Sanity-Saving Responsibility Chart for Kids

If you have children over the age of two, this might sound familiar. If you have younger kids, just you wait.

Mom: Okay, guys, it’s 7:30, you’ve got 30 minutes before the bus comes!

Kids: Ok! We’re ready!

Mom: Grant! You’re still wearing your pajamas, go get dressed!

Grant: Fine!

Mom: Isla, your lunch box is still on the counter, put it in your backpack.

Isla: I will!

Mom: Grant, it’s 7:43, go get dressed!

Grant: FINE!

Mom: Miles, why is your homework still on the table? Put it in the folder.

Miles: Got it.

Mom: Grant, it’s winter, you need socks. Go get socks!

Grant: But WHY?

Mom: Grant, seriously, you’ve got five minutes to get ready, go find some socks.

Grant: Geez, okay, I will.

Mom: Why are there still lunch boxes on the floor? Put them in your backpacks! Isla, you didn’t brush your hair. Miles, did you brush your teeth? Let me smell your breath. You didn’t brush them. Go swish some toothpaste around in your mouth and get back down here and put on your coat. Grant, you need TWO socks. One for each foot. Isla, the brush is right here. Okay, it’s 8:01, go go go! I love you guys! See you after school!

And… cue dramatic flop on the couch.

Every time we needed to leave the house at a specific time, I found myself stressing over remembering which kid still needed to do what, the kids were flustered because I was barking orders and we continually felt rushed no matter how far in advance we started to get ready.

So I made this chart. It’s not a chore chart and it’s not linked to money at all – it’s a responsibility chart with sticks for each kid describing one thing they need to do in the morning, after school and by bed time.

responsibility chore chart for kids children morning library cards popsicle sticks

I bought a large cork board and used up some of the scrapbook paper that’s been sitting unused in my office for years because I won’t have time to scrapbook until I’m 70 years old. Googled “library pocket template” and found one I liked, then Isla and I set about tracing, cutting and folding.

I made six pockets for each kid – Morning Done, Day Done, Night Done, Morning T0-Do, Day To-Do and Night To-Do. Super fancy. In each “To-Do” pocket are hand-written sticks with one task each, tailored for the particular child. For example, Isla and Miles have just “Get dressed,” as part of their morning reminders, but Grant always forgets socks so he has an additional “Put on socks” one. Jonah can’t read so only has one stick right now so he feels included.

Not enough time has passed yet to say whether this is a smashing success or not, but I can tell you this – it is a huge relief for me AND the kids if I simply refer to the chart when they look like they’re dawdling at any point. Miles turns on the TV? I ask him if he’s done everything on his list. This has helped Grant, in particular, because he seems to do well with routines and having clear expectations laid out for him.

I am planning to add a few more soon (we ran out of sticks, oops) but so far I can say this has made for much more relaxing mornings and outings.

What do you do to keep your kids on task? Or are they just naturally good at remembering what needs to be done?


What’s In a Name? Changing Your Name Back (or Not) After a Divorce

When I filed for divorce in 2011, I had to answer a question about whether I’d want to change my name after the divorce. I hesitated but wrote, “Yes,” and then didn’t think about it again for months. Zachary and I reconciled, living together and going to counseling but the efforts couldn’t surmount the challenges and almost a year after I first told Zachary I wanted a divorce, I told him again that I didn’t want to be married.

The original divorce proceedings had never been canceled, merely put on hold. So I did not have to reply about my name change again, but this time I leaned toward keeping Zachary’s last name. I’d have the same last name as the kids, I wouldn’t have to go to the hassle of changing my name on every single document that exists with my identity. Bank accounts, social security card, driver’s license, emails, business forms, emergency contact information for the kids, credit cards. Admittedly, I like the way his last name sounds with my first better than the pairing with my maiden name. I’d envision going back to my maiden name and it made me feel childish, young in a not-so-positive way. Like I’d be erasing the last ten years of my life. I went back and forth. Some days I was sure I’d keep his name, others I was ready to change.

After the decision had been made to move forward with the divorce, the therapist Zachary and I had been going to for couples counseling recommended a book called The Good Divorce by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D. Her book is based on twenty years of research on divorced couples and is full of facts and data, interspersed between vignettes about the couples she profiles. I highly recommend it for any parent facing a divorce. One fact really struck me – she said that 50% of divorced men are remarried within one year of the legal divorce. Not just dating or engaged, but actually married again. Within one year.

And I knew that I did not want to be the old Mrs. Marceaux if and when Zachary remarries. That is what tipped the scale. His family has stopped speaking to me so I don’t feel a connection to “their” last name. I won’t feel like any less of a mother to my children if our names don’t match. I have friends who are married but kept their maiden names – they are fantastic mothers and the name issue has nothing to do with that.

I did worry about how the kids would take it, but I recalled a conversation we had last summer, before the divorce decision was renewed. My daughter asked me why Grandpa, my dad, haa a different last name than us. Because their other grandparents, Zachary’s parents, had the same last name. I explained how often women change their names when they get married.

So when it came time to tell the kids that I’d be changing my name back to Pearson, I stuck to that reasoning. There was no need to get into my emotions behind it or sound sad about it – I didn’t want the kids to think this was a bad thing. Just a fact.

One night as we sat down for dinner I said to the kids, “Do you remember when we were talking about last names, and how women will sometimes change their last names when they get married?” The kids’ heads bobbed yes as they ate.

“Well, since Daddy and I won’t be married anymore, my name is going to change again. It will be the same last name as when I was born, the same last name Grandpa has.”

“So you won’t have the same last name as us?” Miles asked. He wasn’t upset, just quizzical.

“That’s right. But of course I will always be your mommy.”

“Okay,” the kids said. They had all the answers they needed. I sighed with relief and started to eat.

Then Grant looked at me. “So… you and Daddy won’t be married again?”

“Yes, honey, that’s right. Daddy I will never be married to each other,” I explained. I looked closely at Grant to see if this troubled him but his face was clear.

“That means you’re going to be a señorita!” he said, a big grin on his face, proud he could use a little bit of the Spanish he’s been learning at school.

Kids – they really do know sometimes what’s important and what’s not. My name is just a name, and whatever the reasons for dropping my married name, my kids know my love for them will never change based on the letters that follow “Heather” in my signature. To them I’ll always be Mom.

If You Plan for Chaos, Expect Chaos

We’re back from our trip to Walt Disney World in Florida! I want to start out by saying that overall, we had a great trip, and it’s easy to kind of forget the stressful portions (that I’ll share) and focus on the good and the fun. So don’t assume that because I’m writing about the stresses it means I’m disappointed in our entire vacation. I’m already at a point where I can laugh about the mishaps because, really, what else can you do?

Blog image for use on the blog.

Let’s back up a little to before Thanksgiving. Isla had a fever and sore throat so I took her to the pediatrician, along with all the other kids because what else was I supposed to do, leave them at home? We’re quite a sight at the doctor’s office, I’ll give you that.

Isla is normally my calm little one, but she freaked completely out over the throat swabbing and had to be held down by me and a nurse. Ten minutes later – we found out she had strep throat. Awesome! And during the course of our long appointment, Miles told me he didn’t feel well, suddenly. The doctor looked in everyone’s throats and took everyone’s temperatures and determined that Miles and Jonah were sick, as well. Fevers and icky throats. So she prescribed antibiotics for everyone, but told me to hold off giving anything to Grant unless he developed the same symptoms.

After Isla finished her course, her symptoms came back. Called and got a new prescription for her.

The night before we left for Disney World, Jonah’s fever came back, and he also had a rash around his mouth that would not go away and was starting to look worse. Took him to ER. Doctor said his strep wasn’t gone, either. New prescription for Jonah.

I got two hours of sleep that night.

I won’t bore you with the detailed timeline of our illnesses, but the first full day there my uncle had to spend 6 hours out of the park to take Miles to urgent care. Diagnosis: unresolved strep throat. New prescription. The following day I had to take Jonah to urgent care because he’d developed a rash on his face, arms and legs and I was worried he was allergic to his new antibiotic. Diagnosis: Unresolved strep throat and a strep-related rash. Two new prescriptions for Jonah. The day after that Miles and Grant had sore throats, Grant’s was so bad he cried when he tried to eat though he claimed he felt fine otherwise. I kept telling him I was going to take him back to the hotel room to rest but he’d cry and say no, he was okay. But when we sat down for dinner and he couldn’t even eat dessert I knew that was enough – so off to urgent care visit #3 I went with Miles and Grant. The photo above is from the exam room, waiting to been seen by the doctor.

When I walked in with my two boys, I admit, I cried. The nurses ushered me to a back room and I felt bad because I didn’t want the boys to think my sadness was their fault, but I couldn’t control the tears. After six months of planning and anticipation, I was so sad that my kids felt sick and weren’t able to enjoy the trip 100%. I settled down and we waited. And waited. Finally the doctor appeared and (again, to make a long story short), she tried to blame me for the kids’ antibiotics, scared my kids by listing off all these horrible things they could possibly have and telling them they probably couldn’t go to Magic Kingdom the next day and made them cry and beg to leave.

They tested Grant for mono, of all things, despite knowing all the rest of us had had strep throat and it would make the most logical sense that, he, too, had strep. When the results came back, no mono.

In the end, the doctor said Grant had strep throat so wrote him a prescription for an antibiotic. She also said Miles had unresolved strep so wrote HIM a new prescription and also said he had hand, foot and mouth disease. Miles cried because the doctor had already told him he couldn’t go to the park the next day, but she said since he didn’t have a fever or open blisters he could go, so at least we left with that.

I woke up on our final day at Disney not sure if we’d be able to make it to Magic Kingdom. If any of the kids felt sick I knew I’d be staying in the hotel room with them while my uncle took the well kids out. But, thank you, universe, Miles and Grant felt like new kids and we made the most of our short time there.

Yes, my optimism was tested. I took Miles’ urgent care visit in stride. Jonah’s wasn’t awful because it was the day we went to Hollywood Studios and he’s too short to ride most of those rides, anyway. But when we had to go a third time, I briefly fell apart.

My friends have said that one day I’ll look back and laugh, and already I’m starting to do that. If a kid is going to have a sore throat, better to have it at Disney than at home, right?

I’ll share more about the great experiences we had, but for now I am sharing about the chaos. I said once that I’d expect chaos on our trip, and oh, did I get chaos.

Note: Before anyone jumps in to criticize my taking kids with sore throats out to the parks, the physicians we met with assured me that since they’d been continuously on antibiotics that they were not contagious. We rested as much as possible, I offered to take them back to the hotel room and sleep but that made them more upset than the sore throats, and we let Grant sit in the double stroller almost the whole day he felt less than perfect. Thankful I brought the double, I’d almost decided to take just the single stroller!

Halloween Hits and Misses

Halloween has come and gone, and the kids enjoyed every last minute. Zachary and I are separated but we agreed we would both continue to trick or treat with the kids each year. I saw the kids off to school in the morning, their backpacks stuffed with their costumes, then I headed to work and back to the house at night for pizza and begging the neighbors for candy.

Late October weather in MN can be unpredictable, to say the least. It may be below freezing and everyone has to cover up their costumes with heavy winter gear, or it can be sixty degrees and no one wears so much as a sweatshirt. Sometimes it can even be snowing. Friends and I trick or treated in the snow during that freakish Halloween blizzard in 1991. We got tons of candy, since, you know, most sane people stayed indoors.

But last night was relatively mild. Isla and I wore winter coats, but the boys were happy and comfortable just in their costumes. We went from door to door, the kids saying the appropriate things at the appropriate times. We had to keep Jonah from approaching homes where no lights were on because he was so excited to hit every home. Once home we sorted through the candy and pulled out all the pieces with nuts or peanut butter from Jonah’s stash, and the kids sorted and counted their candy just like me and my siblings used to do.

So trick or treating was a big success, and I’m glad I didn’t have to miss out on the festivities.

Also, I’m slightly proud of my contributions to their costumes. For most of Halloweens past, I’ve gone the easy route – I shopped online for costumes and had them delivered to the house. This year, Isla wanted to make her own costume. She crafted a mask for her cat costume completely on her own. I was so proud! She needed help making the tail, however, so I went to the local hardware store to buy some wire and black tape, and fashioned a tail out of large piping I had leftover from a sewing project I completed somewhere around 2004 and one of the boy’s belts. It worked, hooray!

Miles has Halloween anxiety in that all of the costumes he can come up with are so appealing, he has a hard time making up his mind. He thinks he’ll settle on one, then a better idea will come and he won’t be able to use it. Hmmm, sounds a little bit like his mom, in that regard. The day of my sister’s Halloween party he landed on Davy Crockett. With no time to head to a fabric store or a mall, I crossed my fingers that Target would have what I needed. One brown shirt and one tan fleece blanket later, I was all set to make the fringe for Davy Crockett’s get-up. Only thing I was short on was time.

I sat down on the kitchen floor and made Isla’s tail, helped guide Grant toward the Iron Man mask he thought was missing (he and Jonah wore purchased costumes, though the Iron Man one was from our dress-up drawers). Then quickly cut three strips from the fleece blanket and safety pinned them to the shirt (being thrifty, I wanted to make sure Miles could wear the shirt as a real shirt later on). We only had time for one strip of fringe on the front before we had to leave, and I told Miles next year it’s his duty to settle on a costume by Oct. 1.

I’d made a trip to the thrift store in search of a costume earlier in the week and settled on M ichelle D uggar. I put spaces in the name on purpose because now I’m feeling a little mean spirited about the whole thing. I don’t really have anything against the Duggars, but, well, it was something that just came to me so I went with it. I did have a woman at my sister’s party tell me I had the best costume of the night.

Now let’s move on to the misses, shall we?

I had leftover candy melts from the Mickey Mouse treats, as well as left over Oreos, so I had the brilliant idea to add yellow food coloring to the molten candy melts and make orange pumpkins. Well, I probably should have known this, but adding food coloring to melted candy melts results in this kind of clumpy mess. And it didn’t even turn orange.

Next I thought maybe I’d just ice them. Why I didn’t just give up, I’m not sure. So I pulled out an icing recipe and made it and tinted it… and it would not turn orange. It was sort of a peachy color. Which would have been perfect had I been icing cookie peaches. Also, it was a royal icing recipe. Which did not coat the Oreos well and frankly didn’t taste all that good on them, anyway.

In desperation, I thought perhaps I’d just use white almond bark to dip the remaining Oreos and make ghosts. This did not work, either, nor did my food coloring markers. So I gave up on my award-winning treat ideas, admitted defeat, and went to the grocery store where I purchased crackers and cheese to bring to the Halloween party.

My next miss was the pumpkin carving. Isla was sick for three days leading up to Halloween, so the carving kept getting pushed back. Tuesday night we hauled the gargantuan things in from the porch and began scraping out the innards. This took almost all of our time, because the kids were squeamish and not experienced enough in pumpkin-gut-scraping. They’re young, after all. Once I’d helped them clean the pumpkins we set about tracing designs onto the pumpkins. Grant’s was done first, and I set about carving with my little kit. And promptly snapped four of the blades in rapid succession trying to make it through the thick pumpkin skins. It’s a miracle I didn’t lose a finger.

I told the kids next year we are getting smaller pumpkins or else investing in some heavy duty knives and safety gear.

How was your Halloween?

Countdown to Disney – Anticipation! Excitement!

After about three thousand changes to our Walt Disney World reservations (including adding a day, dropping Zachary and Jonah from one day, rebooking under free dining, adjusting Advance Dining Reservations, then removing two days, removing Zachary and adding my uncle) I think we are all set in the reservations department and our countdown to Disney has taken a more exciting tone. When we first made the reservations, we were still over six months away from our trip. Making our dining reservations adding a little excitement, but since then it’s more like, “I can’t wait for Disney! It’ll be awesome,” from the kids about once every day or so.

We head to Florida next month and I can’t wait. Our last trip was so fun, I’m looking forward to doing it all over again with the kids, who are all two years older and hopefully willing to try some new experiences.

How can you make the wait for Disney more fun-filled, especially when reservations are made so far ahead of the departure date? Here are some ways we’re keeping the Mouse in our minds.

1. Watch videos on YouTube. You can type “Disney World rides” into the search box and find tons of options. The ones my kids like the best are the POV ones that take a viewer through the ride from start to finish. I’m hoping this will lessen their jitters a bit when we head to a new ride that they were not ready to ride in 2010. Not only to know what to expect, but I think it also helps them to see other kids their age (or younger) having a lot of fun on these rides. Other kids’ opinions are worth more than their mom’s!

2. Make a countdown chain. To young kids, telling them they have 54 more days until Disney is about the same as saying there’s 365 days until next Christmas. It’s a long, long time and they have no concept of exactly how long it is. At the beginning of each new month, Grant has proclaimed, “We go to Disney World this month!” and I’ve had to say, “Sorry, buddy, not quite yet.” So we used some scrapbook paper I picked up two years ago, cut it into strips, and made a countdown chain we hung in the living room. As the chain gets shorter and shorter, the kids get more and more excited.

3. Make Disney treats. This one popped up in my “everything” Pinterest feed, but, alas, I failed to pin it. I dipped regular sized Oreos in red candy melts (I needed to use a toothpick to make the line straighter; I like straight lines) and broke toothpicks in half to attach the mini Oreos (take them out before giving them to small kids, folks). Melted almond bark for the dots. This was a super easy project for an inept baker such as myself, and the kids were impressed. Success!

4. Start talking about the specifics. We got our luggage tags in the mail from Disney the other day. You know you’re getting close when those arrive! I’ve been talking to the kids about the airport, plane ride and the bus trip from the Orlando airport to the resort. I’ve been reminding them of the long lines and miles and miles of walking. I think setting up realistic expectations really helped us on our first trip two years ago (for both the kids and the parents). I don’t want them to demand 100% fun 100% of the time – let’s face it, feet get tired and standing in lines can get tedious – that way, when things (hopefully) go better than anticipated, we can all rejoice.

5. If this is not your first trip, pull out the memories. I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t yet done anything with our Disney 2010 photos. In fact, I had never even glanced at the images from our PhotoPasses. Awful, I know. So one day I got an email announcing a 50% off photo book sale at a photo printing company and set about making a little photo book for the kids. Hasn’t arrived yet, but I can’t wait to see it! Also, I put all the photos into a slideshow set to music that we could play on the DVD player. The kids had a blast reliving the memories and talking about what we’re going to do again when we go next month.

Did I mention I can’t wait? Yeah, I think I’m more antsy than the kids!

Superheroes Make Everything Better

Last Saturday morning I awoke with a fog in my head. Jonah had been up the night before with a croupy cough, alternating between desperately needing me and then desperately needing Zachary. Eventually he fell into a snotty, coughing sleep in our bed and kicked me until early morning. I knew he slept better with me nearby, though, and snuggling a sick kid may not be as nice as snuggling a healthy kid, but it’s still comforting.

Zachary went off to work before everyone was dressed and I scrambled around the kitchen making shopping lists and looking for my checkbook so I could scribble out the one check I need to write each month.

“Grant, where are your shoes?” I asked as I spied his bare feet. We had two minutes to leave the house to bring the boys to their sports practice.

“I have no idea!” he answered. We have 429 pairs of shoes in this house but no one can ever find the pair they need when it’s time to leave.

“Jonah, did you go to the bathroom?” I yelled into the play room.

“Yes! I goed potty!” he called back. He popped into the kitchen and I saw he was still wearing his beloved new Spiderman costume.

“Jonah, buddy, we need to go. I need you to take off the costume and get your shoes on.” I scanned the counters for my keys. Where were the keys? One minute to leave.

“No! I want to be Spiderman!” Jonah said. He crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip. Typical strategy.

“Fine, fine. You can wear it IF you get your shoes on right now,” I said. “Isla! Miles! Get in the car!”

“Mom, they are already in the car,” Grant said. Ah, perfect. Time to go.

We dropped the older two boys off at their destination and Isla and Jonah and I took off to squeeze as many errands as possible into our hour before swinging back to get Grant and Miles. First stop – the gas station. The minivan’s “you are almost out of gas, you slacker,” light had come on, and I was in desperate need of a caffeinated beverage.

Jonah was determined to open the door of the store for me, and he used all of his super hero might to push it. A twenty-something man paying for a donut at the checkout got a huge grin on his face and said, “Way to go, Spiderman!” Jonah was mostly oblivious to the attention there, but everyone who saw him smiled.

From there we ventured to the post office. The lone employee at the window gushed all over Jonah and his costume. He was starting to catch on to the effect he was having on strangers and gamely smiled and put his hands on his hips in a display of strength and power before saying “Bye bye!” in his pseudo-booming voice.

Up next was the local farmer’s market. As we passed through a long line of people waiting for somewhat famous pastries, the whispers began.

“Oh my goodness, look at that little boy!”

“He is so cute, what a cute mask.”

Isla helped me pick out a butternut squash while the folks at the farm stand complimented her pretty dress and asked Jonah questions about his costume. The he turned around and faced everyone in line and gestured like Spiderman about to shoot a web from his wrists and someone in the crowd said, “Look! He’s posing!” I felt like we were in our own little parade, with Jonah as grandmaster. His get-up left little rays of sunshine every where we went.

With Isla carrying our squash, leeks and garlic and me carrying Jonah (who can resist a 30-pound hero who asks, “Mama, will you carry you?”), we walked to our final destination – the bank. Normally this is where Jonah melts down. Jumping on the chairs as I fill out the deposit slip, trying ot make a break for the doors, begging for suckers – you name it.

This time, in his disguise, he beguiled the staff and sat and talked for a good ten minutes with a banker. Even took his shoes off to get more comfortable. I think he was trying to get a loan to help support his good-deed lifestyle, but was ultimately denied due to lack of verifiable income. Spiderman doesn’t get regular paychecks, you see.

We had such a stress-free, smile-filled morning while we ran errands, I’m tempted to purposely put him in costumes every time we walk out the door now.

You and Your Free Cookies and Mini Shopping Carts…

Dear Grocery Store,

You are close to me, closer than any other grocery store has been my whole life. When I need something, no matter the time of day, you are there for me, like a slightly cold, florescent-lit rock.

Lately I’ve grown a bit too dependent on you, though. Because you never let me down and I know I can return to you when the need arises, I’ve become lazier. When I realize, from my spot in line at Checkout Lane 4, that I’ve forgotten something crucial for my dinner planned two nights away, I shrug and think to myself, “I’ll be back.” Most likely the very next day. Because I have four children who eat alarming amounts of food and I have a tendency to accidentally leave imperative ingredients off my lists. But you don’t judge. Your automatic doors open for me with a welcoming swish no matter how often I go through them. I’ll always find what I’m looking for when I roam your aisles.

Except for the time with the orzo. No orzo for days.

And there was that one time you stopped carrying the flour tortillas I like. The ones that have only have, like, 81, calories. But all was forgiven, because I asked you to bring them back and you did and now we’re okay.

I think we’re okay.

I mean, it’s not a huge deal, and I hate to bring it up, but I need to tell you about the grocery carts.

Maybe it is a big deal. Maybe I’m trying to spare your feelings because I can usually count on you and I don’t want to rock the boat.

All right. I’ll just come out and say it.

I hate your mini shopping carts. I hate them. Normally I like things scaled to a smaller size, even little salad dressing bottles or tiny ears of baby corn, but your child-sized carts have got to go.

When I saw them the first time, I had no idea. I thought, “Oh, how cute. Mini carts. My kids will love them.”

Oh yes, they love them. They love them so much they fight over who gets to push one when we go grocery shopping. Have you ever SEEN a woman pushing a normal cart through a store, trailed by four children who are having a hard time keeping their hands to themselves and wandering off to various aisles? Picture that mildly chaotic scene and then add four metal vehicles of torture.

First, there aren’t always four carts available. So the kids fight over who gets the stragglers with the wonky wheels and missing flags. Other shoppers gawk and I try to find a fair way to divide them while the two youngest boys threaten to brawl in front of the onions.

Second, I have to divide all of my groceries evenly amongst all the carts so no one feels left out. And Jonah thinks that since he has his own cart he’s free to make his own food selections from the shelves, which means we end up with a variety of vinegars and narrowly-missed catastrophes of the broken-glass-jar kind.

Third, without fail, at least one child will get “too tired” to continue pushing his or her cart, which means it ends up abandoned in an aisle and I must put all of that cart’s food into my cart. Until the kids say that’s not fair and I have to redistribute it to their carts.

Fourth, I repeat – have you ever SEEN a woman pushing a cart followed by four mini carts? Okay, that part is actually kind of cute, because my kids are ridiculously adorable. But they cause all kind of traffic jams because they don’t know how to follow Grocery Store Law and keep to the right sides of aisles in single file, and instead congregate in the middle of aisles and do wheelies and generally block every other shopper in the store. Which brings me back to them being cute, which helps them get away with their traffic jams, but it still makes grocery shopping with them take eight times as long as if the carts didn’t exist.

Fifth, the carts are on wheels and have no brakes. My ankles tell the tale by the bruises they bear. Your carts are heinous battering rams, plain and simple.

Don’t even get me started on your free cookies for kids.

No Time for Sentimentality

When Miles went to kindergarten four years ago, I cried. My oldest baby, my first to leave me and go off to be educated by someone other than a parent, was leaving the nest. I thought about how I wouldn’t be there if he got scared or if another child was unkind, and it kept me up late at night. I worried about whether he’d miss me or not, but hoped it wouldn’t be too much if he did. When Isla went off to school, I overbought adorable fall clothing and wondered if her tender heart would be overwhelmed with all the other kids in her class. Even Grant, my third, was the focus of my maternal concern before he stepped on the bus for the first time, my only kindergartener to not be driven to and from school. I carried him into bed with us after he fell asleep one night before school started, almost like the mom in I Love You Forever, because I wanted him to be my baby for just a little longer.

This year the only first is that Grant will be in school all day long, instead of half day like last year. All three older kids are still at the same school, riding the same bus. Grant has Isla’s old teacher, and Isla has Miles’ old teacher. Besides new shoes, we didn’t need to buy much – Isla and Miles still fit into almost all of their clothes from last year, and Grant gets hand-me-downs. Only Isla needed school supplies, because the boys’ teachers requested checks for communal supplies, instead.

So this year, the first day of school arrived almost out of nowhere. I wasn’t worried, the kids weren’t worried, we were prepared. We located the backpacks and the lunch boxes, cut the tags off the new gym shoes. Woke the kids up at 7 this morning and had unhurried breakfasts. Miles and Grant had selected matching first day of school shirts, and Isla wore a boldly-colored dress that will probably never enter the school building again because she’s not, most days, a fan of dresses.

“This is going so well,” I thought. I had no tinges of sadness, because I knew the kids looked forward to school, though I did wish summer vacation could have lasted a month or two longer.

The kids and their backpacks were ready 10 minutes before the bus arrival time printed on the cards they’d been instructed to carry with them the first two weeks of school. I grabbed my camera and we headed out the door to take a photo on the porch, and give good-bye and good luck hugs.

But the bus had already arrived. Early by a good eight minutes, it waited at the end of the street. Isla panicked; the boys began to run. “Wait for me!” I called, but the boy either didn’t hear me or didn’t want to wait. They stepped confidently onto the bus without a look back to me or Zachary or Jonah as we trailed behind. Isla gave a little wave and then, she, too, was gone.

My smooth, tear-free morning wavered in front of me as the bus pulled away. No kisses to their cheeks, no whispered words of encouragement, no bright-eyed first day of school photo. They were gone. I blinked back tears and walked to the house.

Now they are off, discovered the newness of their classes and breathing in the scent of freshly sharpened pencils. Jonah is going to daycare this afternoon.

The kids are fine, I’m fine, we had our little non-event this morning and just like that, summer is gone.

A post for Just Write, a weekly free-writing exercise, which is about all I have time for these days.

The Evening Free

The last three days I’ve hired young mother’s helpers to come entertain the children while I work. This is a win-win, because I am able to work in relative silence during daylight hours and my kids are entertained with new people who are energetic and don’t have anything to do but devote time to the children.  The problem with my current job is the hours – mostly nights and weekends. You know, the times when most everyone else relaxes, spends time with their kids after school, and socializes. So I’m trying to fight that by working during the day when I can, though the sitters are certainly not free.

My to-do list shrunk by more than half. My new business website is done. I contacted clients. I finished client work. I updated my resume (yes, despite the job going well, might be time to start thinking about more stable options). I was productive and I knew I’d have the evening free.

After my sitter left, the kids were filthy in the best sense of the word. They’d spent almost all day outside, a day of mild temperatures and soft, nearly-fall air. Jonah had grass stains on the skin of his knees. Chicken waited in the refrigerator for later, marinating in a new recipe, so the kids and I took off on wheels around the neighborhood. The older three rode their bikes, proud of their new skills (yes, Grant is now riding training-wheel free, too!) but still adorably wobbly. How big and small they looked on their bikes, cycling off ahead of me as I pushed Jonah in the double jogging stroller. I guess it’ll be time to sell it soon – Grant is six and a half and though he’s thin as a blade of grass, he’s almost to the point of being too proud to be wheeled about by his mother.

We stopped at the pond and parked our stroller and bikes. The kids unbuckled their helmets and ran their fingers through their hair, and we all dashed off around the water. Jonah has new shoes that light up and he’d say, “I love running!” and his giggle would fall behind me as he let me win, then carry ahead as he sped up to beat me. I felt such joy over these kids and their smiles I had to take their photo with my cell phone by the edge of the pond as we finished. That’s a keeper.

Back at the house I had to Google how to make corn on the stove, since tonight was, shamefully, the first night we made it. Grilled the chicken indoors. We ate and laughed and I had to bribe the two younger boys to just taste the food, just one bite.

And then – bathtime for everyone. The kids stripped down and jumped into the tub together, still unselfconscious enough that they think that’s perfectly fine, which makes it perfectly fine for me, as well. They tried floating paper boats (a good lesson that paper will disintegrate in water, as their mama told them).

Clean and sleepy, the big ones went to their rooms to read and I put Jonah to bed. Worn out by all the sunshine and the nonstop fun of the babysitter, he was asleep in ten minutes. A miracle after last night’s hour-and-a-half bedtime madness.

This is what I want – time each day with my children where “work” is off the table, because I had time to get the work done. Tonight I will crawl under my covers before 10:30 and smile back at my day and sleep.

Until Jonah wakes me up at 3:45 am begging for juice, anyway.

Written for Just Write, a weekly free-writing exercise I somehow managed to miss last week. Such is life.

Frozen Frozen Waffles for Breakfast – Strange Food Kids Eat

My kids love frozen waffles. We buy them in packs of 60 at the warehouse store and go through about six million boxes per month. I should probably buy another freezer just so I have room for more waffles.

Nothing strange about waffles, right? Well, some of my kids eat them straight from the freezer. It began when our oldest, Miles, was a toddler. He was teething and crying because he wanted food NOW and so I handed him a waffle that hadn’t been toasted and let him have at it, expecting to find it on the floor, discarded, within thirty seconds. But no, he gobbled it up and asked for more. I can only imagine it felt soothing to his poor, swollen gums. Zachary and I found it a little weird, but, hey, what do we know about the culinary tastes of the under-two set?

This frozen frozen waffle habit has been passed down to all the children, to varying degrees. While the older three eventually learned that warm waffles with some melted buttery spread and a thin layer of honey could be delicious, our youngest, who is almost three, insists on eating his cold all the time.

“What do you want for breakfast, Jonah?” I ask each morning, though I already know the answer.

“Ummmm,” he says, pretending to consider his options. We’ve got our routine down.

“Waffles. Not hot waffles. COLD waffles. With butter and honey.” Yes, Jonah has taken his love for cold waffles one step further than the other kids did and prefers his with butter and honey. I don’t even try to understand this, but I don’t see the harm, so cold waffles he gets. Perhaps when it is six degrees below zero this coming January he’ll change his mind.

This bizarre morning choice makes me think of my youngest brother who put sandwiches of peanut butter and Velveeta in the microwave so that the two flavors would warm and meld together. Doesn’t that sound simply delectable? Yeah, it doesn’t sound very good to me, either. He admitted, years later, that he didn’t even like that sandwich, but, as the baby of the family, he loved the reaction it got from the rest of us who gagged theatrically when he took his first bites.

Another story from Miles’ toddlerhood involved an entire 1/4 of a cup of raw, white onion. I was making tacos, he was begging me for a piece of the onion as I sliced it and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I thought, “Fine, I’ll give him a taste and we’ll see how much he likes it. ” Did he spit it out? No, I gave him a piece of onion and he asked for more. And more. And more. Until he’d finished that entire quarter cup. You can imagine the kisses I got from him later. Ooh, boy.

As the kids get older and bigger, I imagine what will strike me the most is the amount of food they eat, not necessarily what they eat. I have three younger brothers and a slew of male cousins; I know how they can pack away food, and I’m scared.

Until then, I stock up on frozen waffles and shake my head and chuckle each morning as my baby eats his frozen, frozen waffles. I can’t judge, I drink diet soda for breakfast most mornings, and for snacks in high school I’d slather a slice of bread with Italian dressing and eat it up. Really great cuisine, there.

What unusual-sounding foods do your kids eat?

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