We’ve always applied some basic zone management to the daily juggling of our busy lives with five kids, two full-time jobs, one large dog and too many activities to count. For years, there was the preschool/stay at home divide, followed by the grammar school/preschool divide. In both instances, our two “big kids” would be out of the house first while our little ones – identical triplets who are now four – lingered at home.
This natural divide between the “bigs” and “littles” had many benefits. We could leave the “littles” in their cribs while we gave the “bigs” their breakfast. We could park the “littles” in their highchairs while we packed up snacks for the “bigs”. Mentally, it’s been a nice little crutch to think about getting two kids here at 7:30 and three kids there at 8:30 because truly, the idea of getting five kids anywhere at the same time is daunting. Especially when you need to get them there by 9AM with teeth brushed, sunblock applied, and backpacks brimming with beach towels, snack packs and lunch boxes, each in it’s own special place. Welcome to day camp.
This summer is the first time all five kids are going to our local day camp. On the upside, it’s kind of neat to have them all in the same place. They bump into each other on the playground, in the halls and at the cafeteria. The “bigs” look out for the “littles” and the “littles” are delighted to finally be joining the “bigs.” On the downside, we now have had to get five kids up and out by 9:00AM. No more zone management. This is the big time, people. We are stayin’ alive as parents of five but, just barely.
On any given morning, there is someone who can’t find his camp shirt, someone who needs a permission slip signed, someone who doesn’t want a turkey sandwich for lunch, someone who doesn’t feel well and someone who just doesn’t want to go. Not to mention the fights over cereal boxes, the spilled milk, the overcrowded bathroom as they try to brush their teeth, the tantrums when I try to brush their hair, the missing crocs, and so on and so on.
Our kitchen looks like a small assembly line as I struggle to pack lunches during the mayhem. And yes, I’ve thought of packing lunch the night before and in fact, used to when I only had to pack two of them but our fridge just can’t hold five lunchboxes! So, each morning, I line them up. I fill up the water bottles, and fill little containers with Goldfish and graham crackers. I line up the bread, dole out the turkey and sigh about the amount of Ziploc bags we go through. All the while, the kids are buzzing about like bees… swarming, you might say. I literally trip over children as I shuttle the lunchboxes to the backpacks and shove them all out the door. As I blink and wonder how it is that although I’ve been up since 5:30, I’m going to be late for work again, it hits me.
This isn’t just “welcome to day camp.” This is “welcome to the rest of your life.” Clearly it’s time for another management approach. It’s out there and I am determined to find it. We will get better with this manic morning routine and it will surely get easier as the weeks, months and years pass by. Before I know it, they will be able to pack their own darn lunch and won’t need me to help with their hair or remind them to brush their teeth. When that time comes, I will probably develop some sense of nostalgia for our morning mayhem, just as I now have it for our days of zone management… which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t so easy after all!