Thursday, September 13, 2007

Survivor Skills

I've never been a fan of the "Survivor" shows. What kind of person has to AUDITION to be lied to and about, run marathons with only one shoe, eat unidentifiable things that look like they're still moving, and sleep crammed in a tent with four other people? You mean they get paid to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted?


But I digress...


Angela asked me how I survive things if I am an avid schedule-hater. First of all, I think it’s important to define “survive”: if I know where all my kids are and have enough silverware left for a meal, I consider myself a successful survivor. Still, I do have a few things I do to help maintain “order”:


  1. Lower my expectations. This is probably the single most important tip I can give. When someone gushes at the checkout line, “Wow, you have your hands full. I just don’t know how you do it all,” I just rest in the fact that they just don’t know I don’t do it all. Or even most of it. My ceiling fans do not get dusted on a regular basis. The freezer would probably die of shock (literally?) if I ever defrosted it. And yes, I have reached under my kids’ bunk bed and grabbed a stuffed animal that was not exactly…stuffed. But because I take the extra 15 minutes to put frilly bows in my girls’ hair, countless numbers of people get to have an extra 15 minutes of daydreaming of bygone days when mothers cared for their obedient children and waxed their spotless floors. I have learned the art of window-dressing, only the mannequins are my children and I pray you don’t step inside the store without giving me at least 4 days’ notice.


If you don’t want to “lower” your expectations, then just change them. I no longer expect my children to maintain eye contact with every adult who tries to engage them in conversation. I no longer expect my children to remember what bucket the miniature dinosaurs (all seven hundred thirty-nine of them) came out of or whether those dinosaurs are theirs to play with in the first place. I no longer expect my children to publicly recite the first thirty answers to the Kids’ Catechism (or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” for that matter). I expect my children to grow to know that God is their God and they are His. I expect them to cheerfully glorify and enjoy Him forever. I expect them to love, protect, and strengthen one another.


I no longer expect my kitchen floor to be unchunky, my hallway free of paper airplanes and stray bedding, or my yard cared for. I do expect that when you knock, unannounced, the kids will throw some decent clothing on and we will smile when we open the door. I expect you to feel welcomed and wanted. I expect our conversation to move beyond pleasantries to the not-always-so-pleasant to the ultimate pleasure found in living within God’s will.


  1. Follow a routine. Yes, this may just be a case of semantics: I hate schedules but can stand routines. The difference? Schedules have times written in. This is a significant difference to me. With a schedule, I am NEVER on track. But with a routine, I am always doing the next thing. And I can easily tweak and rearrange when priorities differ. I basically have set times for meals, naps, and bedtime (the important things, eating and sleeping). These are my checkpoints throughout the day. I have a list of things to accomplish before each of these checkpoints.


And not only do I follow a routine in the grand scheme of the day, I also follow routine in little things. I wash my dishes the same way each time. I clean rooms the same way each time. This way, I can just go on “autopilot” and busy my mind with more interesting things than whatever chore is at hand.


  1. Work quickly. When it’s time to get stuff done, be fast. The dishes will not get that much cleaner if you languish over the job. And even if they do, you will be dirtying them again in another few hours, anyway. Figure out what’s important and spend time on those things. For me, important things include reading to the kids, having Lily do my hair, letting Ben read to me, tickling Abraham and Miriam, and letting Edee crawl all over me. These are unrecoverable treasures. They will not last forever. Dishes, laundry, kitchen floor dirt, and meal prep do last forever. I will be dealing with these in their present state until I am no longer in my present state (breathing), so I’d rather deal with them quickly now and not spend forever. A little imagination helps: sometimes (shhh) I pretend I’m a paid Starbucks worker and rush like crazy to get the kitchen clean.


  1. Lighten the workload. When things start taking over my workday, I reevaluate. Meals used to take me forever. Now I plan ahead and pre-cook, chop, etc. anything that will monopolize my day. Beans, chicken, and seasoned ground beef all get pre-cooked and frozen in mass quantities when I have a “light” day. I make six loaves of bread and freeze three of them before the second rising. The crockpot and pressure cooker have been resurrected. If I can make myself get out of bed a little earlier than the kids do (no small feat for me), I can race madly around the house doing those things that seem to take five times longer with children.


  1. Music, music, music. Fast, crazy stuff for cleaning…‘80’s rock, Kermit Unpigged, Rachmaninoff, any of the Putumayo CD’s, old country music about the Harper Valley PTA. Slow, calm music for just before Papa gets home…classical guitar, Michael Card, James Taylor, Johnny Cash, old country music about goin’ down to the river to pray. This is not to create an ambiance of peace and tranquility for him but to calm me from my frenzied state so that I don’t run for the van as soon as he cracks the front door open.


  1. Declutter and simplify. Yes, this old standby. In a moment of theological strength, I emailed my husband last week with a summary of the day’s woes and messes, the last line being something like “I haaaaaatttttttteeeeee kkkkkkiiiiiiiidddddddsssssss!!!!” His quick and (I felt overly) dramatic response was to say that we would limit the children to one toy and one stuffed animal each. All the rest would be put away for a few weeks, when we would let them trade for a different toy and stuffed animal. “Great!” I emailed back. But when he got home and pulled out the trash bags to start stuffing, the kids were eager beavers and I was dragging my feet. “Here, Papa!” they’d chirp as they handed him yet another toy. “Oh, Ethan. They LOVE that!” I’d argue. He threatened to ban me from the whole picking up process (!!!!!!).


And here it is, a full week later. They have kept things much neater and have played nicely with each other. They have enjoyed the extra space and have not once complained about a lack of toys.


So those are some things we do. Sometimes they are more effective than others. I think over all the most helpful thing is to have a husband who can make me laugh hysterically at my own dashed hopes of winning the June Cleaver award.


“Oh, Ward, for heaven’s sake, sit yourself down after your hard day of work. Just move that pile of wet diapers that are on those papers…oh, are those your sermon notes? Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. Under all of that I’m sure there’s a chair somewhere. BEAVER! WALLY! AND YOU OTHER THREE! STOP BICKERING AND GIVE YOUR FATHER A KISS! Wait! Go wash your faces first. Where did you get markers? IS THAT MY LIPSTICK?”


It works! Oh, come on, feed my fantasy. June Cleaver meets Brady Bunch meets Waltons meets Apple Dumpling Gang meets Little Rascals meets Tom Sawyer.


Now if only I could find the remote…



  1. Thanks for the tips! I really like the one toy and stuffed animal per kid thing. I'm gonna hafta do that one!

  2. Yes, the one-toy thing has been GREAT. To be honest, we also do have a small basket of toys in the living room...all the "dumb toys" like you find in a dentist waiting know, the rings on a stick, miscellaneous Happy Meal discards (even worse than paying for them, these are hand-me-downs from others!!), and wooden cobbler set with pegs and hammer missing. WHY do we have these? I guess I still have more decluttering to do...always...

  3. I loved every word of this entry. Too true and exceptionally well said. I appreciate another dry sense of humor when I see one. Glad I found your blog corner when I was browsing....

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post, I have 4 kids 5 and under, dd 5, ds 4, dd 2 and ds 2 months!! I don't know anyone else that currently has several little children, so reading your blog is like breath of fresh air.


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