Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wacky Wednesday

I have been planning a "Day in the Life" post for awhile.  I always love reading about other people's ordinary days, so I thought I'd do a post on one of our ordinary days.

We, apparently, don't have ordinary days.

This past Wednesday, for example, wasn't ordinary, except, I suppose, for the fact that it, like all of our other days, was peppered with anything and everything out-of-the-ordinary.

Like most of our days, the events actually started the evening before.  Steffen brought me my phone, and I saw that there was a little water under the Otterbox screen.  He must have splashed some water on it.  I took it out of its case, cleaned and dried it off, and then popped it back in.  After the kids went to bed, I realized that the phone's flashlight was on.  And it wouldn't turn off.  I figured there was some secret setting that I was missing, and I didn't want to wake Nathan up to fix it, so I just buried it under a book so that the light wouldn't keep me awake and went to sleep.

At four the next morning, my alarm went off.  When I tried to swipe it to turn it off, I couldn't get the phone to unlock.  All I could do was tap the side button to make it snooze.  At that point, I saw that the phone was once again wet.  Uh-oh.  Maybe it hadn't gotten "splashed" after all.  This was looking like an all-out dunking.  Nine minutes later, the alarm went off again.  Hit snooze.  Nine minutes later, same procedure.  I decided to turn the phone off.  No luck.  That thing wasn't going to be turned off.  I tried turning the volume down.  Nope.  That didn't work either.  Nine minutes later, alarm, hit snooze, and so on.

By six o'clock, I was seriously considering smashing the phone.  But I was determined to see if it could be fixed before taking any drastic measures.

At six-thirty, I realized I had forgotten to print the kids' assignment sheets the night before.  (We go to a university model school.  The kids go to school two days a week and then do assigned homework on the other days.  Teachers post the assignments on a website and parents print them off at home.)  Usually, I print assignments a week ahead so that I know what's coming, but I had been sick the week before, so I was still playing catch up.  Normally, printing all the kids' assignments takes ten minutes.  Unfortunately, the company that manages the assignment website had made some changes overnight.  Every assignment for every child had to be clicked on and printed (or cut and pasted into another document) individually.

It took me forty-five minutes to get all of their assignments together.  (I am still not actually sure if I got every assignment on their sheets.)

I was now really behind.  I don't schedule anything extra on Wednesdays unless I am left with no other choice.  This particular Wednesday fell into that category, and two of my boys had appointments that morning, and they had to be dressed decently.  I went to make sure the kids knew to start on breakfast and then school while I ironed the boys' clothes.  And, of course, at that very moment, an entire bowl of cereal got spilled in the middle of the kitchen.  I cleaned it up, made toast to replace that serving of cereal, and started laughing.

"Well, this day can't go anywhere but up!" I told the kids.

Not true, my friends, not true.

We had a "my shoes don't fit and I hate all dress clothes of every kind" meltdown.  I still managed to get the boys to their appointments on time, and we even did a good amount of school while we were waiting.

That, however, was pretty much all of the school that got done that morning.  All of the other kids were distracted and all of the morning chaos had, it seemed, rendered their brains useless.  I did my best to get everyone back on track and reminded them that their long-awaited Sonic dinner reward was going to take place that very night.

Over the course of the morning, I had taken my phone to the repair shop where they informed me that the damage was probably too extensive to make a repair worth it, especially since the phone was a few years old.  Sigh.  I spent a few minutes mapping out a new battle plan for the afternoon, including a trip to the AT&T store to get new phone.  The battle plan was beautiful.  This day was going to turn out okay after all.

And it would have if it hadn't been for the general unwillingness of the soldiers to follow the plan.

I did get my phone.  (Nathan persuaded me to ditch my iPhone in favor of a Galaxy S4.  Excellent choice so far.)  School, however, wasn't going as successfully.  You see, my kids are assigned the same amount of homework to complete Wednesday as they have over the entire weekend.  That means that we have absolutely no margin for error on Wednesdays.  And since "errors" are the name of the game for just about every day at our house, Wednesdays have a tendency to become disaster days nearly every week.

By three o'clock, I was "fit to be tied," as they say.  I made it quite clear that, until every last assignment was done, the next bottom that moved off of a chair for any reason was going to be grounded.  We did manage to get school done, but the house looked like it had been through hours of a two-preschooler-free-for-all.  I told the kids we needed to clean up quickly so that I could pick up Whataburger and get to AWANA on time.

And it was at this point that I realized I had made a critical mistake.  I had promised the kids Sonic.  A couple of kids had told me they'd rather have Whataburger.  I figured one carcinogenic meal was as good as another, so I said sure.  But what I didn't know was that two of my children think Whataburger is "disgusting."  I was faced with a major meltdown of epic proportions.  I tried to turn back the clock.  We'd revert to Sonic.  No dice.  Two of the kids think Sonic is "disgusting."  I tried convincing them that it's all disgusting, so it really doesn't matter.  I told them they needed to work out a compromise.  They made about as much progress on that as Congress.

Finally, I saw that there was no way these kids could have their reward that night.  The fits were too loud, too disrespectful, and too ungrateful to warrant any sort of treat.  That unfortunately meant that the non-fit-throwers had to suffer right alongside the guilty, but that's life.  I sat them down individually and told them that the reward would come at the end of a good day, a happy day, a pleasant day.

After they became convinced that I wasn't going to change my mind, everyone calmed down slightly.  The house was set, if not exactly to rights, at least in some semblance of order.  We got to AWANA on time, and we pulled ourselves together enough when we got home to get lunches and backpacks packed for the next day.

And, just after the kids went to bed, the battery on my old phone FINALLY died and the alarm stopped going off every nine minutes.  Peace reigned supreme at last.

At least until the next morning.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mission: Organization

Happy February!

I spent December and January pulling this family out of survival mode.  I'm pleased to report that we're starting to find our footing and feel more settled.

This wonderful turnaround has been largely accomplished with a Mission: Organization.  We've engaged in these missions before.  I got the idea from a friend who teaches organization workshops.  I think humans, for the most part, operate better when things are orderly.  In a large family, organization isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.  The more people you're trying to get moving in the same direction, the more structure you need to reach your goals and get where you want to be.

And everyone knows things don't just stay in place.  They have a way of surrendering to the law of entropy.  Legos get stuffed in kitchen cabinets.  Pens end up in the toy bins.  Socks land in the t-shirt bin.  And this...

can turn into this...

in a hurry.  (Austin has no idea how that happened.)

So, I've come to realize that regular missions are necessary to maintain order.  Once we've got good systems in place, these missions can be just short, targeted strikes against mess, but sometimes, if things have been especially crazy or we've had major upheaval to our life (like a move or a new school), we have to put some serious boots on the ground to get our house and schedule back on track.

There are different ways to go about organizing.  I usually like to tackle a room at a time.  Here are my Mission: Organization steps:

  • Set aside a few days and cancel other things.  Plan easy meals.  Get everybody revved up about it.  (Or at least let them know what's coming.)
  • Throw stuff away.  LOTS of stuff.  Nearly all of us could live with 1/3 of what we have.  The more stuff, the more mess.  I tell my kids constantly that the more they have, the more they'll have to clean.
  • Have piles for Goodwill and piles to sell, if you're the selling type.  I used to be, but I don't have the time anymore.  I take clothes in good shape (read: Megan's clothes) to resale shops, but other than that, it all goes to Goodwill.
  • Start with the closets and work your way out.
  • Drag everything out, throw away as much you can, and only keep what you need.  Seeing all the stuff out in the open is usually a shock to the system.
  • Growing up an Air Force brat, it seems like if you had more than your allotted weight of stuff to move, you were charged $1/pound to ship the rest of the stuff.  When faced with an item (or a group of items) that I can't part with, I ask myself if I'd pay $1/pound to ship it.  I'm cheap, so the answer's usually no.  And then I get rid of it.
  • Sort things in a way that makes sense to whomever is going to be in charge of putting it away.  The younger the person, the simpler the system.  (The less the person cares about tidiness, the simpler the system.)
  • Label things.  I have neglected this in our new kitchen, and I have to get around to doing that soon.  I can't hold the kids responsible for where they're putting things if I haven't taken the time to label.  Note to self:  My family cannot read my mind.
  • Don't bring in new junk to take the place of the old junk.  Once again, I'm cheap, and every time I get rid of stuff we're not using, I just see it as a colossal waste of money.  (Except, of course, in the case of items which served a good purpose but just aren't needed anymore.)  
These take care of the "stuff" in our home, but I find that the most important organization I do in our family is the time I spend evaluating what's working and what's not and getting routines and thoughts out on paper.  The only way to quit dealing entirely in the realm of the urgent is to start planning ahead and figuring out how to take care of things before they become crises.  

People are often curious about the strategies that I use to keep our family going.  I might post more on that later- I do spend a lot of time thinking through these things.  From this "brain work" comes chore charts (you're welcome, kids!) and routines and processes that get us back on track.  And back on track is a great place to be.