Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh Yeah? Hack This!

No school today, the girls are on break. This morning found Ava sleeping in and the rest of us sitting around the family room. Madison was eating some sliced apple (her current favorite snack) and sipping on some warm milk, watching Cyberchase after we shut down her request to begin the day with the madcap teenage high jinks of iCarly. Gwen was trying, between loads of laundry, to drink at least one cup of coffee while it was still warm. I was sitting with my own cup and her MacBook, scrolling through the roughly 684 stories that hit my RSS reader overnight.

I noticed an item from a typically great and helpful blog, Parent Hacks, under the heading "Four Parent Hacks For A Nag-Less Morning Routine." The piece, written by a teenage blogger about life in her own house, began with this:

"Every morning my mom officially declares war on: the alarm clock, then my sister, then my dad and then the toaster. You never know what to expect during my family's get-ready-for-school-routine and the only 'routine' thing about it is that it usually involves a lot of yelling and nagging. We actually miraculously managed to stop this terrible cycle by adding a few simple 'parent hacks' and I wanted to share them so you too can save your relationships, your day and your voice (if you are anything like my mom):"

Hmm, I thought, that sounds kind of interesting. We've certainly had our fair share of rough-and-tumble mornings, racing against the clock to get the girls to agree on a TV show, get them fed and appropriately dressed while tackling other necessary items like making overnight additions to Ava's Christmas List and reaching a compromise with Madison on how best to wear her hair some form of "up," in deference to the most recent seasonal lice outbreak memo from her school. It can get fairly intense.

So I enthusiastically alerted Gwen to my find, and indicated an interest – as the parent who gets to cap these brief interludes of insanity by leaving the house and spending the rest of my day with adults, and computers, enjoying leisurely lunches and the fact that no one is screaming "DAD" in my general direction every 30 seconds – in sharing this unsolicited Web-based wisdom.

She looked up from her Minnie Mouse mug and flashed me the kind of "you’re out of your depth" glance Bill Gates might have reserved for some dope who took him aside in the 1980s and said, "Billy, listen, Windows is fine, but they're kind of small spaces… you need to think bigger. How about this – DOORS!"

I began to read aloud.

The first "hack" revolved around packing lunches and backpacks the night before, so they were all ready to go in the morning when the kids were leaving for school.

"The girls won't let me pack their lunches the night before," Gwen said. "They say that the lunch isn't 'fresh' if it isn't made in the morning." Additional context here – Ava won't put a single piece of food into her mouth until she has held it to her nose and sniffed it, a level of culinary scrutiny to which I still aspire. Madison refuses to buy lunch at school, she says it's gross, and I'd argue the point if I wasn't so unbelievably proud of her for having come to this conclusion, on her own, at the ripe old age of seven.

Undeterred by the lukewarm response to hack #1, I continued.

The second point had something to do with establishing a "launching pad" location in the house where all the items needed to get out the door in the morning were kept, to avoid having to hunt around for things under deadline pressure. It was clear the writer was talking about an indoor laundry room leading to the garage, but our house doesn't have inside access to the garage, just a back door off the kitchen, leading to a stoop. This is a point of some contention, and building this kind of enclosure is a planned improvement I've been able to successfully relegate to the far reaches of the "someday" file.

So I dropped a few key words as I relayed the item, a technique I've developed for use when reading stories to Ava that stray into the jarring or intense. Snow White is a good example, and through this selective editing process I've been able to convey the idea that the Wicked Queen actually asked her Huntsman to take Snow White out into the forest and leave her there, as opposed to, say, knifing her on the spot and ripping the still-beating heart out of her chest as confirmation of the kill.

Here is the launching pad item, with the words that were sacrificed in my ultimately futile attempt at obfuscation crossed out: "We created a part of our house (the laundry room connected to the garage) that was our 'launching pad.' This is where we put everything that we needed to take out the door with us."

"She's talking about a mud room," Gwen responded instantly. "Probably a laundry room right off the garage. We don't have a room like that. Do you want to build a mud room between the kitchen and the garage?"

At this point, my beautiful and knowing bride gave me a little look that said, "Is that all you got? Bring it on." Actually, I think she may have said, "Is that all you got? Bring it on." I'm not completely sure, having blocked this portion of the conversation from my memory.

A wise person would have stopped right there, "OK, OK, I get it, these people don’t know what they are talking about – as least as it relates to us. Mission aborted." But obliviousness at home is a character trait I prize in myself, something I inherited from my father, so on I went.

The third point revolved around presenting the children with large laminated checklists, to make it their personal responsibility to ensure they had everything they needed for the day – items like water bottles, softball bag, an extra bathing suit and towel for swimming.

"These kids are older," Gwen said. "Probably in high school. Ava is five. You want me to hand her a list in the morning and send her off to school without whatever she didn’t know she needed because it was written on a big card she couldn’t read?"

Well, look, if you want to put that fine a point on it... It was clear this wasn't going well, but we were three "hacks" in already and only one left. I cheerfully soldiered on.

The final tip talked about how this writer's parents had been able to move away from increasingly intense verbal reminders that it was "time to get up" or "time to get going" in the morning by setting an elaborate series of kitchen timers and alarms that the family could recognize as key milestones and progress indicators as they got ready to leave for the day.

I realized this item was a complete nonstarter before I even finished reading it, and Gwen confirmed this diagnosis when she said, "I'm not running around here every morning setting bells and timers and whistles all over the place… are you kidding me?"

I'm fairly sure they weren't kidding, and these helpful and well-intended tips probably work great for some people. As far as our preferred morning "hack," we'll stick with our tried and true approach, at least on some mornings, which essentially amounts to the following – batten down the hatches and commence the yelling!


Blogger Vanessa Shannon said...

I second that motion....I am the queen of scream in the mornings. I wish I could erase them from my day.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Gini said...

OK, we do all that stuff around here - place for all the crap, little lists of things to do, timed 'everything' - eating, showering, hair, backpacks - and there is still plenty of yelling. One thing though - I do apologize in the car on the way to school - at least it makes ME feel better for the rest of the day!!

12:11 AM  
Blogger Jane Hamilton said...

i dont think the writer of that article knows what she is talking about. these 'hacks' won't work unless we are some Von Trapp kind of family. no home works that way, not kids and certainly not adults! besides, the yelling, the desperate searching for my comb, trying to feed the baby, and watching something burn on the stove makes me feel like I've started the day right. if everything becomes methodical, i tend to forget something really important like getting my keys or putting a diaper on the baby!

12:11 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Too funny!! I am not there yet with just a 5 year old to get ready and a baby. We have used a timer at the dinner table because he plays so much...works pretty good. Enjoy reading your blog...thought I would leave a comment.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Sarah :) said...

Haha. Sounds like our house, with the screaming and the fighting and the being behind.
Those are times we'll never be able to forget. ;]


12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Gwen. Sounds like me. The voice of reason knocking down the well meaning but insane ramblings of the husband.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Swirl Girl said...

just ask my hubby and two children (4 adn 8) what mornings are like at my house.

I am so NOT a morning person...my first words of the day are usually R-rated (read: #%$&@!!) or something like it. I think it is my right to waken to roses and sunshine and not the sound of plastic hitting the tile floor, or milk sloshing off the table. Right?


2:32 PM  
Blogger Karen M. Peterson said...

Mornings in my house consist of me sneaking out the door without waking anyone else up, but this was a fun read.

Just wanted to say that I found this blog under the "blogs of note" and I thoroughly enjoy it! Thanks for giving me something to look forward to.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Check, Check (only two) for us. We set a timer for breakfast time, only because my 2 and 4 year old children could spend 2 hours eating breakfast AND they do on the days I don't work (5 of 7). And I ALWAYS put backpacks, planners, papers to return to school, checks for the babysitter, purses, cellphones, etc. by the door the night before(and nope, we don't have a mudroom. I have one additional tip: put out clothes the night before (this is easy for me because my little girl goes to private school - not much to choose from and my little boy is 2 so he doesn't really care what he wears)! o YA! I still raise my voice at crunch time, but otherwise pretty calm around here in the mornings!:)

1:15 AM  
Blogger Daisy said...

These things work. They seriously do. (If the child can't read you make a chart with pictures - they can do more than you THINK they can - truly) But you have to be willing to stop doing things the old way in order to give them a try. Hey - you tried, right? ;)

12:31 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Editors Note: I was sort of kidding around with this. If there's one character trait I am proud of, in addition to "obliviousness at home," it's my ability to spot potential blog-worth comedic devices a mile away. This post falls into that category, and I certainly didn't mean to suggest that these strategies don't have value, or merit, or the potential to aid in leading parents everywhere through the sometimes hellish darkness otherwise known as the morning routine.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

We have the same issues in our house, only at bedtime instead of the morning. I am out of the house before 5:00 AM and the boys don't go to school until 9:00, but they are old enough to get themselves up, etc. It's the nighttime when I am trying to get to bed by 8:00 (yeah, right)in order to get up at 4:00. The lists of chores, timers for dinner, etc., tried 'em all and they just don't work if the kids aren't in the mood. Lots of yelling and craziness ensues!

1:12 PM  
Blogger Dad said...

Editor's Note #2, to Heather:

Bless you.

1:14 PM  
Blogger JP said...

So, I've been blogging for a while now, but its just been recently that I've taken to reading other people's stuff. Yours was the first blog I read, and I was immediately taken with it. My parents split up a year ago, but even before that... things were never like my television says they should be. Your blog is comforting to me, because it shows a Dad's veiw, and that somewhere out in the world, a Dad is happy with his family. Its weird, cause I dont know you at all... but I do enjoy reading your blog, and I've been praying for your family since the first post I read.


4:48 PM  
Blogger Alison Wonderland said...

Ha ha ha ha. Love it!
And while I'm sure that stuff *can* work for a few weeks, it wears off.

3:19 AM  
Blogger Miki said...

So your wife is saying that she has BETTER things to do than to spend hours setting timers and bells around the house in the morning? I find that hard to believe. ;) And as if the various ringing and whistling of bells in the morning doesn't sound like a lovely way to start the day. . .in addition to the yelling and nagging.

2:51 PM  
Blogger beth said...

Just found your post today and will be checking back in--fun reading and great pix!

My sister has developed a series of strategies to help with her kids--5 and 8--though they haven't found a way around the yelling part yet. I think that's just intrinsic to the whole process . . .like breathing.

Pantry door--where the kids pick out their breakfast cereal--has a home-made printed list of visual reminders (clip art) for both leaving the house AND daily chores for each kid. She uses clothes pins or other clips to mark the page so the 5 yr old will take note of what she needs to do. . . and then the 5 yr old very sneakily removes them and hides them in the silverware drawer to indicate that she has done them. Of course she hasn't, though, just because such menial tasks are beneath her (our drama queen/fairy princess). Yelling ensues.


Okay, it works for the 8 year old . . .

4:12 PM  

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