How We Do Things: the Morning
A day in the life of us. To families who are relatively unstructured, the idea of the daily rhythms and routines to which our family adheres can seem alien. Some people laugh at me at the playground, comment that I’m too strict. What we’re aiming for though isn’t “strictness,” it’s predictability and security. Having specific ways of doing things throughout our day is grounding for our kids, and frankly, for me too. Our level of structure isn’t for everyone, but I do believe that most families benefit from having a sense of predictability and routine. Here’s what our morning looks like:
Once the kids are up (around 7) and have gone potty, we help them get dressed. I’ll usually head down while they’re still finishing up and get breakfast set up. We have waffles, cereal, or oatmeal, though waffles don’t happen two days in a row. In the near future I’d like to experiment with a few more exciting breakfasts about which they don’t get a choice: “today it’s baked oatmeal! Tomorrow french toast casserole.” For now, they choose what they like and I prepare it, with our without help. We all sit at the table to eat. Sometimes we eat in silence, sometimes we preview the day, or chat about our dreams. Occasionally someone had too much trouble to get dressed and is still upstairs. S/he’s welcome to join us once clothes are on. I really stick with that one, because it’s mayhem when I let them deviate from it! I usually finish before the kids, and use that time to make lunches and tidy up the kitchen. Haha, fooled ya. The tidying up rarely happens.
The next step is that we all head upstairs and take care of our teeth, hair, eyes (glasses), hands (lotion), and lips (chapstick). The two little ones only really do their teeth and then they play. I try to stay in the bathroom with my Eldest, sometimes doing her hair, drying mine, or just keeping her company. Oh yes, and occasionally attempting to get her to stop futzing and move along…
Once that’s all done we pack the backpacks and get shoes and coats on. Even the Little One can now put her jacket on independently, using this Montessori trick. For shoes I have them sit on the stairs next to the front door. Every day, it’s their spot. Some days little siblings are helped by bigger ones. Other times I do it. I try to just let it all be no big deal, though some days that feels easier than others! When this part goes smoothly, the kids are grinning in delight and feel super competent. It’s the little things… They grab their backpacks, I grab my purse, and we’re out the door. Middle One and I put our things in the car for later, the Little One goes in the stroller, and by that point one or more of our neighbors are doing the same crazy “out the door in the morning” dance as we are. There are five families on our street (of ten homes) who walk one or more children to the elementary school so we have been truly blessed that way. It’s nice to have company some mornings, and others it’s just the four of us. Even if the morning was less than stellar, by the time we’re on the next block we’ve made up and are laughing again. Thank goodness for that.
Drop the eldest off, head back home and hop in the car to bring the Middle One to preschool. Someone commented recently on the fact that it’d be faster to just get in the car for our Eldest and then drive to the preschool, but I wouldn’t want to give up our morning walks. Besides, then we’d just be waiting at the preschool.
So that’s it. Our run-around. Described at its most functional, which it rarely is. Last year we had a system where if everyone was outside by the time the timer went, they’d get stickers. Four stickers earned in a week meant we’d have ice-cream sundaes on Friday night. That worked well for a while. These days the motivation is more around walking with our neighbor, which feels like more of a natural consequence and I prefer it. At one point I had to make a pact with the Middle One that I would never, ever look for his shoes again. Whatever was in its spot by the front door was what he could wear, and if nothing was there, well then his feet would get very sore walking with no shoes. Thankfully I’ve never had to carry through with that. It’s amazing though how since that day his shoes tend to find their way back to their spot by the front door, and I no longer have anxiety attacks looking for them all over the house.
For the start of the schoolyear I wrote all the different tasks onto five separate index cards (wake up/potty/get dressed, eat breakfast, teeth/hair/eyes/lips/hands, pack backpack/get lunch, shoes/coats/out the door with smiles on). I stuck a piece of velcro on the back and hung a piece of felt on the wall. As a card gets completed, it’s moved to the other side. It’s worked well, though now that it’s November the routine is so solid that it’s rarely consulted anymore. I also really love this idea at Life As Mom. Any system we implement seems to work for a little while and then falls apart. I’m trying to be ok with that each time I think of a new way to do the same things. After all, as kids are trying to find their own sense of self, they absolutely must rail against the existing structure. Which is why we provide a structure to rail against in the first place.