Friday, September 9

Finding Your School-Year Rhythm Again

The signs are everywhere.

     The cooler evenings, the heavier dew in the mornings, the ransacked school supply shelves at Wal-Mart and Target being replaced with Halloween and Thanksgiving trinkets. There have even been a few moments, either later in the day or early in the morning, when the girls and I have been outside and a cool breeze blows across our bare arms. Their eyes get big as they look at me, "Oh, Mom! It's starting to feel like..."

     "Shhh! Don't say it!" I tease.

     I know. I know.

     I'm just not sure I'm ready.

     It's been a fun summer. A hot summer. A fill your bucket to the rim, squeeze every ounce of  juice from the fruit summer. We've picked berries and made pies. We've been to Cedar Point, the beach, Darien Lake, and kayaking at Canalside. We've stayed up late for  no good reason. We've stayed up late for very good reasons. We've seen fireworks, and visited friends. We've been to Columbus and Sandusky, Whitinsville and Boston. We've climbed the trees at Sky High in Ellicottville. We bid farewell to our first hamster and recently brought home a new one. We rode bikes and took walks, nursed fractured toes and dislocated knees. Scott even ended up on a serious round of steroids for a vicious case of poison ivy.

     But, I won't beat around the bush here...I'm a little bit tired. Maybe a lot of bits tired.  Tired from 10 weeks of unstructured fun, but very full days. Tired from the crazy messes, and lack of order (If school makes me face my paperwork management issues, summer makes me face my inability to instill order in the house with 3 kids at home all-day-everyday issues!). A counselor once used this analogy when I was talking to her about my reaction to summer vacation, "It is like drinking water from a fire hose."

     Yes. Yes, indeed.

     I'm ready to return to drinking my water in smaller sips from a nice, cold water bottle. For now anyways.. I'm sure that by the time May rolls around next year I'll be ready to embrace the tidal wave of firehose water again.

     And so here I am, Friday of the first week of school working to find my rhythm again. I feel like we lost it a little bit over the summer. It's like my  preference for life music is a mix of energetic folk tunes, with a little bit of classical piano, some acoustic guitar and maybe some funky jazz beats...something fun, but with some structure-- upbeat at times and quieter at others. It's as if the radio dial accidentally got bumped by one of the kids and some hair-raising, brain-thumping, hard to understand, aggressive rap station started to play in our house...ALL. SUMMER. LONG.

     A good up-tempo rap song is a fun addition to an occasional dance party in the living room, but that's about where my appreciation for it ends. I am ready for a return to a more natural cadence in our household!

   It seems that every summer I start out with lofty goals to make the kids read daily, make their beds, do chores, help me around the house, etc. I even plan (in my head) all of the fun things that we're going to do, like go to the beach. It all sounds so orderly in my head and on paper. And then...

     Then you get to the beach, and one kid accidentally trips the other kid, and everyone goes flying and then two of them start screaming. You brush them off,  settle them down, assure them that no one intended grave bodily harm and continue your walk to find a spot on the beach. By the time you get the blanket and the chair set up, everyone is ready for a snack.  You dig said snack out, only to realize that someone kicked sand into the snack bag during the whole tripping debacle...and so everyone eats gritty watermelon and laughs that this wasn't AT ALL how it was SUPPOSED to go.

     That pretty much describes life daily with three kids under 10 over summer vacation.

     It has been nice to feel like we're returning to steadier rhythms of life this week. Packing lunches, doing homework, reading books together, getting to bed at more scheduled times, etc.

     The girls are thrilled to see old friends and make new ones. Ava started at a new school this year (Christian Central Academy) and gets on the bus almost an entire hour earlier than last year! I was a bit anxious about the transition, but she has managed it with ease and is enjoying it all so far.

     The start of a new school year makes me face all sorts of things--that my girls are getting bigger, that I have a horrendous track record for managing school paperwork and remembering permission slips.  I'm also not very good at letting go of art projects and schoolwork that I probably should throw away. I never know what the "rules" are for that sort of thing so it sits in cluttered piles in corners of my house.

     I'm trying to put some systems in place...But, I'm also not very good at following through on systems...grrrr...I really would have benefitted from that Time and Home Management class that they should have offered in college instead of Introduction to Computer Science. I mean really, digits and algorithms? I just need someone to tell me where to file a permission slip so that I don't lose it. Is there an algorithm for that?

     If you're a systems guru (not the computer kind, but the house management kind) please stop over any day of the week...I'll make you a great cup of coffee and will willingly take any and all suggestions from you!

     In the meantime,

     Here are my top 5 suggestions for getting back into a rhythm, or at least what I've been trying to do this week...

1. Take a day (or 4 to clean!). I've been catching up on laundry, purging kid's closets, going through yard toys and throwing out the random broken pieces of things that seem to be everywhere. Now that Aubrey is in preschool a consistent two days a week I try to devote one to cleaning and errands and another to writing, or other miscellaneous things I want to get done. Before this year (when I had a little one home more frequently!) I would allow myself the freedom to hire a babysitter on a regular basis so that I could get some of this stuff done while the big kids are in school in order to free up our evenings and our family time when everyone is home!

2. Create some time for planning! I have actually spent the better part of today day going through file folders, looking at my calendar, and trying to integrate many separate task lists into one. I'm hoping this helps me to be better organized throughout the year. I haven't gotten to everything I wanted to get to, but my brain is feeling a little bit lighter and less overwhelmed. For that I am grateful!

3. Try to pull the kids in to help where they can! I've been doing a much better job of having the girls help me pack their lunches and snacks, and I'm trying to be more consistent about having them help around meal times (setting the table, cleaning the table, etc.). It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing everything yourself because it feels easier, but I'm realizing that it doesn't make things easier in the long run!

4. Don't take on unnecessary tasks! I confess, I almost agreed to driving Ava to and from school this year when there is a perfectly fine bus that can take her to and from school. I was feeling bad that she started so  much earlier than last year and that the day is longer.  As her mom, I wanted to make things as easy as possible for her (not always the best parenting strategy, by the way!). Her new school is a 20 minute drive from our house on a route that has heavy traffic in the mornings. I knew it was going to be a chaotic commitment if I chose to make it.   I eventually gave myself a little reality check by reminding myself that there are two other kiddos, with two other sets of needs, not to mention many other responsibilities on my plate. Driving her to and from school was not necessary and it was really going to complicate our lives. I still feel sad, but I've realized that I truly can't do it all, and she has actually made a great friend on the bus already!

5. Take a day to rest! I confess, I haven't actually done this yet, but once I get the house pulled back together and some of my paperwork in order for the school year, I will give myself permission to just go sit and read a book somewhere without any guilt!

    Hopefully you enjoyed some part of my ramblings...It was therapeutic for me, so if nothing else, thanks for listening! (:

P.S. I realize that some of this is specific to my own life rhythms. Many of you (my teacher friends in particular) are back to school as well. You don't actually have time to clean your house, or take a day to rest now that the 'kids are back in school'. Thank you for taking such great care of our kiddos and I pray that  you would have an amazing school year. I also pray that you find some extra time for rest and planning in your days as well!

And to the full-time working moms, I pray that you too would find little spaces and resources for rest and rejuvenation. That God would bless your rhythms and give you wisdom as you work through all of the multi-tasking logistics.

P.P.S. And then there are my homeschool momma friends....oh man...extra graces and spaces and prayers to you! I pray that you would be blessed with wisdom, patience and resources to do your jobs well!