Managing Many

A friend sent me a message on Facebook yesterday asking me at what age her twins would be when she wouldn’t feel like four kids was a lot. I responded that when I figured that out, I’d let her know. I wasn’t trying to be flip, but more wanted to let her know that four is just a lot, all the time.

When Annie and Izzie were newborns, and Drew was just 2 and Meg 6, I was overwhelmed. Three kids in diapers, one in full-time kindergarten, a brand new house that I couldn’t manage~ it was all too much. I lived in the middle of the woods with no neighbors, in a town where I hardly knew a soul, and I was lonely and completely lost. I sat on my stairs often, crying with whatever kid was crying at the time and I figured that things would never, ever get better.

Fast forward to today. Annie and Izzie are 6 1/2, Drew is 8 1/2 and Meg is 12 1/2. The insanity of those early years with four kids is long gone, only replaced by a different sort of insanity. Now it’s remembering who has what special on what day of the week (the kids need sneakers for PE and what day is library day and where are their books?), who has what activity after school, who’s going to have a meltdown because hot dogs aren’t for dinner tonight. We just came off two months of overlapping middle school field hockey for Meg, soccer for Drew and dance for Annie and Izzie. Some Mondays all four kids had their sports, so I would send my parents to watch Meg’s game wherever it might be, take Annie and Izzie to dance and have Doug meet me to pick up Drew for soccer. It was crazy, but not as overwhelming as 3 in diapers used to be.

One thing that helps me manage all the kids with all their events is my iPhone. Without it, and it’s handy reminders, I would be lost. I can schedule a school conference, invite Doug so it’s on his phone, and set myself a reminder so I’m not late (I despise being late). I used to use the calendar on my computer, but since I’m on the go more than I’m home, have my calendar at my fingertips is much more helpful. I downloaded Drew’s hockey schedule to my phone and Doug’s as well, and any changes are automatically updated so that we’re always aware of what rink we’re supposed to be heading to.

Now that Meg is older, she is responsible for her schoolwork and her weekly schedule. She has a small dry erase calendar in her bedroom where she keeps track of what UA (unified art) she has each day, what sporting or music event she might have that week, and what other things she might need to do. I use that calendar myself-I check it almost daily-so that I can communicate more effectively with her. When she has an event that requires me to pick her up or drop her off at a specific time, it goes on my iPhone and her iPod.

We also have a larger dry erase calendar in our computer room, and some events get placed on it, but I’ll admit it’s becoming a bit obsolete. The kids tend to draw pictures on it in the memo section and they’re forever losing the markers. But I’ll keep it there because if my phone died, I’d need someplace to relocate everything to (you know, when I was done sobbing over the death of my beloved phone).

The hardest thing about managing four kids is the amount of paperwork that comes in the door every school day. While the middle school doesn’t send home much and Meg keeps her schoolwork with her at all times, the younger kids bring home work daily. Homework packets get placed on our cork board so they don’t get lost; Drew keeps his daily planner and folder together, so that I can review and sign off on his work as he completes it. I’ll fully admit that some things, like book orders, get forgotten because there are just too many other things to keep track of some weeks.

Managing many is still a work in progress around here, especially as the kids are getting older and their needs are changing. I’m sure I’ll have to keep adapting because what works today may not work well tomorrow. Now if someone could figure out a way for me to deal with all the shoes and laundry, that would be fantastic.

End of a Halloween Era

I knew this day would come eventually. After all, she’ll be 13 in just a few months, she’s 5ft 8in and doesn’t look like a kid at all anymore. She texts friends, goes to school dances, plays middle school sports. In my mind though, she’s still the little girl who was a winter fairy, a flower, Ariel, an angel, a witch, a cat (twice), Dorothy, Hermoine Granger, a crazy bug girl, and a hippie.

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(Winter Fairy, first cat costume and flower not shown because I am old and that was all before digital cameras)

Tonight she’ll be one of the adults, hanging out with me and her dad and helping her siblings navigate their way in the dark as we trick-or-treat with friends. This was her decision, but it’s still bittersweet. Sometime I just want them to stay little forever.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Back to School

As much as I’m ready for summer vacation by the time it rolls around, I’m even more ready for the kids to head back to school come the end of August. My kids love school; they love the structure, the time with friends and generally not being all together, all the time like they are when we’re home for the summer.

The kids headed back to school last week, even if it was just for two days. This year I have kids in 3 different schools~middle for Meg, a grade 3/4 for Drew, and K-2 for Annie and Izzie. The younger kids all still ride the bus together (thank goodness!) which does make life a bit easier.

Meg’s heading into her last two years of middle school as a 7th grader. Sixth grade was hard for her, not academically, but socially, and we were both so glad when that year ended and we could both move on. Seventh grade has great promise, with a new team of teachers, best friends who are REAL friends, and the ability to play middle school sports (other than ice hockey, which she could play as a 6th grader). Field hockey practice started on the first day of school and she’s LOVING it! She’ll be ready to go when ice hockey season starts at the end of September (nothing like overlapping sports).

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Drew has left the younger elementary school and is a 3rd grader now. He’s in the same classroom that Meg had as a 3rd grader, which is fantastic as I LOVED her teacher. He’s excited to be back to school with one of his best friends in his classroom with him, and can’t wait to dive into more multiplication, which he started doing last year. Drew’s playing travel soccer this fall; he’s already played keeper twice and is really enjoying it so far. Soccer and hockey will overlap for him as well, so our fall is going to be very busy!

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Annie and Izzie are sharing a classroom again this year, as 1st graders. Our district is fantastic about letting the parents decide how to place our twins. I talked with their kindergarten teacher back in the spring about their placement, then wrote a letter to the school with our request. For now, they’ll stay together until a)they start to compete with each other, b)they request to be separated or c)all of the above. They each have their own strengths (Izzie is a strong reader and Annie has strong math skills) so they don’t compete too often. Having twins in school is still a new phenomenon for me, so we’re take things year by year. The girls will play soccer again this fall, but have opted out of hockey for the year. They’d like to take dance classes but we haven’t made a decision on that yet.

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I’m trying to get myself back into a semblance of routine as well. I’m still working at least 1 day a week in the office, volunteering on two different youth sport board of directors and am the team administrator for Drew’s soccer team. School classroom volunteering will start in October, so I’ll use September to clean house and breathe.

Who else is excited for school to be back in session? Am I the only one?

Birthday Cake Wrap-Up

The kids’ birthdays have come and gone and I realized I haven’t shared this year’s birthday cake creations. Having four kids with birthdays immediately following Christmas right through January means I spend a lot of time covered in flour, trying to make something that they’ll love.

Drew’s birthday always sneaks up on us, since it’s 3 days after Christmas. He is a very laid back kid when it comes to his birthday and therefore had absolutely no idea what he wanted for a cake. I spent too much time trolling the internet looking for a different Star Wars cake (last year’s cake ). I again put Doug to work with his steady hand and we came up with this cake:

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Annie and Izzie’s birthday came next and this year we went with a winter theme. Annie chose a snowman and Izzie a snowflake (although the snowflake looks a bit too much like a spiderweb for my liking):

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Meg’s cake theme this year represents what she loves the most: music. I again spent too much time trolling Pinterest and Google for ideas, but finally settled on making my own frosting (thank you Ree Drummond; it was awesome!) and my own music notes with melting chocolates.

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(Not sure why the image has such poor quality, but you get the idea)

I love making the cakes for my kids, but as they get older inspiration is getting hard to come by. Meg has already asked me to make a clarinet cake for her, which I politely declined. Good thing I have another 7 months before I need to make another one!

Yeah, I Pay My Kid in iPod Songs

I’m pretty sure the word “chores” is one of the worst words in the English language. I know it was one of my least favorite words as a teenager. I had to dust and fold towels and I think I got paid for it, but I honestly can’t remember. I hated dusting. I didn’t mind the towel folding so much though.

Now that I’m a mom of four kids, I’ve started assigning Unpaid chores to the kids. They’re unpaid because when we tried the paid option with Meg a few years ago, she refused to do anything that she didn’t get paid for. Yeah, lesson learned there. The kids are expected to clean their rooms when asked. Sometimes that results in tantrums (ok, it often results in tantrums) but let me tell you, when their rooms are clean they are happy, happy kids. I refuse to clean their rooms for them. I will sit and watch them, assisting with what to clean up next, but I will not clean 3 kids’ rooms on top of all the other stuff I’m expected to do for them. It’s called responsibility.

Anyway, now that Meg is 11 1/2, she wants stuff. Books. Clothes. Earrings. Songs for her iPod. She has a couple of regular chores, which she does sporadically at best (clean the cat boxes, wipe down the table after dinner and sweep under the table). Recently she created a list of songs that she wants on her iPod (which is an old 2nd generation iPod Touch I bought used from one of Doug’s co-workers, but she thinks it’s gold) and asked me to buy her some. Being the clever mom that I am, I came up with a mutually beneficial solution~she does chores outside her regular chores, with a smile (or at least not crankily) and I will purchase her songs. Lo and behold, my dishwasher is getting unloaded and refilled more often, loads of towels get washed/dried/folded/AND put away, and songs are magically appearing on her iPod.

I’m not really that clever. I want help around the house, she wants tunes, and voila, we have a solution. I’m happier, she’s happier. The other kids don’t have iPods yet, so I’ll have to come up with some other chore ideas for them. Maybe cleaning in exchange for tv time?

What about you? Do you have your kids do chores? Do you pay them in cash or other ways, or not at all?

Summertime

We’re two and a half weeks into summer vacation and my kids haven’t slept past 6:15 more than once. Most days, Drew is up at 6, banging around in his room or running up and down the hall, trying to wake the others up to come play. To say this makes for long days is an understatement. Short of duct taping him to his bed, I have no idea how to get that child to sleep in.

Our first week of vacation we wandered aimlessly around the house, with the kids literally up my backside all day long. I was thrilled not to have to make a 7am and 8am bus stop trip each morning, but we’d make no real plans for the beginning of that week. I wanted to rest, but the kids were B.O.R.E.D. They fought, threw things at each other and generally drove me to madness by 3pm.

This week I instituted school. I know, a weird concept in the summer, but my school-age kids THRIVE on the structure of school, so I decided we needed to have some school time during our day. Meg has summer work she can do (not mandatory, but this kid ASKED to go to summer school and got other homework from her language arts teacher) through a website called Compass Learning, and Drew has a math website he can access to keep his skill sharp. Monday morning I set Drew up to review some math skills on the PC and Meg logged into her account on the laptop and they were happy, happy campers. I’ve also mandated 30 minutes of reading (also known as mommy-sanity-saving quiet time) each day.

This week did throw us a curve ball with a stomach bug that’s gone through all the kids plus me (always fun lying sick on the couch while your 5 year old twins have the run of the house because the other big kids are sick too). I’m still working on Wednesdays so we’ve alternated having my mom and mother-in-law come watch the kids, which is great for all involved. We’re trying hard to get into some routine, because we have a long July and August to contend with as the kids don’t head back to school until September 4th, which is late, late, late.

We’ve had some fun so far, including a very impromptu beach trip on my birthday with many friends and kids that included a group picture of the kids (which if they didn’t pose for they didn’t get cupcakes!) and a wonderful birthday serenade. It was one of the most relaxing days we’d had in a long time and the moms all agreed that we’d be heading back together again soon. We’re heading camping for the FIRST TIME EVER this weekend and I’m torn between thinking we’re going to have fun and thinking that since my kids are so loud we’re going to get kicked out because they’ll be loud during mandatory quiet time. Of course I’m hoping for the former but given that they failed that with our at-home test earlier this month, I’m just not sure.

We’ve got more fun coming up in July, with Meg’s All Star softball tournament (so proud the coaches selected her as the catcher!) and a trip back to the camp we visited last summer. There will be trips to the library to get more and more books and more beach trips with friends. There will be more school and more room cleaning. So far, summer has been pretty easy on us and I’m hoping for less fighting and more fun.

How is your summer going so far?

Five for Five ~ Change

I’m linking up with the fantastic ladies at Momalom this week for Five for Five (see the button on my sidebar). Come join us!

I paid my final preschool tuition payment today. The final one after 3 kids and 5 years at our favorite preschool. It was such a find for us, having just moved to our tiny town in the woods and seeing an ad in the paper about this age-appropriate preschool that took kids who weren’t potty trained and could start at age two and a half. I never visited, just called, talked to the wonderful ladies who’ve since become my friends, and signed Drew up. I told them I just wanted him there to socialize, that I had newborn twins and he needed to be with kids his own age. He could write his name by November of that year. He spent 3 years there, and Annie and Izzie are finishing up their 2nd year in a little over a month. My kids have changed and grown so much since they first started at this wonderful preschool, and even bigger changes are on the horizon for Annie and Izzie as they move to kindergarten in the fall. They’ve been talking about staying at school all day and riding the bus and being big kids, just like their older brother and sister.

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I ran into a friend at Drew’s school today while I was there volunteering. She spotted him in his classroom doorway, waiting to head to lunch, and commented on how tall he was. I joked that of course he had a hollow leg, since he’s tall and thin but packs away the food. I look at him, with his boy face and freckles that just sprouted on him for the first time, and see very little of the baby boy he used to be. He reads to me now, thinks math is the best subject ever invented, plays on a baseball team with 4th graders, and that boy is just so far removed from the little chubby faced boy who ate Cheerios out of the box in his high chair. I’m pretty certain I’m going to wake up tomorrow and he’ll be asking for the keys to the car.

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Meg’s sitting on the couch with the laptop, working on a school curriculum fair project. She’s muttering to herself about how the “l” on the keyboard isn’t working right but how cool the final project is going to be. I’ve been called in once to view the beginning of the presentation. I steal glances at her when she’s working on her homework, brow furrowed in concentration. School and homework are her job and she takes them on with such seriousness and passion. I try to picture her in a few more years, as a high school student, and then college aged, like my nieces. Soon the phone calls from girlfriends will be replaced by calls from boys. There will be formal dances and requests for makeup and rides in cars with friends. I can see the change coming, but I’m still holding on to the right now.