Saturday, 19 May 2018

Just Do That One Thing

"I doing push-ups Maman!"

For a while now, I have been meaning to write about resolutions, and how to keep them and all the things that can help you do just that.

Funnily enough, this is something that I would not have pictured myself doing. At. All. just a couple of years ago. 

I tell a lie. 

I did not manage to follow through on a single resolution in my entire life until January 2017. I had even created a whole rationalisation about it, involving excuses about how I am not naturally self-disciplined and bla, bla, bla. And yet, somehow, in 2017 I did it. Almost effortlessly. I somehow became a self-discipline aficionada, a habit evangelist, the worst person to whom you could ever tell you mean to pick up a new habit/resolution (unless you are ready to be drowned in advice, pointers and bullet-pointed action plans - if that is the case, then please, do come my way! My friends will thank you for the respite).

So anyway. What turned me into a resolution bully, I hear a chorus of sweet voices wondering?

I'm so glad you asked.

There were books, there were tick charts, considering motivation, pegging new habits to old ones, there were many things. And they all helped, and I am happy to detail them (in fact, I probably will - consider yourself warned - because this is my blog, and I think the whole thing is fascinating). But a couple of weeks back, it suddenly clicked. I suddenly realised what had actually made the change. 

The Heroic Minute. (Scroll down, it's number 206 - I mean, don't scroll down, read, Escriva is the best, but you know, not all of it is directly relevant to this post.)

The resolution I took in January 2017 was to get up at 6am every morning,and to get up straight away. And now, looking back, I can trace all my subsequent successful habit-creation to that one decision. 

I can see why that would be the case on a practical level: I gave myself more time by doing it, and also made it very tangible that I could have more time if I needed (which I did, I now get up at 5:30am). Getting up before the children also did wonders to my attitude towards them, since I wake myself up to do things I want to do, rather than being dragged out of bed (figuratively) kicking and screaming (also figuratively - most of the time) by the noise of my waking children. The still-sleeping children are also a huge help by acting like a kind of time bomb, which makes it very relevant that I DO get up RIGHT NOW because every minute counts. All these obvious built-in motivational factors definitely helped me keep the resolution, and I don't doubt that having succeeded once, I felt empowered to take on more. 

All this is true.

But I think the true reason behind why this was such an effective habit to pick up is this: Escriva describes it as starting the day with a victory over yourself which then sets the right tone for the rest of your waking hours. I personally prefer to think of it as starting the day by punching Satan in the face - and who wouldn't want to do that?
Feel free to ignore my slightly violent tendencies - but in any case try it! Since I'm backed by a saint on this one, I feel confident this will have tremendous impact on your life, so go set a time and tomorrow, get up, straight away. Start your day mastering yourself, I guarantee you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Day in The Life

So, after I published the post on what is saving my life with my mini-posse of children, I figured it would be fun to see what it looks like in practice. So I spent my Saturday making voice memos of what we were doing when, and this is the result.

Unsurprisingly with such posts, it turned out to be not quite a normal day - Simon was working late (that I knew in advance) plus a weird snow-blizzard fell on us, making going outside all but impossible (and as you'll see, we tried). There was also not much socialising involved (see: snow-blizzard) which was also not entirely typical (although we don't meet up with people every single day either). I was also planning on having a mini lie-in until 6am since it was going to be such a long day, but you'll see how that went.

5:50am : Jude knocks on our door. We remind him his clock is not yellow yet. I go lie with him to help him wait, we tell stories.

6am: Our alarms go, the Gro-Clock turns yellow, Jude springs out of bed. Simon takes Jude and Gabriel down to breakfast whilst I get dressed then pick up Mathilde from her cot and bring her down.

6:20am: Having given M to S, I go into the front room to read the Bible, pray about the day to come and read some Faber and Mazlish.

6:45am: G pops in for a cuddle, I go get my coffee then back to the front room.

7am: I say the Angelus.

7:13: S calls for me to come and help put the boys in their waterproof gear as they want to go out, but it’s extremely windy out.

7:21: The boys are out so I sit down to feed M (she’s already had Weetabix while she waited).

7:27: The boys come back in, too cold. They *mostly* undress themselves and put the waterproof gear where it belongs, with a few pointers.

7:31: Jude asks me to read him Paddington and settles next to M and I. Gabriel immediately picks the other Paddington book and demand I read him that one.

7:38: S leaves for the hospital (we say goodbye then carry on reading).

7:48: I set G up with some Duplo upstairs so I can start teaching Jude. M plays happily on the floor.

Happy camper!

7:49: I start teaching Jude (recitation, review of maths,- adding and subtracting-, practise of simple phonics, practise recognising the number words in both languages, practise writing out a few words from sounding them)

8:15: G comes down to watch and doesn’t clamour too constantly for attention.

Maman, fais, l'├ęcole-a-la-maison, GAB'IEL!

8:26 : J asks to do workbooks as a treat (strange boy), I agree. M is still pretty happy with her toys.

8:37: G is getting very antsy and starts climbing into M’s highchair. M is getting upset. Quick check for poo, then off to her morning nap.

8:44 : I pick up the mail on my way back down from putting M in her cot.

8:46: Jude is still pretty happy with his workbooks, so I explain the next task and sneak upstairs to brush my teeth, bringing G with me.

8:49: G tries to use S’s toothbrush, I take it off him and take him back downstairs. More workbook work with J.

8:59: I tell Jude he has to go and play now, no more workbooks. He is pretty upset about it but rallies round.

9:04: I start to tidy up the school stuff. Go upstairs to check what the commotion is about.

9:06: Back downstairs for more tidying

9:10: Another arbitration needed upstairs

9:13: I sweep up the ridiculous amount of mud the boys’ 6 minutes outside produced.

9:16: Loud bang, back upstairs – the boys are happy but they have upturned the travel cot. I make them put it to rights.

9:19: Back downstairs, with the boys this time who have asked to go outside. Get them in their waterproof gear and out. Jude checks whether it is the season for blackberries yet (no). He points out they eat blackberries in Peter Rabbit (they do). He confirms with me that he will need to be hot and not wear a coat for it to be summer and for the blackberries to come out.
Gabriel is the first ready, immediately starts using chalk on the windows so he is brought back inside to do 30 seconds in the corner, Jude goes out and G joins shortly after.

9:30: I start the prep for lunch (grating cheese and mixing it with tuna, buttering 5 sandwiches then spreading the mixture on top – they will only need to be grilled before lunch)

J complains the wind is throwing snowflakes into his eyes. They come back in. Waterproofs off. Less mud this time though.

J sees me making food so starts asking for food immediately. I remind him he will have to wait until lunchtime.
I get the Play-do out on the breakfast counter (over tiles rather than the carpet) so that I can finish prepping lunch.
Constant requests to help with the Play-Do (mostly to take it out of the tub for G, who puts it straight back in – a bit wearing as I have to wash my hands continuously since I am prepping food).

9:50: Lunch is all prepped, and I do the dishes.

9:57: I concentrate on helping the boys with their play-do creations – snowmen mostly (but soon start refusing requests)

10:01: I get the recipe out for the St Patrick cake we are going to make and start measuring out the ingredients.
Many interruptions again for Pay-Do emergencies.
We tidy away the Play-Do and the chairs. I promise them a mini-marshmallow after I cut their Play-Do incrusted nails (J asks for “lots” – I insist I do mean one).
Cut the nails. They claim it is agony worthy of more marshmallows. I hold firm.

10:39: I suggest we read. The boys gather round me. M wakes up as soon as the first one is finished. We go pick her up.

10:41: M is delighted to see us.

10:44: The boys climb on the front window sills to have a good look at the snow falling.

10:47: We resume reading books, with M on my lap as well this time.

11:06: I warm up the grill for the toasties, the boys get their chairs to the breakfast counter to make the cake (they are not entirely fooled by my ploy, and still ask a lot about when lunch will be and cry).

11:36: The cake is made, the bowl is licked, M’s soup is reheated but whining is really fraying my nerves as they are all doing it at once.

11:41: We say grace and they start eating. We discuss whether their friend Olive will be able to use her sledge (she showed it off to the boys yesterday and they were very impressed). They come to the conclusion that is unlikely as the snow is not sticking. J points out we don’t have a sledge. I confirm.

They put their crockery away, then G and J come upstairs with me for Temps Calme (Quiet Time) and nap. I remind J what the penalty is for coming downstairs before the end of TC.

12:15: J starts his Temps Calme, G is in bed waiting for his milk and M is playing on the floor. I start tidying and wiping counters.

12:20: Cake in the oven, I put away the clean dishes from earlier. I warm up some milk and go give it to G.

12:27: Back downstairs for sweeping the kitchen, wiping counters and doing the dishes.

12:37: Do the dishes listening to a podcast.

12:53: S calls, we have a little chat about our days.

13:15: M is getting grouchy so I put her down for her nap. J sees me and starts asking for TC to be over (no chance).

13:28: J calls for me to come and see the snowstorm. I duly admire and remind him he is to stay in his room. I put my workout gear on.

13:32: I start doing Pilates. J comes to the stairs several times and has to be reminded of penalties, and eventually loses one treat.

13:50 : Pilates finished, I do my piano practice.

13:56: J tries to come down again so I stop practicing and tell him off.
I set up the printer in the front room and print a St Patrick and a reward chart for J to help stay in his room.

14:15: J bounds downstairs (the clock is yellow) and helps me put St Patrick and the chart onto card.

14:28: Start homeschool (mostly reviewing the morning work).

14:55: J wants to keep colouring (some was involved in the fine motor exercises I did with him) so we do this together for a few minutes.

15:03: I go to get G up. He has clearly been awake for a little while but is quite happy and content.

15:09: Saint Patrick goes on the cake and J and G start arranging the jelly snakes all around him (they are only allowed to eat the broken ones – or any they get their paws on in G’s case)

15:13 : they sit down to eat a slice of the snakey cake, G pretend-feeds it to Petite Musique.

15:20: J is going crazy so he sent out to do 5 laps of the garden (in the snow). He asks for G to come with him but I say no (don’t fancy another waterproof-charade).

15:36: Both boys wanted to go back out, I only put wellies and coats on them as it is bitterly cold and I fully expect them to be back in within a couple of minutes.

The boys are surprisingly happy in the cold, so I risk sitting down to browse.

15:40 : The boys come back in asking for hats, gloves and scarves.

15:42: they are back out, I sit back down. I instinctively look for Instagram but I gave it up for Lent, so start reading blogposts.
“Maman, fais des snow-man, s-il-te-plait!” (no snow sticking to the ground yet, might be tricky).

15:53: The wind picks up again, the boys huddle to the door and clamour to come back in.

15:57: We go back upstairs to play with Duplo.

16:02: M wakes up, I take her to the bathroom with me so that I can have my shower.

16:21: I hear screams, but the shower was good. I gear myself up for the potential state of the boys’ room when I come out of the bathroom.

16:24: Miraculously, the boys haven’t done anything destructive.

16:36: I go downstairs to change M’s nappy and ignore more screams.

16:39: We all come downstairs to read books. G demonstrates how he can carry Lala on his shoulders (J did it with his Winnie the other day and G took a fancy to it)

17:00: I give M a bottle of milk and take the boys back upstairs to supervise tidying their bedroom.

17:16: Back down to read more books.

17:19: M is grouchy so I put her in her highchair with a breadstick. She immediately cheers up. More books read.

I get everyone to eventually sit on their chairs, I heat up the leftover soup from yesterday and put croutons in for the boys. Much crying happens as waiting for food when it is so nearly there is obviously the worst.

17:39: The children start eating.

17:50: G starts prancing about a getting into cupboards, declaring he doesn’t want to finish his soup but just go to bed (fine by me).

17:55: Quick call from S to say goodnight to the kids.

17:59: The littles and I go upstairs to start baths whilst J finishes his cake (he finished his soup, so he got dessert).

18:11: M is out of the bath and the boys are in, I go downstairs to get nappies, milk for G and the bedtime story.

18:20: M is in pjs, I go into the bathroom where the boys are having a whale of a time “making bridges” (balancing on both edges of the bath, their bodies being “the bridges”). I take them out.

I put pjs on G, help J with his, then we read a book and say prayers.

J wants me to come in his bed to tell him more stories like this morning. Nope. Sorry buddy, Maman's done with life now.

18:39: Boys in bed – I feed M in our bedroom before putting her in with J.

18:50: All the chickens are in bed – now for tidying the house.

19:13: Everything is picked up and wiped, I have dinner whilst reading Courrier International.

19:48: Start hoovering and dishes with audiobook on (yes, no hard stops apply when I am on my own, especially when S is on long shifts the day after as well).

20:13: All done, so I sit down in the front room with the computer to do the next delivery of groceries.

20:31: Grocery order finished, I write up my Day-In-The-Life.

21:46: Text from Simon who is not sure how he is going to get home (he cycled to the hospital – pre-blizzard)

22:30: Bed.

Simon ended up not making it home until midnight, cold, ill and pretty exhausted, but that doesn't technically count as the same day, so we'll leave it here.

So here you have! All the points for making it to the end!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Three Three And Under

So, how is life for me, since adding a third baby? (apart from apparently requiring near constant pointing out of how full my hands are - but don't worry, all the strangers I meet/pass/try desperately to ignore are shouldering that burden with remarkable diligence, demonstrating that humanity does indeed pull together in the face of adversity - or when it encounters a woman who seems to have accidentally found herself with more than the allowed 2.1 children - which is basically adversity under another name).

Guys, that's like THREE WHOLE children she's got! Somebody point it out to her!

I'm so glad you (I) asked this remarkably pointed question, as I have some thoughts.

So, it's hard. But it's also fine. And I figured I should share what makes it basically fine for us.

Obligatory caveat: I am aware I have only three children, not fourteen (heck, I was the first surprised to discover I already qualified for the delightful "you've got your hands full", "do you know what causes this", "you've been busy" comments), I also don't have any twins, no special needs children, or a deployed husband - I do have a junior doctor husband who works crazy hours, but you know, he's not in a war zone or anything. So yes, I don't have the Knowledge, but that's not going to stop me, because you never know, there might be something useful for others in here, and I am going to trust that, if you think I'm some sort of only-three-kids upstart with nothing of value to share, you will make use of your own God-given eyelids or go all techy and click away.

So, here is the state of the union if you are willing to hang on: We have three children (3.5, 2 and 8 months), so far we are not sending any of them to nursery and are planning to homeschool. I don't drive - I mostly walk everywhere with a dash of public transport. We have no family around to help and my friends mostly have their hands full as well. Simon works plenty of nights, evenings and weekends so we've had to be creative so that I wouldn't feel like everything was on me all the time.

Roughly, the things that help us are : 

1. Meal planning and home deliveries
2. Scheduling and routine
3. Pow-Wows
4. Getting up early
5. Hard stops
6. Going out

1. Meal Planning and Home Delivery

I put this one first, because I am pretty sure my life would collapse on itself if I didn't have them. As I mentioned, I don't drive (we didn't have a car at all until two days ago), but I have three small children and we all need to eat. So I've opted out of going through the hell of dragging three babies through the supermarket either a million times a week or for a million items once a week (and the additional hell of dragging all the stuff back, carefully balanced around the grumpy children in the double-buggy - or douggy, as we like to call it). Once a week (generally Saturday), I sacrifice an hour to gather my cook books, look at the week ahead and assign meals to each day (considering how much time I will have to cook, whether we will be out, whether it is a feast day etc), I write the ingredients and immediately go on the website of my favourite supermarket, type them in, and a kind gentleman (and occasional lady) brings them into my kitchen at the time I have chosen. Yes, it is work, no, it isn't particularly fun, but it is incredibly worth it.

Let's say they're thinking about meal planning here, to pretend it's a relevant photo

To simplify the task, I make liberal use of near-weekly-recurring meals (quick-to-make, healthy, crowd-pleasers) and we mostly have soups in the evenings (we also don't eat meat unless it's a feast day, for various reasons, but that's a separate issue - unless you consider how much easier it is to make a meal into a feast that way!)

2. Scheduling and Routine

This one is probably the biggest one, but it is a rather difficult one to break down in one nifty paragraph. As much as possible, we try to not have to think about things which can be streamlined. Food is planned in advance, as is the time it will take me to make it. I have tick lists for the things I want to get to during the day, and a rough idea of when they are likely to happen; one for me (pray, exercise, work on new skills and reading) and one for homeschooling Jude (I find the simple "let's do something educational" way too overwhelming, I prefer to have a plan and go through the items on my tick list - plus Jude knows what he is to do, and he loves that - Gabriel is in fact clamouring for his own tick list).

Clamouring for tick lists

But there is a broader attitude thing as well: it starts with sleep-training the babies so they are quickly on a semi-reliable schedule (yep, this is still working so far - Gabriel took the longest to sleep through the night at a seemingly-never-ending 2 and a half months) and I can enforce a pretty strict nap-time/quiet time/leave-Maman-alone-so-she-remains-pleasant time when I can get to my own things. 

Ignoring my pointing out it's naptime

There is also a more general aim of trying to somewhat preempt future problems by putting in the effort now. One example is that Jude has two "homeschool" half-hours each day - yes, I am aware I don't technically *have* to teach my three-year-old anything, but the idea is that if he is in the habit of twice daily, sitting down to do formal schooling, it won't be as difficult for him (or me!) when we do have to legally start instructing him. Same goes with brushing teeth or doing chores (socks on hands to do dusting! they actually love it! Cleaning their own messes! Tidying away after play!) Yes, it is incredibly inefficient and time-consuming with a three and a two-year-old, but we will have to teach it to them at some point, and habit formation is basically what the early years are about according to Charlotte Mason, and she's great, so there's that.
It's not just a "training them whilst they are young and impressionable" thing though, it's also a good way for me to start figuring out what works and what doesn't and how *I* handle these things. If I can't make homeschooling work around younger siblings when the stakes are very low (as in, non-existent) then I probably shouldn't attempt it!

See? All the spontaneity!

It might sound like we have killed spontaneity and our life is no fun, but actually I find that life with very young children is by nature so unpredictable that having these frameworks to fall back on means I am a lot less frazzled, a lot more ready to see the funny side of things, and also paradoxically find it easier to let things go every once in a while. A house which is tidied and cleaned each day will still be presentable and pleasant to be in, even if I skip it because what we actually need is an AAW (see number 6).
Also, children love routines, and that's another fact.

3. Pow-Wows

We've been doing this for over a year now, and it is really helping our family life, our organisation and even our marriage. Basically, every Sunday evening (or the closest evening to that if Simon is working), Simon and I plan our week together, check upcoming events and to-dos, share tasks and review the past few days. We actually have a working list of things to check on (because spontaneity is not a strong suit of ours), ranging from faith, stress levels, behaviour issues with the children to trying to find the elusive moment when maybe, just maybe, the stars will align and we'll have babysitting and go on a date together (no dice so far).
I don't know about the general population, but I generally tackle a hard week much better when I get a chance to prepare for it, and the Pow-wows are wonderful for that. Plus it helps us feel like a team, instead of two occasionally overlapping schedules.

They're having a Pow-Wow of their own. Relevant pictures is a charism of mine.

4. Getting up Early

This one was difficult for me, as I am naturally a night owl (not for Simon, he does this crazy thing where when his alarm goes, he gets up, puts his clothes on and starts his day - it's like watching magic happen). But I had to get on board as I was too tired in the evenings for anything much anyway, and if I wanted to use my brain a bit, 5.30 am was the time. For our family, it is also a time when Simon is much more reliably present than in the evening (because overtime, late shifts, that inevitable catastrophe which happens at the last minute of a shift) so even if the boys (Mathilde never does, she's ace like that) decide to wake up super early too, Simon generally takes care of them first, so I get a chance to read, pray and generally gear myself up for the day. Plus the peace and quiet at the beginning of the day feels fresh and delicious. It also does wonder for my attitude if *I* wake up, as opposed to waiting for the children to wake me up. It is much easier for me to greet them with warmth if they are joining me in the land of the awake, rather than tearing me away from my pillow.

Similarly, we also schedule in weekly "Mornings In Peace" (they used to be on Saturday mornings when Simon was a student, but now they are whenever we can fit them) when Simon takes care of the children on his own while I go off (or lock myself in a room) and do non-child or house related stuff for a few hours. Or you know, read a book without being interrupted by I-know-it's-quiet-time-but-you-really-need-to-come-and-see-my-amazing-duplo-robot. 

5. Hard Stops

What I found is that I am very task-driven, so I had a tendency to favour clearly-defined tasks (clear the kitchen, hoover, do the dishes) over open-ended ones (hang out with the children, relax), this way I could feel like I had accomplished something. But I was spending a lot of time saying "just wait until..." to the children. I was also spending too much of my hard-won naptime tidying instead of reading a book or writing. And yet I wasn't willing to just let go and live in a dirty, messy house - that just bugs me, and I am no fun to be around when that is the case. So that's where the hard stops come in. 

It's a very simple idea: basically I just give myself until a certain time, and then, no matter how much I have accomplished, I have to stop.
I know some people who give themselves an amount of time ("I can spend 10 minutes on this room, then I have to stop"), but I prefer to give myself a time (at 7.30 am, I stop chores). This way if we have a rough start, it's the chores that get squeezed out rather than going outside and reading together. 
I have three hard stops a day, and whatever doesn't get done gets pushed to the next available time. Whatever isn't finished at 7.30pm will have to wait until the morning (although most of the time, we are done by then.) The ironing sometimes gets to be done afterwards, but that's because I actually quite enjoy ironing whilst listening to a podcast or audiobook.

6. Going Out(side)

I am adding the "side", because Simon and I are actually appalling at going out. It's been an item on the Pow-wow since December, and how many dates do you think we have been on since? That's right. Not a single one.

Anyway. Children need to go outside. That's just a fact. They need to run about and be out and dirty and free to break stuff (because twigs and mud and rocks can take it - God is such a good baby-proofer). Jude is a particularly energetic little boy as well, literally bouncing off walls if he doesn't spend it (he often goes by "Tigger" weirdly enough - the ginger-ness made it irresistible).

Our previous house was amazingly well situated for a non-driver, public transport was amazing, but we had no garden. I tell a lie. We had the garden the size of a balcony (that's no exaggeration). It was fine for a while, I just went to the playground nearly every day, but as Jude started needing more and more time to spend his boundless energy, I hit my limit (basically, I can go to the playground once a day. That's my limit.) So we decided that I would just have to walk more/ find it a little harder to go to activities, and Simon would lengthen his commute somewhat, but we now have a garden of a decent size (with crazy features like you-can-take-more-than-three-steps-without-hitting-a-wall) and a nature reserve basically in our back garden. Now the boys are out everyday (yes, in the pouring rain too, no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, as they say). 

Looking for worms in the pouring rain.

And when Tigger shows signs of taking over our sweet Jude (at least twice daily), we just make him put on wellies and send him to run five laps of the garden. He sometimes grumbles, but generally by the time he's half-way through the first one, he's enjoying himself and his brother joins him.

I've also started "Attitude Adjustment Walks". When nothing goes right, and someone (usually me) is irretrievably grumpy - or just to fill the longest afternoon hour (4pm to 5.30pm), we get coats and wellies on and nip to the nature reserve, and everything is better. Plus I'm winning Charlotte Mason credentials, which is a nice bonus.

And those are the main things. It works well, and I feel like we are doing pretty well because of all of this. It is not easy, but just because it is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.