February 7, 2008

How the Hell Do You Do It? Here's the Hell How.

I am having the kind of day where three children woke up wet and had to be bathed right away, and where toddler twins are hitting and biting and saying "NO YOU GO 'WAY!!!" to each other, and I've already had one discipline issue of the "Do I really have to handle this or could I just pretend not to notice?" type, and the laundry is doing THIS:


And this reminds me of the comment Susan left in the comment section awhile back:

Okay, can you please tell me how you manage to cook and clean with 5 kids, esp 5 young kids?! i do not know how you manage it, without, like, a maid and nanny. even if your housework standards are low, i know your kids still get dinner, have clean clothes, and i can see from photos your not drowning in chaos, so some cleaning must be done.

HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO IT?!? please teach me. i am in your hands. i bet others would like to know, too.


Susan is right to assume that although my first response would indeed have been that I DON'T cook or clean, HAR HAR, I do in fact do some basic meal preparation and some cleaning. I don't LITERALLY let the children rummage in the cupboards for cereal to eat off the floor.

...very often.


All day, but especially during Our Morning Routine (6:15-8:05), I rely on a system of MESHING activities: I get one thing going that can maintain itself for awhile, and then I get another thing going. It's like the plate-spinning trick. Or like getting the washing machine going before you start cleaning the bathroom. (How's THAT for a depressing example?) Then you and the washing machine are BOTH working.

So, for example, the first thing I do is get breakfast on the table, even if the baby is crying the entire time, because then any child who isn't doing something else can be eating. And if the baby is NOT crying, I also get the coffee pot going so it'll be ready later.


I get one older child into the shower, because once I start the water, they can handle it all the way through to showing up at the table fully dressed. I nurse the baby while three children eat, then fourth child joins them. I get the twins dressed either BEFORE this (if they wake up before baby) or AFTER (if they wake up after baby). I assemble lunches.


Sometimes I have coffee and cereal out on the counter for myself to eat as I'm assembling the lunches.

Then I shower while the big kids supervise the little kids.

The whole routine takes an hour and fifty minutes, and at the end of it we have six dressed people, at least five fed people, and at least two showered people. Also: two lunches assembled, two backpacks packed, two kids in outerwear. I have a list by the door of everything that needs to be IN the kids' backpacks and everything they need to have ON, and so I can say, "Okay, get ready for school now," and they can do it without any of us forgetting anything.

The older kids go off to the bus stop, and then the rest of my day is pretty flexible: it doesn't really matter what time we have lunch, for example.

When we do have lunch, I make extra sandwiches. I put them in the freezer for the older kids' lunches the next day. That's why I used the word "assembled" above: I found it stressful to try to make sandwiches in the morning, so now I take sandwiches out of the freezer and just make the snacks. If I have a little left in a box of crackers, I put that in a baggie and put it aside for a future lunch.


I usually have three tasks in mind for each day. One of the three tasks is always laundry, whether I actually put a load in or not: laundry ALWAYS needs to be done. The other tasks might be to take out the trash, or to wipe off the counters, or to make a batch of baby food, or to make soup, or to scoop the cat box, or to write a letter, or to change sheets, or pay the bills that don't get auto-paid, or some other thing. I might get to these things or I might not; typically I get to two of them.

When the older boys come home, I work on their homework with them. I try to schedule the rest of the day so that I'm not in a huge flurry of activity when they come home, since they bring that huge flurry of activity home with them already.

Other than that, I don't have challenging goals. I don't try to keep the house CLEAN-clean: I take care of the worst areas as they bug me. I don't try to do crafts other than coloring--but I didn't much like crafts even when I had only one child. I don't try to grocery shop: Paul does that on the weekends. I don't try to cook dinner: Paul cooks for the kids when we have a nursing infant, and we cook our own meals after the kids go to bed.

I'm sorry, this is so LONG and so BORING. But, you know, it IS that way!

The keys to it, I think, are:

1) Mesh activities. Get one thing going that can sustain itself, while you go on to the next thing. There should be as little "standing around waiting for mommy" as possible.

2) Separate what really must be done now from what can wait. A soaking wet child really must have a quick bath before getting dressed---but as much as I'm itching to change the wet sheets, those can wait until after the older kids leave for school.

3) Employ even sub-par resources. The two older boys are slow and messy, but they CAN help. If I'm in a rush, it's like having extra hands. Maybe it takes them three times as long to pack their lunches, but it is possible for them to do it.

4) Get up early enough. I used to get up at 6:30, but found I always ended up raising my voice near leaving time. Setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier SUCKED, but it made all the difference in how pleasant our morning was.

5) Grab opportunities. Some mornings, the kids wake up earlier than usual. When they do, I'll have both older boys take showers, instead of just one. I might give a littler child or two a quick bath, or I might change sheets. If I'm waiting for soup to heat up, I don't stand there reading a book (PAUL), I do a few dishes. (Note: I'm not talking about opportunities such as naptime, or the kids watching TV. I use those for computer stuff, not chores.)

6) Don't try to do too much. I can't tell you how important it was to me when Paul went back to work after Henry was born and said, "If all six of you are alive when I get home, I will be impressed." I do what doesn't send me over the Cliff of Despair, and everything else can wait until the kids leave home for good. Assuming they ever do.

66 comments:

Laura said...

You were smart to try the sandwich in the freezer thing when they were young. For some reason, my daughter gets icked out by me taking a premade sandwich out of the freezer for her lunch. It was banner last week when every shred of clothing, linens and towels were actually processed...er...laundered.
You go girl.

Stephanie said...

OH MY GOD, SUPER MOM. I don't even have kids, god, I'm not even married, but I am flagging this post for when I do.

Jess said...

This post isn't boring. It's fascinating and simultaneously slightly alarming. I still can't believe you do all this stuff. But I love your philosophy at the end. Seriously, you use such good indicators to figure out what needs changing, like the raised voice near leaving time. You are amazing.

Barb said...

You are EXACTLY the kind of mom I want to be one day! Look at you go!

Jennifer, Le Binky Bitch said...

Swistle, thank you for posting this. It's not boring at all, in fact, it's something I've really wondered. These are some great tips.

Shelly said...

"If all six of you are alive when I get home, I will be impressed."

And Paul redeems himself in my book.

Swistle, you amaze me. I'm totally going to take some of these tips to use on the weekends. And the overall attitude. Jeez, woman, you just rock.

Whimsy said...

Swistle, you're my hero. And I'm not being sarcastic in a Ferris Bueler way- even one tiny bit. You're a marvel. I totally want to be you when I grow up.

BTW, are we going to be getting a CANDLE UPDATE soon? I'm curious if the whole 'cut them down and then try the Scientific Candle Melting Theory of Mathmatical Correctness' worked. I still have that box of ratty candles in my linen closet...

Mairzy said...

Pretty amazing stuff. You're like the Accessible Super Mom, who can get five kids dressed and fed in in hour in the morning, but make it almost sound possible to the rest of us.

I repeat: GETTING kids to school takes way more energy than BEING school. You've just reconfirmed my commitment to homeschooling. Thanks.

Welcome to our World said...

Uh I agree with Stephanie - OMG YOU ARE SUPER MOM!!!

I struggle with ONE. One kid and a 2nd on the way and reading this makes me hyperventilate just a little bit because I have to actually LEAVE the house for work, you know - dressed and sort of clean smelling. As a opposed to you who works from home as far as I am concerned - THIS is what they mean when they say moms who do not work are worth $180k in salary per year or whatever that number was ;)!!! My gawd woman you deserve a medal!

Artemisia said...

Swistle - I LOVE this post. It is not boring - it is awesome! Yes, you are smart and organized and sane about it, but you can tell you also love it.

I am so glad you are the mom of those five kids. Have a well coordinated day!

Alice said...

holy goodness. if i was in charge of all that, i can assure you the children would not be looking cheery in so many pictures. i envision something more like roiling chaos, with all the kids screaming the whole time, were i in charge.

Vicky said...

This was not boring. You impress me. I got some good tips. Thanks.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

This was very informative. I have always wondered how you do it and now I have a bit of a better sense.

I also have a better sense of how intensely hard this job is and how super STRONG and organized you are to do it so well.

Melospiza said...

OMG I LOVE this, and I agree with all the commenters ("fascinating and simultaneously slightly alarming"). I'm also impressed that you manage to set out four bowls of cereal catering to four kids' weepy (?) individual needs--No! I hate Cheerios! I always hate Cheerios! It's that damn "personal choice" crap that always sinks our mornings/ evenings at home (and we have two. TWO, I say. Pathetic!)

LoriD said...

This wasn't even one bit boring!

I only have 3 kids, but I employ a lot of the same measures. The getting up early thing is a lifesaver. I actually set the alarm for 5:30 so I can have a load of laundry folded (and another one plopped in the machine) and the lunches made before the kids get up. I also took away their ability to select their own breakfasts. By the time they get up, the juice is in their cups, the cereal in the bowls and the fruit sliced up. I don't have time to be a waitress in the morning.

I'm going to try your IN/ON board - that's one thing they could be more independent with.

Misty said...

Um, wait. Getting up earlier reduces or eliminates screaming mamas?

But. You have to get up earlier. Tell me, is it worth it? Cuz I'm not sure.

(Oh, I am sure it is. I am just soo soo soooo lazy. And tired. And stuff.)

Saly said...

WOW, TLC should do a special on you. This is excellent! You are great!

Swistle said...

Whimsy- Oh a CANDLE update! What a good idea! Soon!

Mairzy- An hour and fifty minutes. And I'm not yet convinced: I do have to move feet in the mornings, but then the kids are gone for hours. Ahhhhhhhh.

Alice- The nice thing about still pictures is the roiling doesn't show!

Melospiza- I do cater A LITTLE, but they get the same catered menu every morning. I know what they like, but I don't let them pick each day. They'd drive me up a TREE if I did!

LoriD- Me too on breakfasts: I do take into account what I know they like, but it's all on the table without their daily input.

Misty- It was worth it to move it from 6:30 to 6:15, but it would take a LOT of effort to move it from 6:15 to 6:00.

Banana said...

You are a well oiled machine, Mrs. Swistle. But a caring, loving, great mom type well oiled machine.

Jana said...

I am in awe. Total awe. I sure hope you get fabulous Mother's Day gifts each year!

Mommy Daisy said...

I love that you're efficient without going overboard about too many little details. That's a great thing. I always tell my husband I'm fast and efficient about tasks. The effieciency is the key. You're awesome!

desperate housewife said...

Number Six on your list is where I always get tripped up! We'll be in a hurry to leave for someplace and I'll be PICKING UP THE DIRTY PAJAMAS AND TRYING TO DO LAUNDRY! Ahhh! I've always kind of figured that to handle so many kids, prioritizing is one of the main Required Skilz. Must work on that...

Tessie said...

Not even a LITTLE boring.

This feeds my addiction to/obsession with Large(ish) families and How They Work.

I REALLY, REALLY prefer eating after AD goes to bed, even though BR would like to eat "all together". I just can't relax and enjoy my meals with her (at least at this age).

Liz :) said...

haha.. I blogged about this a couple days ago, but not in as much detail.
I don't know what our husbands would do without us. They would be LOST and that's about all. I have 3 kids, and we only do the lunch thing for 1 which is the pickiest eater I have everrrrr seen, I wish I could make her sandwiches though, she won't even eat those. Instead she needs pasta, chicken, nuggets, pizza, junk really but she won't eat much else.
Anyhow, this is informative to all mothers and mothers to be. You are indeed a supermom! :) KUDOS

Liz :) said...

oh yeah.... anddddd, I guess I need to try the wake up a few minutes earlier deal, because I'm the screamer at 10 after 8, saying I should have been to work at 8 and I still have a kid to drop off at school. I just can't seem to get my butt out of bed a little earlier! ugh... but after combing three mini heads of long girl's hair, then I have to comb mine and by that time I'm wore out and my arms hurt and pony tails are created.. haha

Mindy said...

I found your blog a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed reading it! I am Mom of B/G 8 yr. old twins and a 3 yr. old boy. I so wish I could mentally handle more, but I know I would have a nervous breakdown if I did. I think it's great you have five! For all of those other Moms that have trouble getting up and out the door without the kids being tardy...I have found that I MUST get as much of the lunchboxes prepped the night before ( chips in baggies, fruit bagged or ready to cut, cookie and drink ready). I also totally prep the coffee at night including putting out the cup and sugar by the pot. I also make sure all of their homework is signed and in the backpacks. I usually work on all of this when I am getting dinner or if hubbie is helping clean up dishes. This makes my morning sane so all I do is roll out of bed, turn on coffee, watch news for 10 minutes in peace.

Mimi said...

I loved this post... not boring at all! I have picked up so many tips from you it's not even funny.

JMC said...

You are SO MUCH MORE together than I am. I have one fewer children, but not nearly the time-management ability. AND one of my children gets up and gets herself ready in the morning, so really there's only 3 little ones.

Jessa said...

Great post! It's the only way to keep any sanity...to NOT do it all and be PERFECT at it. Martha Stewart DOES NOT have children!

Rebecca said...

Swistle,
I am super impressed. I am stealing some of your tricks and I only have one..two if you count hubby.

THANK YOU...and it was a totally NON-Boring post....I am flagging this one and the homemade baby food one as well.

Amber said...

Here's a question. How do you deal with the small people who hate getting up early and show it by fussing and crying the whole time you're trying to get them dressed? And take it as a personal affront when you ask them to brush their teeth? Evincing more crying? I don't want to ruin their (and my) morning, but I have yet to find a workable solution.

d e v a n said...

All good tips that I'll have to remember someday...
Also, Paul's comment made me LOL - he gets it!

Pickles & Dimes said...

Oh, I love you and your super-organized ways. Makes my heart sing.

Also, this is the first I've heard of this so-called cat. Do you have any other pets? Like a monkey? Oh, please say you have a pet monkey!

honyebecke said...

Oh my god. I'm tired just reading it! How are you not insane?
You are awesome, amazing and a WHOLE LOTTA woman!!!

skiplovey said...

Ok after reading that I'm still thinking "how does she do it?"
How can I be all complain-y about one when you do that everyday? Wow.

Omaha Mama said...

Survival mode. We are in that right now. Feb. is a little crazy for teachers and we are totally in survival mode. I love that ending about what Paul said. It's so sweet and so realistic all at the same time. (A little different from the "what did you do all day?" that I sometimes get from my Hubs when I'm home with the children. And there's only three of us! Six. Wow.

I didn't find this too long or boring. I find posts about daily routines and keeping up a house fascinating. Probably because I'm a little bad at both.

Linda said...

It's that "meshing" of activities that I can't get my husband to do. He does it all the time at work, but SOMEHOW loses the ability once he walks through our front door. So it is one SLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWW thing at a time when he's in charge and it drives me up a wall.

I get up early on days where we actually have to be somewhere and I have to be showered and presentable. It's the only way. Most days, however, we don't have a specific time to be leaving and I can fart around a bit.

Swistle said...

Amber- I am "lucky" in this regard, in that my kids are all early risers, and/or the early risers wake the others. I only have one who sometimes sleeps later, and I do timers with him: see if you can get dressed before the timer rings, etc. I also do the "Come on, come on, COME ON! TAKE A BITE AND THEN TAKE ANOTHER BITE!!!" thing. I haven't found a good way to motivate slow-pokes in the morning (cattle prod?), so it's good ("good") mine are mostly up around the time my alarm goes off, or shortly after.

Pickles & Dimes- We have three aging cats. We got them before we had children. We used to TAKE PHOTOS of them, and now they get NOTHIN'. Maybe we'll get them a pet monkey to play with.

squandra said...

Lady, you are amazing.

Amy said...

Holy. Shit. Is there an award for this? Because if there is, you deserve, like, ten.

Stimey said...

I like point #6. Sometimes when I'm having a hard day, I just remember that I have kept everyone alive and reasonably well-fed, so I'm doing all right.

And your photo of laundry? Yeah, there's a lot, but, oh my God, your floors are so clean!

Tracy said...

The first thing I thought when I saw the basket was not,"wow there is alot of laundry", it was "there sure is a lot of blue in that laundry!" We have that much pink, but are lacking in the blue. Wow a shower everyday...AMAZING! Do you need a nap by noon? I don't get up nearly that early and feel like I need a nap by lunch.

Swistle said...

Stimey- If those floors are clean, it is only from being buffed by all the spilled laundry. Floors are my least-favorite chore, so they're NEVER high enough on my task list to get done.

the new girl said...

I love this post.

LOVE IT.

Is that strange? I didn't find it one bit boring, in fact. I was RIVITED.

Amazing how exciting someone ELSE'S morning routine can be.

aoife said...

You mentioned a catbox, which means you should have a cat... can we see pictures of the cat and can we learn the cat's REAL NAME? :D

I am going to keep these tips in mind... too bad that my husband has really high expectations in regards to household management and I don't. Its hard to compromise. We really do need separate bedrooms. :D

launchingsloth said...

You could write a book about this. Seriously. I would buy it.

Kate said...

I loved this! Someday, *someday*, I hope to have a large family (though my husband swears he’s getting snipped after two). If we do, I can only hope I can handle it with such poise.

Mairzy said...

All right, an hour and fifty minutes. That makes it not one tiny bit less impressive.

And, I grant you, seeing a few kids out the door for hours would be nice at times. But I'm all done by the afternoon, when yours come home with HOMEWORK. Actually, to tell the truth, it's the keeping up with backpacks that really scares me. And let's not even get into snow boots and gloves.

Misguided Mommy said...

you got the green mug at target didnt you? i have the same one in a yellowy gold color

JMH said...

"Cliff of Dispair" Hee! Hee! I love that movie and it totally decribes my cleaning (non-cleaning??) philosophy!

Swistle said...

MM- Yes, Target mug! I bought it in apple green, a nice medium blue, chili red, and a cantaloupe orange. Paul has so far broken the blue one and the red one.

Erin said...

Swistle, I read this with absolute attention. You are amazing. Seriously. Your tips are real and actually helpful. As oppossed to so many parenting sites/materials that say things like, "while building a popcicle stick eifel tower with your child, you can multi-task and teach him a few key French phrases!" YEAH, that's about as helpful as a big punch to the face. Anyway, thanks much for this post.

Jen said...

ditto to what erin said. the reason i keep reading your blog is because it's NOT perfect, it's real. thanks for some good tips...and why does this actually make me want another baby? i'm sick, i know.

mom huebert said...

The "before school" rush is one thing I didn't miss homeschooling. But I can identify, because we did the "before church" rush on Sundays and Wednesdays. And I'm so glad I read this, because your commenters are so encouraging. You think I was supermom too when my four kids were young? And I didn't even know it? Wow. I feel really good about myself now!

Farrell said...

Okay, first of all, I LOVE this post and was just going to ask you TODAY that exact question. Why? Because i have one - ONE! - and sometimes it takes ALL of my energy just to get us both ready and out the door.
I still do not think I could do what you do. It's amazing.

Oh yeah, and BORING? Are you fucking kidding me? Most interesting thing I read all day, no joke.

The photo of the cereal on the floor? PRICELESS!

Swistle's Dad said...

This reminds me of those documentaries showing people performing unbelievable feats like climbing Mount Everest or whatever. In the end, the most amazing thing to me is: How the hell did the person FILMING THE FEAT get that shot??? Not only does Swistle set out the four cereal bowls, but then she takes a photo of it for posting on her blog!

Scorpy said...

I popped over from Farrell's blog...and I am glad I did. I'm a single Dad that works and I am super impressed. I love lists. I live with lists and calendars and would be all at sea without them. I'm from a family of five and learnt a lot of this from my Mum. We used to make sandwiches for a week and freeze them and I learned how to stew and mash vegetables into cubes, in ice trays (for the babies)and freeze them when I was 10. Mum's are geniuses :) Great post

May said...

Yup, you're amazing. I can't believe you can do all this and still have a good enough attitude to keep us all laughing. Thanks for the tips - yesterday I used "take advantage of opportunities" to unload the dishwasher while I waited a few minutes for the hubby to get home for lunch.

My housework philosophy as of late:
1. At the end of my life, chances are that I won't be kicking myself for not having a cleaner house; but
2. I realize that how I live today changes who I'll be in 5 or 10 years (and since I'd like to be an industrious, helpful person, I need to peel my freaking butt off the couch); and
3. Instead of being overwhelmed by the complete pigsty that is my apartment, I remind myself that I'm just a few steps away from it being clean. Believe it or not, this one helps - it inspires me to do those small, irritating things that can make a room feel so much cleaner.

Well, that's me, as I limp toward cleanliness...

~Free said...

This is PRECISELY why we need a woman president.

Opus #6 said...

I love this post. You are doing great! Really good tips for the mom with a large family.

The Bargain Shopper Lady said...

HOLY COW! You are amazing! I heart your mommie power!

pootandcubby said...

This wasn't boring at all. Honestly it made my head hurt a little - I will never complain about all the things I have to do for my 2 children again.

By the way, I'm andi. I'm here via Playgroupie. I'm officially hooked on your blog - you are hysterical!

Kristin.... said...

Swistle~thanks for the advice! I only have 1 school age child, a preschooler, and the twins are only 1, but holy cow, that alone is enough to manage. I get that question often....I do joke that alcohol helps the day along, but really, it's chocolate, and blogs. :)

Meredith said...

Wow! I am impressed. Okay, so now will you do a post on your late-afternoon-until-bedtime?

mommagoosenotes said...

Contrary to your mid-post apology, this is not boring at all. In fact, it should be scripture.

I am a Mom of one who was, in fact, wondering How the Hell You Do It All.

Lots of great advice in here--I especially love your husband's comment at the end. We Moms need to give ourselves more credit...just getting everyone to the end of the day alive is quite a feat some days!! (And for a Mom of five, that's quite a feat ALL days!!)

mommagoosenotes said...

Hello again--

Wanted to thank you for a couple things.

Firstly, thanks for the suggestion about making lunches in advance. My baby is only 11 months, but when I was putting together dinner tonight, I also prepped his lunch for tomorrow. That extra ten minutes for me will be a treat tomorrow!

Secondly, thanks so much for commenting on my blog. You are officially my first commenter ever, which made it extra special! :)