Why I love summers!

I don’t know – I always had this idealized vision of “school” probably mostly with the thought that “wow, once they are in school, I won’t have to pay a HUGE child care bill every single week” anymore. Unless, of course, they are in a school district with half-day kindergarten and then you have another 9 months of child care bills for afternoon care! (Just to add some perspective, kid starts day care at 6 weeks of age and has a February birthday when he turns 5 and school starts in late August, so I’ve basically spent $65,052 in just child care. On one kid! Man, I could have been rich!!)

So, yes, as a single working mother I was thrilled with the concept of school. The children would be someplace. They would be learning. I wouldn’t be the only one responsible for whether they knew their colors or could multiply 6 times 7.

But let me tell you. School stinks! In the best sense of the word, that is.

Let’s just start with homework. It’s not that I’m opposed to academicsschool bus (after all, I have a BS, MS, PhD and MD degree, and about 19 years of school/training after high school), it’s just that after 6 hours at school, I really do think the kids need some unstructured play time. And they need to do some sports or physical activity so that they develop a sense of feeling healthy. Why would we want to spend an hour or two doing homework? This is especially true for families with working parents who don’t get kids gathered up and home until 6:00pm or later and trying to get an average of 10 hours of sleep (for them, not me!) makes it hard to squeeze much else in.

Then there’s the “projects” which take up even more time, like making a poster or a diorama. Naturally, this involves the extra time burden of running to the store to round up supplies because in this tiny townhome, we’ve streamlined quite a bit.

And then there’s so many “volunteer” opportunities at the school, that it can get overwhelming. There’s such self-imposed guilt to be “present” in the school and see what the kids are doing and have them so excited to see Mom in the class as Mystery Reader (or maybe that was embarrassment) or Holiday Party volunteer (Just going to have to say no to that. Kids are noisy enough. Now give them sugar and excitement of a celebration and you’ve got chaos personified!). And of course, some of those holidays require significant time commitment, like the Halloween parade that begins at 1:30pm but if you’re not in the parking lot by noon, you’re not getting a spot. The Memorial Day program takes all morning – bring your fold-out camping chairs and come early to find space.

Let’s not forget about those fundraisers! What a joy to convince family and friends to buy some items so the kids can “win” a T-shirt which they refuse to wear anyway. How about saving those Box Tops (which also have to be cut to the exact shape of the rectangle)? You don’t want your kid to be the only one in homeroom not bringing them in and they would sure like to actually win the Box Top contest for the month!

Now consider that school ends at 3:20. That’s right 3:20. But when they hit middle school it’s  2:40. Interestingly, my job would like me to work until 5:00pm, which means now I get to figure out afterschool care. Which means I can pay for someone to watch my kids for 2-3 hours every day or beg Grandma. And please don’t forget about the before school care. When school doesn’t start until 9:00, it’s pretty hard to be at work at that time too!

This timing is a far cry from just dropping off at daycare whenever we all get ready in the morning and picking them up in the evening after I’ve stopped at the grocery store or run a few errands first. No, now with school there’s actually a specific start time and they expect you to pick up at a consistent time too. Really cramping my cram-a-lot-into-the-day lifestyle!

Even worse are the two-hour delays, the “no school” days or the unexpected cancelled days for snow!

School was looking really good until I realized how much more I have to juggle now that it’s back in session.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love school. I love that the boys are learning. I love that they are meeting new kids and forming new friendships. I love that they are learning to listen to other authority figures. I love that they have opportunities to learn the cello and “rugby basics” and art and science and handwriting and so much more. I love that they are in a good school district which cares about them and with teachers who want them to succeed. I love that they are doing well.

I’d just like to return to summer time …right about now.

The rush of time

This is how I know I’m stressed – when a friend offers to arrange a massage for me (AND watch the other kids….AND bring me Starbucks!) AND…. I actually consider it.  Never been a fan of massage, I hate to say….but I do know that all the muscles that I can still name from medical school anatomy class and the ones that I occasionally pull and can’t remember their name – they’re all pretty tight right now!!

The other way to tell that life is in that “stress” mode is the lateness of this post. When your brain is filled with the “have-to’s,” there’s very little space for the creative. Yet, if you pause enough, it will come.

Every single year I have high hopes for Advent. Teaching the boys about patience and waiting (“I hate waiting”). Focusing on hope, love, joy and peace (“It’s my turn to blow out the Advent wreath candles!” “No, you blew them out last night!”). Thinking about service and how we care for others (“Oh man, I’ll just get that Angel Tree gift myself this year”). Starting new traditions that will carry on year after year and become that lore in adulthood of “well, when I was a child, we always did…..at Christmas.”

When I struggle to slow time down – it has a way of speeding right along.

Literally, this Advent season has been:

  • Choose a new school district for the boys from (thankfully) some really great choices. My sister and I have thought about which district we would prefer “in theory” for a few years now, but we suddenly needed to make the decision….like yesterday!
  • Put up Christmas tree top-heavy with the “fragile” ornaments
  • boy tree_wp
  • Tape up a strand of Christmas lights around the door frame
    • Re-tape
    • Re-tape
    • Tape again
    • “Stop playing with these lights!!”
  • Find a place to live – not only within the school district but in the “zone” that feeds into the elementary school that handles kids with “special emotional/behavioral needs”
    • Search for places online – Thanks, sis, for handling the brunt of this!
    • Visit homes for rent, townhomes, apartments
    • Agonize
    • Look at more, change mind, get close (oh, wait, this place doesn’t take dogs!)
    • Sign lease
  • Fill Advent calendar boxes with candy
    • Forget to open a box every day – our calendar says it’s December 7th – we have LOTS of shopping days left!
  • Complete paperwork for neuropsych evaluation intake appointment for Super Tall Guy
    • Freak out the morning of the appointment when the forms are who knows where
    • Out-smart 8-year-old to get him in the car to go to the appointment
    • Pat self on back for remembering to charge and bring along the DS game system
    • Groan when informed, “Mom, there’s no game in this DS”….ugh!
  • Thank Grandma for bringing over “Advent Bags” filled with toys/treats for each evening of Advent
    • Forget to open them after day 5 or 6 – we’ll just save them for next year (Did we say that last year?)
  • Complete (redundant, endless) paperwork for school enrollment for two boys
  • Find central admin office just in time for school enrollment appointment
    • Freak out in parking lot over who has the copy of the lease – really – honestly – the ONLY important paper we need today
    • Sweat bullets over whether all the forms are done correctly as the administrator slowly marches down the checklist – check, check
  • Complete paperwork and behavioral forms for behavioral assessment intake appointment for Super Tall Guy
    • Huh, he is pretty challenging
  • Bake brownies for
    • Christmas party #1
    • Christmas party #2
    • 2nd Grade Christmas party
    • Kindergarten Christmas party
    • Oh, you want some for your second-grader as well??
  • Battle with self-will to NOT go in to Toys R Us
    • Lose battle
    • Spend too much (again) on the boys
  • Sit on the couch
  • Turn off the lights
  • Soften Christmas music
  • Cuddle with sleeping dog
  • Get lost in the glow of the tree lights
  • Breathe
  • (message friend to accept massage offer….)

Want to slow down time? Just do it.

The Gift of Time

Time….

It is a very strange thing.  Sometimes time flies….sometimes it stands still.

Last Monday (Christmas Eve), I took Noah with me on a last-minute shopping excursion (very silly idea….why would I want a 3-year-old running errands with me?!?).  It certainly altered time.  Choosing the “family” personalized ornament occurred much more quickly than usual, as my contemplation was constantly interrupted by the need to vocalize “don’t touch; don’t touch” rather than focusing on which one to choose! Leaving the mall took much longer than usual as we had go up and down the escalator….and then ride the train (“please, Mommy, please”), and walk slowly through the people, and stop at the candy machine (I spoil on Holidays :)) ….but I did refuse to give an hour of time to wait for a photo with Santa.

Christmas Day was absolute chaos.  I realize I had told a friend the prior Sunday that we were having a “small and quiet” Christmas since it was just our family and my parents.  But there’s nothing quiet about 5 little boys…..nothing quiet!…and very little seems “small” when they are awake and moving!

When most of the rapid ripping off of wrapping paper, incessant clambering about “where’s another present for me?” and nonstop squealing and yelling had finally driven me into the kitchen for a moment, I was shocked to see that it was only 10 o’clock. How could time stand still within all this commotion?!?  Fortunately, it sped up from there.

And time interacts with stress in unique ways (holidays provide plenty of “positive stress”).  We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service accompanied by candlelight, but I wanted time to hurry up as I stressed about burning down the church.  Christmas Day was a stress to all and each boy handled it differently.  Micah couldn’t control his behavior and required banishment time (to the tune of about 3 hours) to take a break upstairs.  Noah had trouble remembering to take the time to GO to the bathroom….ahem…and forgot to take those needed breaks.  Seth, however, was granted a timely nap from the utter confusion of flying wrapping paper, noisy new toys, bouncing balls, and excited squeals of joy.  I could barely move by 7pm and collapsed into a sound sleep before 9 after bedding three exhausted ones.12-24 (86)

Wednesday was a golden day, however.  The snow fell softly and steadily.  There was no thought of leaving the house.  The boys played happily together with their new toys (how very strange) and we all just enjoyed seemingly endless “time” together.

Despite thinking that 5 days with the boys would be quite enough time, when I dropped Noah and Seth off at daycare Thursday morning, I walked out with tears in my eyes.  I had so enjoyed my time with them that I didn’t want to part with them to return to work.  I made it through half the day before I picked them up again.  Noah was thrilled that he only had a “little time” at daycare.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  I could be cliché and say “where has the time gone?”  Where has this year gone?  Where did December go ….and how did Christmas slip by so quickly?

But I could also say that I have enjoyed the time I’ve had with the boys this past week.  I’ve enjoyed the months that I’ve had with the boys this past year.  And I’ve enjoyed so many little minutes and so many moments with the boys….those that you tuck away in your heart.  Those moments that you take the time that you didn’t expect to.  When you lay on the living room floor for 5 minutes with Noah and set the camera’s timer and make goofy faces together….and say to yourself, I know it’s bedtime….but this time is precious.  These smiles are precious.  This joy is precious.  These boys are precious.

A long time ago, a little baby boy was born in a manger.  Time stood still that night.  Time flew over the next two thousand and twelve years.  Time is really a gift that we have – to love, to cherish, to celebrate and to do great things.  May we remember to take the time when we need to, use the time we have wisely, and share the gift of time with those we love whenever we can.

Draining, demanding dependents

That’s the phrase I texted to a friend yesterday.  Of course, I was telling her that I have 3 of them….but it’s very important to not getfor (as Noah calls it) that there are actually 5 boys in this household….none of whom can pour their own glass of milk, completely toilet themselves or get a bath, or really even get dressed without either hands-on work or mental exhaustion in reminding them to at least put underwear on!

It’s been an exhausting weekend and it’s shocking to realize that the house looks just as trashed Sunday evening as it did Friday evening, despite the fact that we were home all weekend and actually did some cleaning.

I had to look back in some older messages to find a short paragraph that I sometimes send to new parents….just as a way to get them thinking about how life will change with a new baby:

Did you know that – – A typical baby needs to be fed every 2 or so hours for about 15-25 minutes each time and about 8 times a day. – If you mix formula, that takes about 20 minutes of your time each day. – Changing a diaper will take approximately ten minutes 8-10 times a day. – Extra laundry, cleaning or shopping may take an extra 2-3 hours a day. – Playtime and cuddling the baby should be done 15-25 minutes at a time a minimum of 4-6 times a day.  Total time required: 8 hours and 40 minutes to 12 hrs and 40 minutes a day!

That’s for a baby!  This is how our “typical day” falls….

– a typical boy age 1-6 needs to be fed every 3 or so hours for about 20 minutes each time and about 5 times a day; but it takes an additional 15 minutes to sop up the spilled water (Noah!!), pick up the flying chicken nuggets (Micah!!), and mop up the overturned cereal bowl again (Steven!!) at least 2-3 times a day = 2 hours and 10 minutes

– changing a diaper of a squirming fussing 18 month old will take at least 5 minutes, chasing them around the house to get the clothes back on, another 5 minutes, for 50 minutes a day x 2 diaper-clad bottoms (the 2-yr-old isn’t much easier) = 1 hr, 40 minutes

– laundry of 5 boys, partially folding, sorting and stacking clean clothes onto the back of the couch, refolding and restacking and resorting after Micah falls onto the couch in his Immaculate Reception imitation football catch, lugging clothes upstairs into dressers, washing towels and towels and towels = 2 hours a day

– Shopping for food, gallons of milk, clothes, shoes, toys, milk, coats, diapers, wipes, more diapers, more baby wipes, more milk, more food, back for bananas, gallons of milk (“why in the world did you only buy ONE gallon of blue-top milk?!!?) = average 1 hr a day

– And then there’s Steven…..in one day, he removed his diaper at nap time and woke up distressed by being covered in “poop” (I mean, who wouldn’t be?) = 30 minutes bath (well, 60 minutes by the time all the boys decided they needed one too at 2:30 pm) and 45 minutes laundry and wipe up; emptying of a practically full box of cereal onto the floor (awesome gravity effect) = 15 minutes of cleaning; upending a mug of hot chocolate splashing across the kitchen floor = 15 minutes; dumping over a bowl of cereal = 15 minutes…. 2 hours and 30 minutes of completely unproductive cleaning and close behind this tornado is little Seth emptying the papers from the recycling bin, removing Tupperware from the drawer, and shredding bits of papers.

Right – and now we have to add in “play” with the boys?  Let’s see, 2152 Lego pieces emptied across the floor, a diaper toss battle with Pampers flying, paper airplanes arching through the air, lightsabers dropped after battle (and guaranteed to make you slip and break your neck), Kleenex plucked from the boxes and dropped throughout the house (used? unused?), books wildly tossed off the shelves….I could go on…and on….

My total was at 10 hours before getting to the “play” and the aftermath of it.  If my sister and I sit down for 5 minutes we start to get antsy….knowing that someone is destroying something somewhere.  So from 5:56 (first child up) to 9:17 (last child down), there is absolutely no letting your guard down.

But they sure do look like angels when they’re all asleep!