Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Three Three And Under

So, how is life for me, since adding a third baby? (apart from apparently requiring near constant pointing out of how full my hands are - but don't worry, all the strangers I meet/pass/try desperately to ignore are shouldering that burden with remarkable diligence, demonstrating that humanity does indeed pull together in the face of adversity - or when it encounters a woman who seems to have accidentally found herself with more than the allowed 2.1 children - which is basically adversity under another name).

Guys, that's like THREE WHOLE children she's got! Somebody point it out to her!

I'm so glad you (I) asked this remarkably pointed question, as I have some thoughts.

So, it's hard. But it's also fine. And I figured I should share what makes it basically fine for us.

Obligatory caveat: I am aware I have only three children, not fourteen (heck, I was the first surprised to discover I already qualified for the delightful "you've got your hands full", "do you know what causes this", "you've been busy" comments), I also don't have any twins, no special needs children, or a deployed husband - I do have a junior doctor husband who works crazy hours, but you know, he's not in a war zone or anything. So yes, I don't have the Knowledge, but that's not going to stop me, because you never know, there might be something useful for others in here, and I am going to trust that, if you think I'm some sort of only-three-kids upstart with nothing of value to share, you will make use of your own God-given eyelids or go all techy and click away.

So, here is the state of the union if you are willing to hang on: We have three children (3.5, 2 and 8 months), so far we are not sending any of them to nursery and are planning to homeschool. I don't drive - I mostly walk everywhere with a dash of public transport. We have no family around to help and my friends mostly have their hands full as well. Simon works plenty of nights, evenings and weekends so we've had to be creative so that I wouldn't feel like everything was on me all the time.

Roughly, the things that help us are : 

1. Meal planning and home deliveries
2. Scheduling and routine
3. Pow-Wows
4. Getting up early
5. Hard stops
6. Going out

1. Meal Planning and Home Delivery

I put this one first, because I am pretty sure my life would collapse on itself if I didn't have them. As I mentioned, I don't drive (we didn't have a car at all until two days ago), but I have three small children and we all need to eat. So I've opted out of going through the hell of dragging three babies through the supermarket either a million times a week or for a million items once a week (and the additional hell of dragging all the stuff back, carefully balanced around the grumpy children in the double-buggy - or douggy, as we like to call it). Once a week (generally Saturday), I sacrifice an hour to gather my cook books, look at the week ahead and assign meals to each day (considering how much time I will have to cook, whether we will be out, whether it is a feast day etc), I write the ingredients and immediately go on the website of my favourite supermarket, type them in, and a kind gentleman (and occasional lady) brings them into my kitchen at the time I have chosen. Yes, it is work, no, it isn't particularly fun, but it is incredibly worth it.

Let's say they're thinking about meal planning here, to pretend it's a relevant photo

To simplify the task, I make liberal use of near-weekly-recurring meals (quick-to-make, healthy, crowd-pleasers) and we mostly have soups in the evenings (we also don't eat meat unless it's a feast day, for various reasons, but that's a separate issue - unless you consider how much easier it is to make a meal into a feast that way!)

2. Scheduling and Routine

This one is probably the biggest one, but it is a rather difficult one to break down in one nifty paragraph. As much as possible, we try to not have to think about things which can be streamlined. Food is planned in advance, as is the time it will take me to make it. I have tick lists for the things I want to get to during the day, and a rough idea of when they are likely to happen; one for me (pray, exercise, work on new skills and reading) and one for homeschooling Jude (I find the simple "let's do something educational" way too overwhelming, I prefer to have a plan and go through the items on my tick list - plus Jude knows what he is to do, and he loves that - Gabriel is in fact clamouring for his own tick list).

Clamouring for tick lists

But there is a broader attitude thing as well: it starts with sleep-training the babies so they are quickly on a semi-reliable schedule (yep, this is still working so far - Gabriel took the longest to sleep through the night at a seemingly-never-ending 2 and a half months) and I can enforce a pretty strict nap-time/quiet time/leave-Maman-alone-so-she-remains-pleasant time when I can get to my own things. 

Ignoring my pointing out it's naptime

There is also a more general aim of trying to somewhat preempt future problems by putting in the effort now. One example is that Jude has two "homeschool" half-hours each day - yes, I am aware I don't technically *have* to teach my three-year-old anything, but the idea is that if he is in the habit of twice daily, sitting down to do formal schooling, it won't be as difficult for him (or me!) when we do have to legally start instructing him. Same goes with brushing teeth or doing chores (socks on hands to do dusting! they actually love it! Cleaning their own messes! Tidying away after play!) Yes, it is incredibly inefficient and time-consuming with a three and a two-year-old, but we will have to teach it to them at some point, and habit formation is basically what the early years are about according to Charlotte Mason, and she's great, so there's that.
It's not just a "training them whilst they are young and impressionable" thing though, it's also a good way for me to start figuring out what works and what doesn't and how *I* handle these things. If I can't make homeschooling work around younger siblings when the stakes are very low (as in, non-existent) then I probably shouldn't attempt it!

See? All the spontaneity!

It might sound like we have killed spontaneity and our life is no fun, but actually I find that life with very young children is by nature so unpredictable that having these frameworks to fall back on means I am a lot less frazzled, a lot more ready to see the funny side of things, and also paradoxically find it easier to let things go every once in a while. A house which is tidied and cleaned each day will still be presentable and pleasant to be in, even if I skip it because what we actually need is an AAW (see number 6).
Also, children love routines, and that's another fact.

3. Pow-Wows

We've been doing this for over a year now, and it is really helping our family life, our organisation and even our marriage. Basically, every Sunday evening (or the closest evening to that if Simon is working), Simon and I plan our week together, check upcoming events and to-dos, share tasks and review the past few days. We actually have a working list of things to check on (because spontaneity is not a strong suit of ours), ranging from faith, stress levels, behaviour issues with the children to trying to find the elusive moment when maybe, just maybe, the stars will align and we'll have babysitting and go on a date together (no dice so far).
I don't know about the general population, but I generally tackle a hard week much better when I get a chance to prepare for it, and the Pow-wows are wonderful for that. Plus it helps us feel like a team, instead of two occasionally overlapping schedules.

They're having a Pow-Wow of their own. Relevant pictures is a charism of mine.

4. Getting up Early

This one was difficult for me, as I am naturally a night owl (not for Simon, he does this crazy thing where when his alarm goes, he gets up, puts his clothes on and starts his day - it's like watching magic happen). But I had to get on board as I was too tired in the evenings for anything much anyway, and if I wanted to use my brain a bit, 5.30 am was the time. For our family, it is also a time when Simon is much more reliably present than in the evening (because overtime, late shifts, that inevitable catastrophe which happens at the last minute of a shift) so even if the boys (Mathilde never does, she's ace like that) decide to wake up super early too, Simon generally takes care of them first, so I get a chance to read, pray and generally gear myself up for the day. Plus the peace and quiet at the beginning of the day feels fresh and delicious. It also does wonder for my attitude if *I* wake up, as opposed to waiting for the children to wake me up. It is much easier for me to greet them with warmth if they are joining me in the land of the awake, rather than tearing me away from my pillow.

Similarly, we also schedule in weekly "Mornings In Peace" (they used to be on Saturday mornings when Simon was a student, but now they are whenever we can fit them) when Simon takes care of the children on his own while I go off (or lock myself in a room) and do non-child or house related stuff for a few hours. Or you know, read a book without being interrupted by I-know-it's-quiet-time-but-you-really-need-to-come-and-see-my-amazing-duplo-robot. 

5. Hard Stops

What I found is that I am very task-driven, so I had a tendency to favour clearly-defined tasks (clear the kitchen, hoover, do the dishes) over open-ended ones (hang out with the children, relax), this way I could feel like I had accomplished something. But I was spending a lot of time saying "just wait until..." to the children. I was also spending too much of my hard-won naptime tidying instead of reading a book or writing. And yet I wasn't willing to just let go and live in a dirty, messy house - that just bugs me, and I am no fun to be around when that is the case. So that's where the hard stops come in. 

It's a very simple idea: basically I just give myself until a certain time, and then, no matter how much I have accomplished, I have to stop.
I know some people who give themselves an amount of time ("I can spend 10 minutes on this room, then I have to stop"), but I prefer to give myself a time (at 7.30 am, I stop chores). This way if we have a rough start, it's the chores that get squeezed out rather than going outside and reading together. 
I have three hard stops a day, and whatever doesn't get done gets pushed to the next available time. Whatever isn't finished at 7.30pm will have to wait until the morning (although most of the time, we are done by then.) The ironing sometimes gets to be done afterwards, but that's because I actually quite enjoy ironing whilst listening to a podcast or audiobook.

6. Going Out(side)

I am adding the "side", because Simon and I are actually appalling at going out. It's been an item on the Pow-wow since December, and how many dates do you think we have been on since? That's right. Not a single one.

Anyway. Children need to go outside. That's just a fact. They need to run about and be out and dirty and free to break stuff (because twigs and mud and rocks can take it - God is such a good baby-proofer). Jude is a particularly energetic little boy as well, literally bouncing off walls if he doesn't spend it (he often goes by "Tigger" weirdly enough - the ginger-ness made it irresistible).

Our previous house was amazingly well situated for a non-driver, public transport was amazing, but we had no garden. I tell a lie. We had the garden the size of a balcony (that's no exaggeration). It was fine for a while, I just went to the playground nearly every day, but as Jude started needing more and more time to spend his boundless energy, I hit my limit (basically, I can go to the playground once a day. That's my limit.) So we decided that I would just have to walk more/ find it a little harder to go to activities, and Simon would lengthen his commute somewhat, but we now have a garden of a decent size (with crazy features like you-can-take-more-than-three-steps-without-hitting-a-wall) and a nature reserve basically in our back garden. Now the boys are out everyday (yes, in the pouring rain too, no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, as they say). 

Looking for worms in the pouring rain.

And when Tigger shows signs of taking over our sweet Jude (at least twice daily), we just make him put on wellies and send him to run five laps of the garden. He sometimes grumbles, but generally by the time he's half-way through the first one, he's enjoying himself and his brother joins him.

I've also started "Attitude Adjustment Walks". When nothing goes right, and someone (usually me) is irretrievably grumpy - or just to fill the longest afternoon hour (4pm to 5.30pm), we get coats and wellies on and nip to the nature reserve, and everything is better. Plus I'm winning Charlotte Mason credentials, which is a nice bonus.

And those are the main things. It works well, and I feel like we are doing pretty well because of all of this. It is not easy, but just because it is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.


  1. I love hearing about your experience! I have a son who will turn 2 this summer, and I'm pregnant and due to give birth at the end of summer/beginning of fall, so I appreciate hearing your tips. Already, I've been finding the importance of routines. Since I've been in "survival mode" for much of this pregnancy so far (I haven't had terrible sickness, but the nausea and fatigue have still been a challenge!), I've fallen lax with enforcing quiet time/nap at one particular time each day, though I do make sure it happens for everyone's sake :) My husband and I also just started doing weekly short Sunday night meetings a few weeks ago, and that has been awesome so far!

    You're making me want to look into Charlotte Mason stuff :) Already, my toddler is loving getting to help out sweeping the floor (he does a terrible job, but at least he wants to do it!) doing the laundry and exploring outside, so I wonder if her outlook might really appeal to me. Do you have any books by or about her that you recommend?

    1. Congratulations on soon-to-be baby number two!
      Charlotte Mason is great! She was an educator from the early 20th century, totally worth checking out, definitely so if you are considering homeschooling!
      Ideally you'd want to read what she wrote herself (the six volumes of Home Education), but if that feels - understandably - overwhelming, I'd recommend this as an intro https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Mason-Education-Schooling-How/dp/1891400169/ref=pd_sim_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=4027F4G4NNRQFE607QSA , and this as a dipping into her works without delving too deep! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Mason-Study-Guide-Gardner/dp/1576360393/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1521475469&sr=1-15&keywords=charlotte+mason+study

      hope that helps!

    2. Thank you so much, Isabelle! I had no idea that Charlotte Mason wrote a whole series. Since my toddler isn't even 2 yet, I may have the time to eventually dive into those, but I'll definitely look into those other books since they may be a more realistic reading goal ;)