Our Days These Days- Summer 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's been far too long since I've made time to write a journal entry detailing the minutiae of our daily lives in their current rhythms. I have a half-draft from 2016 I never finished, but otherwise, it's been almost three years since I posted one. And it's an exercise I cherish... a way to grasp at details that seem so routine that they could never be forgotten, only to be completely changed within a years' time, traded for the next set of routines and rhythms. I feel that over time, they paint a full picture of how we lived-- the good, the bad and the lazy-- and even now, only three years since my last edition of "Our Days These Days", enough has changed forever that there is a wistful "natsukashii" in my every cell as I read and remember things that used to be so common that I nearly always took them for granted... only to now see that they have passed into the past forever.

So, in honor of that feeling, here is an accounting of our days this summer, 2017. 
The mornings have been gentle, and I love it. Joe wakes before us all, and is usually out the door to work by 6:45am. This works out for us as a family because with him getting to work a half-hour early, he then can also come home a half-hour early, and we get to enjoy him for a good long evening every day. I'm not sure how he feels about the early rising-- selfishly, I'm *never* awake at that time to check in with him-- but he's always been good at the morning routine and at self-motivating himself to get going. Color me impressed. 
So, long after he's been gone, someone will wake up first, and it's nearly never before 7:30 or 8:00am. Sometimes the first to wake is me, and I roll over and look at the baby monitor and see that Larkin is still sleeping... and I either doze back off, or I ease into wakefulness by reading nonsense on my phone, waiting to hear the kids begin to wake. 
Sometimes the first to wake is Noah, and when it is him, he is excellent about finding something to read and waiting for the rest of us.  Often, the first to wake is Larkin, and she usually wakes in a good mood, chattering and rolling around in her crib, content to wait for me. This works for me because her calm chatter is like a snooze button for me, and helps make the transition from sleep to waking an easy one. 

Lucy and Quinn are almost never the first to wake, since they're both usually the last of the kids to fall asleep. Of all the kids, Lucy can sleep the longest, sometimes lasting til 9:30am. Some rare mornings, no one wakes til almost 9, and that's pretty sweet, too. 
Once I'm up and I've gotten Larkin, I usually head to the kids' room to see them. Sometimes they're all still asleep and I take Larkin downstairs to play and let the kids sleep. More often than not, though, when I go in, at least one of the kids is awake and lounging in bed, so Larkin and I sit in the doorway of their room and I turn on some music on my phone, and Larkin begins to crawl around and explore their stuff, and pretty soon the crew is awake. Before we leave the room, the kids have to make their beds (something we've never been consistent with, but have been doing a pretty great job of this year) and they have to get dressed. I always have to either close the door while we do this, or stay sitting in the door frame, because Larkin is CRAZY. She sees any opportunity to escape and she is out the door, and there is a scary top of a staircase to keep her away from. 
After everyone is dressed ready, we head downstairs to breakfast. Sometimes this is by 8:00am, sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10, depending on what time everyone has woken up and how motivated they were getting ready and making beds. With the unpredictability of this, I have to stay flexible about Larkin's two naps. I try to have her back down about two hours after she's awoken, so sometimes that means her nap is from 9:30-11:30, and sometimes it ends up being late, like 11:30. On those late days, it is very possible that her second nap will be ruined because her sleep cycles are being thrown off, so I really try to keep her as close to 9:30/10 for a morning nap as I can. 
Breakfast for the kids is usually cereal with either some fruit, some yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg. Breakfast for Larkin is usually a bottle and then some puffs and other munchy snacks in her high chair, so I can get the other kids' food ready. My own breakfast is pretty consistently an Atkins chocolate shake, a low-carb protein drink I fell in love with during my three bouts of gestational diabetes, and have continued to buy for myself even with the diabetes ending. It's easy, it's tasty, and it has lots of protein and vitamins to help me start out on the right foot. 
After breakfast, we have continued with our summer chore sticks tradition.  The kids seem to like the routine, and it really does set the tone for the rest of our day. The chores are super easy and fast, and there is a sense of productivity that helps the kids ease into the rest of the morning without moaning, "I'm BORED!" Because after chore sticks, there is a long stretch of open-ended playtime, since one of my main goals for summer 2017 is that we don't get to lean on television or personal devices until after lunch. 
At the beginning of summer, this post-breakfast stretch was a little tricky for all of us. Quinn was used to getting to watch cartoons whenever, and I was used to being able to manage my mom irritability with the soothing strains of TV as well. Lucy and Noah were used to being at school, so having open-ended playtime was something they were out of practice with, and they kind of circled each other and picked on everyone and struggled to be self-driven. But within a couple of weeks, we'd found our groove, and now when breakfast ends and chore sticks are done, they all drift to something or other and they play. Usually pretty well. It might be art supplies or puzzles in the dining room. It might be Pokemon cards in the living room, or playing the piano in the photo room. In the earlier weeks of summer, it was easy to go outside, but that's dwindled to a trickle as the oppressive heat has come in. For the most part, though, the kids stay amused and don't fight too terribly. 

If there's one thing that has manifested this summer in a way we've never seen before in our family, it's that the kids are playing with a new roughness and physicality with each other. Prior to this year, I think Quinn was just too little to wrestle with, and Lucy and Noah had never had that kind of play relationship... But now, with Lucy and Quinn both about the same size, and all three able to communicate well with each other and begin role-playing and play-acting together, suddenly there's a LOT of horseplay and wrestling and physical contact... mostly in fun, but of course even fun horseplay often (usually) ends in upset feelings somewhere. So when the energy in the house gets too loud and too physical, I still send them outside, even in the heat. Even 15 minutes outside can help them work it out of their systems, and if they're really hot, I keep water guns outside and they can play with those anytime. Too, Noah has a dedicated watering-plants chore this summer that his Grandma is paying him to do, so I can also just send him outside to water plants and it will break up the energy that is building. 

Because on top of trying to keep kids happy and keep them from accidentally hurting each other in their play, I have a sleeping baby during this time, so I am a drill sergeant about them not waking the baby with their antics. It's kind of a bummer, really. The whole "baby takes two naps" thing, I mean. It's just...I'm glad for those two naptimes, but in a summertime where we'd usually probably head out of the house after breakfast to do some activity or another, this summer we cannot. We are home so baby can nap. Any outings we might take usually need to happen between 11:30-2, and then have to end so we can get back for the next baby nap. Larkin's needs have definitely shaped the rhythm of this summer. And it is only for this summer, so we've embraced it and we're doing okay. But still... it's an endless work to keep kids relatively quiet, and to keep ourselves amused at home day in and day out. Perhaps it's a gift, and we'll look back and be grateful.
And Larkin. Holy cow. This girl is only 9/10/11 months old this summer, but she is intent on being my hardest kiddo. I mean, the other three have their own things that challenge me, but Larkin... she is happy and cute and brilliant, but that means she is also wily and clever and NONSTOP, and keeping her alive and contained is a full-time job. She's exhausting. There is no "break" when she's awake. At best, if I can block the stairwell from her reach, put the garbage can and recycling can atop a table, put the cat food and water on the dryer, close the basement door, and make sure the floors are swept, I can set her loose and she will mostly be okay (maybe close her fingers in a cupboard or pull DVDs off of the shelf)... there is a need for CONSTANT vigilance with her, and it's exhausting. So at the very least, her needing two naps is good for my sanity, because for those two stretches of time, I can relax my stance and breathe a little. 

What this means is, I'm often using her naptimes to chill out finally, and so there is almost never a time I am super productive. And if you know me at all, I often accidentally measure my worth in productivity. I am trying to shift that paradigm, but I'm not there yet, so when I see things not getting done, it's hard on my soul. But I continue to work on "let it go, let it go", and I tell myself there will be times ahead when I have free hands AND free time AND energy, all at the same time, and things will get done again one day. 

So back to the day's routine. Sometime in the middle, 12:30ish, we do lunch. Most of the time I make something at home and we carry on with whatever we'd been doing in the late morning, only with the addition of Larkin, awake, making herself known all over the place as I try to make lunch. Often it is most useful just to strap her into the high chair and begin feeding her finger foods. A mini bagel works well, and she loves chopped up strawberries, grapes and watermelon. 

If we do need to get out of the house, whether to run an errand or just to cure some cabin fever, it's usually this middle-of-the-day stretch, between Larkin's naps. We've managed a lunch out at McAlister's Deli, just me and four kiddos, just once I think. Sometimes we grab Happy Meals. We've been to the mall once, to grab food at the food court and play at the "soft play place". Larkin LOVED that place!! Mostly, though, we stay home. 

After lunch, we enter that sweet spot that Quinn asks about all day-- The Afternoon. ("Mom, is it afternoon yet?") This is the sweet spot because it's when they can finally have some screen time. For the summer only, the plan is as follows: at 1:30/2ish, we can watch a movie or cartoons. At 3:30 the kids can do 1.5 hours of tablet time, until Joe gets home.
I admit- this stretch of the day is a huge relief to me. Like, I feel a palpable EXHALE when it comes. 
It's not perfect-- sure, I should probably do one screen type or the other, not both-- but it has already been a huge leap forward for me to even have this set boundary, particularly in the area of TV and cartoons, since Larkin's arrival last summer. With the overwhelm of new-baby-life, cartoons happened way more often than they probably should've, just to help me channel Quinn's energy through the days where my arms were full and my stress/exhaustion high. With the onset of summer, I knew that if I wasn't careful, I'd let the TV babysit all of my kids all too frequently just so I could check out and breathe a little, still not good at being mama to FOUR all day long. So for me, making myself wait til 1:30 at the earliest has actually been a major success. And it's been kind of fun, to be honest-- 1:30 comes around and I pick the movie, and it becomes like a "summer movie matinee", every day. Sometimes I pick a movie the kids wouldn't have picked for themselves, and I tell anyone that whines that they can use Movie Time for reading, art, or quiet time, and that they don't have to stick around to watch. But 9 times out of 10, they all end up pretty invested in whatever I've chosen for them, and it's a nice transition where they all calm down, settle in, and have some "rest time" together. Larkin loves to play in the living room with all of us, though she's not super interested in whatever is on the TV just yet. 

And sometime between 2:30-3, its time to snuggle Larkin upstairs in her room with her bottle for her second nap. This works out well because I know the three older kids are going to be settled and quiet for this, and I don't have to break up fights or calm any rowdiness in the middle of the baby nap putdown. 

Larkin is mostly pretty good about her nap putdowns. Often she'll roll right to her tummy, bum in the air, and go right to sleep. Sometimes she will roll around a bit and chatter before finding her way to sleepyland. Every so often, she is a stinker (literally) and she will either occupy herself with pooping and never get to sleep, or only sleep 40 minutes and then poop herself awake. Those are not my favorite times. But it's funny how, as my fourth time around with baby napping, I'm way less angry at a failed nap than I used to be. I used to DEPEND on those naps being predictable, and just get SO ragey when a baby would thumb his/her nose at me and not nap. But this time... Well, I guess it helps that she'll often still pleasantly hang out in her crib for at least one hour, so I'm not having to immediately go back in and get her and be back on the "vigilantly watch Larkin ever minute" train. I do still get a tiny break, even when she doesn't actually sleep. 

Meanwhile, the kids enjoy their summer movie matinee, then seamlessly move into official "screen time" with Joe's iPad going to Quinn, my iPad going to Lucy, and Noah on his own little G-pad. Lucy and Quinn have gotten fixated on Terraria, one of Noah's old favorite games, and they can often be found playing together in the same "world" with Noah tutoring them on what things are, how to defeat bosses, and other tips and tricks of the game. Quinn, especially, is hyped up and obsessed about Terraria, and talks about it all the time, even when not playing. "In Tewawwia, I got some VAMPIWE KNIVES!" (vampire knives). Sometimes they get really feisty playing together, attempting some player-versus-player, ultimately killing each other off, and then they start yelling and fighting and we have to invoke a Terraria Time-Out for the rest of the day and usually the following day. But mostly they play nicely together, all on the living room couches together, and it's a fun, chill way to usher in the evening. Sometimes I even curl on the couch with them and close my eyes for a bit while they play, while Larkin naps. 

Joe is often home before 5:00pm this summer, so its fun to have him walk through the door after a long day without him. He can usually get time to change into comfy clothes and come chill in the living room with us before Larkin awakes and it's all hands on deck again. Once Larkin wakes, Joe is usually her shepherd while I think about dinner. To this day, I still loathe being responsible for dinner. Joe is good to help many times, but somehow this summer, I still feel like I'd rather prep the dreaded dinner than have to chase the baby around yet again. She's a lot of work, guys! I'm not kidding! 

Sometimes, too, this 4:45-5:30 stretch is when I dash out the door to the grocery store to grab some stuff while I can do it kid-free. On those days, the kids play a bit longer on their screens while Joe chases Larkin, and I am able to stock the larder at a quick and efficient pace and get back home to do dinner. 

Evenings are easy at home, too. Every once in a while, I'll take the three big kids to the library or out on errands after dinner... but more often than not, we settle back into free-play mode and a few kids play Legos with Dad and another kid starts drawing something and then one of us will turn on a cartoon or some music or American Ninja Warrior and the rest of the clan will drift in and we end up all on the couches together again. I wish we could be outside more in the evenings... and we were, back in June. But this past month has been oppressively hot, and the mosquitoes are the worst I've seen them since moving to this house. It's pretty miserable to be outside right now. It breaks my heart. 

So we tune into yet another screen, the easy way out... How I wish I could tell you that we have rousing game nights or we do amazing art projects, or we all curl up and read novels together.... But we don't. Not this summer. I wish we were out riding bikes, or visiting with friends in our backyard. But we're not. We're just.... we're together as a crew of 6 a lot, on the couches... We're either playing with Legos and toys or we're watching movies and cartoons. It is what it is. I feel like this is a season to get through, and it'll get better, maybe by next summer. I don't love feeling so worn down by the end of the day. I don't love feeling stuck inside. I don't love how much the kids kvetch at each other when they're not watching a cartoon. I don't know. I probably shouldn't be writing this at the end of a long hot weekend... I'm tired just writing it all down, thinking about it. 

But it's not terrible. Really! It's just a strange vibe this summer... the go-go-go of just managing four young kids at home, but the feeling that I am not accomplishing a thing, maybe even being LAZY... yet how is this laziness? This constant "on the clock" feeling? Just because nothing seems to move forward, and no grand ideas seem to be taking place.... I'm still working all the time, but I'm also taking phone breaks on the couch while Larkin naps. So I don't know. It's so weird/hard/exhausting. But it's also good. I love that the kids know to find their own fun every day before 1:30 pm. I love how much we listen to music and sing and dance along. I love how much they love their baby sister, and even each other mostly. I hope that all this time at home, day in and day out, is forming some rock-solid memories for them... foundational "childhood" kinds of memories they'll look back on always. Like you and I have about our own childhood homes and summers and sibling games. 

We have many summers ahead that can be about adventuring again. Maybe we have a different backyard to look forward to someday that doesn't breed mosquitoes. Maybe there will come a time where curling on the couch together to read novels seems feasible because attention spans will have lengthened. There is time yet for many good things. And many good things are still happening in my here and now. I'm just tired, so I'm not looking with mindful eyes at the moment. 

Anyway.... existential tangent there. We wind down the day with Larkin getting a nightly bath from Joe, and me getting one more snuggle with her in her jammies and pink-lotion yumminess while Joe gets her bottle ready and takes her up to bed, around 7:30. We get the older kids to brush their teeth around 8:30, and with the whole bedtime song-and-dance, including Lucy always taking forever on the potty and kids taking their sweet time to put on jammies; we usually finally say goodnight to them at 9:00pm. I then settle down to edit, as usual, and Joe does dishes then settles to watch some TV, as usual. Someday I'll be able to edit during the daytime and maybe we'll have evenings together again. Someday. 

Joe heads to bed around 10 or 10:30, and I try to get myself to bed by 11:30, but sometimes it creeps to 12:30am. 

And then it begins again the next day, nearly identical to the last.  It's summer, and really... though the kiddos are just really CONSTANT, the living is pretty easy. We are pretty blessed. The kids are healthy and happy. Joe loves his job. I cherish taking photos and documenting our days. I live for sleep and errands alone. And we carry on. 

Before we know it, it'll be time to head back to school, and our days these days will be done... shifted to the next version of life as we know it.

{photos taken back at the end of May, when the backyard was still a joyful place to be.}


Past entries of our daily routine:
{2009: My Day These Days}


  1. 1. I think this is a lovely routine. It has so many elements of the summer I wish I could give my kids but cannot due to my job.
    2. I love how your kids interact with each other with screens as a tool. I think that is worth cultivating.
    3. I think 9-18 months is the worst of stages. Frighteningly mobile and not at all verbal. Cannot be reasoned with at all. It's exhausting.

  2. Oh, what a wonderful entry. Did I do something like this back when I was wrangling 4 kids? Maybe, if I re-read the letters I sent to my mom. I'm SO glad I have them (back in Columbia) and I will enjoy reading them someday. In the meantime, I am glad you do this every once in awhile. I am so pleased with how you have become (and are becoming).


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