With one child still in preschool and one in grade school, I’ve already fallen into the typical yo-yo family routine phenomenon: By the last month of the regular school year, I’m just done. Done with daily lunch packing. Done with backpack checking and bake sales. Done with incessant clock watching, brush-your-teeth demanding, shoelace tying, and the no-you- cannot-wear-the-same-shirt-again-because-it’s-covered-in-paint explaining—the whole getting-out-the-door-at precisely-7:29am business. Done! By the end of summer vacation, however, I just cannot endure another night of children bouncing off the walls and still in their swimsuits well past Mommy’s wine time because the sun will not, for the love of sanity, set already! Bring on the school bell. Bring on the regular bedtimes and wake times and the kids who are tired and hungry at predictable intervals. Bring on the kind of days that allow the children to be tucked in, the next day’s lunches prepared and outfits selected, and Mommy on the couch by 8:01pm with her Rioja and her laptop, frantically catching up on work while also watching bad TV and having quality time with her husband doing the same thing on the adjacent couch cushion.
I’m starting to think, though, that this swinging of the scheduling pendulum is neither ideal nor inevitable. The experts tell us that kids crave routine and predictability, but they also say that kids’ internal clocks and rhythms are much different than ours and fluctuate depending on age and developmental phase. Anyone who has tried to explain that Mommy has an 8am conference call to a 4-year-old who’s too busy drawing shapes in her maple syrup with her little finger to JUST FINISH HER PANCAKES understands this dynamic. So where’s the happy medium between mayhem and rigidity? Darned if I know. I’m the kind of anxious yet lazy person who checks her alarm clock three times past mentally stable every night, only to hit my snooze button several times past reasonable the next morning. But the following tips have made their way into my brain, perhaps from the stack of parenting manuals on my bedside table, or maybe the blogosphere. Probably it was my mother. In any case, they seem to make common sense:
Provide for extra time
This one hurts. Really it means that we have to get up even earlier so my kids can lie around in their pajamas or play with their cereal a little longer and not feel “rushed.” Also, this one can backfire as anyone who has missed the school bus after a two-hour snow delay can attest.
Cut back on activities
This means grownups too. Leaving plenty of room in the day for free play and special parenting time means the kids’ tanks will be full and better able to fuel them through those rushed and robotic—no, you may not get out the Play-Doh—weekday mornings.
Stick to the same general routine all year
This one hurts too. An occasional late night to look at the stars or late morning to sleep off a double-feature family movie night seems O.K., and who doesn’t need a break from wearing regular clothes or leaving the house before 3pm every now and then. Regularly changing up bedtimes and meal schedules on weekends or vacations, however, just makes for really ugly Mondays and a devastating month of September. I know what I have to do, and I’m mostly up to the challenge. Just don’t judge me in June when I send my kids to school with a lunch of leftover popcorn from my previous late night of binge watching “House of Cards” while making nut-free cookies for the school potluck I just remembered.