Sharing Morning Routines

This was supposed to go up this morning, but my morning routine consisted of my bathtub clogging during my shower, and then my dropping my kids at school and then taking two flights and a drive on a work trip. Not normal for me, but not abnormal, either, unfortuntely.

Anyway, here's the yearly post in which we share out morning routines from the time we wake up until the time when everyone's "settled," whether that means you're at your desk, or your day is officially under way.

I'll start. I have two radically different morning routines, because I have my kids three mornings a week and they're with their dad three days (we swing Sunday mornings). Remember that my kids are 8 and 5, therefore awesomely self-sufficient and both in school all day.

On days my kids are NOT with me: I either a) wake up at 6 and do the T-Tapp Total Workout or b) wake up at 6:30ish and lie there thinking about all the stuff I should be doing. I hop in the shower and tell myself I'll be out of the apartment by 7:45, but then somehow I seem to disappear into a time warp and I end up stumbling out of the my building with wet hair and smudged eyeliner not having eaten breakfast (but probably with my lunch packed) at 8:15. If the subway runs decently I take one train, switch to another, stop at the Korean bodega to get a cup of coffee, and am at my desk a little after 9.

On days my kids ARE with me: My alarm goes off at 6:20. I start prodding the kids to get dressed, after assigning my older son the job of checking the weather on tv or my phone. (If I did my job the night before then all three of us have chosen and laid out our clothes already.) I hop into the shower quickly, then get out, assess the clothes progress, ask the little one again to put on his clothes, ask the older one to put on his socks, and start breakfast. The little one needs more time to eat because he dawdles, but the big one needs way more food since his lunchtime isn't until 1 pm, and there's a very limited subset of breakfast foods they both like that will actually stick with them (no, you can't have nothing but cinnamon toast), so breakfast is an attainable victory every day.

I've filled their water bottles the night before and have them in the fridge, as well as portioning out the vegetables and side for their lunches, so all I have to do is put together sandwiches and their lunches are packed. Assess clothing progress and prod some more. Make sure breakfast is being eaten. Do one more check of backpacks (packed the ngiht before by the kids) and my purse and work bag. Get dressed myself. Run a brush through my wet hair. Eyeliner, mascara, lipstick. (During all of this I've also sent and received anywhere between 5 and 25 texts to/from my mom, my brother, my best friend, or any of three or four other friends.)

Give the 5 minute warning. Kids start really getting moving. We walk out of the apartment 10 minutes later, just before 8. The subway ride takes about 40 minutes, then a 4 minute walk to school. After they're both dropped off, I get back on the subway and then switch to another, stop at the Korean bodega for coffee, and get to my desk at about 9:30.

My mornings are wacky and full, but not particularly stressful anymore (except when my tub drain clogs and I almost overflow it).

Now you go.

Q&A: hand and foot twirling in an 8-month-old

Erin writes:

"Since my son was about 6 months old he started twirling his hands and his feet in a circular motion when he’s excited or frustrated. It seems to happen a lot when he’s in his car seat or in his high chair when he can’t move around as much.  I was a little concerned about this movement, but my husband said it’s just his way of expressing himself. When I took him to see his pediatrician last week she noted some concern about the movement. I asked her if I should be concerned and she said sometimes babies w/ autism have strange hand movements so she would like to keep her eye on him. Even though he seems completely normally in all of his development (laughs, smiles, recognizes his own name, babbles, does all physical skills for a baby his age), this really scared me and I can’t think about anything else. My husband is a neuroscientist and knows a lot about autism. He said in babies this young they usually look for an absence of developmental skills rather than unusual movements. I’m mad at our pediatrician for even hinting that it could be a sign of autism.

What I would like to know is have you had other parents ask about this same type of movement? Did their kids end up of having autism? Do you have any suggestions for how I can stop worrying about this?"

Your pediatrician is an ass. What part of "First, do no harm" doesn't she understand?

Your husband, the neuroscientist, is correct (of course). This is a normal stage of development, and both of my kids and most of the babies I've seen have gone through some version of circling or flapping in excitement. The connection with developmental disabilities is that kids sometimes get stuck in these circling/flapping stages. So what's totally normal for a baby or toddler could be a symptom of a delay or issue in an older kid.

The real issue here is how you're going to deal with this with your pediatrician. Just switch practices without telling her why? Write her a letter expressing your disappointment at her misinformation that caused you to worry needlessly and asking for an apology and that she do some further investigation on circling and flapping so she doesn't misinform other patients? Express your concern in person that she's giving misinformation as medical advice? Egg her house? It's a crapshoot.

Readers, I'm looking for three different kinds of responses, so post any and all that you have: 1) My kid circled/handflapped and passed through that stage. 2) My kid has autism and is a great kid and we're meeting the challenge. 3) My kid's pediatrician gave me bad info and this is how I handled it. (I'm going to assume that no one actually egged their ped's house.)

School/daycare check-in post

Everyone's been in session now for at least a week, so it's time to check in and talk about how it's going. How's your child's teacher? How's your child adjusting? How are the other parents? Did you accidentally get yourself roped into chairing any fundraisers? Are you able to get your kids into bed early enough that they can wake up rested in the morning? (We'll do the annual "sharing morning routines" and "sharing evening routines" posts next week.)

Are things you thought might be problems actually problems? Has anything come up that you did't anticipate?

I'll start:

Older son loves his teacher and seems pretty happy about things this year. I think he's finally relaxing and feeling safe at school, after three years. The academics have ramped up, though, and it's going to cut into his pleasure reading time. We'll see how he adjusts.

Younger son's Kindergarten teacher is very kind. I'm sure she has other wonderful qualities, but that's pretty much all I care about. If he learns anything in her class that will just be a bonus, because she's kind and caring the way a Kindergarten teacher should be and he's happy to go every morning. He was not excited about going to bed early the first two days, but by the third day of school he was ready to go to sleep then so he's only protesting in theory.

Now that we're sharing custody and the kids are at the same school, the routine is geometrically easier than it was last year, so I'm doing things like making deep-dish pizza for supper and staying awake until 10 pm.

How's it going for you? Share successes or troubleshoot quandaries in the comments.

Q&A: Guilt guilt guilt

Anon writes:

"You work outside the home. Tell me I'm not going to screw up my son by leaving him every day to go to work. I always wanted to be a SAHM but in this economy there's no way we can make it anymore, even for a few more months, without my paycheck. And I feel lucky to have found a job so fast. It's not amazing, but I can do it and the pay's decent. Just tell me he's not going to be forever damaged because his mom walks out the door every morning and doesn't come back for 9 hours."

Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. Being a mom hurts in all sorts of ways, big and small, transitory and lasting, and from all sorts of things, doesn't it?

Before we go any further: You are not damaging your son by working. He will thrive, because you are his mother and you come home to him every day.

You didn't say how old he is or what your care situation is, but since your primary focus is on your leaving instead of angst about who you're leaving him with, I'm going to assume his caregivers are trustworthy. As long as good people are caring for him every day, he'll be fine under their care, and ready to be with you when you're home with him.

I wish that we all had jobs we loved and feel are worthy of our time, but earning the money to support our families is honorable and right. You are a good mom. You were a good mom when you were home with him, and now you're a good mom because you work.

Those of us who've felt guilt at leaving our kids to work, how do we get past it? Is there anything we can do to make it feel right for ourselves?

Self-care during the bad stages

I've been hearing from people with kids in the special rough patches of little-kid parenting, specifically those 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 and then almost-5 stages, when many children are just truly beastly.

I think there's this cultural idea that once you're past the first year, or maybe past the "Terrible Twos," that kids all get easy and any misbehavior is the result of bad parenting and what-the-hell-do-you-mean-you're-tired-you-have-a-three-year-old? But, wow, is that not true.

In a lot of ways, I think having preschoolers is more psychologically traumatic than having a baby is. At least with a baby you can recognize that things are off. Sleeping in 3-hour chunks, feeding another person from your own body, being responsible for another being that can't talk–those are all things that you can easily say are not the normal state of an adult human being, so you can cut yourself a break because you know this is just now. Youa re doing the job you're supposed to be doing for this baby right now, and it won't last forever.

Having preschooler, though, is mind-twisting because in a lot of ways your life is somewhat normal again. You may be sleeping all night (or at least in 5 hour stretches again) and your child may be spending strecthes of time away from you so you have a little mental separation, and at the very least they can tell you about immediate problems.

And yet the needs and wants and moods and independence and dependence and seething rage at your continued stifling influence over their lives!

Knowing it's normal helps. But being in an almost constant battle–for months on end–with someone you love more than anyone else but who can never take a step back is brutally exhausting.

I want to remind all of us to cut ourselves a whole lot of breaks when our kids are going through these rough stages. And also think about how our own rough stages seem to happen right at the times of heightened need for our kids, so it's a double accumulation of raw nerves.

I found it helpful to attempt to remember (not always successfully) that the stage wasn't the person. In other words, just because my child was filled with rage and rebellion and absolute resistance to any idea I came up with did not mean that my child was that way inherently. Instead, it was the stage talking. So I just had to tread water and attempt to interact with the actual kid, if possible, and just ignore the stage if I could.

One thing that I started doing was really looking at what made me feel competent and happy as a person and making a specific effort to do those things. Sometimes it got a little ritualistic (my coffee schedule, for example) and made my kids mad (surprisingly, they do not appreciate Busta Rhymes' "Woo Hah! Got You All In Check" like I do). But it was good for my job (many of my work tasks are things I feel good at) and good for my mental health, and I will do it again when we hit the next rough spot(s).

Are you cutting yourself some slack? Are you letting yourself be good at things you're good at, even if parenting doesn't seem like one of those things this month? If you were your best friend, what would you say to you?

I’m back, sort of!

Wow, strep throat is a horrible thing. And Prednisone is a drug I'd never though much of, but now have a very healthy respect for. I'm very energetic. And perky. And unable to sleep (three hours the first night, seven max each since even with being very vigilant). I'm stepping down from it now.

One of the side effects of the Prednisone is that I'm slightly cranky and have no filter. Which doesn't lend itself well to writing answers to any questions from parents with problems they'd like help with. So today we're going to open it up to you all, so I don't stick my foot in it and make someone feel bad.

The topic is navigating the border of being a buttinski or helping when someone you know is having a parenting issue that they can't figure out but is, to you, a straight line. The specific scenario I'm thinking about is the combo of too little sleep and discipline problems in a preschooler, but another equally applicable scenario is parents and kids who are in a chronic whining/giving in/whining cycle.

Do you say something like "I wonder if you played around with putting her to bed an hour earlier she might not melt down as much"? or do you just MYOB? What if it affects *your* kid because the other child's behavior affects the classroom of group of kids playing?

Thoughts?

Q&A: Fears of parents’ death

Anonymous wrote in to ask about her 7-year-old's escalating fears that both his parents would die. She wondered if these fears could be linked to fears of the start of school.

My ears perked up because my 8-year-old has been expressing some of the same fears lately, that his dad and I woudl die. I'd been thinking it was connected to the divorce and our shared custody, so I got back to Anonymous and asked about her family situation. She and her son's father are happily married and are both home reasonable amounts of time (no extreme work schedules) and everything's good with her 7-year-old's older sister, who never went through these same fears (or at least never expressed them).

Since Anonymous and I have virtually oppposite family situations, yet our kids are going through the same thing, it doesn't seem like the two households or the start of school (we haven't started yet here) could be The Cause, although they might be adding stress to our kids.

I wonder if this isn't an age at which kids are becoming way more independent and are separating form their parents, and that the fear of their parents' death is a reaction to that. It almost seems like the separation anxiety phase of right around 2 years old, when the kids are starting to be so much more competent and independent (especially when they can talk and communicate effectively) and their reaction to it is to get clingy and hold closer to one or both parents.

I know that my 8-year-old has gone through a huge increase in fluency this summer, and seems almost like an adult now in his competencies. I wonder if this leap in fluency is what's causing the fears, which are more of an independence regression than actual fears specifically of death? So the start of school could execerbate that, but isn't causing it. And the back-and-forth between two households could be exacerbating it, but isn't causing it, either.

What do you all think? Have any of you gone through this with a kid in the 7-9-year-old age range? How did your child come out of it? How did you assure your child that s/he'd be safe no matter what happend? (I think the most frustrating part of it for me is that there's no way to say "I won't die" because clearly I'm going to die. I can point out forever that his grandparents have lived long lives and he has two living great-grandmothers, but that doesn't help the immediate fear.) Thoughts? Parallel situations?

Q&A: Clothes maintenance

Jaymie writes:

"What's your system for clothes maintenance? I'm having a hard time keeping on top of what fits which kid when, and knowing what to do with the clothes that are 'between kids' at the moment. Tips, please?"

My "system" for clothes maintenance is to sincerely wish every night that some magic fairies would come and sort it all out for me.

Clothes–specifically socks–are the logistical bane of my mothering existence.

My alleged system involves panicking every few months that my kids' clothes all seem to be too small, and culling the too-small clothes from both drawers, and putting them in those big clear plastic containers for storage. Then pulling out the one with clothes that might fit my younger son, and having 20 minutes of nostalgia about those clothes and when the older one wore them. Then I text my kids' dad about the fact that we need to buy more clothes for the older one and more than we thought we'd need for the younger one (How does that always happen?). Every 9 months or so I send a box of too-small-for-everyone clothes to one of my BFFs for her son.

Someone must have a better system to share with us.

I refuse to believe that my reactive instead of responsive system can't be improved upon. So if there's anyone out there who thinks s/he's got it down, please, please post how you work it. I'm guessing Jaymie and I aren't the only ones struggling.