If I had to choose a part of the day and award it with the label of “Okay…this is gonna hurt!” hands down, without question or consideration, it would be the morning. And usually, I’m a morning person. At least I was in my old life.
I have taken to getting up (hopefully) an hour before the kids do. This is my time. My time to check my email, to leisurely read up on my feeds, and if I’m really lucky, to write. And it is worth losing sleep over. More importantly though, it allows me to get at least one cup of coffee in me before attempting the following. Trust me, it helps.
Chloe usually gets up first, and although she is gurgles and bubbles, and absolutely cannot contain her excitement to see me, she needs to be fed. RIGHT AWAY. Liam gets up shortly after and is always grumpy in the morning. We have breakfast, and then it’s a race to get out the door.
I am not much of a home-body. Don’t get me wrong, I value spending quiet time in our family space, but I get cabin fever easily, and when I do, I get grumpy. Then everyone suffers. Not nice, I know…but here’s my purgatory: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Every morning, we need to get out of the house. As. Quickly. As. Possible. Chloe’s good to take her morning nap on the go. In the bjorn, in the stroller, or in the car, she’s happy taking a little nap in the midst of the action. But for the love of god, get her out of the house before she needs that nap! When she gets tired at home, there is NOTHING that can be done except to get her to bed, and waking her up mid-nap can have consequences in their own league.
Liam’s usually quite happy to engage himself in quiet, independent play after breakfast, but rest assured, this will be short lived. I have approximately enough time to shower and get dressed here, if I’m fast. If I procrastinate, Liam gets bored, things get wrecked, and the day turns into a series of interventions, time-outs, and tantrums. Then we’ve missed our golden opportunity as the morning charades quickly morph into lunchtime, resulting in an afternoon of trying to convince a little boy that is not really that tired that he needs a nap.
Every morning, we need to get out of the house. As. Quickly. As. Possible. For a family that is not typically too rigidly stuck to any one set routine, this one cannot be messed with. When it goes smoothly, the entire day, right through to bedtime is smooth.
But getting out of the house is obviously just the beginning. In order for anyone to benefit, these outings need to be an opportunity for meaningful engagement. I think that the reason our daily outings work so well for me is that by getting out of the house, I’m removing myself from all the distractions around me. No email to check or blogs to write, no laundry to do or dishes to wash, no settling into the same routine obsessions that we gravitate towards at home (for Liam, that’s trains, cars, and dinosaurs). When we’re out, we’re focussed on exploring something new together. And in doing so, we connect.
Outings aren’t always a walk in the park, though. They require careful planning, and with the right attention, a trip to the grocery store can end up being that single moment of fun from the day that the wee one chooses to recall before bed. But they can also be disastrous. I’ve had my fair share of bad days, and there are a few things I’ve learned from them.
Start with an interest that genuinely piques your child’s imagination, then come up with an activity related that you will find enjoyable as well. Let’s face it, as much as we recognize the activity is for the kids, we (the parents) have to endure it too! If I absolutely hate swimming, but go just because I think the wee man will enjoy it, he’s going to pick up on my lack of enthusiasm. Instead, what I can do is recognize that he enjoys the water, and we can learn about marine life together in a variety of ways. We love to go to the Aquarium, we’ve had fun picking out ocean books from the library (and I hope I will never have to introduce Liam to the librarian again so he can apologize for tearing the ocean book), and we’ve even ventured out to the local fish market making dinner selection an adventure! (Seriously.)
Provide choice. This may sound ludicrous when we’re talking about a toddler, but even small children hate feeling powerless. This morning I started our breakfast conversation with: “What do you want to do today, Liam? Go to pre-school or go to the train museum?” We had the most amazing conversation! He told me, “Well, school is close, but the train museum goes choo-choo!”
Get together with families where the kids get along. If it works out that the parent of that kid is someone you actually feel you can genuinely connect with, great! You’ll probably move mountains to make visits with that family a regular occurrence. If connection (for the adults) is not imminent, you’re likely to either put in a substantial amount of effort into finding something you find interesting about that person, or be content with just sitting in silence while the kids play. Either way, the kids are entertained and developing valuable social skills, and you can relax. Everyone’s happy.
Find a location that works. I have a choice few, and we generally rotate through them depending on what the weather is like. I live in Squamish, and it rains a lot here. Being in the Outdoor Recreation Capital means that our outdoor play options are endless: biking, hiking, water sports, and beaches galore! Rainy days pose more of a challenge though, so we’ve chosen our few indoor favourites (on the days we aren’t into just putting on our rain boots and hunting for puddles to jump in) and we do them often. We don’t get bored of them. In fact, I think the predictability gives the kids a feeling of safety and security. They know what to expect, so they’re more willing to take risks and learn new things.
Find a time that works….for everyone. I am notorious for offering to be too flexible when getting together with others. “We’re good for any time that works for you!” No! That’s a lie, and I don’ t know why I ever say it! Mornings work best for us. I’m starting to learn though, that I need to trust my instincts. I know my little unit and how we tick, and if there’s someone that wants to get together with us that doesn’t tick in sync with us, well…I just need to figure out another way to connect with them.
I’m getting better at this. At least I think I am. And I want to. I definitely don’t feel like I’m in a position to give advice; I’m more like a soldier thrown into the trenches. Sink or swim! So this is not advice; it’s just my life.
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