The Kindergarten Basics

The Kindergarten Basics

“For those of you who are sending your child to kindergarten for the first time, we understand the trepidation.  For those of you who are going through this for the second, or possibly the last time, congratulations on getting another one out of the house!”  So began kindergarten orientation on a muggy night in May in a room filled with (mostly) nervous parents of four and five year olds about to leave Pre-K for the big K.

This September is the last time I will send a little one off to kindergarten… times three! Our triplets (my “babies”) are leaving the roost and, like most Moms, the notion of sending them off to school leaves me with mixed emotions.  If you feel the mix of anxiety and excitement, these tips should help to ease the transition… for everyone involved! (more…)

The people I work with often marvel that when I travel for business, my husband isn’t completely overrun by our children when he gets home from work.  They can’t help but wonder how anyone could manage the mayhem of five kids at the witching hour — that charming time from roughly 5 or 6 until 7 or 8 when stomachs rumble, tempers flare and exhaustion ensues.  While it’s not easy, it can be done –even with five kids eight and under.  Even when you’re “home alone.”  How?

  1. Have a plan and stick to it.  Know what’s for dinner before you walk in the door.  In fact, you would ideally know what’s for dinner before you walked out of the door in the morning; that way, you can have much of it prepped and, if the sitter can simply pop it in the oven, that’s all the better!  Tonight I was home alone with all five kids and have to admit, I was the worst offender as it relates to the rumbling belly, short temper and overall exhaustion.  What saved the day?  Knowing that dinner was as easy as warming up left-over pork chops, microwaving some rice and serving up some pepper sticks and carrots.  Was it gourmet?  No. But it did the trick.  It went down in a jiffy and we all made it ’til Tuesday without falling back on mac & cheese or chicken nuggets.  Yay us!
  2. Have a routine and stick to it.  In our house, it’s a quick dash from dinner to pjs.  The quicker they hustle out of their clothes and into their pajamas, the more time we have for reading and snuggling, which is a favorite part of everyone’s day. Here’s our routine:  eat dinner; kids clear their plates; kids with clean plates get dessert; after dessert, kids put on pajamas, put dirty clothes in hamper, brush teeth, pee, read books, pee again and then it’s lights out.  Typically by 8:00.  Is our routine flawless?  Absolutely not!  But, everyone knows what is expected of them and, we all are motivated by the reward of a few extra minutes snuggled up with heads on shoulders and feet entwined as stories are read and tales of the day are shared — which, thankfully are part of the routine!
  3. Put the kids to work.  See bullet #2.  They clear the table. They put the dirty laundry where it goes.  And yes, I nag them.  A lot.  Too much some might say.  But, eventually they get it – a few plates will get broken and clean clothes might end up in the hamper but, it’s a small price to pay for a bunch of kids who pitch in, understand their roles and responsibilities and, perhaps most importantly, take a few things off of your list!

Is it a perfect system? Nope.  But is there anything about parenting — or for that matter, children — that’s perfect?  I don’t think so.  I think we all just do the best we can each and every day.  A plan helps. A routine helps.  Having kids help helps.  When all is said and done, I just hope mine remember the extra moments we spent snuggling more than those angry rants when I first walk in the door from work!  See?  I told you.  Far from perfect.  But, a-ok.  And that’s good enough!

Time to go!

It’s a universal challenge:  getting out of the house in the morning on time — ideally with your children in tow, snacks packed, shoes tied, coats on, teeth brushed and hair combed.  It was hard when we had one tiny tot. It was harder when we had two.  Now that we have five, well, it’s not easy but, we’ve learned from our mistakes and, in the spirit of sharing, hopefully you can too!

  • Wake up earlier.  It’s painful but trust me, it works.  We made two mistakes in this category. First, we often hit snooze until a baby cried and demanded our attention; at that point, it is too late. You’re already behind the 8-ball.  An early rise is critical to the success of our morning mission.  It allows us to literally be one step ahead of the little people — which is where you need to be if you’re going to drag them out the door on time.  The second mistake we made was letting them sleep in; after years of being told “never wake a sleeping baby”, it seems counter-intuitive to do just that but, you must.  They need time that transition time from the land of nod to the day ahead and the more time you allow them, the less hustling and bustling and screaming and yelling there will be. Trust me on this!
  • Prep the night before.  Make the lunches. Pack those snacks. Put out the clothes. Pack the backpacks. Sign the forms.  Write the notes.  Set the shoes by the door. Locate the gloves, hats and mittens.  It’s not fun but it’s a lot less fun to tackle these tasks with whining tots and as tempers rise and the time ticks away in the morning.  And, whatever you do, don’t forget to set the coffee maker!  What the heck – you may even want to pick out an outfit and pack lunch for yourself!
  • Let them “do it self!”  Kids love to help. So, put them to work!  A toddler can find his shoes and put them by the door.  A kindergartener can pop a snack into her backpack.  And a third-grader can and should be responsible for neatly packing up his homework and picking out clothes for the next day.  So, let them.  It will ease the burden on you, make them feel great and teach an important lesson about responsibility along the way.

I suppose last but not least, allow room for error.  You know what they say about the best-laid plans right?   Well, the morning routine is no exception and sometimes you just need to roll with it.  Sometimes you are going to be late.  And that’s ok.  That’s when it’s good to remember one of my mantras, for better or worse, better late than never!

One of the first things I thought upon discovering I was pregnant with triplets was, “OMG! What will we drive?!”  At the time, we had a one and three year old and I just couldn’t envision a vehicle that would accomodate their two car seats plus three more unless it looked like this:

When the triplets were born, we had an Acura MDX — the nicest car I will ever own.  That car was a decision we toiled over for months before we bid adieu to our beloved Jetta and bonjour to Bebe #2 so, saying good-bye was a bit traumatic.  But, six brutal weeks of putting our toddlers in through the trunk while our triplets were jammed into a too-tight second row and our strollers were left on the curb forced our hand.  Bon voyage lovely Acura and bonjour… what? What would we drive?  How would we transport our brood from Point A to Point B with five car seats safely anchored and enough room in the trunk for a double and triple stroller… not to mention the other stuff that often filled our trunk — the pack and plays, portable high chairs, diaper bags, blankies and other assorted necessities of those first few years?



Does this sound familiar? “You can’t have those snacks at home– those are ‘on the go’ snacks!”  Or perhaps you’ve said this once or twice?  “If you want a ‘fruit snack’, eat a piece of fruit!”  These frequent exchanges highlight the two main mistakes I’ve made since our kids have become serial snackers:

  1. I fell victim to those cute, convenient and exorbitantly priced single serve packages of pretty much everything.  Raisins. Applesauce. Goldfish. You name it.  If it seemed relatively healthy, came in a handy “snack pack” and was sold at Costco, I bought it.
  2. “Fruit Snacks.”  Why they don’t call these gummy bears or gummy “fruits”,  I’ll never know.  But, suffice it to say, if you read the label, these so-called fruit snacks are far more sugar and far less fruit.  And really, with a just a pint-sized handful per serving, they are not filling anyone up!  I don’t care if they are made by Welch’s or Mott’s or even organic Annie’s, they are junk.

There. I said it.  I have bought a lot of junk.  And I wish I hadn’t because old habits die hard.  Even with kids who are only 3, 5 and 7!  This junk is also very expensive — far too expensive to continue buying for the long run when you have to dole out the snacks five at a time!

So, what’s a mom to do?  Well, for starters, learn from my mistakes…

  • Avoid those clever, convenient prepackaged snacks and buy in bulk instead.  Get that super-sized bag of Goldfish or raisins at Costco or and divvy it up in small containers each day.  I’m a big fan of the Take and Toss cups that come in two sizes – one that’s just right for tiny tots and one that will be perfect for your budding scholar.  If you want something less plastic and more permanent, I have friends who give rave reviews to Glass Lock containers, which have fun, bright lids in several colors to brighten up both lunch boxes and dreary days!
  • Pack a real fruit snack. As in a piece of actual fruit.  We’ve had success with bananas, apples, blueberries, strawberries and grapes – even though last year when my only little lady was in kindergarten, she wrote me a note I’ll never forget: “Mom.  Don’t pak gren grapz. I like red onz. But I stil love you.”

So, there you have it –  written proof that your kids will love you even if you eliminate fake fruit snacks!  Here is a more complete list of our standards to keep our pack of snackers happy… and ideally, healthy too!

  • Goldfish, pretzels, Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins
  • Graham crackers, Teddy Grahams and even the occasional Oreo (we all need a treat sometimes!)
  • Carrots, cucumber, pepper slices served with a side of hummus
  • Sliced apples, kiwi, clementines, oranges, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple
  • Raisins and other dried fruit: apricots, cherries, cranberries, mango, etc.
  • Cereal bars – our favorites come from Kellogg’s (and are available at Costco and other “big box” stores) or Trader Joe’s
  • Yogurt.  Note that this says Yogurt. Not Gogurt. I’ve had to boycott Gogurt ever since they introduced the Sponge Bob version that glows in the dark.  My kids can be hard enough to handle in the dark – the last thing I need is their bellies to glow!

One last tip — buy on sale and buy in bulk.  Our go-to stops for snack supplies include Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Happy Snacking!

Heading out of town for Memorial Day weekend?  Here are a few road trip tips to ensure that your getaway gets off to a good start!
  1. Pack wipes – and lots of ‘em!  Any time we spend more than an hour in the car, someone is bound to barf.  Those wipes are good for more than just diaper changes.  They work wonders when the projectile vomit hits the back of the front seat and do double duty cleaning car seats and kids too.  Stockpile them before you hit the road!
  2. Bring plenty of Purell.  We keep a full-size bottle in the door pocket in the front of the car.  Why?  See #1!  We like to have it handy at all times… especially since the kids seem to so easily transition from puke-time to snack-time.  Gross, but true.  TGFP! (Thank Goodness for Purell!)
  3. Don’t forget the sunblock.  Ours resides next to the Purell in the front seat because for our fair-skinned clan, even a stop for lunch is an opportunity for sunburn… and really, it would be a shame to sport a sunburn before you even hit the beach, wouldn’t it?
  4. Time your trip well.  Take into account rush hour and the witching hour.  Consider meal times, nap times and bed time.  Then determine the best time for you and your family to hit the road.  Kids hate to be strapped down for hours on end?  Maybe a post-dinner departure is best for you; just pop the kids in pjs and tuck them into car seats so they can snooze while you can groove.  Kids love adventure?  Then perhaps it’s up early with breakfast on the road and a solid rotation of “I Spy” and the “License Plate game.”  Either way, plan accordingly and the trip will fly by.
  5. Keep your go-to items accessible.  Do not lock them in the trunk or stow them away in the Thule box on top of the car.  Believe me, when you are on the side of the road with a spit-spewing child in hysterics, you don’t want to scramble for clean clothes. Or wipes. Or Purell.  You’ll be glad to have these necessities at arm’s reach.  The items that we always have handy include:
  • Sippy cups/water bottles/snacks and more snacks!
  • Diapers
  • Books/Legos/favorite blankies (known in our house as “WaWas”, don’t ask!)
  • First Aid kit –a few BandAids, Children’s Motrin and Tylenol, Benadryl and that’s pretty much it.  Just the basics!
  • Change of clothes – for the tykes and for me. Somehow Des/Dad/Driver seems to survive most trips unscathed while I may find myself wearing vomit, pee, poop, apple juice, rotten milk, smushed cereal bars or any combination of the above.  I realized when I smelled worse than the nasty rest stops along the way that it was time to take action and include a change of clothes for me too! 

With these tips in mind, I hope you enjoy the ride… wherever the road may take you!

People often ask me “how do you do it?”  What I think they mean is how do I juggle a full-time job, five kids and a dog and manage to usually (note: not always!) leave the house looking fairly put together and somewhat awake.  Part of the answer, of course is a huge cup of coffee every morning.  Another significant part of the answer is my husband Des; he holds his own around the house and with the kids and then some.  Another element of my so-called success (if that’s what we’re calling leaving the house with lipstick on and my eyes open!), is that I’m really organized.  Almost to a fault.  But, since people keep asking me “how do you do it?” I’ve decided to devote one post a week to just that.  How we do it.  Sharing my tips and tactics for surviving (and occasionally thriving) the typical chaos that accompanies five kids six and under.   From now on, you can look forward to “Tuesday Tips” which I hope will contain some useful tools  and tactics to help you juggle it all… and hopefully only occasionally drop a ball or two, as I admit, I do!

For this inaugural “Tuesday Tips”, let’s tackle weeknight dinners.  Our dinners, like our days, tend to be very very good or very very bad.  I find there is little middle ground.  Either we have a plan and all goes well or we don’t and well, it doesn’t!  So, I try to spend some time each Sunday (not a lot, an hour tops!) planning out the menu for the week ahead.  I take into account evenings that Des or I may have to work late and nights where baseball, book club or ballet might throw a kink in our system.  Then I plan what we’ll eat Monday through Thursday so the guesswork and frantic panic of “what’s for dinner?!” can wait until Friday — when I’m quite comfortable answering “Pizza!” (which, for the record, may be frozen depending on how the family budget looks that week!)  Here are my top tips for you to take away:
  • Make your weeknight meal plan on Sunday
    • Take stock of what groceries you have and what you might need
    • Order what you need online and have it delivered on Monday or Tuesday  – while you’re at it, check to see if any staples are on sale and add those to your order too
  • Pre-chop anything you can (broccoli, peppers, salad, etc.) and defrost any meats or frozen leftovers (sauces, soups, etc. that you won’t have time to defrost at 6:30 on Wednesday night!)
  • Look at the calendar and remind yourself that chicken nuggets are ok for the night that your husband will be out late, Junior has t-ball and you’re hosting book club
  • Affirm that you are not a short-order cook.  Make one dinner and one dinner only.  As my 90-year old Granny still says, “If they don’t like it, they can lump it.”  What this means, I think, is tough luck kiddos!  Mama’s only making one dinner and if you don’t like it, breakfast is right around the corner.  Tough love but it works.
  • Keep it simple.  Go with the tried and true. When you plan that menu, don’t test new recipes or attempt something time-consuming. Do your experimental/fancy cooking over the weekend when the pressure to get the meal on the table, homework done and lights out by eight isn’t bearing down on you.
That’s it!  Does it always work? Yes. Do I always stick to it? No.  I’m only human and sometimes I don’t want to spend Sunday afternoon planning the week ahead; I just want to savor the moment.  But, when I do follow these tips, we get the opportunity to savor tasty weeknight dinners that are on the table before the sun sets, allowing us the time to enjoy each other’s company rather than racing the clock.  And that’s time well spent!

I recently started a new job. It is a good job, a job that I’m really excited about. It’s challenging, it’s interesting and it’s close to home. It checks all the boxes I so carefully identified at the inception of my job hunt. Even so, here I am, less than a month in and once again struggling with the juggling.

 I know I’m not alone here. I know most working moms struggle with the juggle and that these feelings ebb and flow. I’m just suffering from the tidal wave of starting something new. For better or for worse, most folks think I’ve got it all together. “How do you do it?” they ask. “You look so refreshed!” they say, wondering what my trick is. The truth is, I have no trick.  And if I happen to look refreshed, I probably owe it to a good run, a strong cup of coffee or an unusually stellar application of mascara and under-eye concealer!

As we all know though, looks can be deceiving and the reality is that working while juggling five kids isn’t easy. In fact, It’s really hard to explain to my first grader why Mom isn’t there to pick him up at the bus or to my pre-schooler why the nice neighbor across the street will be dropping her off a few days a week. It’s hard the leave my little guys in their cribs with wet diapers as I sail out the door yelling “Sorry guys, gotta run! It won’t be long… I love you!”  And it can be even tougher to walk in from a long day at the office to find five needy souls who are hungry, tired, and just looking for love (and I’m not even counting my poor husband!) — by that time, I feel the same way. The good news is that the love is there in abundance; the bad news is that dinner may or may not be!

With a new week dawning, I’m making a conscious effort to be a better juggler. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve picked up some tips along the way and when I actually follow them, well, none of those proverbial balls will drop. Here they are in no particular order…

Get some sleep! Though I’m often tempted to stay up late on Sunday night to “get ahead of it all”, I find this often backfires and I end up starting the week tired and grumpy – obviously not the best way to start! So, take it from me and try to tuck in early when you can.

Plan ahead. I’m guilty of being not just a planner but,  an avid over-planner. I have to say though, when you’ve got a lot on your plate, planning can be your best friend. I really do try to lay out the kids clothes, pack up lunches and snacks and make a week-long meal plan… this ensures that even if your day is crappy, at least you’ll have something to put on that plate when you get home!

Just say yes to online shopping – groceries, diapers, snow boots and more, I get it all delivered right to our front door!

There, I feel better already. Just knowing that I’ve got some survival tactics in place leaves me ready to take on the week ahead. If you’ve got some tips that help you with the juggle I’d love to know… especially if you could recommend a good under-eye concealer… truth be told, mine just isn’t working as well as it used to!

With many folks preparing to fly the “friendly” skies for the upcoming school break, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped us (and our fellow passengers!) survive our recent cross-country trip to San Francisco.

Allow extra time. It seems obvious but, when I travel for work or on the rare occasion I get away with Des, we’re always down to the wire. Sweating as we repeatedly check our watches, wondering if we’ll make it through security and dashing to the gate just as they’re about to close the door. Do NOT take this approach if you plan to take tots onboard. The one time we did, we missed our flight. This is true. It is why we now build in an extra hour before take-off and I’d suggest you do the same. This way you won’t be foiled by a long security line or unexpected diaper (and outfit!) change (or changes!).

Keep ‘em busy. Fortunately, children are easily entertained. This is extremely good news as long as you have a plan; this is extremely bad news if you don’t and your mischievous tykes decide that in-flight entertainment means kicking the seat in front of them.  Admittedly, your kids will find this highly entertaining but, your fellow passengers will not. So, a few things to be sure you carry in your carry on include crayons, stickers, pipe cleaners, PlayDough, matchbox cars, mini etch-a-sketch… you get the idea. And, of course, if you can fly an airline with seat-back TVs featuring the most recent episode of Junior’s favorite show, all the better!

Flying time = feeding time. If you have a baby, have a bottle. If you have a toddler, a sippy cup or lollipop will do. In fact, a lollipop will work wonders for kids of all ages – and maybe for Moms and Dads too! Having something to suck on during take-off and landing  will minimize your little ones discomfort. Once airborne, we’ve had great success with serial snacking; after all, snacking is just one more way to keep kids busy and it happens to be one of our kids favorites! Cheerios, raisins, goldfish, all the standards will do – although, if you up the ante and offer HoneyNut Cheerios, yogurt covered raisins and Rainbow Goldfish, you just might feel like a hero. Until the plane lands, anyway!

Don’t travel light. It pains me to suggest this but, since you just never know if your flight will be delayed or if your kid will be the one they leave those paper bags on planes for, I think it’s best to be prepared. For me, that means extra diapers, wipes, provisions and outfits. Do I feel like a pack mule as I load our brood on board? Yes. But do I want to land in Florida in pee-soaked khakis? (Again?) NO. So, while packing your carry-on with outfits for your little ones, please toss in a change of clothes for you too. I hope you won’t need them but trust me, if Buster has a diaper blow-out, you’ll be really glad to have them!

Oh, and one last thing: velcro!  It will be much easier to breeze through security if you’re not struggling with shoelaces.

With these tips in mind, you just might find the skies a bit “friendlier” than you imagined and you’ll be sure to arrive at your destination with a sunny disposition. 

With a first-grader, a preschooler and three toddlers, our house is rampant with runny noses, shared stomach bugs and whatever the illness du jour may be… Coxsackie virus? Strep throat? Fifth’s disease? We’ve had them all and, survived them all thanks to our following five must-haves:

1. Paper products and lots of ‘em. In our house, noses run like faucets and there’s a box of tissues in every room. Even so, we sometimes run out and then there’s a roll of toilet paper or paper towels in every room. Classy, right? What can I say? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Especially when a virus suddenly spreads from noses to bellies and we find ourselves short on T.P. just when we need it. The morale of this story? Don’t wait ‘til the kids get sick – stock up now and when you think you have enough tissues, toilet paper and paper towels to survive the season, buy a few more. Then you should be all set.

2. Surprizzles. What is a surprizzle, you say? A surprizzle is a small, unexpected little treat. A modestly-sized surprise. Something that evokes a room-brightening smile on even the darkest of days. I’ve learned to make our dark days brighter by keeping a few surprizzles on hand at all times. Kid has a fever and you want them to chill out in the tub? Give them some cool tub crayons to keep ‘em busy… and, as an added perk, teach them to clean the tub afterwards! Can’t stand to hear “I’m bored” one more time? Whip out that new video that you nabbed for $4.99 the last time you were at Costco. Got a little fella who needs a pick me up? A matchbox car almost always does the trick. And, for a little lady who’s feeling sick and blue, a nice new coloring book will give her something to do. Keep a few surprizzles on hand and I guarantee that your sick days will be a bit less dreary.

3. Caffeine. No joke. A sick day is almost always preceded by a sick night. The kind of night when you just might have run out of tissues, toilet paper and paper towels. The kind of night when you may have done three loads of laundry after midnight. The kind of night where your tiny tot slept in fitful feverish bouts while you watched over them wrenching your worried hands. When the sun finally rises, your sweet little sickie will likely snooze ‘til ten but you still have to get someone else to school, empty the dishwasher, walk the dog and have your best Florence Nightingale act perfected for when your Sleeping Sickie rises. So, do yourself a favor and the next time you’re at Costco or wherever you go, in addition to that cheap DVD for the surprizzle stock, buy the super-sized bag of coffee or another case of Diet Coke or whatever it is you are into. You’ll be glad that you did.

4. The basics. I make an annual trek to CVS and stock up on Tylenol, Motrin, and pretty much anything else that catches my eye in the jam-packed kids medicine aisle… Benadryl, bacetracin, calamine lotion, hydrogen peroxide, band-aids of all shapes, sizes and Disney characters, you get the picture. And, cleaning out is as important as stocking up… I recently had to clear out the tiny tots cold/cough medicine (looks like the FDA or the AAP changed their mind on that one!), all the stuff that Johnson & Johnson recalled this summer and a slew of old expired bottles. Believe me, you don’t want to be looking for this stuff in the middle of the night. You’ll sleep soundly knowing that you’ve got the goods in place for the times you really need it.

5. A back up plan. Someone to take your big kid to soccer if the little ones are sick. Someone who will cover for you at work when you have to run to the pediatrician. A friend you can call who’s seen it all before. Someone who might come over just long enough for you to take a shower… and, possibly make you that cup of coffee you will surely need.

With these things in place I know I can handle the cold and flu season that looms ahead of us… now, if someone would just bring us some nice home-made chicken soup, we’d be all set!