Managing Chaos: When Routines Meet Real Life

posted in: actual | 12

I always feel tongue-tied when someone asks what a typical day looks like at our house. Our days follow a general pattern, but no two ever look quite alike. Seven people living, working, and playing together make for a lot of variables, interruptions, and derailments.

round button chicken

So, I thought I’d outline what our general routines are right now, but readily admit that a real day never looks like the outlined routine.

I am supposed to get up at 5am, according to my plan and my schedule. This allows me time to exercise, read my Bible and pray, check my email, and plan the day before the kids get up.

I am a natural morning person, and when I am on my game, it feels great getting up at 5. When I am able to regularly get up at five, I feel like I am being my true self – but that true self only comes out after sleep deficits are rectified. I have no idea when or if that will ever happen again at this point in my life, but I always like to think it will be soon.

So, the very start of my own day is unpredictable, and it’s entirely my own doing and my own responsibility. Every Sunday night I resolve to make it the week of Change, and, for this post-baby iteration, it hasn’t stuck yet. But I’ll keep trying.

However, there is no denying that days when I am up even half an hour before the children come down, almost without fail, are better than those days I sleep in, even though I am always up at the same time as the children at the latest.

The children are all supposed to get up and get dressed at 7 and come downstairs for breakfast.

They have no alarms and I rarely wake anyone up, but 7-7:15 usually sees everyone awake, probably because one of them waking up is voluble enough to rouse everyone else, including the baby. One (or more) child might have wet the bed and must deal with that and shower before breakfast, but generally there is no playing or reading between waking and breakfast.

During this time I’m opening the blinds, starting a load of laundry, being distracted by the contents of my email inbox, quelling breakfast-related riots and bickerings, changing and dressing a baby, and mentally planning my day if I didn’t do that before the kids were up.

After breakfast is over, the children begin their chores. It has been this way from the time my oldest was 4, so why do I still have to remind them of it?

I have been trying to be better about inspecting their chores, though when I don’t they certainly are done faster. Only the poorest excuse for their jobs are done when I’m looking at a screen instead of their progress, it turns out. So, then after checking they often have to redo it (“You’re not done until it’s clean.”), and for some reason I still must ask everyone every morning, “Did you brush your teeth?”

Supposedly, we start math at 8am.

If I were on the ball, I’d have each child’s sheet already selected and pulled or printed out (I tear them from the book, since we don’t necessarily complete every page of every lesson with Math-U-See, and sometimes we need more sheets that I have to print from their website). But, that only happened about the first three weeks of the school year.

I then go into math-teacher mode, and help everyone along. Some days no one needs help, only sitting on, and I so I also do a little blog administration or chatting (on Google Talk or iMessage) with friends. Ilse, who just turned six, only does math when she asks for it, and her interest comes and goes in spurts. When we start our next year, I shall dub her a “first grader,” and she’ll have to do math at least 3 times a week, but for now she does it only as she is interested. That tactic for a year and a half has gotten her through the Kindergarten book and 1/3 of the way through the first grade book already. Knox, also, gets “math” when he asks for it, but they are just number sheets or he plays with the manipulatives.

Some crazy weeks, both the boys will hit a lesson they need help with, and I muddle through, because if that happens, Ilse is also bound to want a lesson and need help with it, and cry if I give her a review page. Such a perfect storm of math needs happens rarely enough that the all-at-once method of math works for us.

Circle Time begins around 9, or 9:30, but at least probably before 10.

And, if it doesn’t start by ten, I generally just say, “Well, we’ll do it tomorrow.” Circle Time always happens 3-4 times per week, even though I shoot for (and sometimes even attain) 5 days a week.

Circle Time generally lasts 45 minutes (or, anywhere from 30-60), and we pray, sing, and recite together.

Ilse and Knox run to each pick a picture book after putting away their binders, and then we begin phonics lessons on the couch.

I may or may not sneak some chocolate and a gulp of coffee to help smooth out my sanity.

Jaeger and Hans work off their independent work checklist during this time.


After this, I mostly ride herd and sneak in computer time until lunch. If the weather is nice, I send the younger set outside and might even take a stroll around my garden myself, because a little space and fresh air does my nerves a world of good, especially after an action-, noise-, and did I mention noise-packed morning.

Maybe there’s some Latin help in there, some writing proofreading or speech practicing. The time between phonics being done and lunch being served (usually an hour or so) is a time of “doing what needs to be done.” Or, at least, a few of the myriad things that need to be done.

After lunch, on most days we have some school-related activity from 1-3.

The baby naps, and Monday the boys go to speech class and I take the younger ones to a park (the baby naps in the car). Tuesdays and Thursdays we do elementary lessons at our house and pre-k (read aloud and play time) at the neighbor’s house. Wednesdays is writing class at our house. Every other Friday is book club at the neighbor’s house for the older ones and “playdough club” for the preschool set at our house.

The rest of the day goes all too quickly.

I try to get some decompression time somehow, the kids often play with neighborhood friends outside, the baby wakes up and needs tending to, sometimes a boy might have work to complete, some afternoons Matt does piano lessons with them. I’ll fold laundry and try to do a few housekeeping things and also make dinner.

Of course interspersed throughout the day is training and discipline of the 17-month-old & 4-year-old, talking the 6-year-old down off the cliff of her emotions, wiping bottoms and changing diapers, cleaning up spills and patching up arguments, doling out consequences and holding the line, hyperventilating in the bathroom with a locked door and sneaking a sugar fix in my bedroom. There’s conversations with friends and random hugs from children. There’s a kiss from my husband when he comes to refill his water bottle.

In a word, there’s life happening all the time.

Then we enter the home stretch and try our best to push through.

Around 5 I have the kids pick up the main level and try to regain some semblance of order. Dinner is around 6. After dinner we have family devotions (right now we’re learning the Shorter Catechism while reading through Teaching Hearts, Training Minds). Sometimes we have time for a read-aloud (Matt is reading aloud The Hobbit currently), sometimes it’s straight to jammies for the younger ones. The older ones stay up until 8 (sometimes they play computer, sometimes a board game, sometimes read or draw) and then read in their beds until 9.

Matt does the dinner dishes and I clear the counters and sweep while the 6- & 4-year old get ready for bed. Sometimes I even mop.

Then in the evenings I write or read or waste time on the internet. Sometimes, though not often enough, Matt and I talk or play a game after the kids are in bed. We are both pretty wiped out by this time of the day, though, and we usually go to bed ourselves between 9 & 10. When I’m actually getting up at 5, then 9:30 becomes my hardline for bed.

And then it starts all over again the next day.

12 Responses

  1. Heather
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    I also find that my day goes more smoothly when I’m up at least 30 min before the kids. But even with the baby sleeping all night now, I just can’t seem to catch up on sleep, and I keep waking up too late (“too late” meaning 6:00 :)). With 5 kids, it seems like there are so many nights when I’m up because someone is sick, or wet the bed, or had a bad dream… It’s frustrating, but I’m wondering if it’s going to be the new normal until all my kids are older.

  2. Mystie
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    I’ve often wondered the same thing, Heather, but I keep hoping the “new normal” really is right around the corner. :)

  3. Lindsey
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    Love the sneaking a piece of chocolate comment! All homeschooling moms should have secret stash!

  4. Kristy
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    OK, so, my day with five of similar ages is a near mirror image of yours. Well, I do sleep until 6:30. But, what tricks do you have for keeping the 17 mo. and 4 year old more or less content and playing? Any great go to tricks you can throw out there? Always looking for new ideas.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I gave up on the possibility of go-to tricks when my 4yo boy was 2. I have ones that worked with my now 6yo when she was little, but nothing has worked with my 4yo so now I just roll with chaos instead of trying to shepherd the wind.

  5. Brandy Vencel
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    Um, can you please send Geneva to me by Overnight Mail? I need something little and cute in my life, and she’d be just the ticket!

    In other news…I would LOVE to get up at 5. I get close to that in the summer because I get up (as you know) with my flock, and they rise at dawn. So in the middle of summer that is 5:15 or 5:30. And I’m a morning person, too. But here is my weird thing: when I get up when it is still dark, I get sick. Every. single. time. I used to think there was some other reason — maybe I just needed to go to bed earlier? But I really think it is something about the sun. I can rise at the very crack of dawn, where there is just a glimmer in the east, and I’m fine. But if it is dark, I catch the very next thing I am exposed to. Weird.

    I don’t know why I’m sharing my health history with you. My real point is that I’m jealous you can do that!

    Now…about that Geneva…

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Little and cute? I thought you had a yard full of goats. ;) Nope, not sharing my little toddling head of curls, sorry! :) She’s mine and I have the scar to prove it. ;)

    • Mystie Winckler
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      It seems silly for me to be recommending supplements to you, but I’d assume you’d already tried extra B & D? That is strange, but if that’s how your body rolls, best to play to it rather than fight it.

      • Brandy Vencel
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        I take both, actually! But I hadn’t thought about that being a connection. I have a genetic defect that makes me process B vitamins improperly, so I often have a borderline deficiency. Interesting…

        I forgot about your scar! Do you feel back to normal now? I thought it took a full year after my last C-section to really feel together…

        • Mystie Winckler
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          I think it took a full 3-4 months before I felt recovered from the surgery portion, and I didn’t get a postpartum bounce-back like I did after my first three deliveries, but since I didn’t after Knox’s normal delivery, it might not be the C-section’s fault. :) I thought if I were intentional, I could get my groove back within a year, but it’s taken longer. I suppose I’m older (not in my twenties anymore!) and have a lot more responsibilities. I’m looking forward to taking June off and getting myself and the house back up to snuff! This was a busier homeschool year than we’ve ever had, and I’m paring it back down next year for sure.

        • Brandy Vencel
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          Time off sounds perfect, especially for a busy lady like yourself. :) I hope it is totally refreshing for you!

  6. Leanne
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    Thanks for the realistic, and humorous, look at your days! I really appreciate your honesty. Mine are less crazy now that I have only a 16yo and 6yo at home, but I remember the chaos from earlier years.