school days

To the Siblings Left Behind

I had prepped all summer for my oldest kids, the twins, to head off to Kindergarten. 

We prepared in tangible ways. I checked off the list of school supplies: crayons (both twistable and regular), scissors, notebooks, glue sticks: double of everything. We shopped for new clothes and set aside time for hair cuts. We went through the Kindergarten workbooks from their preschool teachers. We practiced opening lunch boxes, granola bars, and applesauce pouches; I showed them what was trash and what to bring home.

I tried to prepare them socially. We talked about how some kids in their class might have different skin colors. Some might have two mommies and some might have only one parent. Some friends might not celebrate the same holidays or eat the same foods we do. I told them I wanted them to do well in school, but the most important thing is for them to be kind.

Emotional preparation was more difficult. I wondered how the long days would affect them, something impossible to prepare them for. Would they be absolutely exhausted when they stepped off the bus at 4:00 pm? Would they need a snack, a hug, a nap?

I made lists to reassure myself. At least I had control over some things. I shopped for crackers and cheese and organic juice boxes for lunch and snack time. I added important dates to our family calendar. I stuck a note on the refrigerator: water bottle, snack pouch, lunch box, juice box, homework folder to help us remember everything in the morning rush.

I thought about how those long days would affect me. Just what was I supposed to do all day with their younger brother? I’ve never had only one kid at home all day. What would I do with Nolan and all three-and-a-half years of his energy, his spirit, his mad drive for socialization?

The first day of school arrived, and as that big yellow bus pulled away that very first morning (they ran on without a look back), I held Nolan in my arms to wave goodbye. And then it happened. His lower lip pouted, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached after the bus in despair once he realized what had happened. His 5 1/2-year old brother and sister, the built-in playmates he’s had for literally his entire life, were gone. And he was left behind.

In all these preparations, I hadn't taken into account what all this would mean for him. Not once had I thought about how all this would affect Nolan, number three in my trio, born exactly two years and two days after his brother and sister, who wears the same shoe size they do, the three-and-a-half-year-old who is so big strangers frequently stop to ask if they’re triplets.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Life in the Busy (or The New 4:00 Hour)

In “The Habit” newsletter this week (a weekly email devoted to writing), Jonathan Rogers wrote:

 “If what you're looking for is an excuse for not writing, the busyness of your life is a good one. I should know: I use that one all the time. But having more time or a better desk probably isn't going to help as much as you think if you're not already using the hour or two you have at that little desk in the corner.”

It struck me. Since the school year began - really since August hit with all of its NO-ACTIVITIES-FOR-YOU business - I’ve felt pretty dried up. The kids sapped most of my energy in August. Then school hit, along with ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Dance and religious education started. I’ve said “yes” where I used to say “I have three small kids so NO”: to volunteer positions, a writing class, a leadership position at church. Things I feel I have some space for now.

At night, I often stare for awhile at a blinking cursor, with a blank mind but a full brain. At my own little desk in the corner, I struggle to find something to say. 

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And I wonder how much is hiding behind the busyness and how much is actual...busyness?

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The hour from 4:00-5:00 pm used to be the single longest hour in my entire day. To survive for one more hour until the clock flipped over to 5:00 felt like an eternity.

4:00 was about the time I gave up for the day. Where I plopped in the grass and willed our neighbors to come over and play. When I lay down on the couch, to hell with the quantity of toys scattered across the floor or whoever was wailing about a minor bodily injury around me.

Really, I don’t think 4:00 pm has ever been a great time for me. It was the least productive time in my professional life. I often tackled busywork tasks like sketching out floor plans or scanning tile catalogs. I dreaded phone calls during the 4 o’clock hour, when my brain was fried and my introvert side was all d-o-n-e.

I’m still ready to be done for the day at 4:00 pm. But since that’s the time Caden and Brooklyn’s bus pulls up to release them back to me, 4:00 feels less like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and more like entering another tunnel.

“It felt like I went from a nine-hour day to a twelve-hour day,” a friend said to me recently, regarding the transition to full-time-all-day-every-day-school. That hit me as exactly right.

While my day was far from over at 4:00 pm previously, the end was in sight. Another hour until there was another set of hands to help wrangle small children. I could begin my mental check-out from the day, devote time to dinner and dishes and not much else. (Tyson had bedtime duty.) I was almost free for the day - free to leave the house to write, to do yoga. (*ahem* to mindlessly scroll Instagram…)

Now at 4:00, it feels like my day starts all over again.

There are new nighttime responsibilities added to the ones that already existed: filling water bottles and snack bags and tucking them in backpacks, checking communication folders, planning lunches for the next day. I often do bedtime now with Caden and Brooklyn since I don’t see them all day. These duties, unlike many of my other nighttime tasks, can’t be pushed off. The toys, if need be, can still be scattered across the front hall all day tomorrow, but those lunches need to be packed and ready to go by 8:15 am.

And morning comes with its own chaos. Breakfast for three kids (plus me, hopefully), unloading clean dishes from the dishwasher, loading the freshly-dirtied breakfast ones. Drinking coffee before helping Nolan find clothes, supervising Caden and Brooklyn (make sure they’re actually getting dressed and not distracted with half a sock on somewhere). Brushing three sets of teeth and doing Brooklyn’s hair. Packing up those lunches and triple-check to see that everything is in their backpacks. On preschool days Nolan and I have to be out of the house by 8:25 am. Caden and Brooklyn catch the bus at 8:45.

It’s fine. The mornings don’t bother me so much. I thrive on routine. And with three kids who often wake before the sun, it’s not a mad dash the way I know it is for other families.

Plus, after the morning rush three days a week, I return home to quiet.

Quiet is rarely a word that can be applied to our evenings.

Dinnertime spills over into bedtime which seems to be where all those Big Kindergarten Emotions come out. They’ve held it together all day and now they’re home and they’re safe and their energy bubbles over into one more endless round of giggles at the table, whining about a LEGO they’ve lost, or sobbing that they want their room painted blue again because they liked it when it was blue and I didn’t even ask them if I could paint it white. (1: I totally did ask and we all agreed on white and 2: you’ve literally never brought this up before. Can we please talk about it at some other time - any other time - when it’s not already 43 minutes past your bedtime?)

My day feels stretched out, beginning with that four o’clock hour. And my evenings feel like they’ve slipped away.

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I sit down at the end of the day, my later-than-usual, stretched-out day. I’ve felt so caught up in those lunches and remembering drop-off and pick-up times. I’ve scribbled Post-It note reminders to bring sandwich bags to Nolan’s preschool, to pick up ingredients for the church potluck, to send money for the back to school dinner. I send an email to the teacher, place the book order, cross off items on my list, and make another for the next day: wrap presents for the party, revise that document, make a phone call, write this post for that deadline.

I don’t know if it’s busyness as an excuse or actually being busy. I see how I could get lost in this phase of life, maybe even more so than in the baby stage. Where I don’t have naptime to fall back on and more often than not have a (non-napping) three-year old around. When 4 o’clock hits and our house explodes into chaos and emotions and dinner to make and backpacks to clean out.

Maybe I am busy.

Maybe I’m hiding behind it sometimes.

Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll learn to make the most of that blinking cursor during the single hour I find in the evenings, in my own corner of my bedroom. Maybe I’ll find a way to energize myself during the 4:00 hour. (Hahaha.) Maybe it’s okay for awhile if that cursor blinks at me more than I would like. Maybe I’ll find life in the busy and return here to put it all down on the page.