I am fairly certain I have not publicly mentioned this bit of news, even on the book of face, but if you have any kind of internet contact with my husband, you will probably already know this.
In the middle of December, Dave was asked to join a realty team at his office which is the most successful subgroup there. The way it works is that all the realtors in the group agree to take less commission on each individual deal, putting the rest into the hands of the team leader, and in return they get a piece of every deal that happens within their area. Dave's area primarily serves a subdivision under development in town. A huge subdivision filled with houses whose individual rooms are sometimes larger than my entire house. This arrangement is the closest thing to guaranteed money that exists in real estate. If all goes well, we should finally surpass the country's median income level. If all goes really well, we might actually surpass the point where talking about money becomes uncouth, although I probably still will because I'm like that. It's exciting, nonetheless.
In an ironic turn, one of the reasons the team leader asked Dave to join her team is because of his skills in online marketing and SEO rankings. He beat his head against closed doors for over a year while potential employers ignored his experience and said they couldn't hire him without experience. He took those same skills and used them for his own websites--in the same way he learned the skillset--but this time promoting himself as a real estate agent instead of a gardener. He kept popping up in the searches she was studying for her own benefit and decided she wanted him on her team. Just when he had given up on the idea of getting paid to do SEO work and turned in an entirely new direction, he is now partially getting paid to do SEO work. Life is funny, sometimes.
The biggest trade-off in this arrangement is there is an office that must be manned seven days a week. Instead of primarily working at home, he is now primarily working in an office at the subdivision. His total hours are fewer than the ones I worked when I commuted into Nashville and he is in town instead of 40 miles away. These are all great advantages, but he is expected to work six days a week. Saturday and Sunday are almost always included in those days. His new boss is very proactive about making sure he takes his day off every week, but there isn't a standard day off. It rotates according to everyone's schedule and how busy they expect to be on any particular day. We usually do not know which day he has off in a given week until Monday so it is difficult to plan around.
Dave leaves for work every morning around 9 and gets home sometime between 5 and 6 in the evening. On Sundays, he has to leave around a quarter to noon and gets home at the regular time. Any particular day is not extremely long, but working up to ten days in row without a day off has taken some getting used to.
Sunday is a bit of a mad dash now because we get up, go to church, take the girls to Sunday school while we go grocery shopping, run home, unload the groceries, and he shoves food in his mouth before running out the door. Then he is gone the rest of the day.
That was a rather long opening tangent.
Even though I have not had a job since September, I haven't been here alone with the children day after day until the week of Christmas. Before Christmas, Dave would need to visit the office and might be out for an entire day sometimes, but home was still his home base of operations. He would help me get the meals on the table and still did the majority of the cooking while I adjusted to all the changes. He was still here to go chase Marian and redirect a wandering and distracted child. Now he's not. I am officially running this ship. Whoa.
When left to my own devices, here is something I have noticed about myself: my brain does not wake up until at least an hour--actually closer to two--after my body is awake. My executive function doesn't exist before that point. I stare and bumble and have to have questions repeated before I can process them. I drink coffee, but coffee does not immediately remedy the situation.
The other night, after the kids spent time playing in the muck and snow, I decided to wash their heavy coats. I looked at the care labels, put them in washer, set up the machine properly, and set a delay timer to start the washer so it would be finished in time for me to switch them into the dryer first thing in the morning so the children would not lose play time. I was ahead of the game! In the morning, the washer finished and I stumbled, bleary-eyed, into the laundry room to put the coats in the dryer. I pulled out the coats and found them still somewhat muddy. I was dismayed. I was also paralyzed. I stood there staring at these coats for an absurd amount of time trying to form a coherent plan in my mind. Part of my paralysis was from inexperience in handling laundry that doesn't come clean using the care label instructions, but the vast majority of it was due to the fact that as I tried to think about what I should do, I got static and silence in return. "Uhhhhhhh.............What?"
In an ideal world, I would have two full hours to mentally wake up in the morning before I had to do anything else. We are talking mindless scrolling while drinking coffee, waiting for ambition and/or functionality to arrive. After that, I would have another hour to get dressed, make the bed, process the kitchen, start the laundry, and tend to Marian's physical needs. Then and only then would the children make any extra request of me. And I, being actually awake and dressed, would be ready to fulfill my motherly duties.
Ha! The way it looks in reality is very different.
The children are always awake before I am. They don't get up especially early and I don't sleep especially late, but it always seems to happen they are up first. They putter around the kitchen making themselves breakfast. Marian wants what everyone else is having, no matter how much she has already eaten, so a pile of half-eaten food sits on the table at her place. She races to open the garage door and the fridge door and the pantry door in search of some delicacy she has yet to try this morning.
I stumble in and attempt to make a cup of coffee. I am hit with a barrage of requests while I pull Marian out of her various locations and desperately try to keep her from letting the cat out of the house. It's cold. I don't want to have to go chasing the dang cat first thing in the morning.
"Can I have some tea? Can you get me a plate? I want some coffee. Can I have coffee? Why do they always ask for tea? I hate tea. Stop saying tea. Can you give me a spoon? I'm hungry. Can I have more juice? Can you get the cinnamon? Eat! Eat! Can you pour the milk?"
Um, what? Can I finish making my cup of coffee and take a swallow first? Now what did you say? I forgot. Ummm.....
They eat. I find a cup of yogurt. Sometimes Sam brings it to me. Dave is finishing his breakfast at the table. The girls are all spread out with their books and food and tea. Sam eats and hops down to start his games. Marian pops up and down out of her chair, nibbling from her pile and running back and forth, as I impotently tell her to sit still. There is no room for me to sit down.
I stand at the countertop and start scrolling. Dipping my toe into the public square helps me get my bearings. Reading to activate the brain. I sip coffee. Many times I am too scattered and spacey to eat the yogurt that is sitting right in front of me. After some stretch of time, Dave is up from the table, fixing his lunch, getting ready to leave for work. Oh right, I need to eat this yogurt.
Dave is gone. I need a second cup of coffee. I make a few intrepid comments full of wit. I can feel the brain starting to come online. The kids are all up from the table. They all want help. Marian needs to get dressed. I need to get dressed. Chores need to be started. All the schooling that can be done independently is mostly finished.
And here lies the choice: do I tend to myself first or do I tend to the children first?
I've done both. Neither works well.
On the days I choose to tend to myself first, chaos reigns. I go into my room to get myself put together. Nothing spectacular, but the very basic change of clothes, teeth brushing and the mounting of the contacts. No shower. Heaven knows I can barely manage a shower when I am by myself with the kids. I make the bed, process laundry and kitchen, and then turn my attention to Marian, who also needs changed and teeth brushed and hair combed.
Finally the bigger kids get my attention. It is usually eleven o'clock by this point. Olivia and Sam have started some elaborate game they are loathe to stop. Marian is running all over the house "ruining" their games. Grace has slunk away to stick her nose in a book. I help Olivia with her math and reading. Grace may or may not help keep Marian contained. I might have to stop multiple times to get Marian out of the fridge/pantry/garage/backdoor. We finish up Olivia's lessons and Grace is upset because she still needs my help and Olivia all finished.
Olivia and Sam start making themselves lunch. They go back and forth and back and forth. There, truly, isn't enough room in the kitchen for more than one person to be working at once. They run into each other more than once. I try to stay out of the way. They will put together a sandwich for Marian who is immediately drawn by the promise of food. They all begin eating while I finish up helping Grace. Marian is finished and down running around. As soon as Marian is finished, the option of my sitting to eat evaporates. My lunch consists of shoving a piece of lunch meat into my mouth as I help them make their lunches. I go by the pantry and grab a handful of peanuts. I try to remember to get something to drink.
The children are all finished and we have to do readalouds. It is usually after one now and I can't stop and do chores or anything else. If I lose them here, the day is over. The neighbors will hit the street around 2 o'clock and then my kids are D-O-N-E. We finish reading and they hit the door as fast as their legs will carry them out. I start picking up the table from lunch, chat a minute online, and get Marian ready for napping.
She takes about a 90 minute nap. I put her down around three and the clock starts ticking. Do I sit down yet or fold all the laundry that is waiting for me. It really depends on the day.
The days when I tend myself first are smoother housekeeping days where I have the opportunity to sit down mid-day, but the school day is rockier and the children are crankier.
On the days I choose to tend the children first, getting dressed and eating is a real problem. Instead of getting up and getting dressed when my brain finally shifts into gear, I sit in my pajamas on the couch to help Olivia with her math and reading. We begin between 930 and 10. Since we almost immediately begin working, the children have different expectations. Games are not interrupted because they really weren't started. Marian is still running wild, but since I am always close by, it doesn't get too crazy. Olivia gets her work done with me and I check her written work. I immediately go upstairs to help Grace with any math she might need help with. I manage to get Marian changed and dressed at some point. Grace does her grammar and other written work I check it. It's now lunch time. I am still not dressed.
The children make their own lunches plus Marian's and I use the opportunity to get dressed. It's nearly one. After I am dressed, Marian is down and off again. My opportunity to eat is gone. They all finish up and we settle down to read. The timer is ticking again. Two o'clock and they are done.
They leave and I start picking up. I try to get Marian down for napping as quickly as possible because I am now starving.
She still takes a 90 minute nap. During that time I eat whatever I can find, try to make the bed, unload the dishwasher, reload the dishwasher, and maybe fold the laundry. I will probably chat online too because I really need to checkout.
The days when I tend to the children first are smoother schooling days, but I am a hot mess who is barely dressed, doesn't really eat lunch, and has a pile of chores to do instead any down time.
When Marian wakes up from her nap, I am probably already in the kitchen. The kitchen takes up an extraordinary part of my life right now. I seriously am doing some task in the kitchen from about 430 in the afternoon until 9 or 10 at night. The decision about what to make is slow, the food prep is slow, the eating is late, and the cleaning is really slow. We put the kids into bed between 9 and 930. I spend about 30 minutes with them around bedtime. My hope is to be done with the kitchen before they go to bed. Sometimes. Sometimes not.
After they are in bed and if I am done with the kitchen, I try to get some ignored task done before bed. One night it was school checklists, another it was putting away turkey stock, another it was paying bills. Sometimes I just veg on the internet with a fried brain. I try to get in bed around 11 and then sleep and do it all again tomorrow.
I can see the weak point in my day is the first two hours with a non-functional brain. I know, intellectually, I should get up and immediately get myself ready for the day. When the moment comes to do it though, I stumble out of bed, head for the coffee, get pelted with questions, and try to remember, "Now what was I supposed to be doing right now? Uhhhh....." I have a scheduling conflict.
I know better than to try to give advice in this situation, being the sort of person who is naturally up early.
I would be... mornsplaining?
It is similar to waking a person up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night asking him to make important decisions immediately that will affect him all day. Once you are awake, you are like, wait, that wasn't a good choice.
Anyway, it is part general morning problem, part managing a toddler problem, part how do you instruct one child without losing the other problem, and part how do you devise constructive plans and solutions when the only time the other adult is home is in the middle of your school week problem.
So any advice about the other aspects of the problem is most welcome.
Would it help to take a few weeks using a book like "Saving Dinner" which lays out seasonal menus for each week, including a shopping list? I've found that book to be helpful in rough patches, to take the decision-fatigue out of feeding everyone. They may not like each dinner, but the dinners are nutritious and relatively painless, and some have become family favorites... and I don't spend every evening bumbling around wondering what I should cook, and trying to remember what I was thinking at the store.
Another thought - it's great your kids feed the toddler (thank goodness when mine do that - way better than just feeding themselves!). Could you work toward the kids feeding you as well? Or will they create something that inspires you to stick to the starvation routine? If they make both you and Marian each a sandwich, then (a) it will take a tiny bit longer, giving you a little more time before they're off to something they won't want interrupted, and (b) you might be able to eat something more than just lunchmeat, even if it's still on the fly.
And - for readalouds, I've heard some moms specifically opt for on-tape, so the mom can use the time (right there with the kids) for her own wake-up (sipping coffee while listening, for example). Maybe read-aloud time could come while you're still coming on-line with your coffee and yogurt? If the CD is already in the player, perhaps even with a postit "track #3" on the play button, it should take minimal mind-power. Or if you keep it "after lunch" you might be able to eat that kid-produced sandwich if it's not YOUR mouth making the story come to life.
I find the days I have to get up early AND do something specific, before I would normally be functional, it helps to name my phone alarm with the task to complete: "Laundry in dryer" for the days I need to put the timed load in the dryer as soon as I get up so that my husband has clothes.... Again, cutting out any thinking I have to do - just obey the little beeping thing :)
And Bearing, I think you had a post or set of posts about busy-toddler-boxes or something? Things you don't mind your toddler doing when you're working with others? Like cutting bread, stringing beads, etc. I've been meaning to revisit that post and put together some for our house.
I've been really struck by some of the research on decisions and self-discipline taking it out of our bodies the same way physical exertion tires us... if morning is the tough time, better not to put too many tiring decisions/self-discipline moments there. I find habit to be my friend in the morning - if you stick to one thing for long enough, then it becomes not a decision, but an automatic part of what you do, and you can add one more thing. And then (if you're me) I have a very tiring day or week, and just lay down all my habits, as if it won't matter... and then struggle back up the hill of building them again (oops).
Your story is inspiring me, Jenny - I'm so glad you're able to be home and educating your kids as you want to be, and that you're building a skill-set to do it as you want it done. Very cool, and a lot of hard work.
You know I'm no morning person, so two practical solutions.
1. Embrace being a pajama person. Why should you have to get dressed? You're at home all day. Get on Amazon and find some loungey clothes that work for bed and for house, and just make that your uniform.
2. Or, if getting dressed is a priority, put your clothes next to your bed and pull them on as soon as you set foot out of bed. Alternately, put them in your bathroom and get dressed when you first go to the bathroom in the morning. Brush your teeth then. Don't deceive yourself that you'll get dressed after you get a shower, which may or may not happen until late (ask me how I know).
I generally try for number 2, because in the end I feel better if I've gotten dressed, but if you find yourself in your pajamas during the day, simply accept that as the way it is that day and don't feel like you're failing for not being different. Also remember that this is a stage of life right now. One day the oldest and the youngest will both be older and more able to handle themselves and each other, and you'll be more able to take care of yourself in relative peace.
Does showering short-circuit at all the time you need to fully wake up? If so (or maybe even if not), could you just hop right in the shower while your husband is there to make sure no one dies while you're showering?
Would it be possible to do chores that don't require thought while you're still waking up? Like empty the dishwasher? Are your older girls old enough to delegate some of the routine tasks (like the dishwasher) to?
I have 5 girls (ages twins: 9, almost-8, 6, and almost-1) and a boy (aged almost-3). The big girls are in 4th, 4th, 2nd, and K. The toddler is my biggest disruption/problem. The baby girl is getting to that age, no longer satisfied being held/nursed all day long.
We have also struggled with the kids-getting-involved-in-a-big-game-before-school-starts problem. This year, we instituted the rule: when you wake up, you can either do breakfast or school. Nothing else. It means I have to take time each evening to write in their spiral notebooks the list of schoolwork I expect them to accomplish mostly-independently (workbook pages: phonics, spelling, vocabulary, geography, handwriting, math; piano practice; Latin homework (my husband teaches Latin); silent independent reading) (Not all these every day, of course... I tend to have a M-W-F heavier schedule and a T-Th lighter schedule, because we do piano lessons on Th morning). It has really helped, because the 4th and 2nd graders are able to do a significant amount independently (or mostly-independently, coming to me for questions) even while I'm on the couch nursing the baby, or occupying the toddler, or whatever.
I use the toddler's naptime (somewhere between 1-2 hours, usually) for history/science/religion read-alouds, narration, Fun Art Materials The Two-year-Old Can't Touch, poetry memorization, etc.
My routine chores look a lot like yours: laundry, cooking/cleaning in the kitchen, dishwasher, bathroom maintenance. We live in a 2BR/1BA rental house (yes, all the kids share a room... it's a little like Mary Poppins's carpet bag, as each time we need to add a bed, there seems to be miraculously enough space for it!)
My biggest girls (9) are able to be very helpful. They can switch the laundry, start loads, sort (kids/parents/kitchen linens), fold (not the parents'), put it away, sweep under the table, wipe the table, wipe counters, get breakfast for everyone, babysit the toddler (yes, this is sometimes an assigned chore, including the instructions "and be quiet about it, because I'm putting the baby down"), change diapers (in a pinch), dress the toddler/baby, bathe the toddler (we just skip the undercarriage in these instances... a mostly-bathed toddler is better than a not-at-all-bathed toddler, I think!), re-stock diapering supplies, etc.
My almost-8 and 6 year olds are also able to be helpful: toddler-sitting, fold/put away their own laundry, setting/clearing the table, etc.
I think the audiobook read-alouds sound like a great early-morning idea.
Could you make a list of tasks that need to be accomplished every day--maybe especially in the morning--and see if there are things that can be delegated to your older girls? Folding yesterdays' laundry? Could you ask your husband to make you a sandwich for lunch while he's making his own? Could you set a timer for 1:30 and have 30 minutes of clean-up (including what I call "pre-partying" in the kitchen: making sure dishwasher is unloaded/re-loaded, counters are wiped, things are as ready for dishing supper as possible) before outside/nap time? Could you decide to spend the first 30 minutes of naptime doing a chore and then the rest relaxing?
More thoughts later...
Thank you for your patience in reading all this!
(And by-the-way, since I'm a totally infrequent commenter... I did once comment to introduce myself and tell you I'm in New Orleans. Just for context.)
What about reducing the number of options at eating-times? Like, assigning one or two breakfast options per day so you aren't faced with endless perusing? (Like: Monday, you can have toast or oatmeal. Tuesday you can have bagels or cereal, etc.)
Thinking again about tasks, are there times you can have "everyone" doing chores (like: biggest girl, fold laundry, you do dishwasher, littler girl play with the baby so she's out of trouble)? Like, maybe one chore time in the morning (even before you're totally with-it?) or one around lunch time? Maybe just 15-20 minutes? Would it help to have a kitchen sink with some soapy water in it at the beginning of supper so when folks clear their places, they can toss silverware or something (plates, if they can reach) into the water so that dishwasher-loading already has a head start, with things being pre-soaked?
Are there things you could/need your husband to be in charge of? Tasks that he can do quickly but that you find really troublesome or time-consuming? Like, could he do after-dinner dishwasher loading while you do some other after-dinner task (like brushing kids' teeth)?
Since his schedule is unpredictable, do you have space in your schooling life to call a "Dad-urday" (like "Saturday") when he's got a day off, for him, maybe, to take charge of the kids while you do school planning or intense cooking, or something else?
I guess, reading your post again, I'm struck by a couple of things:
First, it seems like it would be helpful to have a time or times in the day at which point everyone has a chore to do: laundry, dishwasher, babysitting, picking up, dressing the baby--so that you're not left with all the chores when it's naptime or bedtime.
And second, maybe asking your husband to do one or two specific things to help your day go smoother, like making your lunch when he makes his, or being "on duty" while you shower in the morning.
My husband is a professor, and I'm super-grateful for his flexible schedule (his classes are all afternoon classes). It's funny, though--I'm a definite morning person, but all these children seem to take after him, tending toward sleeping late! I've had to adjust my own natural tendencies (and stop feeling frustrated that no one else is ready to sit down and get started by 7:30 a.m.... the kids are frequently not awake until 8:30, breakfasted until 9:00, or brushed/dressed until 9:30.) I have to make sure I shower while he's here in the morning, and I really try to get the kitchen pre-partied in the afternoon so that after-dinner clean-up is as quick as possible. I make my grocery list at the end of the week (once the circular has come out) and shop Saturday mornings while he's here with the kids.
Best wishes, for sure!
(And happy Mardi Gras from New Orleans!)
I need to really get into the habit of meal planning. I think I am slowly getting better at feeling out the possibilities, but having a solid plan does wonders for me and I am still not quite getting to it.
My hesitation with getting dressed as soon as I get up is because I *know* if I am dressed I won't take a shower. I won't. Maybe I need to give up the dream of a morning shower and just plan on going back to evenings. Because mornings do work better if I am dressed before leaving my bedroom.
Another challenge I have is that it isn't just me trying to learn new routines and responsibilities. This is new for the children as well. They have not really had regularly occurring daily responsibilities beyond themselves. On one hand, the big three are pretty independent and self-sufficient when doing for themselves. On the other, they are very loathe to do anything that isn't "their fault." We don't have pre-existing routines and chores and they are sometimes resistant to having more family responsibility. I know that is a fairly normal child response, but since I am barely hanging on, it's hard to grind everything to a halt and force the issue. They don't mind making extra food, though.
My second biggest challenge, besides being awake in the morning, is finding planning time when my brain isn't already fried. I need a lot of internal processing time and am having a very hard time finding it.
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