It’s half past two. One child keeps dawdling behind (then running ahead) while another is sad because something happened at school but she’ll tell me at home, and the third is annoyed because I keep interrupting what she’s telling me – to find the one who’s dawdling behind (or running ahead).
It’s three o’clock, and we are finally home. Somehow it takes us longer every day, and longer than everyone else.
“What’s for dinner?” asks one child, and I try to remember what’s for dinner and then try to remember if the child in question loves or hates that dinner.
“Noodles?” I say, holding my breath.
“Yay!” says one child.
“Aww,” say two. I’ll take it as a win. The bar is very low.
It’s four o’clock. In theory, three children are doing homework. In practice, one is humming, one is cross about the humming, and one keeps asking Alexa to play music. We’ve already dealt with a broken ruler, a borrowed rubber, a lost pencil, a missing book, and insufficient elbow room. If even one child could finish homework, I’d let out the breath I’ve been holding since we got home – no, wait, the breath I’ve been holding since September 1st – but it’s a downward spiral. The longer they spend debating rulers and rubbers and pencils and books and elbow room, the longer it takes. And my tea is cold.
And even though I knew it was coming – September was like this last year and the year before – it’s still a surprise. Even though I was prepared – keeping it simple, no detours after school, no attempts to do anything other than homework and dinner – it still spirals into mayhem at least every second day. And every day in between.
I am in awe of people who are managing calm back-to-school transitions, and I think I need to know the secret. Or maybe there is no secret – maybe some people are good with change, and we’re just not those people.
“It’s the after-school activities I find hard to manage” said one friend to me recently, and I nodded agreement – except we’re not actually doing any at all this term, because the kids didn’t ask, and I wanted to keep things simple.
It’s the upheaval, the switch from lazy mornings and barefoot afternoons, the transition to new teachers and new class-rooms (and in one case, a new class). The clock-watching, the alarm-setting, the scheduling, the meal-planning, the hand-writing, the bag-carrying, the hurry-ups and the sit-downs. The search for equilibrium – the necessary planning to make the routine work, without tipping over into a military existence.
I’ve tried five things that are helping to some extent:
Meal Order Form
My kids are incapable of making decisions when they’re tired in the morning, and often end up deliberating over breakfast options when it’s time to get in the car. So now I ask them what they want the night before, at a time when they’re relaxed (about to watch TV for example). I do the same for lunches, so that I can just go and make what they’ve asked for instead of chasing them around the house looking for information that is not forthcoming. It also means they can’t claim they don’t like what they were given.
After posting on Facebook about homework woes – three kids fighting over noise/ inability to concentrate/ elbow room – I got some good tips, once of which works well for us: I get the kids to do their “out loud” homework in another room now. Specifically, I sit on my favourite chair and they do their reading, spellings, and tables for me, out of earshot of the other two in the kitchen. Homework is still a pain, and I still wish we had none, but it’s marginally better this way.
Picking an outfit the night before
Like my kids, I have an inability to make decisions in the morning so I decided in January to make one (and only one) New Year’s resolution: to pick out my clothes the night before. It was supposed to give me superpowers, and when I remember to do it, it absolutely does.
I get our Alexa to alarm ten minutes before we have to leave the house – that’s the klaxon to brush teeth, put on shoes, and go, go, go. The novelty may wear off, but so far it shifts the kids from first gear to third-and-half-gear and gets them out the door.
We invited the actual Taylor Swift over but that didn’t work out – in the meantime, her songs do the trick. My kids are obsessed with Alexa, and in particular, asking her to play songs for them. I had to ban Alexa during homework, but sometimes a child goes rogue and shouts out a request before I can stop him. And once Shake It Off is playing and everyone is up dancing, I give in. And join in. (There will be no videos of Taylor Swift saving our September afternoons, at least none with me in them.)
It’s 5.30. Homework is finally done. The child who was sad tells me what’s wrong – her teacher keeps telling her that her writing is too small. Last year’s teacher liked her writing small. This is hard for little people, getting used to new expectations. We worked on her writing, and we have a plan now to help get it bigger.
I open the lunchboxes, and now I know why one child was cross – her lunch is untouched. All these years into parenting, I still get caught out by the hunger-trap every now and then.
As for the one who likes to dawdle behind or run ahead – he’s playing now, doing just that, but on his own terms. And I’m having a cup of tea. Hot. Wake me up when September ends?