Routine is King

When I was still working full-time, with Henry and Charlie in daycare, our weeks played out in a series of predictable steps. Monday through Friday, we got up, got dressed, got fed and got out the door to work. We left work, got home, got fed and got to bed. Weekends played out with the same familiar tasks: random errands, housecleaning and grocery store runs.

If the chain was broken – a to-do went undone – then things would crumble a bit. We’d run out of diapers for daycare or we wouldn’t have what we needed to pack lunches come Monday or we’d have to use milk in our coffee instead of half and half. Tragic stuff, I know. Our schedule was so very rigid and unforgiving. And, have mercy if someone got sick. The wheels would come off the bus.

Imagine my surprise, when after quitting my job to stay at home, I began to miss the routine of full-time employment. Because, at least then, someone got to the grocery store every week. With no set schedule, no established routine, our life felt a little… chaotic. Funny how, when you get what you’ve always wanted, you remember it looking shinier from the other side.

Suddenly, I had the time I had always craved but had trouble organizing it. It was at that point, I realized just how important routine was to our lives. We just simply all do better when we can roughly predict what’s headed our way. When I was working full-time, we had that predictability. In the absence of that, we had to create a new agenda at home. So, you know, the laundry would get done and I wouldn’t forget to feed anyone.

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Eager to tell you about his new routine.

We are now three weeks into the new school year and our little family is once again thriving on the regular routine of life.

Gone are the long – so very long – summer days filled with boredom, infighting and too much television. We have purpose again! And, priorities! And, one night a week set aside for Cub Scouts and another for the library. We swim on Saturdays and take walks every morning. The pantry is stocked and lunchboxes lined up like sentries. Backpacks are emptied and paperwork is Dealt With. Our schedule isn’t as inflexible as it was when I was working full-time but it’s enough to keep the aimless wandering at bay. And, hooray for that!

Henry is handling second grade with aplomb. We revamped our homework approach this year following a first grade filled with entirely too much rage around the 8:00 hour. He now must get all homework done prior to any electronic time. When I made this blanket pronouncement, a week before school started, I was one of the many in the household that doubted my own commitment. HOWEVER, I am pleased to say that we have kept at it, the incentive is sufficient and now we have a new routine that makes everyone happier. I feel like a real parent!

Charlie came home from school today and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. That was unexpected. And, impressive. It is so endearing to see him proud of his school accomplishments. Like being line leader or flag holder. He is learning so much and has flung himself wholeheartedly into his new routine. Less endearing? The artwork he brings home with all manner of breakfast cereal glued to it. Millie just doesn’t understand why it isn’t edible. Tussles inevitably ensue.

Millie and I have our own little routine during the time Charlie is in school and it involves breakfast with a little Barney on in the background (that dinosaur is STILL around!), a walk around the neighborhood (yay for fall!), and then an hour or so of me trying to get her to stop getting into things she shouldn’t be getting in to (she has a knack for finding all the markers in the house). Some days, we run a quick errand, some days we just do a lot of this:

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We have months of school ahead of us and months of the same routine day in and day out. Washing the same water bottles, packing the same cream cheese bagels, clearing out the same paperwork from the same school folders, reading the same stories over and over.

Hmmm, routine sounds significantly less appealing when described this way. So, remember to ask me how I’m feeling about routine come December, okay?

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I’m Pretty Sure this is Facebook’s Fault

Most of my wildly unrealistic parental aspirations start as some random link on Facebook. A click here, a click there and all of a sudden, I’m down a rabbit hole reading about delayed vaccinations or unschooling or cloth diapering; browsing articles about what I should or shouldn’t be doing as a parent to create an early reader or a cello prodigy or a little tiny vegan.

Earlier this year, a friend posted to Facebook a link to a website that promotes the elimination of processed foods from one’s daily diet. I spent hours reading that website, studying the resources they offer and quoting horrible statistics to my husband about their assessment of Subway (his go-to sandwich stop). I arose from my too-long-on-the-internet stupor determined to make Big Changes! I was going to dump the pantry, clear the refrigerator, switch to all organic everything and maybe, possibly, look into buying half a cow. But only if it were grass-fed and I was offered reassurance that it had been happy – really, truly happy – when alive.

So, that’s what we did. We ate up all of the Cheetos (Henry’s favorite), finished the last of the fruit snacks (Charlie’s favorite) and cut back on Sweet Frog Saturday Nights (Millie’s favorite). Bob and I started purchasing all organic produce and scouring shelves for local items, like honey and jam. We stirred natural peanut butter until our arms went numb and choked down all-natural bread that was so dry, it made the children weep. I joined the masses of people at Whole Foods peering at labels, frowning over GMOs and pondering just how bad I could possibly smell if I switched to that all-natural Tom’s deodorant.

After a month, I felt confident our Big Changes were going to stick. I also felt tired. Making all of your meals from items you have to, essentially, process yourself, takes an awful lot of time. But, we had done it! The kids had survived (even though Fig Newmans taste TOTALLY different than Fig Newtons) and Bob and I were feeling pretty smug.

I knew the items we were purchasing were expensive (humanely harvested shrimp doesn’t grow on trees, you know), but I definitely didn’t have a true grasp on what we were spending. Then, I sat down to pay the bills. Our budget line item for groceries had nearly doubled in the previous few weeks. Our hippie food tally was beginning to make our mortgage look minor by comparison.

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This apple was organic. Possibly local. Also, $5.00.

I was honestly pretty surprised that feeding our family of five the healthiest foods available to us cost so much money. And, money wasn’t the real issue. Being a family of five was. There are just so many of us to feed and with kids that can run through a pound of strawberries, an entire box of crackers and half a loaf of bread in one day, the quantity was what was going to bankrupt us. (I can only imagine what it will be like in a few years when the boys are devouring their weight in cereal at one sitting.)

So, I am sorry to report that we kind of abandoned ship on the whole effort. I slowly started buying the giant milk carton-size of Goldfish crackers again. The fruit snacks made another appearance. The oranges and blueberries were no longer necessarily organic and probably came from some spot on the other side of the globe. The coffee was, alas, not fair trade.

In situations where I’ve failed to meet a goal, I like to try and find someone else to blame. Naturally, this is all my parents fault because when I was a kid, they actually GREW a lot of the food they fed us. My parents loved to garden and they fed our family with produce grown right in our own backyard. Fresh beans, tomatoes, corn, raspberries, squash, melons – the list is almost endless. Plus, my mom canned a lot of her produce, Little House on the Prairie-style, for use throughout the winter. (I am absolutely exhausted just thinking about this process.) My mom is also an excellent baker so she even made our breads from scratch. How can I compete with that when we have a Chik-fil-A with TWO drive-thru’s right down the street? Thanks for setting impossible standards, mom and dad.

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I would be surprised if there is even one natural thing about this chocolate-covered donut. Certainly not the sprinkles.

But, the truth is, the foods we purchased before our all-organic/no-processed effort were not that bad compared to a lot of the most horrific offerings found in today’s supermarket. Sure, we enjoyed the occasional party-size bag of Cheetos and slathered our birthday cupcakes in canned frosting but you know what, I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have Cheetos. Because, they’re delicious. And, cheesy.

Just when I had resigned myself to our old way of feeding the family, accepted the fact that I will never harvest my own crops like my parents and acquiesced on the role high fructose corn syrup has in our lives, a friend on Facebook posted a link to this video, which is a super clever advertisement for Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Then, I got the sads all over again – especially at the cow eyes. I can’t handle those pitiful (completely animated) cow eyes!

I have come to the conclusion that finding a middle ground is the only way to proceed. Otherwise, I’m just going to continue to start and stop our efforts to eat more responsibly based on what fresh guilt-laden link shows up in my Facebook feed. Everything in moderation, as that adage goes.

My new goal is to buy organic when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen,” fruits and vegetables containing the most pesticide residue. I am also going to try and go all organic with our dairy products. We were already buying chicken of good repute and I plan to carry that over to any other meats we may purchase for particular recipes. I’m placing a lower priority on the snack category. We just burn through so many chips, pretzels, trail mix and granola bars, especially with school back in session.

I’m feeling optimistic with my new hybrid plan. I’m also secretly hoping that people will just go back to posting pictures of their cats on Facebook. Is that too much to ask?

Good Time Charlie

Yesterday, Charlie began preschool.

At one point during his absence, Millie turned the corner into my office with a puzzled look on her face as if to say, “Where in the world did everyone go?” I tried to explain school to her as best I could but I was super busy checking my phone every five seconds because the school was sure to call. I mean, Charlie still demands that I accompany him to the bathroom, so I was pretty confident the abrupt separation called for many tears.

But, no. He did fine. Better than fine. He did great! And, not a single tear. From me or from Charlie.

Because what's preschool without a shiv made from Lincoln Logs and produce rubber bands?

Because what’s preschool without a shiv made from Lincoln Logs and produce rubber bands?

When we found out we were expecting a second baby boy, just about five years ago now, we settled on his name with relative ease: Charles Arthur, after our fathers. We knew we would probably call him Charlie.

When we were still in the hospital during the days following Charles’ birth, Bob gave him the nickname, “Good Time Charlie,” since virtually nothing could diminish his contented demeanor. In those first few days and subsequent weeks, he was rarely upset, delightful in nature and downright jovial at times.

At six months of age, Charlie had surgery to correct a common birth defect. Since we had experience with kids and anesthesia, we braced for the worst as we sat by his bedside waiting for him to wake up from being under. The thrashing, confusion and general chaos never occurred. I’ll never forget his calm coming to; this baby that hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours and had just had surgery, woke up collected and cuddle-ready.

And, not much has changed over the past four years.

If Henry and Millie have strong personalities, I would characterize Charlie’s as soft.  He is the first to hug, kiss, snuggle and comfort. Charlie cares. Where Henry and Millie enjoy playing independently, Charlie thrives with one-on-one time. Henry and Millie, both tall for their age with dark hair, are in contrast to compact Charlie with his sandy-blonde waves.

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Charlie’s gentle and open personality attracts others wherever we go. Walking through Target, an employee stops us to say how cute “that one” is. At a birthday party, another guest gushes about Charlie and a conversation they had. A new neighbor, just introduced, singles him out for treats.

We marvel at how frequently this happens and wonder what it is about Charlie that people are so drawn to. To us, he’s just Charlie. One of our three children. They are each unique and precious people. But, to others, he seems to be so much more because wherever we are, whomever we’re with, Charlie charms.

We talk about it with a sort of endless fascination and a true curiosity over his future. Once, during a conversation with my parents about Charlie and his amenable personality, I surmised that one day he was either going to do something absolutely amazing or tragically illegal. We then agreed that it was actually possible that whatever amazing thing he accomplished could ALSO be illegal. So, I pray, may he never read this from the confines of a cell.

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When we were living in Alexandria, the preschool admittance process involved complicated applications, confusing lottery drawings and overall entrance insanity. So, we avoided school. And, if I’m being honest, we felt Charlie, our sensitive, good-natured middle child, did best at home. He just seemed so little to be out in the real world, dealing with safety scissors and circle time.

When we relocated to Richmond, the perfect preschool presented itself and with his placement secured, we were out of excuses. With every pep talk I gave Charlie, every practice run with the backpack, every declaration about being a “big kid,” I was also readying myself to let him go a bit. And, so I have.

I am hoping for an amazing year for Charlie. Filled with new friends, compassionate teachers, exciting activities and most importantly, independent potty-ing.