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Morning school drop off

We now have 3 children in school: a 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. Since school has started, the go-to line I hear is, "You must be loving having 3 kids in school! What a break!" I can tell you, that so far it has felt like anything but a break. It has been absolute chaos. I have to get 3 kids ready for the day-- with lunches, backpacks, folders, uniforms, and appropriate footwear. Then I have to get them somewhere on time with a toddler and infant in tow. After that, I care for 2 children while getting all of the things done I need to in my window of time while the older 3 are at school, and be back in time to pick them up from school again-- on time. (This on time thing is a killer.) Let's throw in 3 hours of before school mayhem and 4 hours of exhausted after school whirlwind: dinner, bath, stories, pajamas, all with 3 kids in perpetual meltdowns. And caring for a toddler and a nursing infant. Major break. (Sarcasm.)

The first couple weeks I was in a constant state of near tears. The time I had with our children wasn't fun. The mornings were busy and the afternoons were nothing but meltdowns and the time they were at school was go, go, go. Last year with only 1 child in school, I could manage after school outings a bit easier. I only had 1 tired kid that I could manage, even with 3 other children in tow. This year I have 3 tired children plus 1 busy toddler and 1 nursing infant. It makes after school outings much more of a hair raising experience (and not at all feasible with my post-partum complications). Since we have 5 children, I tend to avoid taking them anywhere on the weekends when it is busy. But since I now have 3 in school, weekends are kind of our only option. I've also found that they aren't as helpful around the house. They come home in a high-strung, over tired, easily excitable state and need a little downtime and childhood play-- not the time to be heaping chores on them, which means more has fallen on my plate with less time to do it (the window of time they are at school when I'm not caring for our other 2 children). My last complaint on this subject is that school here in the Northwest has such strange hours. Their elementary school doesn't start until after 9 am and gets out at 4 pm. That may sound agreeable, but my children are up at 6 am and 4 pm is a wretched time for kindergartners to get out of school-- they are hungry and need a snack, which ruins their dinner. They are tired and need a nap, which ruins their bedtime. They are exhausted from a full day at school and want to rest, which makes it difficult to participate in after-school activities, even things like hitting up a park or going to a restaurant. They are so tightly wound that it makes our time even more stressful.

It is November now, so we've been in the back to school routine for a bit and have finally settled in to a morning pattern that has offered us a small amount of normalcy and *possibly* keeps some of the chaos at bay. Here is how I get 3 kids ready for school with 2 littles in tow.

Babies first...

To have the best start to our day, I feed the baby first thing in the morning. Often she will go back to sleep after a 5 or 6 am feeding and this helps give me extra hands in the morning (not having to juggle a fussy baby). I change our toddler's diaper and give him a breakfast snack, such as a banana, yogurt, or cereal bar.

Breakfast...

With the babies happy, I can get our older 3 fed. I start the water for their oatmeal while I make my latte. Depending on how many times the children woke me up that night, I make either a double or a quad latte. The first month of school was a quad latte situation. Breakfast must be a "stick to yer ribs" type affair. When school first started, our kindergartners continued their normal eating habits, which was a slow breakfast followed by a 10 am snack. Since they were now at school at that time, they often left for school complaining they were hungry or telling me how starving they were by lunch time. I realized cereal had to go. Our boys absolutely love cereal and so we have "cereal Fridays." They still get one day a week of their "treat" and the rest of the week we don't fight over what's for breakfast. On Mondays I make a small pot of oatmeal, since breakfast is supplemented with pancakes leftover from the weekend. Tuesday through Thursday they have oatmeal with flax seed with various toppings (berries, bananas, brown sugar and granola, milk and white sugar...).

Getting dressed...

I don't really like our boys to wear their uniforms at breakfast. Mondays they drip syrup down their fronts and that often leads to shirt changes. It happens and that's fine when it does, but after breakfast whoever isn't in uniform has to go get dressed. This is also when I have them make sure they tidied up their spaces. Pajamas, diapers, and toys all must be picked up from the floors of their rooms. They all go upstairs to brush teeth and our asthmatic takes his morning medicine. They must leave the bathroom tidy (drawers closed, toothbrushes put away, etc).

Homework...

Thankfully our boys' kindergarten teachers do not believe in homework for kindergartners. (Thank goodness because, honestly, neither do I.) Our 2nd grader has at least one worksheet every day. We do homework in the morning before school. Normally he sits at the bar, but sometimes he does it in his bedroom. I do have him check his homework folder while I get breakfast started. That way if he has a lot of homework, he can get started earlier in the morning.

Loitering...

This is the time in the morning when all H breaks loose. The baby wakes up. The toddler starts throwing oatmeal or drawing on homework sheets. Our kindergartners start wrestling. I approach this in between time with a firm hand. I have the kindergartners unload the dishwasher. I have our toddler sit at the table with some art or I turn on his favorite show and plop him down on the couch with a banana. Often I have to feed the baby again, so I change her diaper and sit in the family room. A great trick has been reading the boys' library books during this time. They are very excited to share their library finds from school and tell me long rambling stories about why they picked that particular book. I do not allow any wild games before school. The first couple weeks of school the boys wanted to play in the loft, like they do many mornings. I allowed it only to have tempers high and injuries higher. It was exhausting dealing with the tears and bloody noses or hurt feelings. I couldn't feed the baby or get anything done running back and forth to the loft. So the loft is officially off limits. The boys are allowed to do art, watch TV, read library books... any quiet activities that do not involve physical contact and can be easily and quickly cleaned up.

Getting dressed revisited...

After the baby is up and fed and changed, I have to get myself ready for the day. This is a quick process. I get the children settled in various activities and go upstairs for 10 minutes. I throw on some make up, brush my hair (or pull it on top of my head), pull on some clothes that I can go to school drop off in, and grab appropriate clothing for the baby and toddler. When I come downstairs, I check that our older 3 are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather. If it is downpouring, I have them wear appropriate shoes. If it is chilly, I make sure they have warm jackets and hoods. I task them with this job while I get the babies dressed.

Packing lunches and backpacks...

I pack lunches in the morning. I don't have enough room to store 3 lunches in my fridge nor do I have an inclination to add more work to our evening, so mornings it is. Our boys do best with snack type style lunches so I grab 3 of everything and usually have at least one of them help me. Once the food is in the lunches, 3 ice packs, 3 water bottles, zip up 3 lunches, and make sure they get in 3 backpacks. I make sure 3 folders follow suit. I make sure 3 boys are each in a jacket, shoes on, faces clean.

Jackets...

While they zip up their backpacks and wash their faces, I check the babies' diapers again. If they are stinky, I change them. Otherwise, I put them in their bunting and jackets and load them in to the stroller. I have any boys who are ready to go help put blankets on the babies. I don't like them to get rained on during our walk and I ensure their little hands don't get cold. I check jackets again. Because often someone has decided to change or take off their jacket or set it down... you'd be surprised how often someone bursts in to tears because 5 seconds before we walk out the door they decide they want to completely change their clothes. Or find a pair of mittens we lost 2 duty stations ago. I put on my boots and my jacket. This is the last thing I do before we head out the door because I strongly dislike arguing with children while I am overheating in an overcoat.

Out the door...

With the babies contained in the stroller, I push it out on the porch. I count the older boys as they follow: 1, 2, 3. Jackets. Backpacks. Lunches. Appropriate shoes. Lock the front door. And off we go! With 5 kids making the trek, I make sure to leave enough time to make the walk. We've had many mornings where the toddler threw fits and refused to go on or the baby kept fussing and we had to stop every couple steps. Most of the time, I can at least make the walk without too many incidents. Library days tend to throw a kink in things. All of our boys have different library days and they must bring back their old books to check out new books. They usually remember they have library that day as we walk away from the house, resulting in an immediate panic/freak out and a meltdown that they "have to go back in!" Of course they have to find the book, open their backpack... yadda yadda. It is a production. But we do many checks before leaving the house and that really cuts down on how many things we forget before leaving the house.

Cleaning up...

Walking back in the door after dropping the older 3 off at school is another whirlwind. The baby often wants to eat again. The toddler wants to play. The kitchen is usually a mess. This is when I do a quick 20-minute pick up of the downstairs and loft. I finish getting ready. I feed the baby and make sure she is dressed for the day (and our toddler too, if it was a crazy morning). By 9:30 or 9:45 am, I usually can have everything settled for the day: myself dressed, our 2 littles dressed, and our older 3 off at school! It is very busy and very hands on every morning with lots of emotional battles (the toddler stealing the school folders, missing uniform pieces, shoe battles...) but overall we have found a good pattern for the morning. By about 8:30 every morning my head is pounding and I'm extending grace over each of our children, but at least it all gets done.

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