11

help a mama out – school uniforms

This fall we will be homeschooling our oldest at a kindergarten level, and he will also be attending three abbreviated days a week at a Montessori Academy that has a homeschool program.  The Academy also has a full-time student program and both arms of the school require uniforms. This is completely uncharted territory for me. With the exception of dressing up as Brittney Spears in Hit Me Baby One More Time for Halloween, I’ve never worn a school uniform and I have a gazillionty questions about it. DanO high school’s required uniforms but he was a teenage dude and doesn’t know the answer to most of the questions I pose to him. So, help a mama out?

>>What should I know before I dive in and invest in a wardrobe for this year?

>>Should I look for higher priced items that wear well (thinking Lands End) or just assume that they are going to get worn into the ground regardless so save the bucks up front (AKA Old Navy)?

>>What did you find was needed as far as number of items and outfits? We will only be attending 3x a week so I’m wondering how few items I can get away with purchasing.

>>The parameters are pretty standard- polos, oxfords, and sweaters are the shirt options. Were there tops you found that your kid(s) (specifically your high-energy young boys) preferred over others?

>>How did you store/organize uniform clothes vs. everyday clothes?

>>Did you have any rules on wearing uniform items on non-school days or changing into ‘street clothes’ after school?

>>Did you use clothing labels to mark your kids clothes and which did you find worked well?

>>Are there any tips you have about how to pitch uniforms to OBoy? I don’t anticipate a struggle getting him to wear them per se, but  the idea of wardrobe regulation will be a new concept to him (with the exception of seasonally appropriate choices). How do you talk about uniforms with your young students?

As always, I am ridiculously thankful for you, friends and readers (who are friends I just haven’t met yet). Whenever I think about the wisdom I have gained from some of y’all I get all verklempt. Thanks in advance for your help – I feel so much less clueless with y’all in my pocket.

19

three kids in one bedroom

3 kids 1 room

It is not our ideal arrangement, but right now all three of the kiddos share one bedroom. Because our house has two bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms on the ground floor, and because we aren’t yet comfortable doing two-story sleeping arrangements with our babies still relatively young, this is what works for us. I wrote about the boys sharing a room a while back, but this third kid thing has been a game changer and I’ve been asked a few times to write about how we make it work. The good news is: it does work. Here’s what it looks like for us.

{As I talk about all of this, I want to mention that OBoy will be five years old this week (HOW????), OBrother is three years old, and ODear is eight months.}

Furniture, storage and decor:

Full room view

The only furniture in the room are the bunk beds for the boys on one side, a crib for ODear on the other, and a big ‘ol dresser between that holds everything for all of them including the changing station. Each kid has one large Clothes They Wear Everyday drawer, one small Pajamas and Underthings drawer, and then the boys share one more large Swimsuits and Other Infrequently Used Apparel drawer. Out of season and outgrown clothes are in labeled plastic bins in their closet along with miscellaneous winter coats etc.

Ikea hemnes dresser

The bunk beds were unbunked until last spring when we were expecting ODear and began playing furniture tetris. It was a hoot, lemme tell you. With OBoy at almost four years old and OBrother freshly two we stacked those beds, made very firm rules, and crossed our crossables that it would work. The rules include: they don’t play in their bedroom, especially with friends over (because it is amazing how quickly bunk beds morph into jungle gyms in the eyes of a child, and also because we have a playroom), and OBrother was not allowed on the top bunk or even on the ladder until very recently and even now it is only when a grown up is in there. (Remind me to tell you about the morning that we were in the hospital, 8 hours after giving birth to ODear, and we got a call that OBrother might need stitches on his head because of playing up on the top bunk. This stuff is real life.)

Bunk bed brothers

More generally, we treat the room as a sleeping room and there are other places in our house for playing etc.There are no bedside tables or bookshelves (or toys for that matter) because 95% of the time we play in the playroom and living room (and kitchen and dining room…). We utilize other spaces, the mudroom for example, if someone is napping and another child needs some alone time (whether consequence or personal choice).

O, and blackout curtains. Always blackout curtains.

Our rocking chair and ottoman were in the room when it was just the boys, but when ODear joined the ranks it was exiled to the hallway. At the time I though this was a negative thing – the kids furniture expanding into the hallway – but it has turned into a positive for several reasons. First off, I can nurse her down to nap in the hall which is at the top of the stairs and open the the level below where the boys are playing, meaning I can keep an ear on them but still be far enough away to allow sleep atmosphere for the baby. Secondly, it is common that the boys’ bedtime and the baby’s bedtime are staggered, so it is nice to be able to put the boys in bed and do their routine, then close the door to their room and be in a different but near-by space while rocking ODear to sleep.

The room was originally a boy room complete with navy walls, an americana theme, and airplanes hanging over each bed. One of the airplanes has been taken down, but  the other one still hangs proudly over our daughter’s crib. To be honest I haven’t gotten around to decorating the room to include baby girl. (Poor ODear. Don’t tell her that her corner of the world consisted only of a third-time-around crib and a new-to-her mobile when she was a baby, m’kay?) I have made this mood board of a nautical themed room in greys and yellows and navys to neutral things up in there, and a mood board is half the battle, right?

Kids' Room Mood Board

Age of transition:

Age-wise, ODear has been in with the boys since she was about three months old which is how old OBrother was when we put the boys together as well. We stumbled upon this age when we went on a family vacation when the boys were little (OBrother was eight weeks old) and all four of us shared a bedroom. We were pleasantly surprised at what OBoy slept through on that trip and decided to try putting them together at home after that. When we do switch, we ease into the transition with a night time combo of baby in the crib/baby in our room depending on how soon we think different parties will wake up. For example, when she was four months old ODear would sometimes nurse around 4:00am and then want to keep sleeping, in which case we kept her in our room because more than likely she would sleep in later than the boys. This helps for a while but once everyone has their feet under them (usually by 6mo) then baby is in the kid room full time.

Bedtime and mornings:

We have a light called The Good Nite Lite and we love it with our whole heart. It looks like a moon and lights up blue at night, then it changes to a yellow sun in the morning at the time of your choosing (7:30am for us right now, although it changes at different times of year). We have had it since OBoy was a toddler and we never leave town without it; that thing has seen both coasts of our great nation and several fly-over states in between.  In the morning the boys are expected to stay in their own beds and not make more noise than quiet talking or singing before the light changes to a sun. They can come out to go to the bathroom (obviously) but other than that if they are out of their beds before 7:30 we ask ‘Is the sun on?’ and if the answer is no, back in bed they go. The Good Nite Lite schedule obviously doesn’t apply to ODear; if she is awake and hungry at 6:00am I nurse her and she is up for the day. With the boys, it gives us a clear boundary for what otherwise can be a hairy situation.

Good Night Light

I should also talk a bit about sleep preferences here.  My cousin recently put words to something DanO and I have believed for a long time about parenting that is played out in room sharing: We should teach our children that they are not their own. For us that is because of the sacrificial life of Christ which is our example. Even at this young age, our boys need to do things they don’t want to or not do things they do want to because they are serving others. The kids sleep with their door closed and we keep the white noise machine on at a dull roar. If this ever comes into question, we remind them that this is what needs to happen because of the others in our family, similar to cleaning up after ourselves or being gentle when playing near ODear. Each boy (and eventually ODear) has dominion over their own bed – which stuffed animals, which covers, pillow or no pillow, etc., but the room itself – airspace and door and lighting – is shared. Obviously when compromise is possible it can be a very good thing, but there are times when it is not possible and so we remember that we are not our own.

Because of our age spacing, we handle the kids’ bedtimes as ‘the boys’ and ‘the baby’. Sometimes the boys are tucked in bed and ODear is still going strong due to a long afternoon nap. This is where that outside-the-room rocking chair is pretty clutch. We have a place to ease her into sleep after the boys are asleep or while they are having their own wind-down time in their beds. Other times ODear just needs to be sleeping in her crib before the boys head to bed. In this instance we will do all of our in-room bedtime routine stuff with the boys (reading, singing, praying) on the couch in the living room under dim lights and then remind the boys that we are about to walk into a room where a baby is sleeping and that we are going to be ‘all the way quiet’.

The view from OBrother's bed

We have found that the motivation of staying quiet in bed ‘because baby is sleeping’ is a powerful one both in the morning and before falling asleep. These boys love their sister and when we make it clear that she needs their help (in the form of quiet) they are valiant for the cause. We have also been known to threaten the removal of her from their room if they can’t be respectful of her needs.  I will say that some of the most precious times between our three kids have happened when they are all awake and happy in their room before the sun is on. Giggles and songs and long distance games of peekaboo – it is so heart warming to hear them in there doing their thing.

Midnight wake-ups:

ODear is still nursing at least once a night. I have no illusions of ‘sleeping through the night’ anytime soon, nor do I try to rush that with my nurslings (<— separate post ;) ). When she wakes to nurse usually DanO goes to get her and brings her into our bed where I breastfeed her laying on my side (half-asleep) and when she is done either DanO or I will bring her back to her crib and lay her down. DanO and I sleep with our door open and are pretty responsive to her cries at night because 1) we don’t do the cry it out thing 2) we don’t want the boys to wake up if we can help it. To be honest, this way – the baby waking the boys – has never happened. I don’t know if this is because the boys are hard sleepers or because they do wake but just roll over and know that Daddy will come get her soon, OR because we have the sound machine cranked.

I think of room sharing with nurslings like the tooth fairy thing: it’s impressive what kids can sleep through.

We would enjoy a little more freedom here if they weren’t in the same room, to see if when she makes noise at night she is just working through bowels stuff and her fussing is short-lived or if she actually needs to nurse and is awake with hunger. I would say that this is the area where the three-to-a-room is hardest on us right now but it is nowhere near insufferable, more just inconvenient.

Bunk bed brothers

As far as the other way around – one of the boys waking the baby – yes. OBrother waking up crying from a bad dream has awoken ODear before. In fact, it happened last week. If it is close to when she normally wakes to eat I will just nurse her back to sleep, and if not she gets a little extra attention – back patted, rocked in the chair – and is quickly sound asleep again. Really though, this is maybe a once or twice a month occurrence and has yet to be a crisis.

Random important tip:

This might sound micro-managerial, but we have taught the boys to turn the door handle as they close the door so that the latch doesn’t click loudly and we have a small dot of rubber on the door frame to keep it from banging. The boys are known to use the bathroom at any time of night, and as you’ll see below they may also leave a room while someone else is napping. Practicing quiet door closing is a requisite to our room sharing model.

Nap:

Ah, nap time: you are simultaneously my best friend and my worst enemy. During some of my lower times, nap time snafus were a serious anxiety trigger for me. I still think I feel a higher-than-average amount of mental pressure for nap to go well, but even with that we are able to make room-sharing work with a routine that I’m comfortable with. My basic premise is that two kids can nap at the same time in that room and if three kids need to nap we sub in the master bedroom for the baby.

ODear in her crib

Believe it or not, my experience is that little ones can sleep through someone waking up, walking out, and closing the door to room they are sleeping (see: teaching children to close doors quietly and rubber bumpers). Sure, about once a week they wake up at the same time and I wonder who was the catalyst for whom, but overall I have been impressed by this aspect of nap room sharing. That said, I think two kids leaving the room gets to be a little risky, which is why I max it at two in a room at nap.

IMG_2884

For a longtime, OBoy was still napping almost daily and even now when the morning holds something exhausting like swimming he will sleep. In this case I put the boys down together in their beds while holding ODear and then if she needs to start her nap while the boys are sleeping she takes that nap in our master bedroom. [NOTE: We do not have a pack'n'play set up in our master. Our bed is a mattress on the ground and if she is napping in there I strip the blankets and pillows and lay her in the middle.] More often, though, our oldest can be found in the playroom during nap time, sitting on a cushion reading books for an hour of ‘rest’. When this is the case, I put OBrother (3 years old) and ODear down together in their room after lunch. Most days ODear out-sleeps OBrother by a good hour.

Some things we haven’t figured out yet:

We have a remote-controlled video monitor in the room. We can scan over and see if the boys are being rowdy in their beds or aim it at the crib and see if ODear is pulled up on the railings waiting for us. I realize that it is not normal for a 5 year old to have a camera in his bedroom, but for now it is a necessity. Also on our radar is the shared gender aspect. I have no idea when that becomes an issue or if there are sufficient work-arounds so that the room can continue to be shared, but we know that that is a bridge down the road that we will cross eventually.

If three kids in one room is the situation you find yourself in (or want to put yourself into) I guess I’m just here to say that it can work and it is not nearly as anxiety inducing as I thought it would be. It works, y’all. It really does.

26

the ‘are you guys done?’ question

Three babies. Four years. It’s been quite the streak.

three standing

We have always wanted a family. Our senior year of college (for which we were married) I used to joke with DanO about dropping out and just making babies. Mostly joking. Sorta not joking. Not really joking. We were quite pregnant on our second anniversary and we haven’t looked back.

When I was not-really-joking about dropping out of my ridiculously overpriced college and starting our family, the number we threw around was four. Four kids. This likely had a lot to do with my husband’s family of origin. There wasn’t much friendship to be had with my one brother growing up – we were neither playmates nor companions – and although things like this are impossible to orchestrate for our children, it seems to me that having more than one sibling increases the odds of my kiddos having a well-suited childhood playmate.

And O, the babies themselves.

daddy home

I friggin’ love babies. They are my anti-drug*. The moment one starts to wean themselves from nursing my brain switches to ‘must. have. another.’ mode. When people say they ‘knew they were done’ I just can’t fathom what that felt like; I will never not want another baby.

What I will want is to not be pregnant again. The hardest part of motherhood and growing our family hasn’t been birth or breastfeeding (both of which I love) or the lack of sleep or barrage of constant NEED from all these short people around here. It has been the sacrifice of my body during pregnancy. My poor, poor body. This is not to say that pregnancy is purely damaging to a woman’s body. I’ve said before that there is much more to it than that. But there is sacrifice that comes with growing another life on your insides. Choices that are different, body parts that are changed permanently, temporary changes that take work to improve. And in a lot of cases, very real and hard emotional work.

This is weird to explain to people, even friends. It is a dichotomy of dread and desire, a battle between my mind and heart. My heart knows that we aren’t done yet, that we want more of this drooly, crawly, get into everything but then snuggle-nurse to sleep baby stage. But my head knows that it will come at a price, it knows how much it cost last time. How hard the third trimester of my pregnancy with ODear was on my spirit. Have I told you, friends and readers (who are friends I just haven’t met yet), that 10 weeks from my due date with her I went back onto the anti-depression medication that I had weaned off of for the sake of getting pregnant? This pregnancy defeated me in a lot of ways. Gloriously, I did not experience the postpartum anxiety that I have experienced with my other two, but I still get a little clammy-handed when I think about what my brain and heart went through while ODear was being knit together.

41 weeks pregnant

When someone asks if we are done, the answer is no, but I say it through a clenched jaw with glazed over eyes envisioning myself pregnant again. Yes, we want at least one more baby in this not-little-anymore family but no, this time I am not chomping at the bit to start that process.

So, there you have it, stranger at the YMCA who sees me hauling around my gym bag and all my babies every week like a sherpa, that is the long version of the answer to your question.

*Although, given my postpartum depression journey, well, they’re kinda the opposite of my anti-drug too.