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"All of the people,
So many people,
Go hand in hand
Through their parklife."

What snuggling the boys looks like
It has been awile since I posted a blog about our schedule. Scheduling a family of five is difficult. Some days we do better than other days. There is a lot that goes into a family schedule. Before I decide on a schedule for us, I think about what our family needs. My husband is busy and needs to be able to have time for his studying. Because I can't count on him to always help with bedtimes or dinnertimes, I like an easy schedule that I can do by myself. This works out well too because on those nights that my husband is home, it is nice to be able to leave him to do the bedtime routine by himself so I can have get out of the house or curl up in the fetal position on the floor-- er, I mean-- have a minute alone to read or unload the dishwasher. I really do think about the needs of myself and my husband before I start thinking about the needs of the boys. We feel that the children need to learn that they are part of the family unit and need to adapt to the rythyms of our family. That is why I loved the book 12 Hours in 12 Weeks by Suzy Giordano. I feel that book-- that schedule-- set the tone and helped the babies adapt to our family life. The first couple years are hard. As much as you don't want to just cater to your child's every whim, newborns need to eat frequently. Babies need to nap. Toddlers need to practice independence. The two books that really helped us form our family schedule and parenting attitude (besides the B-I-B-L-E) were 12 Hours in 12 Weeks by Suzy Giordano, which we relied heavily on for the first year and a half, and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. We didn't follow either book to the letter, though we were extremely strict about the twins' schedule the first year. I really liked the foundation of both books: the children must adapt to your family schedule. As parents, it is not our job to cater to our children's every whim for the rest of their lives. It is to teach them to become self-sufficient human beings. It makes me feel like I have a goal and purpose these busy first couple years; it keeps perspective on the long, long days; it helps me cherish those tender moments that happen in the midst of the chaos. More importantly, those books, especially 12 Hours in 12 Weeks, gave us structure so we were able to get through the days.

I posted several blogs the first year regarding our family schedule. I have found, as stated in 12 Hours in 12 Weeks, that often times people say their children sleep through the night, when really they wake up a couple times in the night or at some point come crawling in their bed (we are planning on transitioning them to toddler beds when we have to or perhaps when we move to South Carolina). We still have our 23-month old toddlers in their cribs and they sleep 12-13 hours a night. They nap between 3-4.5 hours a day. During those times of sleep I don't ever go in the nursery. I get 12 hours of uninteruppted sleep every night. Of course there are times when a baby is sick and I need to get up. Our four-year old is prone to bloody noses. When O is having a flair up (read my blog post "Follow up on reactive airways"), I tend to not sleep well; when I hear him coughing in the night I sometimes go to the hallway outside his door and listen to make sure he is okay. On the average night, we put the boys to bed by 8-- all of them have an 8 o'clock bedtime-- and I do not get out of bed until 7:45 am on weekdays (preschool days) or 8:15-8:30 am (weekends). I like to get up a little before the boys to make my cup of coffee and get myself together. D wakes up the earliest. We have taught him how to get himself a snack (he can open a banana, make himself a bowl of cereal, and get himself something to drink by himself) and entertain himself in the mornings. Most mornings I find him in a "nest" in the hallway outside our bedroom doors with a picture book in his lap. O wakes up next. We have a couple toys in the toddlers cribs and he will play with his toys quietly until it is time to get out of bed or until C wakes up. C wakes up last. He loves his sleep. He takes 10-15 minutes to wake up; he needs to roll around in his crib a bit before getting up. If you interuppt his morning routine, he will be one grouchy bear. He has slept until 9 am-- not sick-- and frequently naps for 4 and a half hours, sometimes still needing a morning nap. This child loves his sleep.

In the mornings, I let the dog out, brush my teeth, primp a bit, make my first cup of coffee, eat a snack, make the boys the first course of breakfast (cut a slice of breakfast bread, open a banana, or wash some berries-- something to tide them over until their eggs are ready), and then go get the boys up. D is usually with me once I open my bedroom door. We like our time together before the toddlers get up. He tells me about his dreams last night ("I had the noddle dream!") and I tell him about mine ("I had the noodle dream too!"). If the toddlers diapers aren't full, I just put them in their high chairs straight away. If their diapers are full, I change them and then do breakfast. They always eat breakfast in pajamas so they don't mess up their clothes for the day. If it is a preschool day, I pack D's lunch while they eat breakfast. On preschool days, I usually take D to preschool with his brothers in their pajamas, slippers, and coats, then I come home and do O's medication. On weekends, we hang out in pajamas until Daddy wakes up, then Daddy does O's medication. The toddlers like to play with the train table right after breakfast. D likes his morning cartoons.

On preschool days, I like to run errands while D is in school. That way I can put both toddlers in the cart with the aid of my Buggy Bench or using a double cart and I'm not dragging all three boys through the store. I find taking one age group is usually the easiest, only the toddlers or only the preschooler. If I have no errands, we hang out at home and get home things done: laundry, dishes, reading, and lots of train table time. The toddlers usually eat a late lunch, which works out since they eat a pretty late-- and large-- breakfast. If they are hungry before lunchtime, after we get D from preschool, I give them a little snack in the car while we are picking D up. We eat lunch at home after getting D from preschool. They eat at the table while D finishes up his lunch or eats a little snack. After lunch, they all like to play in the sunroom a bit before nap and quiet time. The toddlers go down to nap anywhere between 1 pm and 2 pm, if we aren't out. If we are out, I can push them to about 3 pm. If they go down after 2 pm, though, they sometimes don't nap very well, especially O. I like to get them down between 1-1:30 pm. The flexible nap schedule is nice. I like not having to rush home and having freedom to say, "Yeah, let's run to the grocery real quick and pick up milk." (As if there is really a "real quick" when running to the store with three kids.) If we are out and fall asleep in the car, C is really good about moving from the car to his crib. I can count on him to fall back asleep. O, on the other hand, is a bit more unpredictable. Sometimes when I transfer him, I hear him hollering in his crib and playing for 20-30 minutes before quieting down and napping. Sometimes he never does fall asleep and just quietly plays in his crib until I come and get him. The hard days are the ones where O doesn't want to nap and screams until I come and get him. Those days are when he wakes C up and then C won't nap; then I have two angry toddlers. I try to give them a late evening nap on those days. I play with them in the sunroom, give them a snack around 3 pm, and then attempt to lay them down for a late evening nap around 3:30-4 pm. It doesn't always work, but if they do nap, it makes the evening better. I let them sleep until about 6 or 6:30 pm. C can sleep all the way to 7 pm and still go down to bed at 8 pm. O has a hard time falling asleep at 8 pm if I let him sleep too far past 6 pm. Funny how they have different nap needs, being identical twins.

D rarely, if ever naps. Some days a friend will pick him up from preschool. She's a cool mom and will take the boys to bounce houses or the park. D looooooves going home with her. Those days he will sometimes nap. I put in a movie for him when he gets home, make a "nest" on the couch with blankets and pillows. Next thing you know, he's sound asleep watching "Sword in the Stone." If I feel bold, I turn off the movie and turn on The Beatles radio on Pandora; it is fun listening to my own music while all the kids nap. Most of the time I let the DVD menu repeat itself over and over again until he wakes up, not wanting to risk waking him. Most days he comes home with me from preschool. I insist on quiet time while his brothers are napping, giving me a couple hours to do my own thing. We pull out his playsets-- Imaginex or Playmobile-- and he will play quietly in the family room while watching a movie. We also have books on tape, puzzles, and crayons. After he has played quietly for an hour or two, we will often do something together. Lately we've been doing crafts. Most of the time he helps me with a household chore, like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry. I'm impressed that his four-year old hands can actually fold toddler shirts and pants.

After nap and quiet time we have snack. C often sleeps through this and it is just O and D having a snack. I start preparing dinner during snack time. If I'm cutting up a bunch of veggies for dinner, snack is cut up veggies with milk. If not, snack is anything from cheese to leftover popcorn from Target or whatever I have on hand (healthy snacks or not-so-healthy cookies). I try to make snacks healthy. If dinner is time consuming to prepare, snack is usually something fun so they stay happy and busy. Fun can mean putting cheese on apples or eating yogurt out of a cup. Fun usually means messy, which the dog likes.

Dinner is not always fancy. Dinner is usually not fancy. I bought a few new cookbooks recently that I l-o-v-e. They are all by Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking, Feel Good Food, and Fix It, Freeze It, Heat It, and Eat It. I also cook a lot from Real Simple, which I receive monthly. I also love The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond and Homemade by Clodagh McKenna. I love recipes that are fresh and simple with quality ingredients. To save money on whole foods, I shop online with Harris Teeter. We eat meat dishes about 3-4 times a week because buying free-range, organic meat is just pricey. A lot of our meat is just free-range since organic sometimes just doesn't fit in our budget. We also shop at Costco. They sell a 3 pack of organic ground beef for less than I pay at Harris Teeter, though I like getting freshly ground beef from Harris Teeter more. When I find quality meat at a good price, I buy in bulk and freeze what I don't use. I do the best that I can buying foods with good ingredients. Sometimes we make the "better" choice, like the Veggie Straws the toddlers love so much (they fall in the fun food category) instead of the Doritos my husband prefers. Right now we can afford to buy D his Squeezers yogurts for his lunch and the toddlers their YoBaby cups; we will probably have to make changes when all three boys want Squeezers. Often times I just buy tubs of plain organic yogurt and mix in berries or purees, which is healthier anyways. But we have a budget. The other day I chose regular eggs for about $6 for two cartons over organic free-range eggs at $14 for two cartons. We buy local milk for under $4 a gallon instead of organic milk which is $6 a gallon. I buy organic or local produce when possible (usually can't afford both organic and local), but we often have to buy conventionally grown fresh produce and organic frozen produce. We do avoid high fructose corn syrup, products with over 10 ingredients (like to stay under 5 when possible), and hydrogenated oils. Trader Joe's is great because they do have convenient food with better ingredients. We have weaned ourselves from many processed food crutches, like how much cereal we used to go through and instant oatmeal (really, Quaker? That's what you put in your instant oatmeal packets?) My favorite trick for making dinner is to make too much. I either freeze half to have for another night or re-purpose the leftovers. Chicken dishes often make great toppings or accompaniments to salad the following night. Beef dishes can usually be put on a sandwich, wrapped, or put on a crunchy toast. A lot of dishes-- vegetarian, chicken, pork, and beef-- are great leftover stir-fried with veggies. Or, my favorite way to serve leftovers: make rice and cut up some peppers. I do what I can around here. :)

I keep seeing these posts about "Facebooking." I think Facebooking falls under the same category our pastor talked about when I was growing up where your family argues all the way to church, but when you get to church you smile and say everything is "fine" when asked. I hope I don't give the impression on my blog that I make dinner every night, my kids all get along great, my husband and I have the perfect marriage, and that I love every single minute of being a stay-at-home mom. I also don't think that everyone needs to always air their dirty laundry. I think everyone knows that life is challenging, money is tight, and that family life will try your patience. Marriage is hard; being a military wife is hard. Moving is hard. Raising kids is hard. I'm writing this blog while my kids eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on hot dog buns served with veggie straws and raisins. My four-year old is having a glass of sweet tea and I'm on my fourth cup of coffee today (for my friends who have been following my weaning of caffeine, I've fallen off the wagon). My husband is wearing a burnt orange colored t-shirt with a pair of red basketball shorts. I'm still in pajamas. Neither of us have eaten since breakfast; his breakfast was a bowl of cereal, mine was a leftover carrot raisin muffin. Today is daylight savings and I'm not entirely sure what time it is. The computer says 1 pm so my hubby and I are hoping naptime is soon. I think family life is just messy. Occasionally you hit this perfect Kodak moment that makes you smile. All the boys are squealing happily in a fort that your husband and son made. You take a picture of it and post on Facebook, "Happy boys!" Two seconds after you post the picture, a toddler hits the other toddler in the head with a block, your four-year old shoves both of them out, and your husband totally ignores the kids while focusing on the engineering side of building the fort. All this makes you start counting down the minutes until bedtime...

So we do have a schedule, but our schedule is a guideline. We do the best we can. Many days we are making judgement calls, "Okay, he needs an early nap..." and somedays we are flying by the seat of our pants, "All right, O is wheezing, C hasn't napped, D is watching his third movie in a row, Daddy is getting home late, and I haven't started dinner..." Our boys have multiple minor skirmishes a day. My husband and I fight, sometimes just short sarcastic comments when we feel irritated, sometimes long drawn out arguements after the kids go to bed. Our kids sometimes get on our nerves, when they won't share, they won't listen, they keep repeating the same bad behavior, or when we just can't get something done that we want to get done. We forget to pray. We forget to be understanding. We forget that toddlerhood doesn't last forever. We stress over our budget. We don't ask for help. But the best part of family life is that we learn these lessons together. We ask for forgiveness. We rely on our friends to step in and say, "Hey, I know you wanted some time to yourself, but I gave you long enough and I'm calling to ask what's going on." We have people who pray for us. We hold each other accountable. We love our kids; we love each other; we love this life that we lead together, complete with its ups and downs.


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