Playgroups, grocery shopping, library visits, post office, doctors' appointments, visits to grandmas or aunties, soccer practice, music lessons...
Wait a minute. I thought I was a stay-at-home mom...how come I'm never at home?
Add one thing, then just one more (it won't clog up my schedule too TOO much), you think to yourself. Before you know it, your entire week is totally consumed with one of the following:
-Getting ready to go somewhere
-Cleaning up from going somewhere
-Cooking, laundry, or housework
-Maybe sleeping (optional!)
Last week, we were supposed to go to playgroup. Every Thursday morning, 5 moms, 14 kids under the age of 7, 2 more to be added soon. It's a load a fun. I should emphasized two words: LOAD and FUN. LOAD of work, food, toys, directing traffic, you get the idea. Sometimes we talk non-stop and our kids have a blast and play sweetly together. Sometimes we all run around getting drinks, taking toddlers to the potty, cleaning spills, settling arguments, refreshing much-needed coffee cups, nursing babies, fixing lunches, putting on sunscreen, relocating toys with wheels that could cause major injuries, putting on videos...ahhhh....quiet... :)
Anyways, 10:30 every Thursday morning. It's the one fixed item on our weekly schedule. Given that fact, I really try to make it as often as I can and on time! This morning, it was NOT looking promising! By 9:00 a.m., I had two loads of laundry that NEEDED to be switched, a kitchen full of dirty dishes, no lunch packed yet, wet towels and swimsuits strewn all over the house, and three children that were half-dressed. Not to mention a 1-year-old hanging on my leg and crying about EVERYTHING!, a 2 1/2-year-old who threw a fit every time I even mildly suggested he do ANYTHING!, and a 4-year-old who argued with EVERYTHING I said. (In case you missed the sum total of that, it equalled A LOT of crying.)
I make a quick judgment that every minute counted, and HOW we got there was much more important than IF. If we went, I wanted to be sane. And I did not think three crying children seemed quite appropriate for the fun-filled activity jovially titled "playgroup."
The result was this: at 10:30, we were sitting at the table together, taking a break and eating cereal, instead of leaving. Whew! I needed it more than anybody did!
I'm learning that with three toddlers (ages 4, 2 1/2, and 1), I should NEVER, EVER think of anything as a fixed appointment. Please don't mistake me, even stay-at-home moms should try to keep their word for scheduled events, but a stay-at-home mom can start adding one thing, then another, until, well...what's the line between a stay-at-home mom and a non-working-but-always-running-around mom????
WHEN, may I ask, am I supposed to just relax and kick back with my kids? When am I supposed to be mentally neutral enough to observe them, their behavior, and their attitudes so that I can nurture and correct them where they need it most? When am I supposed to find the time to include them in daily life activities, like making beds together (which, by the way, takes twice as long if you let your toddler help!) When am I supposed to find the restful atmosphere at home to have good talks with them about life and loving each other? It sure doesn't work too well to try to squeeze in a heart-to-heart while you are jamming them into their tennis shoes and brushing another's teeth at the same time, so you can make it to your morning commitment!
I don't know what life is like with older kids. All I know right now is that our kids are VERY SMALL. And they thrive when we are at HOME. I do not mean not at preschool, or not at day care, or not with babysitters. I can be with them all the time, but not really BE with them at HOME. Let me be more explicit. I NEED TO BE AT HOME. STAYING AT HOME. AT HOME. AS IN, AT OUR ACTUAL HOUSE. If I want to have a relationship with my kids.
I suppose it's like dating. Before my husband and I were married, all we cared about was hanging out. Walking together, or sitting together, and talking. We just wanted to both be there. We loved the environment we created when we were with each other. We made a lot of progress in learning how to relate to each other. No wonder...There was no rush! We felt like we had all the time in the world to invest in each other.
And so should be mom. She needs to be home, relaxed, enjoying the environment she creates and has control over, in order to mother, nurture, love, oversee, correct, and enjoy her kids.
Maybe thinking deeply about this personal balance is what Proverbs 14:1 is urging mothers of toddlers to do: "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down." Building implies working, planning, thinking, evaluating, measuring, constructing. The life of a two-year-old (or 3 or 4...) needs careful maintenance and attention, someone working to carefully craft their whole life, just like a builder gives painstaking care to each detail of a new structure. I just can't imagine a contractor getting good results if he was always out running errands and off making phone calls and never really devoted any time to overseeing and evaluating his worksite! Things are bound to go wrong if nobody's in charge and checking in!
I sure want my closest peeps to be around, to have time, to sit back and listen to me, to give my the gift of themselves. How much more do my little children need that?
If anyone reserves the right to make demands regarding schedule, deadlines, and criteria, it is God. And he could be rigid if he wanted. But he's not. He's not inattentive, but neither is he rushing me. "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) He's giving me time and helping me along.
Let's Get Practical
Here have been some viable ways for me to stay at home more but still get stuff done:
-I mentally consider every commitment as cancel-able, and let other people know! Nearly EVERYTHING is tentative. We make it to most commitments, but I want the flexibility for my kids' needs to take precedence over a commitment, should they need an extra bunch from me.
-I go out for coffee with a mom-friend in the evening, 8-10ish (sometimes more like midnight-ish if we really get talking!!). Daddy puts the kids to bed and gets some special time with them, or I leave just after they get into bed. No lost time with kids, I'm refreshed from great exchanges with another woman, actually get to finish my sentence, and am sooo glad to see my husband again when I get home!)
-I grocery shop in very quick trips WITH the kids, or sub groceries in for the above coffee date deal.
-I shop for clothes and stuff online.
-We renew library books so we only have to go the library once a month. My kids LOVE this because they have the books for sooooo long that they have every book totally memorized by the time we go back for more! Kids love repetition, right? The down side is, I'm ready to go back for new books a bit sooner than once a month. Say it with me, fellow moms: "I love you forever, I like you for always, As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be!" (Twitch, twitch! Read that one too many times for my mental health!)
-I ask hubby to run some of our errands that I can't easily work into outings. If I have to go the bank, post office, newspaper office, and drop off bags to Salvation Army...that means I have to put in AND take out three children 4 times, equaling 24 times I'm manuevering a toddler and a carseat. I won't even mention the long line at the post office. I do easy errands, like going through the bank-drive through, and ask husband to do longer, more out-of-the-way ones.
Please share ideas! What schedule-juggling helps YOU stay at home more?