Running a household is tough, with or without kids.
I got my first taste when I was fifteen when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She lived about two years with the disease, but the second year was especially tough. Multiple brain surgeries, and treatments left her partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound. My father was taking a lot of time off work to be with her and take her to treatments, my older sister had just started her junior year of college, and my older brother had graduated high school and was working and taking classes locally. I was a senior in high school and had taken over paying the bills, making dinner and doing the food and household shopping.
Fast forward a few years, my father remarried and moved out, and when he told my sister and I, both living at home (her out of college and me now commuting to a local school) we had to pay the mortgage if we stayed, jumped ship. We got an apartment together and were confronted with utility bills and internet bills and rent.
Seven years later I moved out and into a new apartment with my fiancé, directly above the apartment I had been living in. We married a few months later, and six months after that bought a house.
I’m the organized one. I remember the appointments, I rake the leaves in the fall, and I keep on top of how many rolls of toilet paper we have. But anyone who owns a home can tell you it is a never-ending litany of broken things, repairs and hassles. I wouldn’t trade home ownership for a rental but it is a lot of work. And to top it off, we added a sewer bill, a fire department tax (that comes two weeks before Christmas each year), property tax, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and an oil bill. In our first year, our water pump died twice, the dishwasher died and our oil tank exploded in our basement (that was when I was 8 months pregnant). The second year, we lost two burners on the stove and the fridge.
No one prepared us for home ownership, especially not for the ownership of a house built in the nineteenth century. And we are still learning.
I love my husband to the ends of the earth but I’ll be honest with you. This amazing man had never raked a lawn, dusted furniture or cooked for himself before he met me. And he still can’t fold clothes. But he works incredibly hard, long hours so that I can continue to stay home with our girls. And I am so grateful to him for that.
There are a few days a week when he doesn’t get to see them at all because he works early and gets home late. So it’s just me with the girls, and everything has to be done purposefully or the entire household just falls apart.
People ask me all the time how I do it. I’m assuming they mean how do I function as a human with three toddlers and a baby. And my response is always, ‘I don’t know’. Because I don’t. It just happens. We survive and thrive and the day ends and a new day starts. It gets done because it has to get done. Sometimes with screams, sometimes with tears, and sometimes with a late night junk food binge fest. Someone, somewhere, and of course I like to think it’s my mom, is looking out for me. My house isn’t always the cleanest and my dinners aren’t always the healthiest, but we manage, and I’m glad for that.
The more I ruminate on that particular question, the more I realize that over these last four years, I’ve come up with these little coping mechanisms that take some of the pressure off this stay at home parenting and household running thing I’m trying to survive through. I never really sat down and decided to make all these changes. These are just things that sort of developed over time that make things just a little bit easier.
1. Family Calendar – my husband is a teacher with normal hours, but he also teaches private music lessons, plays in a community band, and plays in parade bands. He also plays/sings during holiday masses at a local church, so his weekend schedule can be a bit unpredictable. And December and May are both concert months for his middle school so during those months there are numerous additional weeknight commitments. We keep a small 2-year calendar in a bin in our dining room. Everything goes in there, and then when the month arrives it goes on our large calendar. I remember nothing and having this big visual reminder of late nights, appointments and social engagements right in my kitchen is a lifesaver.
2. Reminder boards – I keep small marker boards in different spots for reminders. I’ve got one in the mudroom door leading outside, mostly to tell my husband to bring home his lunchbox, one in the kitchen as a honey-do list, and also a weekly one on my fridge for meal planning. When you’ve got so much on your mind, it helps to have it written down. We also have one of those ‘to buy’ notepads on the fridge for our running shopping list.
3. Outfit Preparation – I have clothes organizers on the back of the girls’ door and my door (for the baby) with ready made outfits. As I’m putting the girls to bed, I just grab a stack of outfits and bring them in my room so I’m ready to go for the morning. My clothes are always laid out the night before, and my husband’s work clothes are always hung up ready for the morning. Having clothes already picked out is a lifesaver, especially on the days my oldest has preschool. Those days they can get up at 7:30 and I can have everyone dressed, fed, and hair brushed by 8:10 to hop in the car.
4. Daily Life Preparation – Firstly, our diaper bag stays in the van. If I use anything out of it during a trip it comes back in the house for restocking and stick it back in the mudroom. I also keep spare diapers and wipes in a trunk organizer. If we are heading out early, I prep a lunchbox the night before with a filled bottle and snacks. In the morning I throw an ice pack in and I’m ready to go. My husband’s lunch and my preschoolers lunch is packed the night before as well.
5. I don’t do bills. Like ever. ’m sure you’ve heard of bill pay through your bank account, right? Well, we do everything through bill pay. Even utilities. We took our first years’ utility bills and calculated an average amount spent each month and set up a recurring bill pay. Sometimes we end up with a credit, sometimes a small balance carries over. And if we find that the small balance carries over for a few months, we just schedule an extra $20 for the next month to square it off. We even took our quarterly sewer bill and started paying it monthly so that we could have a better handle on our finances. The only checks we ever write is for our oil deliveries because they are inconsistent.
6. I have turned over ALL money and bank issues to my husband. This was a tough transition for me. I’ve been working and paying my own bills since I was fourteen years old and rollerbladed to work. Staying at home with the girls and having no income of my own was a huge change for me. But as I’ve become accustomed to it, I realized that constant worry over the bank account balance and what bills come out and when was just one stressor I didn’t want to deal with. My husband knows every bill, and every date, and down to the penny what we can spend on any given day in order to have everything clear when it should. And I am SO grateful.
7. I clean after every meal. For easy meals, like breakfast, the girls do their own cleanup. For bigger meals, I bring a small trash bag right to the dining room table. As the girls finish, I start clearing. I try to load the dishwasher, put things away, and wash AS I’m cooking, so at the end of the meal, there isn’t that much to be done. Of course, it doesn’t always work this way, but I try. We also reuse our cups all day long. I rinse them out after each meal and stick them on the counter for the next time.
8. I have a date with the toilets. I tried coming up with a full on cleaning schedule once, and I failed miserably. But the one thing I FORCE myself to do? Well, that’s to clean both bathrooms every Friday, and empty the trash. And usually, it’s done in shifts. The upstairs one is started before the girls get up, or while they’re chilling in my bed watching some TV before heading downstairs. The downstairs one is usually finished while the girls are there In the tub.
9. I have multiple kid spots. Everyone knows what it’s like when kids have cabin fever, my kids get that way when they’re in the same room for too long. So we have some toys in the living room, we do art projects in the dining room, and we also have a small playroom. On days when we are home all day (and especially if the weather is bad), we switch things up by moving from room to room. It helps keep them entertained, less evil, and there’s usually less screaming. Usually. Sometimes they ever run around up in the bedrooms while I put clothes away.
10. Toys are put away before disaster strikes. When the girls are ready leave the playroom, I stand at the gate and supervise the cleaning process by repeating myself 87 times until my 3 year old FINALLY picks up the last horse and sticks it in the appropriate red bin. Even if we go back in an hour later, they can get more use out of the playroom when they start fresh and aren’t tripping over everything. In the living room the only toys that are always out are a Lego Duplo, a basket of stuffed animals, and a basket of small toys like play keys, and small trucks. We have plenty of other toys like dinosaurs, puzzles, magnetic dress up, gears, bug kits, etc, but there are all packed in their own small bins on a shelf. When the girls want to play with something on the shelves, I take down one type at a time. When that gets old, they clean it up, I put it away and they pick something new.
If this list tells you anything it’s that I totally and completely overthink things. And that I have OCD tendencies. It may sound like things run smoothly around here, but that’s not entirely true. Things are dirty, chaotic and loud. Just today, one of the twins slipped on the directions to a new toy that I left on the stairs, and she tumbled down five steps and got wedged next to the baby gate. And as she fell, she knocked over her older sister. And my oldest has a swollen face (one eye is just about swollen shut) from a bug bite four days ago. And, the icing on the cake, I had to spray and soak two pairs of underwear and one baby onesie after poop accidents.
With four under four, it’s all about survival. Having these little cheats makes the days just slightly less chaotic. And right now, that’s all I really need.
That and a mango margarita, with sugared rim.