Back to school

Friday, September 7, 2018

This post is sponsored by Sparkling ICE but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Happy back to school season, mamas! If you read my last post you know I'm a little bit surprised to find myself celebrating the kids' return to school again this fall, what with our previous plans being that we were going to homeschool this year. But as I said, plans change. I'm thrilled for them and the friends I know they will make this year in their new schools. And honestly, after these last couple of quiet days home with just a two year old and with three out of four kids being away during the day, I'm also thrilled for me too! I think we all needed this, and back to school season is definitely a happy occasion this year for sure! 

So what now? Now we adjust and get back into the swing of things. That is, finding balance and falling into our new normal- the after school routine. We've got three kids in three different schools, all with different start and end times. One child walks, one rides the bus, and another has to be dropped off and picked up. It's a lot to keep straight! Routine is key for us.

Snacks and homework
First things first, rehydrate and refuel. After putting away backpacks, taking off shoes, and stopping at the sink to wash hands, the next stop is always the fridge and the pantry. Snacks need to be healthy ones so they're not constantly popping into the kitchen to rummage every 10 minutes. Fresh fruit, protein, and complex carbs are always plentiful in my kitchen. Things like cookies and chips find their way into the house too, but I try to limit them. My kids know if they reach for the junk that it has to be paired with something healthy. Grabbing some cookies? You better take a banana too. 

Each child has a water bottle that I'm constantly nagging reminding them to keep filled during the day to ward off dehydration which can make them feel like they want to snack (when really all they need is to hydrate). I usually keep some Sparkling ICE in the fridge for when they want something besides water after school. I don't usually buy fruit juice or soda, which is just loaded with sugar and all kinds of things they don't need to fill up on. Sparkling ICE is a great alternative- it's got zero sugar and zero calories, comes in 16 flavors, and is made with vitamins, antioxidants, and naturally occurring colors. They're surprisingly flavorful and my kids love them! (Plus, you can even Amazon them!) 

Playtime with younger siblings
After they've snacked and homework is done it's time to play. I try to send the older kids outside (weather permitting) or downstairs with the toddlers so I can get dinner taken care of in relative peace. The little ones get a chance to bond with their big siblings (they miss them so much during the day) and the big ones keep an eye on them for me while I'm in the kitchen. Bonus points if I can get them to do some physical activity all together. We just got a trampoline for the backyard, so that's been a family favorite as of lately. Bounce all of that energy out! 

Dinner as a family
Dinner together is a big one for me. I'm a firm believer in the whole family gathering around the table sharing a meal together and talking about their day. It doesn't always end up being as picture perfect as it sounds (cue the grumpy toddler climbing out of the highchair and milk spilling all over the table), but we're all there at the end of the day and that's what matters. 

Pre-morning prep
I like to make mornings as easy as possible by planning ahead and doing as much as we can the night before. The kids shower at night and lay out their clothes and shoes for the next day. They clean out their backpacks and make sure they can just grab them and go in the morning. If they want to bring a lunch it also gets packed the night before so there's less thinking involved in the morning. Just grab and go! That's the key. I don't want to do any serious thinking that early. (Pssst- Sparkling ICE makes a great lunchbox drink!) 

Read each night
Before bedtime we always read for at least 20 minutes. I don't really care what they read as long as they are doing it and are flexing those brain muscles. Learning to read for enjoyment is such a great skill for kids to develop, and my kids know that at bedtime it's no screens and time to read- every night! 

The days seem to just whiz right by once school starts, which is why a good after school routine is so important for us. What am I leaving out? Is there anything else you can think of to make it easier? I'm always looking for tips to simplify! 

I hope the back to school season has been good to you! Cheers, mamas! 

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Change of plans

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

You know how sometimes you think you've got everything all figured out and everyone is on the same page, and then all of a sudden you realize everyone isn't happy and plans need to change? I'm sure every parent can relate. That's been my family this last week and the mom guilt is strong with this one. Remember my post back in May when I talked about pulling the kids out of school with the intent to homeschool them? About that...

Everything was fine until last week when we decided to drive around town looking for a park to play at. We only knew of one right by us, and when we'd tried to go the week before it was barricaded off with caution tape and they were re-laying some bark chips around it. Instead of the park, I had the bright idea of driving by one of the elementary schools to see if they had a decent looking play area, and that's when saw it: the back to school extravaganza. 

The parking lot was packed and the surrounding streets were lined with cars and people walking toward the school. There were folding tables set up with big balloons and lines of families at each table. The playground was crawling with little kids and parents clustered around it, some filling out paperwork. We drove slowly, gawking at the festivities, and I said into the rear view mirror "Well, I guess we're not playing here tonight. Aren't you glad you guys aren't in one of those lines right now?" I thought for sure I'd get a resounding "Yeah!" from both of them, but instead they were silent and were giving each other sideways glances while avoiding my eyes in the mirror. I couldn't believe it. "You wish you were going back to school next week?! I yelled into the mirror. "But we're homeschooling!" I couldn't believe they were acting as though they suddenly wanted to go back to school and were missing out on something. I was actually really annoyed. I told them the park was canceled, and instead we hit up the McDonalds drive-thru and went home to eat and figure out what the heck we were going to do about school. 

Long story short- my kids liked the idea of homeschooling but were missing the daily kid-to-kid interaction. What I was doing for them socially wasn't enough- something I was painfully aware of. I knew this part of homeschooling was going to be especially difficult for me. I'm a homebody. I'm not super social and I'm OK with staying home a lot of days. I like the occasional outing and I do get out to run errands and meet up with friends with kids for fun stuff. But not enough for my two older ones, apparently. And being in a totally new town (in an oddly kid-less neighborhood) they want the opportunity to be around kids their age on a daily basis, and I get it. I really do.

I told them if they wanted to enroll in public school here in our new little town I would be OK with it. As soon as I contested to enrolling them they both cheered up and started excitedly talking about back to school, which further reaffirmed the decision for me.

I thought we were all on the same page with homeschooling, but somewhere along the way these last few months they changed their minds. And you know what? That's OK. I tried fighting it at first, but why? It's not what they want now that we are here, and honestly, it's not what I want right now either.  There's no need for mom guilt here. We still have a lot going on, even with the dust finally settling from our move. I'm still really stressed out. I just started seeing a therapist myself. Maybe me being home with all four kids all day and being solely in charge of their education isn't the right fit for me us at the moment. Under normal circumstances? Maybe. But right now? These aren't normal circumstances. I kind of knew this months ago, but I fought it hard because homeschooling was the plan we'd made and I felt like I couldn't back out of it. I'm letting it go though, for now at least. Plans change. Goals are reevaluated. I think school here in our new town will be good for them. We know we aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so it's a great opportunity for them to make some good friends I hope!

In other exciting news, I also decided enrolling Harper in preschool was a must! I think it will be really good for her to be around other four year olds and learn to take direction from other adults (because who wants to listen to mom?) It's just 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, and she's going to love it. We went to her first open house night to check it out and of course she loved the playground the most, haha.

I'm looking forward to the one on one time I'll be getting with Josiah during those few hours she's gone. He just started back up doing occupational therapy (OT) at his new pediatric center closer to home and he has a new speech evaluation next week to see what our next steps are. The time at home with me will be great for him and the goals we've set for his development. It can be overwhelming having so many people at home all day and it gets really loud and chaotic which frustrates him. Some quiet time with mommy will be so good for him (and me).

I'm really looking forward to this new routine. I think it's exactly what everyone needs right now in this moment!

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Melissa Swenson and Lulu & Sweet Pea