From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
For the past several weeks my mantra has been, “I can’t wait until school starts.” As my family and I have struggled with a perfect storm of change, uncertainty and chaos, the beginning of the school year has become something of a Holy Grail to me. I’ve told myself (and my husband and everyone who will listen) that when school starts…
…I’ll be more organized.
…I’ll GET IT TOGETHER.
…I’ll start eating – and feeding them – more healthy foods.
…I’ll put them to bed earlier (and go to bed earlier).
…I’ll plan meals and make a grocery list.
…I’ll move the laundry from the washer to dryer before it mildews.
…I’ll stop ordering pizza once a week.
…I’ll get more work done.
…I’ll miss fewer deadlines.
…I’ll GET IT TOGETHER.
It’s a long list of things I think I’m going to accomplish when the school year begins and I reclaim some of my precious order and organization. But though I’m tempted to just stare at the circled date on my calendar (the one that has hearts and smiley faces and blinking lights around it…at least in my mind), the one that says, “FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL,” and daydream about chore charts and folded laundry and deadlines met and boxes checked, I know better.
I know that with the commencement of the school year also comes the PTA, the school activities, the lessons and practices, the homework and tests. I know that the cleaning schedule and the snack shelf and the color-coordinated to-do list will all fall apart — and probably before we hit Labor Day. It’s just the nature of this busy season of life, and turning a new page on the calendar isn’t what makes it less chaotic and more manageable.
No, rather than dream of a chaos-free life (SERIOUSLY. Can you even imagine? We’d just get bored, right? … RIGHT???), I know from past changing of the seasons or school years that it’s better to deal with the chaos than to pretend it doesn’t exist. So, here’s my plan:
5 Ways to Calm the Chaos This School Year
1. Make Meals Easier. Last year I wrote about three challenges and solutions to meal planning that my family has struggled with. I’m going to be honest: not a whole lot has changed since then. Getting food on the table for THESE PEOPLE who want to eat three times a day, every day of their lives, while also dictating how many sweets and how few vegetables they desire IS HARD WORK. But it’s work that has to be done — and that makes a world of difference.
I don’t anticipate turning into a different person between now and the start of the school year. So I’m not going to pin a whole bunch of casserole recipes for a day-long cooking session that will fill up my freezer. (I actually have about a dozen freezer meals in my freezer right now that I FORGOT I EVEN HAD until just recently. Oops.)
Instead, I’m going to take an hour to chop onions and peppers, grill and slice chicken, and brown hamburger. Then I’m going to take another hour to make baked oatmeal and banana muffins. And then? (After I stick all that food in the freezer?) If I’m still feeling industrious, I’ll prep all our lunch and snack food for the first few weeks. (And if not, I’ll recruit my third-grader to do it. After all, she’s the one who will be eating those individual servings of crackers and pepperoni and grapes!)
2. Pick Out Clothes. Now that we’ve moved, our washer and dryer no longer live in our garage. I have an actual laundry room, and it’s on the same level as our bedrooms. But while this is the ideal layout according to moms everywhere, I’m still struggling to implement a system — a system that doesn’t result in mountains of dirty laundry outside the laundry room door and mountains of clean laundry on top of the dryer.
It may still take a while for me to figure out our new laundry system, but my first step to mastering this mess is to pick out my kids’ clothes a week at a time. I was just lamenting the lack of school uniforms at my daughter’s public school, because OH THE GNASHING OF TEETH about what she’s going to wear. Every. Single. Day of my life. I’m hopeful that if she and I take a little bit of time each Sunday afternoon to pick out five outfits, a lot of those fights will be eliminated. We’ll see…
3. Set My Alarm. My oldest daughter’s new school starts earlier than her old one, plus I’m changing my work schedule (read: adding more work, plus leaving the house to get it done). That means our leisurely mornings spent lounging while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (them), scrolling through Facebook (me), and inhaling granola bars at the last minute (um, all of us) ARE OVER.
There’s no getting around it. We have to get up earlier. And that means, if I am serious about calming the chaos, I need to get up even earlier than my kids. Since I wrote all about the struggles night owls like me face when trying to create better mornings for their families, I know the steps I need to take. It’s just a matter of doing it. And it starts with setting my alarm.
4. Buy a New Calendar. When we moved, I tossed our old white-board calendar that hung on the side of our refrigerator. It had seen better days (the middle few squares were completely gray), but the reason I threw it away was because our fridge in the new house is between two cabinets. And the doors are too narrow for the calendar. So it didn’t work anymore.
But you know what else doesn’t work? NOT HAVING A FAMILY CALENDAR! Yikes. This summer has been full of chaos and irregular schedules, and in hindsight I realize getting a new calendar right away might have prevented some of that. So before we dive into the school year, with its activities and schedules and meetings and appointments, I’m buying a new calendar for the kitchen wall and putting it to use! (I also use a calendar app that my husband and I share, because sometimes I am away from home when I need to schedule something and that’s what works for us.)
5. Just Say No. You guys? I really hate missing out on stuff. I do. And I hate it when my kids miss out on stuff, too. And you know what? Even in our new, small town, we have SO MANY FUN OPPORTUNITIES. Teams and lessons and shows and festivals and movie nights and play dates — and then there’s homework and read-to-self and screen time and free play and GO OUTSIDE ALREADY and church and school (oh yeah, that!) and meetings and orthodontist appointments and Bible study and book club and…
If I let it, the world and all of its many amazing, fun, educational, interesting, entertaining, just great in general opportunities will take over my life. And it will drive me crazy. I know, because I’ve done it before (many times).
Last fall my daughter played on a basketball team and took piano lessons. And just that amount of activity, in that season, was TOO MUCH for my family. The stress of two activities, two nights in a row, every week just about did us in. I know! So many families do so much more! And that’s okay. We will someday (maybe even this fall, I don’t know yet) be able to do more. Each family has to figure out their own balance, avoid their own tipping point, and say no to what is too much for them.
So, there it is: my master plan for calming the chaos this school year. I could list another dozen ideas for organization, another handful of tips for running a household well, another bunch of suggestions for turning my crew into a well-oiled machine. But a) I figure we’ll be doing good if we can manage these five, and b) I think any family will be on their way to more peace if they can work on any one of these things!
How will you calm the chaos in your house this school year?