Friday, May 23, 2014

Three Plus Two

One of my original editors at Babble when I used to blog there (before the site was bought by Disney and turned into a useless collection of bland click bait) recently invited me to submit an essay for her current parenting site  She was looking for a parenting piece with a military theme for Memorial Day.  At the time we were in the middle of watching two kids for a friend of ours who was off doing two weeks of service with the National Guard.  I had started a blog post about it, so I just reworked that into an essay she could use.

If you'd like to read it, the piece is up on already.

I've also recorded it for the local radio show Lake Effect for air on Memorial Day.  (I'll post a link when that becomes available.)  UPDATE:  My piece is at the 46:20 mark. was also kind enough to name me among their favorite military parenting bloggers.  It's a list I'm honored to be a part of.

Although, thankfully, my own personal experiences of late have been very dull on the military front and I hope it stays that way.  Ian recently finished his job as a military history teacher for ROTC at Marquette and is now with a unit that specializes in training other units in mechanical jobs, so it's not a group ever likely to get deployed.  Of course, when I ask him to say those words out loud to make me feel better, he can't quite do it.  He says our current situation with wars winding down and the Army weeding people out using things like renewed tattoo restrictions makes the odds of his being sent anywhere very low, but his actual position anywhere has no relation to what he can be asked to do.

It's been interesting looking at my life from a military mom perspective again, however tangential that status may seem now.  I'm amazed how even stressful events can fade given enough time and new distractions.  I was reviewing some of my old posts from during the last deployment and was surprised what I'd forgotten.*  For instance, Mona used to panic every time I dropped Aden off at school.  I had the very clear sense that from her point of view we had dropped her dad off somewhere and he never came back, and reducing her family down further to just her and pregnant me was unacceptable.  She did not let her sister go without a fight every morning.  Until I reread those words on my old blog I had forgotten the intensity of it.  It was a good reminder.

So I still understand that there is a different edge to a child's anxiety when their parent goes out of town, vs when their parent goes out of town in a military uniform.  Even if it's just for two weeks, even if it's not for something expected to be dangerous.  The uniform represents a level of risk and responsibility that is unlike any other.

The two weeks we spent with my friend's kids were good.  Compared to when we did it last year it was far easier because both of us were here.  (Ian was off at Ft Knox doing his own training last time, so I juggled the five kids and the dog on my own.)

It's fascinating how numbers change things.  Having one kid is completely different from having two.  It's not necessarily easier, and in some instances it can be more complicated, but there is a general flexibility with one that makes parenting very different.  You aren't constantly monitoring for fairness the way you do with multiple kids, for example.

Having three kids has always felt comfortable to me, probably because I was one of three kids, and know how from a kid's perspective that balance works.  Having five kids is way more than three.  It's just enough kids that we had to adopt new rules and systems.

Our most successful rule was insisting no child could eat breakfast without shoes on.

It's hard enough getting my three kids out the door on time, so normally we have a "socks on" rule to avoid the annoying scene of children digging through the laundry basket for socks when we're supposed to be leaving for school.  With two extra kids "socks on" was not cutting it and had to be upped to shoes.  Not only did they all have incentive to be completely dressed on time if they wanted to eat, they were less likely to backslide into some hard to uproot activity after breakfast if they had shoes on.

The other new rule was Homework Table.  We're a lot more loose with our kids about homework normally because we feel it's their responsibility, plus Quinn never has homework and the girls get their packets to do for the week on different days.  But when you are in charge of someone else's kids, well, we didn't want them falling behind on anything on our watch, so we had to be more organized.

The first rule about Homework Table is no one talks about Homework Table is that everyone must sit there for an hour.  If you do not have homework, homework can be provided for you.  You may read, draw, whatever, but everyone (including grown-ups) must gather at the dining room table (where there is a snack) and work on something.  Once everyone with actual homework has done an acceptable amount of it, all are dismissed.  We found that it was too distracting if one or two kids got to wander off on their own, and made the people doing actual homework feel like they were missing out on something which made it harder for them to focus.  Homework Table was a good chance for catching all permission slips and notes home and generally staying on top of what five kids were doing at school.

With extra kids more of our lives was taken up with food than it already had been.  (I think when the last of my own children grows up and moves away I may stop doing any kind of organized meals on a regular basis.  I find it exhausting always having to think about meals at regular intervals for other people, and I'm not even the main person in charge of that in our house anymore.)  After a few days we discovered the best course of action for dinner was to plan two entrees every evening.  Nobody would eat everything, but everyone would eat something.  Normally in our home we make a meal and if someone doesn't like it he or she can supplement with a sandwich or noodles that they make themselves.  But we can't ask someone else's kids to fend for themselves in that way, so variety was the solution.

And essentially doubling the amount of food at breakfast was kind of impressive.  One of our guests asked me while I was making banana pancakes why we didn't just serve cereal which looked easier.  I said it was, but that five kids between the ages of seven and twelve could easily finish a box and a half to two boxes at one sitting and that two weeks of that would get expensive.  Pancakes from scratch only takes me ten minutes and costs less than a buck.  (If we only had one or two kids I would do cereal every school morning, too.)

My favorite parts of our two weeks were reading to all the kids at bedtime (we finished the entire first Harry Potter book), biking to school as a big group, and just seeing the kids all playing happily together.  There was a lot of laughing and jumping on the trampoline and kids pairing off in different combinations to play games of all sorts.  It's always stressful on some level to be responsible for kids that aren't yours, but for the most part everything went fine.  It's nice when you can trust another parent, and we know our friend trusts whatever decisions we make for her kids in her absence, the same way we trust her with our kids when she helps us.

The kids had their moments where they missed their mom and their normal routine, but it made me proud that for the most part they felt at home while they were here.  We are so lucky to be in a position to share what we have and to be the ones able to help instead of needing it.  It's easy when things get hectic to lose sight of the fact that these are the good times.

(* By the way, those old posts I mentioned I was going through at Holding Down the Fort?  Essentially gone, which is very disappointing.  Babble revamped its site and my archives are missing and none of it is searchable anymore.  When I Google my work I can find some old posts like this one, but they are under someone else's name!  Stay tuned for a very ranty post about Babble in the near future....)    UPDATE:  Well, I'm back in the list of bloggers at Babble, and they seem to have straightened out getting my posts back under my name, but the photos are still gone, and you can't scroll back to old posts yet.  It's frustrating giving over control of your work to someone else.  Glad I don't have to anymore.


  1. I often wonder ''What happened to Babble??'' as I initially found cool items on strollerderby and then great bloggers. Good luck sorting things out to your liking.

    1. Ugh, Babble. If I dwell on it too long I want to vent, and then I think people will just assume it's sour grapes or something. But at some point I want to get my complaints off my chest.

    2. I would love to hear your vent about Babble, I started reading Holding Down the Fort when Babble just had a few personal blogs and have been more and more disappointed with it ever since. BUT I did find some of your stuff, perhaps you should save it while you still can find it.

    3. Wow! You did better in your search for me than I did. But when I try to go back to older posts it just sends me to a Disney page. And all my photos are gone. There is a post I did called "Who Needs Words?" which was all pictures of Ian returning from Iraq and the kids hugging him which is now just a weird blank like I'm really asking the question "Who needs words?" and have decided they are irrelevant.

  2. I really enjoyed your piece over at It was lovely and insightful--as all of your work is.

    And here? Yes. Adding more kids just makes it so much MORE.

    Babble? Never hung out there, but I *can* tell you I'd be rather livid if MY work were published under somebody else's name. Gr.

    1. Thank you for the compliment.

      And I'm quite sure the writer at Dad Centric doesn't want my words credited to him either! Hope someone sorts it out, assuming I can find someone who wants to bother.

  3. The entire paragraph about Homework Table made me giggle. The Fight Club reference was good, but the "homework will be provided for you" really got me. My children don't have homework, but I occasionally feel tempted to provide them with some just so they will SIT QUIETLY. IN ONE SPOT. FOR SEVERAL MINUTES. (I'm sure it will be a few years before that is even possible).

    1. Quinn has wanted homework for years (to be like his sisters) and he's still kind of bummed that he doesn't get any in first grade. Montessori isn't big on homework, although the girls both get packets to finish over the course of a week that seem to work well. We pick up math workbooks and word lists for Quinn so he doesn't feel left out. Personally, I liked Homework Table for just being able to sit and read my own book (when I wasn't answering questions). If I were the regular stay-at-home parent in our house I would consider making it routine even just for our own three kids.

  4. You've really nailed the difference between smaller and larger family logistics. Some of my relatives thought I was so controlling for not being more flexible at mealtime (everyone had to sit down together and eat a common meal), but chaos reigns when you have too many people going their own way. We also had a rule that NO ONE could take shoes off in the car. There's nothing more frustrating than having 4 kids standing around in a busy parking lot while one kid diddles over his/her shoelaces.

    And best organizational thing I ever did? Color-coded cups. You can get small plastic tumblers at IKEA (one set has 6 different colors) and assign each kid a color - forever. They keep the same cup the entire day and everyone knows whose is whose. The few times I strayed from this system, I had 16 gazillion cups and glasses by my kitchen sink before noon.

  5. Oh, and I had to laugh when I read "staggering the shower schedule" in your piece. Yes, everything has to be planned. Everything. But it's sort of fun that way.

    1. We found the tipping point for the cups is four kids and no dishwasher. Everyone has assigned cups at the cottage (where all the dishes are done by hand), and when we have my niece for several weeks each summer we start cracking down on the specific cup usage. I love the idea of color coded cups FOR LIFE. Ha! (It's sort of charming and grim all at the same time.)

      In that older post I linked to (Only Child for Only a While) I talk a lot about how parents with one kid do a lot of negotiating because they have more of a sense of children as people to be reasoned with, and how that goes out the door when you are outnumbered by the children. I wish more parents had the opportunity to try to manage different numbers of kids than they are accustomed to because you learn so much and appreciate what other parents go through so much more.