The last 15 minutes are always crazy

A few years ago, I read a Real Simple article about how several women had reformed their mornings. They wanted the daily trip out the door to be less chaotic. More calm. One woman who was responsible for getting her three young daughters fed, dressed and to school on her own actually spent what sounded like an hour the night before getting everything ready for the mornings. She orchestrated the morning madness to the point of making sure all shoe laces were loose (in shoes lined up by the door, naturally) because she claimed a single tight knot could throw a wrench in the whole works.

That image must have stuck in my mind, because when I started researching “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” last fall, I hunted down the story. When I reread it, though, from the perspective of being a mother of three children myself, my thought wasn’t “how smart!” I spent this past year doing three kid duty a few mornings per week (on the days my older two both had preschool). At first, I tried to get uber-organized: laying out clothes, pouring juice the night before so the boys wouldn’t be asking me to pour juice in the morning at the precise moment the baby was wailing to be nursed. But then I had a realization. I was spending my precious evening time doing nothing more productive than getting ready to face the next day. And no matter what I did — no matter what — the last 10-15 minutes were chaotic. They were chaotic if I was up at 6 a.m., and they were chaotic if we somehow miraculously overslept and got up at 8:20 to be out the door by 8:45. You can lay out shoes, but a child can move his shoes. You can lay out clothes, but a child can decide they must be changed, or he can drop his shorts in a puddle of water on the bathroom floor when he takes them off rapidly because he decides he has to go potty. The baby can need a diaper change or can spit up all over the place. The children can be angels, and then all of a sudden there can be a physically violent fight over who gets to climb into his car seat first. Some of these are what Donald Rumsfeld referred to as known unknowns. But I was always impressed by the quantity of unknown unknowns, too.

Once I realized that, I had a more profound thought: how could mornings change if you accepted that the last 15 minutes would always be chaotic? The best answer, I think, is to compartmentalize the chaos. Set an alarm for 15 minutes before your out-the-door deadline. Then relax and try to enjoy yourself before that. Linger over the breakfast table without looking at the clock. Start a 500-piece puzzle without fretting that you don’t have time. When the alarm goes off you’ll stop whatever you’re doing and run around like chickens with your heads cut off. But until then, the experience of time is vastly improved when you’re not filling all mental space with the question of what has to happen next.

Do you compartmentalize out-the-door chaos? Or have you found a way to deal with it?

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Photo courtesy flickr user seanmfreese

22 thoughts on “The last 15 minutes are always crazy

  1. Well, mornings are usually my husband’s problem, so mostly I’m gone before the last 15 minutes. Back in the days of the Great Sunscreen Wars with my first child, I felt like I’d really gotten lucky with this arrangement! Mornings aren’t so hard now- the second kid doesn’t fight sunscreen or toothbrushing the way the first one did.

    1. @Cloud- would love to hear more (or you’ve probably written about it) why you guys decided on this arrangement. I was told by a woman’s magazine recently of a survey they did (coming out soon!) that women were doing the majority of morning routines in families. Now, in many of these families, dad may not be doing the afternoon either, so it’s more indicative of the fact that women do more childcare in general. But I am curious why you got afternoons and he got mornings. Probably the biggest fight my husband and I had — ongoing — during our first year of parenting is that he felt no obligation to do either the a.m. drop off or the p.m. pickup from daycare. I could not believe that he could be an enlightened, feminist-supporting man, and feel this way, which seemed to be so profoundly dismissive of my career (imagine me screaming this for full effect). I now realize, looking back, that I wasn’t really listening to his position, which is that I’m the one who thought we should use daycare. He thought, given our schedules, we should hire a nanny. Which has turned out to massively diminish the morning problem most days of the week.

      1. I can imagine this argument in my household, though we’re neither feminist nor enlightened- in fact, we’re quite traditional.

        The fact remains, though, that only couples who each earn enough to justify a nanny (considering taxes) have this option- that will remain true of only a small portion of the population.

        I continue to believe that childcare costs ought to be deductible up to the income of the lower earning spouse.

      2. Ours is completely determined by our work/childcare schedules. Usually we make it even but this summer DH is doing both pick-up and drop-off in order to minimize my heavily pregnant self in the summer heat. I stopped feeling guilty about not doing my share when I got over heated and started having BH contractions last week.
        When my mom was a single parent with two kids (still married, but their jobs kept them in separate cities), she would hire a college student to get us to school/daycare in the mornings on the days she taught early.

      3. Interesting argument from your hubby. I can see his point, initially, but at some point one has to go with the decision made and split the work, right? I see his choice not to help as sort of “punishing” you for making the “wrong” choice in the first place, ie, rehashing the same argument every day by not pitching in.

        Sorry, tangent. 🙂

        Hubby does preschool pick up and drop off now because he’s not working and I so love this! I do chip in on Friday mornings just to give him one morning “off” but since we moved T to a preschool 10 min from our house, it’s actually not that big a deal.

        Preschool starts at 9 and likes us to be there by 8:55 at the latest but our daughter isn’t too bad about getting ready in the am. We do make sure we do *all* the “getting ready” stuff first and then let her play for that last 15 min. So when she gets up, we dress her down to shoes, feed her breakfast and *then* she can play, with whatever time is left. This seems to make it WAY less hectic.

        1. @ARC- ah, it’s all a long story, and probably not one I’m going to hash out on the blog in the interest of moving on. But morning are relatively calm now. One thing I’ve been working on is things I can do in the early AM with a baby. If I’m the only grown-up at home, I can’t run (until I buy the treadmill, which I probably will). But I can lift weights, so I’m trying to do that. I can write in my journal, read the newspaper — and of course, play with her. The other kids get up later. It’s tantalizing to think what I’ll be able to do if none of them wake up before 7!

          1. I got pretty good arm muscles doing baby-lifts when DC1 was still a baby (“One baby lift!” giggle giggle giggle “Two baby lifts!” giggle giggle giggle etc.). It worked well because the weight got bigger as my muscles got stronger. After a point there was too much baby weight, of course.

      4. Sorry I’m so late coming back to answer. My husband has been doing mornings since the start, because that just made sense given our specific circumstances. The baby woke up at the crack of dawn (or earlier), so I was up anyway. I might as well get ready and head into work early, allowing me to leave earlier and get home in time to make dinner. Also, at the time, I was doing a lot of work with people on the east coast, so having me in the office early was good. As time went on and the original reasons went away, we kept the schedule because we both liked it. It meant that I didn’t have to deal with the tears at drop off during the phases when they happened. And my husband is a great cook, but he is slow and sucks at estimating how much time it will take him to cook something. So having me as the weeknight chef and him as the weekend chef works better. Things have blurred a bit with time (and were always flexible if he had an early meeting or I had a late one).

  2. When I do mornings by myself I get stuff out the night before. DH tends to get up early when it’s just him, but DH also showers in the morning and I shower at night. But really the night before stuff is just packing his lunch and making sure anything he needs for whatever he’s doing that day is next to the garage or in the backpack so we remember it. It doesn’t take an hour.
    DC helps wherever he can, and we’ve been allowing him a lot of autonomy ever since he could dress himself. Yes, he can wear a plaid shirt with striped shorts or vice versa if that’s what he wants to do, No, his shoelaces don’t have to be perfect. Yes, a handful of trail mix with water from his water bottle makes a fine breakfast.

  3. Yes, this is actually really true. I do some things at night to make the morning run smoother (make lunches, fill bottles, & make sure diaper bags stocked with any supplies needed at daycare—all together takes 15 minutes MAX), but those are things that are known-knowns. What the toddler will want to wear or eat for breakfast in the morning is decidedly less certain, and would be a total waste of time trying to predict! Once we are in the morning, I really try to relax and let the boys dally/play until its about 5 minutes before go-time. They don’t really understand the concept of time, and are terrible at transitioning regardless, so gearing up too early just prolongs the fussing & whining.

  4. Building “rewards” into the system helps with preschoolers or perhaps toddlers that are more mature than mine were. We eat breakfast AFTER we’re dressed, for example. Only one son (the preschooler) really has to be dressed- the twins can ride to preschool in their jammies, if necessary. My cousin, a childcare provider, gets most of her kids (who arrive around 7 AM) dressed and feeds them breakfast- they get dropped off sleepy and in their jammies. This might be an advantage of a home provider over a childcare center.

    1. @Twin Mom – any childcare situation that doesn’t involve doing a morning shuffle has real advantages. Getting multiple people ready involves a ton of energy. That’s energy that you then can’t devote to other things (like work). I heard from one women’s magazine that’s doing a story on this that a huge majority of women have responsibilities for the morning routine. Cloud (who wrote in her comment that her husband handles the mornings) has an uncommon split — but one that definitely has its appeal…

  5. Two of my three are away at college for most of the year, so my mornings aren’t as crazy as they once were. Even so, I’ve stuck to the routine I started when they were all around. I’m in charge since my husband’s always been out the door to work before they wake up. I make sure backpacks are packed the night before, breakfast dishes are on the table before I go to bed, and any permission slips or other school papers are signed & ready to go. Sometimes I make lunches the night before. But I’ve found that if I pack a lunch at the same time I make breakfast it only takes a minute or two longer and I don’t resent it nearly as much!

    And thanks so much for linking to my post — productive people regardless of professional truly seem to make their early mornings count.

    Michelle Rafter

    1. @Michelle- you are very organized! I’m curious, though, why you were making lunches for your sons. How did this evolve to be your duty? (as opposed to the kids making their own).

      1. Comments about children making their own lunches should include children’s ages. Who cleans up spilled PB&J?

  6. I have to go back and reread the childcare versus the nanny debate b/c I didnt’ get yours and twin mom’s arguments completely… but I thin your husband’s argument was still weak… b/c you can’t outsource everything.. My husband likes morning shift b/c then I am stuck with more hours after work but I have come to like this b/c I can get a flow going in the morning and truly stop for the day at 6 …
    i though that some of your comments the other day about organization (I am neither innately organized or on time) or setting aside sunday to organize for monday were increasing anxiety about that which is just going to go how it goes… I can see how a nanny or just outsourcing the whole mess works on the days you have to be at an important meeting early and the whole not dealing with getting anyone but yourself dressed is appealing.. it just isn’t viable to most working parents as a 100% of the time solution, even if they can afford it..

  7. And I have found that sometimes, the EARLIER I get the kids up, the WORSE the morning rush is. I think we tend to fill the time we have available, which would explain why I can get the kids up at 7:35 and push them out the door to meet the bus, showered, fed, clothed, teeth brushed, and awake, at 8:00; or get them up at 6:30 and be screeching like a banshee at 7:55 because one of them can’t find his shoe.

    1. @Meagan – the shoes are the worst. They just have a way of disappearing. Even if you make a point of putting them back in the same place.

  8. If it makes you all feel better I took my kids to the zoo with no shoes.. and we spent the entire day there and had a great time.. now while I couldn’t get away with this for school…the go with the flow thing does have its appeal…

    1. @Cara- we aren’t even bothering with shoes for the baby this summer. Until she can walk…no point!

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