Friday, August 9, 2013

Getting Ahead of the Wave

With everyone blogging, Facebooking, and Tweeting about back-to-school issues, I figured I'd add my voice to the chorus.

Anyone who’s read my blog or tweets knows I've got three kids: the Oldest is about to be a senior in high school (gasp!), the Middle Child is an eighth grader this year at the middle school, and the Youngest is starting kindergarten. Yes, my baby is going to school - I'll be the mother doing cartwheels behind everyone else tearing up at the bus stop.

And if you know about my kids already, you also know Hubby works second shift and I went back to work full-time last year after 4 1/2 years working part-time mornings.  In an effort to try to get ahead and stay on top of It All, I've gathered advice from near and far and tried it all.

Below are a few hints, tips, and shortcuts that've had some level of success in keeping me on track and my sanity intact.  

Breakfast Bar, Anyone? 
Ever stay in a hotel that offers some type of breakfast or food court?  Take a hint from the experts and set up some type of self-serve breakfast bar.  For a few dollars, I bought two large glass jars with lids for our kitchen counter.  One is filled with granola bars, single-serve bags of instant oatmeal, and other breakfast items, and the other is filled with packets of hot chocolate.  The more accessible it is, the better it works.
Got Cereal? 
Buy stackable one- or two-cup containers with lids, and fill each container with a serving of your kids’ favorite cereal.  Once the lids are on, stack them in the cupboard.  Ta Da!  You’ve created your own single-serving cereals at a fraction of the cost of those you can buy, and they hold milk just as well.
Fast Food 
Kids whining from the back seat that they’re hungry are no fun, and hitting the drive-thru to satisfy them can be expensive, not to mention not always the healthiest option.  Whether it’s the AM rush when everyone’s overslept or you’re on afternoon taxi duty shuttling between practices and appointments, save yourself some money and sanity.  Keep a stash of breakfast bars, juice boxes, and other munchies handy in your car – a small box, bag, or even a six-pack sized cooler works.  Include a few bottles of water in case you experience the “oops, forgot my water bottle at home” when you finally reach the practice field.

And On Tonight’s Menu
Make meals ahead of time and freeze them.  Use your crockpot.  Use your microwave.  One of my favorites is rotisserie chicken from our wholesale club or supermarket.  Even soup, salad, and a sandwich works on nights already packed with practices, homework, and meetings.  Having a few easy and quick choices on hand and a little planning can save a lot of time and money.
When’s Dinner? 
There is no hard and fast rule that your family dinner needs to be served at 6:00 p.m. every night.  There have been days we’ve had dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon, days when your only other option is having dinner at 9:00 p.m. after the practices and concerts and games are over.  And when you consider many kids are eating lunch in school at 10:30 or 11:00, it’s obvious why they’re so hungry.
Clean Living 
Our pediatrician, who has 3 kids of her own, advises parents to have their kids bathe or shower every weeknight.  For kids with allergies like MidKid, they’ll have a chance to wash the pollen and allergens off.  And all kids, especially as they hit their tween/teen years, can benefit from washing off the daily gathering of grime, sweat, and germs.  No need to super-sanitize them – soap and water does the trick.
Family Calendars 
There’s no easy answer for this one.  Paper or electronic, the most important thing is finding one that works for the whole family and sticking with it.  If you use more than one format, remember to keep them synchronized.

Paper still rules in our house.  A blotter-sized month-by-month paper calendar lives on our frig and a monthly/weekly paper planner lives in my purse.  We tried Google Calendar last year so tech-savvy/tech-addicted Oldest could include his work and sports schedule.  The daily emailed reminders were nice, but like so much in our house, it fell to me to constantly update both.  It also became quickly apparent the Oldest wasn’t checking the family calendar.  For everyone’s sake, we got him his own calendar for his room, and we coordinate the calendars on Sundays when we take a look at the week ahead.
Opting In 
If your school still uses paper notices and newsletters, be sure to read them when you get them.  If your school uses an email list server to communicate with parents, sign up for it with an email address you regularly check.  If you choose not to read things when you get them, or don’t sign up or check your email at that address frequently, that’s your choice.  But when you have children and opt out of knowing what’s going on at their schools, you really can’t complain you didn’t know a Curriculum Night was changed or some event took place.  And when you have kids, unless you have the money to have your own personal assistant, it's up to you to be proactive and involved on some level.

In the Know 
Once you get the newsletter or emails, fully read them.  Depending on how good a communicator the author is, you’ll either have an easy-to-read newsletter or a meandering letter with important information and deadlines hidden on page three.
Two Is Better Than One 
Ask that both parents’ emails be entered as contacts for whatever email list your kids’ schools, sports, or other activities have.  It’ll provide a fail-safe should one of you not see a message.
Paper (Short)cuts 
If more than one kid attends the same school, chances are you’ll have the same forms to fill out multiple times.  Save yourself some time and writing!  Fill in everything but the child-specific info on one form – after all, your home address, emergency contacts, and more will most likely be the same.  Then make a copy for each child, and fill in their specific info - name, DOB, classroom, and so on.
At Your Fingertips 
Make copies of every form you fill out – school, sports, religious education – and put them into a folder or binder you have easy access to.  They may not be needed at all, but at least you have them as backups and reference.

Sleeping On It 
Yes, obvious but true.  Make sure your kids get a full night’s sleep – depending on their ages, that means hours in the double digits.  You may not want to hear or accept it, but a lack of sleep affects your child’s growth, ability to learn, and so much more.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise 
Make sure they’re on time for school.  Make sure, if you have bus services, they’re on time for the bus.  Hubby was often awed when waiting with the Youngest for Preschool to start by the number of tardy kids showing up at our elementary school.  He was more horrified by their parents’ attitudes that it was no big deal.  It is a big deal – kids who are constantly late interrupt the classroom, and the learning process, when they finally arrive.

Leaning In… or Out 
We’re all busy, with our own sets of priorities on how and where to spend our time and money.  Kudos to you if you choose to volunteer in the classroom or the PTO or Boosters.  And kudos to you if you don’t have the time to volunteer or choose not to.  But if you don’t step up, don’t snipe about those that do.  If you didn’t like the event, the food, the choice of fundraiser, then get step up and get involved.  If someone’s already doing it, ask how you can help.  If you don’t volunteer, just be happy someone else does – your kid benefits from their hard work too.
Do whatever you can do to get ahead of the Back-to-School wave of required supplies, upcoming events, forms to fill out, and the jumble of life that’s approaching.  You may still have time for a Momtini at the end of your day!


Jennifer said...

Great article with helpful info. I especially like the food tips, such as the breakfast bar & making your own individual cereal bowls. Handy!

Julia Romanow said...

Does an open box of Pop Tarts count as a "breakfast bar?" If so, then I am SO ON IT!