So, I've found my little key to calmness in this chaos we call family life: meal plans.
Like every family, we struggle to balance everyone's needs and wants. Mom wants to go to a reading on Thursday, so Dad will have to handle the playdate transportation. Big Sis needs a trip to the library for a school project, so Little Sis will have to be patient and quiet in the "big kid" section.
We're really really really organized about this. We got gmail accounts for all of us (the littlest got one within days of being born) and shared all the calendars, so we can color code everyone's commitments. That helps--at least we can get a clear picture of what kind of chaos we're in for in a given week.
But the key is the meal plan.
It makes me feel a little like Donna Reed or maybe June Cleaver to say it, but you've got to have a meal plan. Having the week's menu planned out in advance saves time, energy and calories. It relieves stress. Plus, everyone gets to eat!
Each weekend, my husband and I shut ourselves away from the children for an hour or so and sit down for the planning meeting. We examine each day and talk through all the commitments, deciding what needs to be cut and what gets prioritized. Part of this is figuring out how to get everyone fed. Who will prepare what and when? Will we get to eat all together? Then the meal plan becomes a grocery list and someone goes shopping.
The planning meeting is a vital part of the weekend for me. It's our guaranteed time to touch base. Making these decisions together is bonding time. I think it's something T started doing for me, because I'm a real plan-ahead girl. Whatever it is, I want to know at least a week in advance. But now, he values the time, too. In taking care of the girls' needs, it can be hard to finish whole sentences and both of us really value this chance to set priorities together, even if it's just one week at a time.
Sometimes, I think it's the only thing that keeps my head above water: I know what's for dinner.
So, any given day, I get home from school, probably exhausted, definitely brain dead. If I had to decide on what to prepare at a moment like that, we would eat a lot of takeout pizza. But luckily, we've already planned it out.
I pull out my iPhone and look at today in the calendar: spaghetti and meatballs, Betsy and garlic bread. (Betsy is a family word for a very simple salad: lettuce, carrots and cucumber. It's named after a friend.) I put the girls on tasks. Big sister can fill a pot with water and put it on to boil. Little sister can get the garlic bread out of the freezer and get Mommy a cookie sheet. I start chopping vegetables. Someone microwaves the meatballs and sauce. And vóila, dinner. It's simple, but not bad for Wednesday night after soccer practice.
By the time Raleigh and the traffic in between lets us have Daddy back, we are ready to eat, at the table or on TV trays while we watch The Avengers cartoon series together.
I lean back and sigh. Yep, we made it through again. Dinner is served.