Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Surviving the Day

I am constantly asked "how do you do it???" when I tell people I spend my days raising my 3 kids and taking care of 6+ other kids. Well, I'm ready to share my secret. I survive everyday, not always unscathed, but crazy and alive nonetheless. The great big secret of getting through every day: Thinking outside of the box. Be creative. Think like a kid. Don't always worry about messes, worry if there's not a smile on the kid's faces.

Before I had kids, I would have never dreamed of the things I would be doing and let my kids do. I have potty training chairs in my living room. Three of them. Just sitting next to my couch like it's nothing...and it is nothing to us. They've been there for almost three years now. I love it, like it's my favorite reaction ever, when someone walks into our house and says "oh...you have potty chairs. In your living room.....wow." I really, really want to tell them to spend a day in my shoes and try to do things the way they think they should be done. I suspect they'd be praising the "potties in the living room" idea within an hour.

How is having potty chairs in my living room thinking outside of the box you ask? Well, here's how the potties in the living room started. I was potty training our oldest (and a few other kids who weren't far behind him). He never wanted to stop playing long enough to sit down and go potty. The results were accidents and more clean up for me. With six other kids to look after at the time, it wasn't exactly possible for me to sit in the bathroom with him for hours each day until he could go on his own. The solution to both issues was to put the potty chairs in the living room. I suddenly had the easiest time ever potty training my kids and numerous daycare kids.

When Max was around 18 months, I was pregnant with Harrison and extremely sick night and day from "morning sickness." I was absolutely exhausted (think having the stomach flu for 24 hours a day for 20 weeks). It was cold and snowy out, and whenever we went anywhere Max would run from me. We stayed home  A LOT that winter. To break up the days, Max created "swimming lessons" in our bathtub. Up to three times a day. Our water bill wasn't fun to open, but I had a happy toddler on my hands who could hold his breath under water. That was also the winter we discovered  Color Bath Fizzies. He seemed to learn his colors quite quickly that winter as well.

In this house toothbrushes aren't just for brushing teeth. They've been used to paint with, clean with, as a scrubbing brush during a "car wash" for the kid's hot wheels, and more recently, used as a doll brush when Elizabeth's went missing.

Pasta noodles aren't always for eating. They can be used to play with, paint with, smoosh between little fingers, glue to paper, and dye them.

In the middle of winter, when the kids have a ton of energy and it's too cold and/or snowy to leave the house, I've been known to drag our bedroom mattress out onto the living room floor and let the kids jump on it like it was a trampoline. Much less dangerous than jumping on a bed when they're just inches away from the ground.

When nothing seems to be going right for the kids, no one wants to share, play together, and emotions are running high, jumping jacks and other exercises in the living room work great. Or races in the backyard when the weather allows.

When something's not working, switch it up. Lunch isn't until 11:30/11:45 but it's only 10:30 and the kiddos are more than ready for naps. What to do? Early lunch and early naps never hurt anybody....and it saves sanity rather than dealing with crying, overly tired kids at the normal lunch time.

My favorite line that I use that makes some people's jaw drop is "would you want me to do that to you?" I use this in response to a child that is hitting, biting, not sharing, says something mean, etc. I'll never forget the first time I used this line and it was an "Ah-ha!" moment for both of us. My middle child, who was two at the time, had bitten his older brother for the third time that day. I remember being completely frustrated and picking him up, setting him on my lap so he was eye level with me and sternly saying "would you want me to bite you? Would YOU want someone to do that to you?" The look on his face was priceless, as if to say "what the f*#k??!!? No!" It was at that moment that I realized this line works. Toddlers and preschoolers don't understand empathy (that doesn't really kick in until grade school age). They don't understand that throwing a toy at a friend hurts, or biting, or hitting, but this one simple line does cause them to think. I use this line all of the time on my 18 month old daughter now and it is the one thing that really works and stops bad behavior. I'm at the point where I don't even see the alarming looks on people's faces when we're out and about and they hear me say to my 18 month old "do you want me to hit you?" I found something that works and as long as it continues to work, I'm sticking with it!

I have no issues getting the laundry done, it's the putting away part that gets me. The solution? My kids have a mesh laundry basket in their room's that holds all of their clean clothes until I (or they) can put them away. If I had 30 hours in a day, laundry might just get put away more than once every week and a half. But there's not and there's many other things I'd rather do than putting away the clean laundry. I have no shame and no regrets about this. As long as we've all got clean underwear on, I'd say we're winning.

Breakfast for dinner one, or more, night(s) a week is always an option and always okay. It's quick and delicious. Not everyone can make savory pot roasts every night of the week.

The most important thing I've learned in thinking outside of the box is that imperfection is simply perfection.
Take for example my New Year's cookie clock I made for the kids (kids who can't tell time at that). I have witnessed that my kids don't care how imperfect my cookies look. They don't care that the cookie cutter numbers don't look like numbers at all, that I forgot to make cookie clock hands and instead dove into our stockpile of candy canes to make do, or that the cookies aren't perfectly decorated. They also don't care that I've stayed up until midnight doing this for them. They'll think it's cool tomorrow morning when they see it and I'll then have to explain why I even made a cookie clock for them for NYE. BUT this stupid cookie clock will be the topic of conversation for the day, probably the rest of the week, for my kids giving me several minutes of sanity each day.

Think outside of the box and I can promise the days won't seem so long. Try a little coffee too.