of that, I’m just tired by Sunday and can think of nothing less I would want to do than be on my feet for four hours prepping meals for the week. I applaud people like my younger sister who work shift work and have to do this so her family has healthy meals on hand. I’ve seen her in action prepping meals during my last post-delivery when she showed up, pots and knives in hand to prep two weeks worth of meals for our family while I was dealing with being in and out of NICU with my little Jacob. I am in awe of people like her. 

However, with full hibernation mode on as we settle into another month of cold, snowy and freezing temperatures, I decided to return to the Sunday brunch. Being on the go a lot in January meant we had little time to sit down on Sunday for a proper meal. I am not an early riser and in dire need of coffee each morning and Mr. L has not taken up the apron as of yet, so an early morning breakfast doesn’t jive with me. But brunch once I am caffeinated, showered, the house is fairly tidy and I had an hour or so to write, seems ideal. So this morning I plunged ahead. Wrote for a half hour and then started making bacon and french toast with orange juice to drink. Simple but food the whole family likes. 

Watching the bacon while burning the new Bath and Body Works Limoncello candle to mask the grease smell it was heart-warming to hear the kids say, “Mmmm..what smells so good?” 

After placing all items on the table and the kids digging in they all yelled thanks and with full bellies have disappeared upstairs to quiet play. (Thus why I’m writing this and not doing the dishes!) But I had to gasp, how can three little people eat a plateful of bacon (I cooked the whole package) and all but two pieces of french toast? (I used up 3/4 of a loaf.) I was hoping to have bacon left to use in a recipe this week for a pasta sauce and a bit of french toast left to refrigerate for tomorrow’s breakfast. My regular sized frying pans did not even accommodate the total amount of food I had to cook but I had to fry and flip multiple pans to get the food ready. Did I mention little people? Eight, six and three years old to be exact. What is going to happen as they get older and hungrier? I already have to battle the “I’m hungry” bug multiple times a day, especially if it’s an at home day. 

As I go to wash up the dishes, for the second time this morning, I’ll have to re-think not only my pots and pan situation but also how much food to buy for a family of five. I could have easily cooked up two packs of bacon if I wanted to try and have some for the rest of the week. I was very much looking forward to fresh crumbled bacon on a caesar salad on Tuesday night!! 

How do you plan and feed a family with three or more kids?? 

Where did the pumpkin seeds go?

Minutes ticked by.

“Is it Halloween yet?”

“I want to get my costume on. Now!”

“When are we carving pumpkins?”

“No kids. Chill. It’s Monday. Halloween is Thursday.”

This was the conversation that started early last week at our house. Having to downgrade this blog to a once a week posting due to my other writing committment, a preschooler who has dropped their naps and Halloween, it is only now with Jacob taking a bit of a rare nap due to the time change, that I can try to post something about our Halloween experience.

Usually in our house, pumpkins are carved the weekend before Halloween. It saves my sanity instead of trying to squeeze carving jack-o’-lantern faces during the after school rush. In our house, three kids equals three pumpkins to gut and carve. However, Mr. L and I took a rare opportunity having my in-laws babysit the Saturday before Halloween and whom agreed to stay overnight to go on a “super date night” complete with renting a hotel room in downtown Toronto and ordering room service for dinner. (And yes, for breakfast the next morning too.) A little reprieve which was so exciting that Mr. L fell fast asleep halfway into the rented movie we were watching from the king size bed. Another luxury.

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto, ON

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto

Although a little piece of personal heaven, getting back mid-afternoon on Sunday rushing through homework, dinner and all the rest, the pumpkin carving time was pushed to early in the week, after school.

I tried to plan the week carefully. Monday – piano lessons equals no time for pumpkin carving. Tuesday – free except normal homework.  So an early dinner was planned, homework for my grade two student completed so we could get right into pumpkin carving as a post-dinner activity. I even managed to paper the table pre-bus pick-ups and lug in three good-sized pumpkins to warm up. Homework went a little later as did dinner prep and the light outside was fading fast as were my three little monkeys. Gulping back a scalding cup of coffee I rolled up my sleeves, put away the spelling duotang and opened up each pumpkin letting each kid start digging. While they made their first foray into the still cold, although thankfully not freezing pumpkins I tried to capture their grossed out faces on my camera, finish dinner and help the smaller ones. Dinner was served alongside pumpkin guts and seeds plunked onto the waiting baking sheets and my crew took bites in between pulling out stringy orange goo. Mr. L walked through the door,

“Where am I supposed to eat?”

Shrugging I suggested he get changed first or risk a splatter of pumpkin juice on his nice blue suit.

Thankfully, after a meal, he got right into the last part. The carving. As each kid chose their face, I stenciled and he carved I was able to clean up from dinner and finish the final cleaning of the other waiting pumpkins. Team work at its best. Elizabeth wanted to roast the pumpkin seeds that night but I explained they had to dry.

“Can we have them Halloween?”

“Sure.”

Pumpkins complete.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Next came the dreaded Halloween cake.

“Mom, I want a homemade Halloween cake this year.” Said my 7.5 year old Elizabeth her hazel eyes pleading with me.

“Oh honey, you know Mommy doesn’t bake very much. Really?”

She looked so forlorn that I immediately gushed, “Of course I’ll bake you a Halloween cake.”

“From scratch?”

“Ummm..sure.”

Wednesday. Time was running out.

“You’re making the cake right?”

“Yes.”

“I want to help.”

“How about I make it before you get home from school and we’ll decorate it together?”

“Okay!”

So after gymnastics, lunch and all the rest I started the cake. Not hard. I’ve done it before. Devil’s food cake from Betty Crocker. Best mix ever. Actually got it done before bus pick up and the three cakes were cooling on the racks. I was so proud of myself when I realized. Crap. Dinner. Wednesday is also the night I have a writing class. A must-go for me. So scrambling I pulled out leftovers for another attempt at an early dinner. During homework time, I quickly made the homemade icing. Three little hands reached for the beaters and I passed them off ignoring the “you’ll spoil their dinner” mantra in my head. Their faces were amazing. I vowed then and there always to make homemade icing. After half eaten dinners, we melted marshmallows and four sets of hands reached into the warm gooey mess stretching the white goodness all over the iced cake making spider webs. Lastly, Elizabeth added the plastic spiders. Cake complete.

“Can we have a piece?”

“No. It’s for tomorrow night.” I call blowing kisses as I run out of the door. Thankfully I am only five minutes late to class.

Spiderweb Cake

Spiderweb Cake

Halloween Night. Costumes are all tucked into three knapsacks ready for costume day at their respective schools. Little treat bags, made post-class last night at 11 pm for my kindergarten daughter and her friends are ready to go. It’s pouring outside. One nudged onto a waiting bus.  Another is gratefully picked up by a neighbour as she doesn’t want her son’s costume getting too soaked before he gets into school and has offered my daughter a ride.

“Don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds!” Elizabeth calls as she skips out the front door.

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

The third is dropped off with his big hammer. Little blonde Thor in all his glory.

Halloween celebrations have started. Having all three out of the house allowed me time to finish decorating, get the dinner table ready for a planned pre-trick or treating pizza dinner with another friend and her two sons.

After school is a blur as the kids anxiously await their friends dancing around the table. Soon our friends arrive with pizza balancing pizza boxes and we commence convincing five kids (all 8 and under) to eat at least one slice while we give out popcorn and cut up veggies. Finally it is  cake time and it is a success. All of them got a huge piece, took two bites and then the doorbell rang. Our first trick or treaters of the night. That ended our dinner as five kids went flying to get their costumes back on and out the door not caring if they had coats on or it was drizzling rain. Thankfully, we got a reprieve from the rain and spent an hour and a half chasing the kids up and down our neighbourhood.

The pizza party.

The pizza party.

“Mom, where are the pumpkin seeds?” Elizabeth asked as she counted her candy warming up on our family room floor.

Shoot. Caught red-handed. They were still on the baking sheet in the oven, but not roasted. I had forgotten about them.

“Umm…how about we do it this weekend? They still have to dry.”

“Okay.” Distracted by the bucket of candy, she is easily distracted.

Halloween complete. Week complete. Thank goodness for the extra hour on Sunday night.

But then I wake up this morning. Puttering around the house, cleaning up while Jacob nicely plays with his toys. We go to get groceries. Come home and I’m opening the oven door to get some pans out. I spot them.  There they are. The pumpkin seeds, still “drying.” Damn. Thankfully Elizabeth hasn’t mentioned it yet. Maybe I can surprise her and roast them this week. A nice reminder of Halloween.

Achoooo!!!!!

Image

This past week I have felt the sympathetic looks from many people. Teachers. Friends. Other parents at the bus stop. Random strangers in the stores. These silent pats on the back have kept me going through nearly two weeks of runny noses, coughs, sinus infections, sore throats and a very, very grumpy family. Cold season hit our household like a tsunami. Large waves of kleenex rose up as a tidal wave as the mantra became, “Go get a kleenex to wipe your nose.”   This mom of three is so tired she turned on the television so she could nap for twenty minutes. Soups and chillies were made through a sinus headache in an attempt to battle the colds away. Orange juice and almond milk was poured into glass after glass to lessen the fluids seeping from every nose of nearly every single family member. We have a dad so tired he plods through the house after work still in his untucked button up shirt too exhausted to go upstairs to get changed. 

How do we do it parents? When we are sick ourselves and fighting exhaustion, how do we still manage to put one foot in front of the other to make lunches for the kids (who are lucky that day not to have a fever), go to work, start up a volunteer snack program at an elementary school or simply function when this kind of week hits a household?

We are the soldiers. We may have larangtyis, drink green tea with honey instead of wine (hell, I haven’t even wanted wine for the last two weeks) sit zombie-like under a warm blanket watching whatever is on the television, sleep when we can, pop tylenol to numb the pain of a headache or sore throat, but we get through it. Or so I keep telling myself this week. 

How do I manage when fall colds hit our house? Besides the above already mentioned I try to remember: 

1) At least it’s not the stomach flu. 

2) It’s only 5-10 days. Colds do end. 

3) It is a good excuse to get that hired cleaner in and scrub every surface in the house to get rid of lingering viral intruders. 

4) Water. Water. Water. Make sure everyone is drinking lots of water. Good habit anytime. 

5) The kids think it’s great to get juice every day as it is usually a treat. Super Mom points. 

6) It is kind of nice to sit cuddled with one (or all three kids plus the dog) watching a movie because frankly, we are all too tired to do anything else. 

7) Never run out of kleenexes. Good excuse to hit Costco. 

8) Green tea is better for you than a glass of wine. Instant detox program. 

9) My body needed a break from exercising anyway to heal up from last race. 

10) You can cancel almost everything. No other excuse is needed. Who wants to be around someone with a bad cold anyway? All obligations can be re-scheduled and you actually have free time to write, nap, catch up on tv, read whatever your fancy. 

How do you manage when colds hit an entire household? 

Post-Race Round Up

It is hard to believe but autumn is upon us! The first official day today and the weather has gone from balmy humidity to crisp fall air in a microsecond. All I am thankful for is that I finished my first mini Tri race last weekend when it was cool but not crisp outside!

Yes, I finally reached my own personal fitness goal. The race was swam, cycled and ran last Sunday at Lakeside, Ontario organized by MultiSport Canada. A four-hundred meter swim, ten kilometer bike and two-and-a-half kilometer run all in one shot. I reached deep into my own stubborn nature and pushed my training the last two weeks getting ready determined not to let my first race intimidate me. How do you train with three small kids? In truth, pockets of time are so precious that more and more thought goes into how I spend any time I can carve out for myself. This race took precedence over everything else. I had committed to it and was determined to finish it. I went swimming at night after I had kissed my babies good night at a local health club. I ran in the dark the last couple of weeks. I cycled on the weekends as Mr. L napped during a mandatory quiet time in our house.

We managed to fit it in my training and Mr. L was supportive, for the most part. I tried to run anywhere I could. My little guy, still at home with me most of the week, would jog with me to the park his cute little laugh echoing down the quiet streets once the older kids went back to school. At times it was tough to fit in training. Family events, a friend who needed a shoulder for support, Mr. L’s insanely busy schedule. They all took precedence over the training because for me, my training does come second. It is as important, but being flexible and creative organizing my time was paramount. I had to be okay if my Sunday morning planned run was delayed because we decided at the last-minute to squeeze in one more family outing. I still did it, just later that day.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Race day came. I plunged into crisp lake temperatures on a gray day as my family looked on cheering. I ignored the weeds at the bottom of the lake and used whatever stroke felt right swimming to the  finish line praying I would not have to pull the cap off and wave down one of the nearby aides. I shook off the stiff fingers as I pulled socks over wet feet and tried to do up the laces on my shoes ignoring the others bypassing me in transition as I stumbled over what shirt to pull over my wet bathing suit. I groaned but kept pedalling up the rolling hills of the Ontario countryside cursing myself for only road bike training on the flat and safe streets by Lake Ontario. I threw my bike onto the rack and hit the pavement during the run ignoring my feet that had gone numb from the cages on my bike and let my legs do their job. And I finished, not last and not feeling like a truck hit me. My family was at the finish line cheering me on as I sped up and I felt great. Great for finishing and then cold. Asking for a sweater to pull over my quickly cooling body, my sister-in-law asked, “Wasn’t that fun?”

Finish Line. Photo by Zoomphoto Inc.

Finish Line. Photo by Mike Cheliak My Sports Shooter

Fun? No. No it wasn’t. Challenging. Satisfying. Absolutely. I had set a goal and accomplished it. But fun? It was not the first word that came to mind. My hip hurt, a residual post-pregnancy ache that will probably haunt me whatever I decide to do next for the rest of my life. I was tired. I was cold. I was hungry. It was absolutely nice to see all the encouragement from my family, the other racers and the great spirit of camaraderie at the event, but for me, fun? Not really.

A week post-race where I indulged in massage, chiropractic care, a facial and even a new pair of running shoes (Hot pink Saucony pair much lighter weight than my old clunkers. This alone is new behaviour!) where my only exercise was chasing my kids and a couple of much-missed yoga classes (something had to give during training and it was yoga which I desperately missed), my hip is still aching. I got some writing done for my new class I started as well a couple of weeks ago with my new free time. However, as much as I resist, the fitness mama has been born. My body used to the regular activity and exercise craves a run down by the lake or a few laps in the pool. Even a quick bike ride. Something that gets my body moving. I know something has shifted, slightly, when yesterday morning during the girl’s tennis lessons, instead of hiding drinking another cup of coffee typing on my laptop, I asked Mr. L if he wanted to play tennis instead. I needed to move.  To help my hip, I have to balance light running with training to give it a chance to rest but my body is starting to scream…no! Get out before it snows. This alone is a new outlook for this parent who craves a good nap, warm bed and good book.

So what is the lesson learned from this experience? Do it. If you’re thinking about it, go for it. It may be fun, challenging or a goal but whatever your reason, if you want to do it, you can.  If I can find time to train for a mini tri, you can find time if that is what you want to do. I did this as a goal and truthfully, to get my behind moving knowing I needed a bigger goal than “let’s go to the gym” to reach for helping create what is I hope a regular lifestyle choice for me that includes some fitness. The biggest question people have asked me this past week, “Are you going to do it again?”

Without hesitation I answer, “Yes. I want to better my swim in open water.” Even six months ago, I had no idea I would say something like that and mean it. Than I usually add, “And maybe have some fun next time.” Because, at the end of the day, if you cannot find the fun in what you are doing, what is the point?

Summer Musings.

Monday. The day I have been looking forward to.

“Really?” you may find yourself asking. “But why?”

In the most basic way, I am free this week from camps. It was a day we could wake up and just float through the day puttering around. Last night as my pen wrote at a frantic pace filling in plans for August followed by the quick tapping of inserting all of the plans in my iCalendar, I came to realize how fast these summer weeks can fill up. My lofty dreams in June of hiking down the local trails with three little kids have given way to blocking out precious time at home where the most exciting part of our day is a trip to the library. I have no idea how this snuck up on me. Trying to plan a park/picnic playdate with a friend who I have not seen in a long time, I realize with horror we only have three open days in all of August. How is this possible?

Part of me embraces the rich experiences we will have and people we can share our summer with and the other wants to run and hide playing board games with two older ones in our rec room while Jacob naps and stop answering calls, texts and emails.

So, I will protect those days like a fierce tiger mama and try to remember it is all brief. Soon enough school bells will ring and my voice will become once again raspy as I plead with three kids to get out the door. I want my kids to have a fun and full summer. I have the rare opportunity of being able to be with them for two months and see all their little eccentricities.

Now all of the above is coming off a crazy mixture of insane baseball playoffs for our two girls Saturday morning followed by trying to celebrate our eleventh anniversary Saturday night. Having three or more it was a “divide and conquer” type of weekend. I took Audrey to her baseball play-off/fun day and Mr. L took Elizabeth. We flipped to see who would take Jacob with them. I won. Now we love spending quality family-time with him, but a rambunctious two-year old trying to emulate his older sisters in well, everything, would spend some of the time running onto the field trying to also play baseball. So, I ensured to pack his mitt and plastic bat along with a few choice Tonka trucks to play with in the gravel dug-out if need be. The text messages from Mr. L started as soon as we arrived at our noon hour game,

“It’s raining here and I didn’t bring an umbrella.”

‘”:(” I wrote back while trying to grab Jacob’s attempt to hug his sister as she went up to bat.

“Damn” I thought to myself, “hope it doesn’t rain here. Good thing I brought my umbrella.”

Audrey and her baseball trophy.

Ten minutes later another text from Mr. L.

“It is POURING here and they are still playing. I have to go to the bathroom but can’t find it. I am soaked. There is nothing to eat, you said there would be a concession stand.”

“:(” Then I added, “Look around, they said there would be a concession stand. That is probably where the bathroom is. I don’t think there is one here either.”

As I pop up our umbrella watching the drizzle of rain start to fall but happily watch Jacob munch on the pizza organizers of the league had brought over to the parents/siblings.

I can’t help myself. “They brought us pizza, thank goodness. Jacob and I were starving! ;)”

After that I don’t get too many other text messages.

After eleven years of marriage, kids and everything in between, I’ve learned how to get my digs in now and then. After all, I spent the entire baseball season driving one, two or sometimes all three to various baseball diamonds since May sitting through freezing cold nights wrapped in blanket, arranging babysitters for the other kids when he couldn’t make it home on time, boiling in the heat and sitting in the rain. I thought it fitting I get the better end of the deal this last Saturday.

The day ended with Mr. L taking a nap once our babysitter arrived and waking upon my  nudges (and a huge cup of coffee) so we could make our dinner reservation. Good thing he sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses earlier in the day!

Eleven year anniversary!

Eleven year anniversary!

After the baseball frenzy of Saturday, a quiet Sunday was very much welcome. Our first inaugural family bike ride with two out of three riding was a milestone for our family. How much I look forward to future bike rides!

First family bike ride!

First family bike ride!

Yet, as it goes during the summer, my parents stopped by with their anniversary gift. They had brought beautiful plants for our backyard, which they planted, bonus!  I have learned over the years to welcome last minute visits, embrace them even, especially during the summer. After all, it was a couple of hours the kids had doting grandparents to entertain and all I had to do was get out a casual picnic lunch eaten on our patio enjoying the garden. Bliss.

Looking ahead to August, it may be busy but I will look forward to the things that fill our days. After all, summer will be over before we know it.