Not This Year, Satan

One of the great things about our school district is the delayed start time for middle and high school students. The older kids start AFTER the elementary kids. Instead of being the first ones on the bus, they are the last ones on the bus. I’m pretty sure the school district’s scheduling decisions were based on lots of science and not, say, an unmitigated fear of what teenagers are like when they’ve had to rise before the sun. Little kids usually wake first while big kids tend to sleep in. It’s all very logical and makes sense and I think it would work really well for families with kids that aren’t broken like mine. Because mine are broken and this setup has been terrible for us.

My two youngest, elementary-aged children would sleep until the average Sunday brunch time each and every day if I would let them. They are both extremely difficult to motivate in the early morning hours. Simply raising their heads off of their pillows seems like a monumental task, so crushing are their grade school responsibilities. Meanwhile, my oldest child, my middle schooler, could watch the director’s cut of “Titanic” in the free time he has each day between when he’s ready for school and when he has to leave to catch the bus. He has so many minutes to burn that he actually gets bored, inevitably following me from room to room trying to discuss some sports thing as I’m deep-breathing my way through my first cup of coffee while simultaneously packing lunches, trying to find PE-approved shoes, stuffing the green folder in backpacks, and imploring his younger siblings to please, for the love, JUST GET OUT OF BED.

Anyway, in summary, I spent most of last school year trying unsuccessfully to wake Charlie and Millie up while pretending to listen to Henry talk about football. It was just as much fun as it seems! If you’re guessing that there was a lot of rage involved in our morning routine, you are guessing correctly.

And, let it be known that I tried really, really hard last year to be kind and gentle and loving and patient and to not say the really bad curse words before 7:00 a.m. I had Waffle Wednesdays and French Toast Fridays and special lunch box treats and hugs and kisses and all manner of gentle encouragement to get those two little kids up and out the door. Morning after endless morning, it did not work.

None of it worked. I always ended up yelling. Every time. So much yelling.

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I vowed, Scarlett O’Hara-style, that this school year would be different. Because, I simply cannot have another year full of red hot rage over having to doula my children through their before school routines. I just cannot. I need greater independence from my perfectly capable children.

Last year, we tried out alarm clocks but it went poorly. In an era when you can, essentially, just yell commands in the direction of your phone or your Echo or your iPad or your mother, the complicated multi-step process of setting alarm clocks proved problematic for the youngest of our household. Each morning, Millie would turn her bleeping alarm clock off by… unplugging it. Effective, yes, but also not very efficient. That meant, each evening, we’d have to sit down and reset the time and then the alarms and also the snooze capabilities confused each of them and we basically abandoned the alarm clocks pretty early on in the school year.

This year, I procured a Google Home Mini for Charlie. Voice commands make it easy for him to set the alarm and also, as a bonus, I can always tell when he’s awake in the morning because I can hear him yelling from his bed at the top of his lungs, “HEY GOOGLE STOP STOP GOOGLE STOP.” Millie is still using an old-school alarm clock for now because her bedroom most closely resembles our local landfill and I’m using the Google Mini as the dangling carrot in my cleanup scheme. She’s only unplugged her alarm twice this year (so far) so I can confidently claim that we seem to have rounded that learning curve.

In an effort to further streamline our morning routine, I also bought these great dry-erase charts that I hung on the back of the kids’ bedroom doors outlining what they need to do every day. These charts are working great in that Charlie and Millie remember to ignore them almost every day.

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However, laying out the next day’s outfit the night before is critical for Millie since she is forever picking things to wear to school that she actually can’t wear to school. She always picks a miniskirt and sandals on gym days or wants to wear her gymnastics leotard on library days. Laying out her outfit the night before means I can fight with her about her clothing choices at the end of the day when I’m exhausted instead of fighting with her first thing in the morning when I’m also exhausted. The whole process is very frustrating but also adorable in that Millie literally lays out her outfits.

The charts are colorful and cute and all but I’m actually thinking about just laminating instructional signs and hanging them all over my house instead. Every morning is this hamster wheel exercise in asking my kids over and over and over again if they have their shoes or their library books or their sweatshirts or asking if they’ve brushed their hair and washed their faces. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. Signs would make this way easier. Want to know what to pack in your lunch? There’s a sign for that! Asking me repeatedly what you need for flag football practice? Reference the sign! Curious how you can brush your teeth without leaving the bathroom looking like someone was murdered with Crest? I have a sign for that!

It wouldn’t be pretty to look at but at least any houseguests we may have would know how to pour themselves their own bowl of cereal in five easy steps.

I don’t want to seem overly confident or anything and I know we’re not that deep into the school year yet but I have super high hopes for less rage this year with our charts and our instructional signs and our more advanced alarm clocks. Last year was so endlessly frustrating that I think it can only get better from here, right? I mean, even if this year still proves maddening, I can always look forward to the middle and high school years with their later start times. That’s only – let me check my math here – FIVE YEARS AWAY.

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Assumptions I Make About Other Honda Odyssey Drivers Based On Model Year

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2018

Fully loaded: Our first baby is on the way! We are just SO excited to become parents. This is such a magical time! We finished the nursery this past weekend. Have I shown you pictures yet? No? Hold on. Let me get my phone.

Base model: Peed on a pregnancy test at 4:45 a.m. and discovered we’re going to have a third kid. I don’t even know how to break the news to my spouse. I was at the dealership before they even opened because this is absolutely a panic purchase. I’m sure I’ll have regrets and if I’m being honest right now, I’m not sure if I’m talking about the minivan or the third kid.

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2017

I haven’t slept through the night in 18 months and I can’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth. I’m only out driving around right now because we sprung for the fancy integrated DVD player and it’s the one thing that makes the baby stop crying.

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2016

I have an infant and a toddler and probably a preschooler, too, and I have to lug them in and out of this car an unbelievable number of times each day and do you know how heavy that bucket car seat is so you can pry my sliding passenger doors from my cold, dead hands. Andy! Help me get the double stroller loaded in the back of the van!

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2015

These spill-proof sippy cups really aren’t spill-proof. How can they even claim they’re spill-proof? They totally spill! The label should read, will do a pretty okay job of not spilling. Related, do you smell something weird in here? I definitely smell something weird in here. This van is starting to smell weird.

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2014

Yes! Sure! I can totally drive us all. Give me a minute though. I just want to get some blankets from the back to cover up all of the seats. I would hate for you to get a stain on your pants or something.

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2013

With clean rims: We refuse to give up on a life of order and cleanliness even though we are drowning in kids and their detritus.

With filthy rims: We have completely given up on a life of order and cleanliness because we are drowning in kids and their detritus. Park the van outside the garage so it will get clean the next time it rains.

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2012

I drive approximately 750 miles each week hauling my kids to all of their places. We LIVE out of this car. I could cook a three-course meal for our entire soccer team out of the back. I even rigged a Keurig to run off of the cigarette lighter. Oh, is that a bug bite on your arm? Let me see if I’ve got something in the trunk for that.

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2011

This car has seen some shit. Specifically from that one road trip back home from the beach when two of the three kids had a stomach bug. We’re DEFINITELY leasing next time. No question.

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2010

We are only two years away from being DONE with car seats and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go buy a brand new vehicle just to put booster seats in it again. I don’t know what that light is that just came on on the dashboard but I don’t care. I am limping across the finish line with this minivan, crevices full of Lego pieces and Cheetos and that stain that looks like blood but is probably just a melted lollipop from the doctor’s office.

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2009

Both sliding doors on this thing broke two years ago but it’s okay because the kids are old enough to just climb in and out through the back hatch. And, it’s a good thing that back hatch still works because I’m not spending a penny more fixing this minivan if what we’re fixing isn’t absolutely essential to the operation of the vehicle.

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2008

I can haul anything you need hauled. Need me to take that old dishwasher to the dump? Sure! That sofa you bought on Craigslist? Let me grab some bungee cords! A dozen ferrets not in cages? Not a problem! My minivan is so destroyed from a decade of kids that nothing could possibly make it grosser. Let me help you with that mulch!

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2007

We had to send our kid to private school for Reasons and even though we were totally going to get a new car this year, the tuition is killing us so we’re going to wait for a bit.

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2006

Our teenager is driving now so we handed this down to them but I’m deeply conflicted because while there’s nothing even remotely attractive about driving a minivan, I’m very aware that there’s a whoooooooole lot of room in the back when that third row is folded flat.

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2005

This van just sits in our driveway for long stretches and the air conditioning no longer works but we’re keeping it around specifically to haul the kids and their crap to and from college. Have you seen how much stuff fits in the back of this thing when the third row is folded flat?

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2004

If I park my minivan underneath this obviously diseased tree and a big storm comes through…

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2003 or earlier

I basically discovered minivans before minivans were a Thing. Have I told you how many miles I’ve logged with this baby? I mean, I didn’t even change the timing belt until 205K. Are you on any of the Ody Club forum web pages? No? Just in case, I’ll give you my handle.

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Anyone driving a Honda Pilot, regardless of model year

We’re not really “Minivan People,” per se. That’s why we drive an SUV. Even though our SUV is, like, two feet of cargo space away from literally being a minivan. But, it’s not a minivan. It’s an SUV. Because we’re cool.

Places We’re Taking Our Kids They Will Fail To Appreciate

Summer break begins tomorrow, when the school year officially comes to a close. (But, we started celebrating weeks ago and our kids have not been to bed before 9:30 at night since, basically, the time change and, at some point, we just kind of stopped doing homework so summer break began awhile ago, if you catch my drift.)

When you have babies and toddlers, the end of the school year doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Summer routines for wee little kids are just like rest-of-the-year routines – days strategically planned around the dual schedule anchors of naps and mealtimes. June, July and August with tiny ones means doing everything you normally do the other nine months of the year only with 95 percent more sweating and a never-ending alternating application of bug spray and sunscreen.

But, we no longer have babies or toddlers! Everyone in this house can, for the most part, apply their own bug spray and sunscreen. And, they almost never get it in their eyes. Also, all of my children are capable of getting their own meals and snacks. While I still have to remind them to eat something other than a plate full of potato chips, I can yell that in the direction of the kitchen from the living room sofa so I consider it a win. And, the only one that really naps anymore is Bob so that’s good. Our summer breaks look so different now with these older kids and the freedom and relative autonomy that affords.

We’ve somehow found ourselves in that magical window of time wherein our youngest child is old enough to be in control of her own bowels but our oldest child is still young enough that he hasn’t begun to resent us with every fiber of his being. There’s an opportunity here to make some memories and I’m planning on taking advantage of it this summer.

Some things on our summer bucket list that my kids will probably complain are super boring but, one day, I’m confident they’ll look back upon and remember how super bored they were:

James River Plantations – Dotting the James River, southeast of Richmond, Virginia, is a stretch of plantations and historic homes open for tours. The buildings are impressive and I look forward to whisper-yelling, “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” to my children as we tour them. I remember visiting the area with my parents more than twenty years ago, when I was still a college student. I’m looking forward to making my own kids pose on this same boulder, which I assume has not been moved since this picture was snapped sometime around 1996.

Washington Nationals Game – This is not my idea. This request came from Henry and Charlie so I’m pretty sure that I’ll actually be the one that will be bored and miserably hot. Baseball just isn’t my jam but I will feign a good attitude and also I have heard there is really delicious food at the park so that’s something.

Movie Blockbusters – Nothing screams SUMMER like a well-made documentary! Am I right? I’d like the kids to see the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, “RBG” and the film about Mister Rogers titled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I expect both will elicit tears from me and eye rolls from my children. I’m kind of okay with that.

 

Hershey Park – I grew up going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio and feel strongly that amusement parks are SUCH a SUMMER thing. I don’t think the kids have ever been to one so I plan on taking them this year. I mean, it’s not really summer until you momentarily lose one of your children in a massive throng of strangers. (Aside: do people still wear matching outfits to amusement parks? I think I could get Bob on board with at least matching shirts. Yes, absolutely, I think he will LOVE that.)

Historic Route 11 – Route 11 stretches the length of Virginia (and beyond) and is the original and non-infuriating version of Interstate 81. We’ve wanted to explore the route for years now and are planning a few days this summer to do just that. We’re planning to begin in Abingdon, in the southwest corner of Virginia, and make our way north from there with overnight stops along the way in Roanoke and Lexington, eventually making our way to Winchester. I will probably find all of this way more fun than my children and that’s fine. The Route 11 Potato Chip factory is somewhere along this road and open for tours so that should make them feel right at home.

And, since I frequently field messages from friends looking for trip tips in our corner of Virginia, I thought I’d compile a list of some of our family favorites in case you need to add to your summer bucket list. All of the places detailed below are super kid-friendly which means they have easy access to bathrooms and snacks. Also, it will not surprise anyone that battlefields, heavy artillery, and (Civil War) history feature prominently in this list so your mileage may vary, etc.:

  1. Antietam (Maryland) – I like to say that Gettysburg gets all of the Civil War glory around here but Antietam should absolutely not be missed. It’s incredibly moving.
  2. Appomattox Court House (Virginia) – Appomattox is where General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. It’s worth the drive for the history and to see this part of rural Virginia which has it’s own unique beauty.
  3. America’s Historic Triangle (Virginia) – Encompassing Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Go see this! Colonial! History! Everywhere! It’s so fun! (Also, Williamsburg will be super busy but hanging out with our kids by the river in Yorktown was always our favorite part.)
  4. Cumberland (Maryland) – Bob said I should put this on the list so, you’re welcome, Bob. He’s biked the C&O Canal to Washington, D.C. a few times and Cumberland is where they always begin their journey. We’ve stopped once with the kids and there’s a neat museum here and lots of trains!
  5. Ohiopyle State Park (Pennsylvania) – Bob and I were married close by Ohiopyle and we’re making a return pitstop here in a couple of weeks with the kids. The Youghiogheny River runs through the park and affords lots of outdoor adventure opportunities. There are fun little shops and yummy places to grab a bite to eat. Highly recommend!
  6. Harpers Ferry (West Virginia) – Harpers Ferry is so easy to explore with kids. There are trains and trails and rivers and old houses and people wearing historic clothing and, like, five places to procure ice cream. It’s a win all around.
  7. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center (Pennsylvania) – We spied this from the interstate and eventually made it back to visit a couple of years ago. There’s a little museum and loads of outdoor installations to explore that tell the history of the U.S. Army’s conflict involvement.
  8. Frontier Culture Museum (Virginia) – You should totally visit this place. Read all about it here: Worth Doing Also, the nearby town of Staunton is adorable. Make a weekend of it! There are wineries close by!

Okay. I think we’re ready for summer, guys. LET’S DO THIS.