We are three-quarters of the way through an academic year that has featured five children going to four different schools. They are involved in a host of different things. That’s generally good but it does mean that the day-to-day schedule can feel a bit intense. Here are a few things that are making life feel easier or better these days.
Sticking to my bedtime. I need to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays for the morning to go smoothly. As I need 7.4 hours of sleep daily, this means my bedtime is 11 p.m. (I tend to fall asleep pretty quickly…) I’d say I make this four out of five weeknights. On weekends I’ve decided I can be flexible within about an hour. I’m usually in bed around 11:30 p.m., and set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. If I have not built up a sleep debt during the week — which, thanks to the bedtime and all my kids being over 3, I tend not to — I am usually up before my alarm. Orderly sleep is truly wonderful.
Kids in their rooms by 9 on weekdays. This is enforced with the big kids. The 3-year-old is sometimes not asleep and sometimes needs someone sitting with him as he tries to fall asleep, so I might not exit his room until 9:30 or so. But sometimes it is earlier, and minus a 10-15 minute interlude for chats and lights-out, that means it is possible to have over an hour of kid-free leisure at night. I love my kids and I also love having a little time to do stuff like reading or puzzles with no interruptions!
Reading on the Kindle app. I do this on my phone while sitting with the 3-year-old as he falls asleep. Otherwise it would totally be lost time. When I hear about a book I’d like to read, I first check the Libby app, though my library doesn’t have a huge collection (I more need to rely on serendipity for finding books that way). Then I go to Amazon to see the Kindle price, and on several occasions recently, I realize I already bought that book like four years ago (thankfully, Amazon tells you this!). Whoops. But that means I can find it in my Kindle library and reread it (or read it for the first time…)
Themed + standard easy meals. Generally, we do breakfast for dinner on Wednesday and we do make-your-own pizza on Fridays. For the other nights, we almost always have ingredients for fajitas, pasta, or some sort of chicken and rice combo (generally with a non-dairy-based Asian sauce for the adults and children with adventurous palates; we had Thai red curry last night). We grill something on weekends, and the kids can often get away with a mac and cheese night in there somewhere. This seems to cover enough nights that no one is complaining too much.
Doing my laundry separately. My husband and I used to throw our laundry in together. But as we did it once a week there was often a bit much for a load. And then, with the end result of clothes all mixed together, neither of us ever felt like diving in to the pile to sort it (if you wait for the other person to do it first, putting away your clothes goes a lot faster, so I guess this is a game of laundry chicken…) Now we do our laundry separately and putting the clothes away seems to take a lot less time.
Outsourcing organizing. The stuff crammed in the kids’ closets, and the various boxes around the house, seemed to be lingering for a while. So we now have someone who is working through the backlog. The kids’ rooms have become a lot more manageable…and our squeeze pouch snacks (yogurt, applesauce) are in their own basket and the LaCroix supply wound up in rainbow order. Things might not stay in rainbow order, but hey…
The activity bus. I’m not sure why we never used it until this year but it is a huge time saver. At 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., a fleet of buses leave the middle school and high school, and go in various directions. As there are usually only a few children on each bus, it’s almost like a private taxi service. And since getting to and from the middle school tends to take about a half hour roundtrip, this opens up more work hours in the afternoon if the kids want to stay for activities.
Time Outside After Dinner (TOAD time!). Now that the days are longer and warmer I have been designating some evenings as TOAD time. The younger kids go outside and play in the yard in the evening, often until it gets dark. We have a dig site (an uprooted tree where we’ve been excavating beneath the exposed roots) and the remains of a cut down tree that we’ve been chipping away at, discovering creepy crawlies. It’s good off-screen fun.
The camp spreadsheet. Yep, it’s made a reappearance for summer 2023. I put the weeks of the summer down the left hand side and the names of the kids along the top. This helps immensely with organization and seeing at a glance what weeks are available and not available.
Virtual training. I am working out with a trainer once a week via FaceTime. It actually works pretty well. I bought a bunch of resistance bands and the house’s prior owners left a weight machine that isn’t great, but can work as an anchor point for a few exercises. When I’m on top of things I then repeat the exercises the trainer had me do on a second day of the week (I’m not always on top of things).
Listening to my choral music in the car. As one way to increase practice time, I find recordings of the trickier works my choir is performing and I listen to those as I’m shuttling kids around (usually while they are not in the car…I listen when I’m going to get them). We’re singing the Bluegrass Mass (here is the Gloria) in a few weeks.
Washing the sheets right before the cleaners come. We have a weekly cleaning service, and on one week they do the kitchen + first and third floor (which is mainly the playroom), and then the other week they do kitchen + second floor (the bedrooms). Timed right, we wash sheets right before the cleaners do the bedrooms. Everyone puts their sheets back on the beds in a rough fashion, but then the cleaners make the beds look nice.
My Stanley. Yep, I was influenced. I bought one of those giant insulated tumblers with a straw, and I put ice water in there and sip it at my desk and I am probably staying more hydrated (though that cause is also helped by the numerous strawberry acai lemonades from Starbucks I am drinking with my 15-year-old…)
Kizik shoes. I love that you can just slide your feet in these sneakers and you don’t have to bend over or pull on the heels. I now own a pair and so do two of my kids. Possibly everyone will soon. It makes getting out the door faster or at least less painful.
Creating the weekend schedule on Thursdays and the weekly activity schedule on Fridays. So, every Thursday, I send my husband a copy of the weekend schedule — an activity that forces me to create the weekend schedule. Usually I have a rough idea of what we’re doing by the Friday before (when I plan the upcoming week) BUT stuff comes up, or gets filled in, or we come up with new things to do. If we have open gaps or things are unclear I ask my husband to suggest stuff or figure out how to solve any logistical problems. He’s game for doing most things, so this approach generally works (I am not saying it would for everyone).
I also create the kid activity schedule for the upcoming week on Fridays and send it to my husband and nanny. Sometimes it has to change (we dropped a voice lesson this week and added a karate Parents’ Night Out) but knowing the general parameters is helpful. For instance, the 15-year-old likes to run at the gym as we are training for our upcoming 5k. By looking at the activity schedule, we knew that a Wednesday night visit would work during the week. When people see the whole schedule, they can also make considerate choices. My husband, for instance, was supposed to bring a child to an orthodontist appointment, and when something came up that would preclude that, he moved it to a time that would work with the activity schedule and that he could cover, rather than just assuming I would cover it, or calling me and asking many questions about when could work.
Scanning directly from my iPhone. This is a total game changer with permission forms, medical forms, and other such things that were a pain to send in back when I had to scan on my printer, use a USB stick to transfer to my computer, etc. Now I just scan directly from Notes, it turns the image into a PDF and I can email from the phone. I apologize if 99 percent of people already knew about this capability, but I didn’t know until about a year ago and I have used it literally 100 times since then.
Lots of extra phone chargers, lots of headphones. Why do these always seem to disappear? I’ve decided they are like bottles of sunscreen. Better to have extras anywhere you might need them.
Cheap long sleeve T-shirts from Amazon. I get the idea of having fewer, nicer clothes. But I’m a little wary after the whole moth episode. So I’m mostly wearing a rotation of five long sleeve T-shirts that I bought off Amazon. They were each $20. If they don’t last long…oh well (though knowing me I try to get a couple of years of wear out of things anyway…)
What little life hacks are you using right now?