Does the phrase “stress free morning” conjure up an ’80’s sitcom dream scene?
And Hey, Fresh Flowers On the Table – Why Not?
Thanks to stockpiling sleep all summer, the children awaken early, bouncing from their beds this sunny school morning. After padding down the hall on cute, fuzzy-slippered feet, they courteously await their turns in the bathroom.
A short time later, accompanied by the aroma of coffee brewing and the sound of lightly clattering silverware, the family enjoys a hot, nutritionally-balanced breakfast.
“Okay, kiddos, bus is coming.”
Dishes neatly stowed in the sink, the little moppets gather their backpacks. Everything they need is nested tidily within.
They collect lunchboxes, each brimming with brain food and a small serving of happiness (Oreos).
Kisses all around and off to another balmy day, chockful of mental stimulation and social enrichment.
And also Oreos.
What the hell, let’s say that, instead of the sink, they put the dishes in the dishwasher.
And let’s imagine Mom as the picture of relaxation…she has time to sip her Peruvian medium roast, gazing contentedly at the birds chattering just outside her gauzily-veiled Paladian window.
Because if you’re gonna dream, dream big, right?
YOUR HAPPY PLACE DOESN’T REQUIRE RESERVATIONS (MINI-BAR OPTIONAL)
I think we all know the reality. Probably too well.
Hang on, I need a moment (deep breath in…out…).
Okay, I’m good.
Alright, we were talking about reality.
I won’t even bother to write it out. Just rewind your mind video to whatever wretchedness you last endured on a school morning.
Unless you purposely dissociated and blocked it out.
If you did, trust me, it was bad.
Sleep deprivation, inhumane bell times and…children? What barbarian came up with that brutal combination?
SHORT PEOPLE + SHORT TEMPERS + SHORT TIMEFRAME = SOMETHING I CAN’T THINK OF RIGHT NOW WITH THE WORD “SHORT” IN IT (HANG IN THERE, I PROMISE IT’LL BE WORTH THE WAIT)
I mean, even moms without attention deficiencies struggle to get everyone out of the house alive in these foxhole conditions.
Even for “morning people,” the pressure of a deadline, combined with clashing personalities and a younger daughter who insists on borrowing earrings without asking, can easily fill the minivan with anger, resentment, and morning breath…
Alright, who forgot to brush their teeth this time?!!
…before the school day even begins.
And if you’re a distracted, procrastination-prone, memory-deficient night owl with kids who share those traits (along with their own delightful sprinkling of school anxiety), then whoa, you need a plan, sister.
And no. Sitting in McDonald’s parking lot after drop-off, stuffing in fistfuls of Cinnamelt while listening to Dr. Laura, does not constitute a plan.
Thanks for asking, though.
By a plan, I mean advance effort (ouch, sorry). It’ll go a long way toward getting everyone:
- Where they need to be,
- When they need to be there,
- Carrying all the crap they need to take along,
…with minimal bloodshed.
And a little less yelling, too.
THEY SHOULD MAKE RACE CAR BEDS IN KING SIZE
First off, if it can be done ahead, do it.
Stop looking at me like that. I know bedtime is also crazy:
- You can’t get the kids calmed down.
- Half the time you pass out in your preschooler’s bed trying to get him to sleep.
- The other half you’re collapsing onto the couch, exhausted.
Hello, Orange, how I’ve missed your entirely-inappropriate-when-children-are-in-the-room prison raunchiness.
I’m not delusional – I know the drill.
So don’t freak out if it sounds like I’m suggesting a “nighttime” routine. It doesn’t have to be at night. Knock it out early in the evening or even right after school.
Let events trigger mini-routines.
For example, as soon as everyone arrives home (before snack or the TV or PS4 coming to life or another typical afternoon event):
- Check backpacks for homework and crumpled gym uniforms (hold their Ho-Hos hostage until this is done),
- Check tomorrow’s calendar (if the word “calendar” makes you wig, this post might help),
- Put out a Post-it note for anything you don’t want to forget in the morning. In the fridge, on the steering wheel, on the exit door – or all three.
Total time: 2 minutes, 23 seconds (not counting distractions).
Then while dinner is cooking (or on its way from China Kitchen):
- Prep the coffee maker and lay out breakfast.
This not only saves time in the AM, it provides ample warning for an evening milk run. The teacher requested you stop giving your son Mountain Dew for breakfast, remember?
- Make lunches.
- Remind everyone to pack up homework.
- Have your kids pick out tomorrow’s clothes, eliminating the “but Mom, it’s Be Your Favorite Cartoon Character Day!” morning drama.
Right before bed, let teeth-brushing (or the sound of children being bodily dragged up a flight of stairs) be the cue for a quick routine. Make sure:
- Shoes aren’t on the trampoline. Flashback to too many of those “thank goodness it didn’t rain last night” moments.
- Backpacks are packed (and also not on the trampoline).
With morning “to dos” minimized, next work on limiting morning distractions.
Kids are naturally distractible. And so are you. Distractions are death to calm mornings. So:
- If Mortimer Junior gets TV paralysis…Maybe young Morty doesn’t turn on the TV until he’s 100% ready for school?
- Everyone staring at phones? Then no phones until they are dressed and ready to go.
Or not at all?
Of course, if you go that far, you may have to start sleeping with one eye open and checking your brake lines every morning.
Still – teenagers, electronics – don’t say you haven’t been warned.
- Xbox and computer? If you allow them, use them intentionally. If they become a problem, avoid them completely or make them a reward.
Getting some alone (as in, no little brother) time for Xbox on school mornings motivated my middle one to get dressed, fed, and showered early.
And knowing Mama could make all those pixels disappear if they delayed his departure for school motivated him to keep it manageable.
- As for you, Miss Example-Setter, if you must check email (not social media – no…just…no), then set an alarm.
I’m not going to tell you how to parent your kid– I believe we’ve already established that my own parenting hasn’t always been stellar. But as far as mornings, electronics are a big sticky glue trap when it comes to getting out the door.
- And one more distraction-buster…set an automatic daily 10 minute warning timer. Along with a 1 or 2 minute “no joke, let’s go!” timer.
BETHANY, YOU’RE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL. EVERY DAY IS A BAD HAIR DAY.
Okay, lunches made? Check.
Cell phones off? Check.
So what’s the bottleneck?
Bethany’s having a bad hair day.
So now, the bathroom rotation has come to a complete and utter standstill.
- Once your kids start to primp, move their morning prep time to their bedrooms. Then, even if you have to coax one of them down off the acne distress ladder, at least it doesn’t hold up everyone’s progress.
Stash toiletries in the bedrooms, not the bathroom. Abracadabra – the bathroom opens up immediately after each shower and tooth-brushing session.
- Speaking of showers, establish a shower order. That may sound militant, but I think you can handle a sarcastic kid salute now and again.
If someone’s up late, they have to wait or skip. If skipping becomes a problem (‘tween boy stink – Lord help me), then they shower at night.
- And put another timer in the bathroom to keep things moving with hot water for all.
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED NITRATES – YUM!
Okay, everyone’s downstairs making progress toward a smooth exit.
But what about breakfast? And lunch?
- If serving “perfect” breakfasts takes you to the brink, go easier on yourself. Strive for it if you wish, but if deliciously prepared whole grains, lean protein and fresh fruit (or even delectable and tummy filling fatty eggs and bacon) equals mom ulcers, maybe dial it back a bit.
There are alternatives like crockpot oatmeal, microwave meals (either home-prepared or (gasp) store bought), and cold cereal.
In a future post, I’ll talk about more ways to simplify meals. For now, just honestly assess the return on investment.
- And let’s talk about the kid who doesn’t have time for any breakfast. You’re terrified they will starve before 2nd period.
For them, keep yogurt / fruit cups handy. I’ve also been known to stash protein bars and ziplocs of cereal in my car for the career dawdlers.
If these options don’t appeal, then maybe they can move a tiny bit faster tomorrow?
- If getting lunch out to the car is a problem, put a reminder note on the door.
- If getting lunch into the school is a problem (kids add so much joy to our lives – they do…they do), then make your kids keep their lunch boxes on their laps in the car.
Don’t let breakfast and lunch stress be the blocks that make the whole Jenga tower fall.
If I leave this sad, weak Jenga analogy in my final post, you will know that I’m very, very tired while writing this.
Maybe I should have had a better breakfast instead of that three-year-old bag of Fruity Pebbles in my glove box.
Lucifer IS MY HERO
So now that you don’t have to worry about that pitiful, malnourished urchin, let’s revisit what to do about him missing breakfast (or making everyone late while he dilly-dallied at the table).
If you have a child who makes it impossible to get everyone to school / work on time, consider a reward.
One year, my son was so anxious that, even though later on he ended up being my easiest one to get up and out the door*, we struck a deal. If he went to school with minimal fuss, we’d play hooky together in January – a “mental health day,” if you will. Crafts, games, and lunch out alone together.
He moved more quickly, missed less school overall, and I no longer had to drag him from bed to car to school.
If rewards don’t work, I’m also a huge fan of punishments.**
Just throwin’ that out there.
Which may be why my kid has my phone number set to a ringtone on his phone that says “It’s the Devil” in an awe-inspiringly evil voice.
I’m so proud.
No Electrocution-Via-Slobber On My Watch
Alright, you’ve gotten everyone up and at ‘em (carrots or sticks,*** whichever, I support your choices) .
They’ve each had plenty of ablution time, distractions aren’t an issue, and nobody’s going to waste away from missing breakfast or forgetting lunch.
So how do you take it to the next level?
Well, originally I was going to tell you right here. But … I’m worried you’ll pass out and drool on your keyboard if you try to read any more without a break.
Therefore, since you’re my friend and I don’t want to see you get zapped, I split this post into two parts.
So take a good stretch, shoot down a 5-hour-energy, and come back to see me here, in Part 2 for more stress free morning ideas.
*He even left 30 minutes early in high school! I demand a maternity test.
**I didn’t say corporal punishments. I’m just saying that Xbox is not a God-given right.
***Before you email me to tell me I shouldn’t beat my children, I mean metaphorical sticks. Despite what my children claim, I am innocent of all charges and it was never proven otherwise.
The Elusive Stress Free Morning