The funny thing about parenting is that just when you think you have it all figured out, a kid stops napping or starts biting, or schedules change, or you change, and it's almost like you have to start all over, figuring out how to have a good day. That's my goal lately, a good day. It's hard to think bigger than that, and when I start considering Childhood or Theories of Brain Development or What Kind of Parent One Ought to Be I get really tired and need a nap. But my kids don't nap. So I can't. Instead I spend a lot of energy trying to make each day good. Not perfect, but good. Each day with little kids is a marathon and a lifetime and a work of art and a mess. Inevitably.
Because I seem to have to relearn this every day, I am writing this to remind myself what helps, at this moment in time -- as the kids are almost-3 and almost-5 and still home for most of the day and at the end of a very long winter -- for a day to be a good one.
1) Stay busy but flexible. This is a real Stay-at-Home-Mom thing, to be sure. I get attached to my idea of the day -- "But today was going to be Whimsical Fun in the Woods day! Think of the pictures!" But I have to remember that this is actually the great benefit of our under-scheduled, me-at-home life, that we don't have to be committed to much. Maybe it's because my kids are so, erm, batshit crazy, it always helps us to have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan Z. In this matter give them pretend choices. "Do you want to do X or Other X, both of which I have pre-approved?"
2) Remember to take breaks. Book time in bed. Juice breaks at playdates. Bench-sits at museums and parks. You actually have to make it happen and it really makes a huge difference. There is no nap anymore. Get over it. Remember that some minutes playing math games on Starfall will not suck their imaginations out of their heads. Chillax, Mama. Break time = important.
3) Invest in healthy-ish convenience food. Because I am sorry, but few things are as enraging as involving the kids in menu planning and grocery shopping just like the thingy you read said to, spending an hour cooking with "helpers" wobbling on chairs in the galley kitchen, all Montesorri-like, only to end up with a huge mess and food that the kids just look at and cry. Try again with the real food in a year. Until then, screw it, how bad can Annie's Mac and Cheese every night be? (Do not read the story about the girl who ate only chicken nuggets for 17 years. Do not hang out with the mom whose kid eats bell peppers at the playground like they are apples. Do not click on any BuzzFeed stories about any kind of food.)
4) Get out every day. If nothing else, walk to the mailbox or invent something you need to buy at the store that can be scooted to. Even in the winter. Even when they're sick. Even when the bundling up takes longer than the outside time.
5) See other grownups. Or text your friends or look at Twitter just enough so you stay sane enough to remember that all parents feel crazy at least part of the time.
6) Keep it real. Keep the ratio of art project set-up/clean-up to actual kid-entertainment potential in mind. No wants to clean up cloud dough all night. In that same vein, remember that Pinterest is a liar. Most of the Internet is a liar. And nothing entertains kids for hours. Nothing.
7) When possible, don't react. To hitting, to whining, to acting out. Remember Amy Fusselman, who writes in her memoir 8 that when you are parenting small children, you are a robot. When not reacting is impossible, don't beat yourself up about it. Tomorrow it all starts over and you begin anew. Tell yourself something about how it's good for kids to see you get mad and calm down in whatever way you can muster. That has to be constructive somehow, right? Because you're not actually a robot, are you? And just imagine how entertaining it must be for your neighbors down the hall to hear you yelling "I SAID STOP BITING YOUR SISTER'S BUTT!" and how pleasant for them to get to feel kind of superior to you. That's a great gift, really, that you are offering them. You're welcome, them!
8) Leave the kids alone. I mean not alone alone but they can play together, and they can be screaming one second and resolve it the next, and you will surely be alerted if the skirmish is unresolvable. You didn't have two kids to have two people to have to entertain constantly. You had two kids so they would play "kid/grownup" long enough for you to tap out a blog post on your phone!
9) Don't clean up after they are in bed. Make them help even though it sucks and they do a crap-ass job of sorting the toys into the appropriately-labelled bins so that their room looks nothing like the ones on your really excellent "Kids' Rooms" Pinterest page, which remember, is a liar anyway. Or at least let the kids see you do it. After they are in bed, that is your time. A coworker once told me, "I don't have a clean house. That's the new feminism." Take out the trash and load the dishwasher and then read that New York Times article about how a clean house is a sign of a wasted life or just skim it and then read an amazing book instead, or make some art, or call someone, or do something crazy like talk to your husband. Screw cleaning. Seriously. Unless you like it.
10) When all else fails, look at the kids' baby pictures together. They love it, you love it, it helps put everything into perspective.
11) Don't forget the 3:00 pm coffee. That's the one that makes it all work.
12) Take a breath. Inevitably, on a crappy day, an old lady will stop you on the street and tell you to enjoy every moment. This is crazy of course and only possible to even consider if you've completely forgotten what little kids are like. But you can enjoy one moment. There is one magical moment in every crapstorm of a day, and you've got to enjoy the hell out of that moment. Remember, if you can, if for only that one moment of the day about all the wonder. All the crazy this-is-your-life wonder.
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?