Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

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Family / Homeschool / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (2)

Welcome friends.

This is day 15 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: This is part 2 of a look at what it means to Pace the Day. I recommend going back to read part 1!

Yesterday I introduced the concept of pacing the day. As I mentioned there, this idea came to me early in my mothering journey and I have developed and tweaked it over time as our family and our needs have changed. I have used the following technique in a variety of ways over the past several years, and I want to say from the outset, there is no single “right” way, but instead some guiding principles and tools to help you figure out what pacing the day might look like with the personalities in your house.

The following things are required to pace the day well.

1) You have to throw out your notions of a hard-and-fast schedule in favor of routines, which are a little more squishy than schedules but do establish some patterns that your kids will pick up (and thrive) on.

2) You have to step out of frantic/reactive mode and do some observation so you are able to assess where everyone is at, and what they need next. Sometimes I literally find a corner to disengage from the crazy and just watch them. This is a great time for a hot drink near a lovely window.

3) Patience. Some people tell me they just don’t have it, but from my own experience, I will say, patience is a muscle that you can strengthen. I am only a (mostly) patient mother because I have been tested, and tested, and tested, and as I have struggled to respond to my children in a gentle and caring manner, my patience has grown. Perseverance gets you places!

So back to the main idea: Pacing the day is like holding a hand of cards at the beginning of the day, knowing that each card will be played at some point, but the order and timing of when you play it will vary from day-to-day and is a strategic, forward-thinking move. It is a little bit like choose-your-own-adventure. Mothers who want a household to adhere to strict schedules (by the clock) will possibly not love this idea, but I still hope you’ll read along because I think you may pick up some valuable ideas even if you’re a more scheduled person than I am.

If you are ready to pace the day, the cards in your hand are as follows:

Do Ahead, Communicate, Go Mode, Buffer, Margin, Choice, Re-set

Each of the cards has its own role in the mix, and they work together to achieve a (mostly) smooth and peaceful day. I’ll break each one of them down for you, from the perspective of what we usually do, especially in the morning.

Do Ahead
This refers to any task that I am able to take care of ahead of time. It goes nicely hand-in-hand with my Plan One Day Ahead list, and includes things like: filling water bottles, making to-go lunches, making and following a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so there is no guesswork about what we’re eating and I just have to shuffle the ingredients around. It also includes my personal early morning routine which is to wake and diaper/dress both of my youngest children before I even leave my bedroom. I keep their clothes in my room, and find a lot less resistance to getting out the door if those two are taken care of right off the bat.

Communicate
My older kids are able to do many tasks on their own. When they wake, I instruct them to dress all the way to the shoes before they eat breakfast. If we happen to have a day we are not going anywhere, I will have them get started on independent school tasks instead, and serve them breakfast as they’re working on penmanship or English. I try to communicate well about what we have going on for the day, and offer a 1 hour, 30 minute, and 10 minute warning before we need to leave the house. I verbally toss out what they might want to have in order to be prepared for whatever activity we are headed for, but they know it is their responsibility to have shoes on, have a coat, have a filled water bottle in hand. Most often, the youngest two are already dressed by breakfast, and everyone (except me) is ready to leave 10-15 minutes before our target time. While they wait, I assign them a small clean-up job that can be completed before we leave. During that time, I am typically doing my hair, pulling a lunch together if I didn’t do it ahead of time, or last-minute changing a diaper.

Go Mode
This one requires a bit of practice to get your kids motivated, but when they have a hold of the concept, nothing will be able to stop you! We use go mode as we do household cleanup, engage with school tasks or prepare to leave the house. I have one child that is a day-dreamer and moves about life at a relaxed pace. Family quirk story: This child is wildly imaginative. She struggles to attack a job or a task with focus and tenacity, but if she can pretend to be an animal, she will kick into gear and get things done. Ever since she watched Jurassic World, she has been enamored with velociraptors, and in an effort to get some fire under her one day, I invited her to complete her tasks with, “velociraptor speed.” The kid turned into a velociraptor and cleaned up everything in sight. Weird, but hey, if it works! I also explained to my kids that sometimes in the last few minutes before we need to leave, I need everyone to get up, get moving, and handle their individually assigned tasks while I’m tending to my last details. We call this “Busy bees”, and when I call it out, everyone knows that it is Go Mode time to leave the house. We also do timed challenges and sometimes have rewards to practice this skill.

Buffer
With six kids, I hear a lot of questions and get many requests from the kids throughout the day. They range from ultra-simple things like “Can you please tie my shoe?” to things like “Can we meet up with X friend at the park today?” Honestly, it is question after question around here. Questions are great, and I encourage them, but I don’t give an immediate answer to anything that is asked of me unless I’m sure of the answer I want to give. Because I try to make good on anything I agree to, I am a little stingy with my “yes” answers. I also don’t revel in saying “no” all the time, so instead I create a buffer with a statement like, “I know you would like to do ______ today, but I will need to think about what we have going on today before I give you an answer. If I’m not able to fit that in today, we will find another time for it.” My children love this because they nearly always get what they want (if its reasonable), but they get it at a time and in a way that works for me. I think its a great idea to practice creating a buffer anytime other people in your life ask you for things as well. It buys you a little time to decide if you really want to commit to something or not by acknowledging their request, and setting a small boundary that you will not leap into just any request that comes your way. It makes your choices intentional. This is one way I have simplified my life…don’t answer immediately!

Margin
This one is pretty simple, but not always easy. Keeping a margin in your day means that you do not overschedule yourself. It means keeping a block of time somewhere in the day that is left open for whatever is needed, or it might mean being willing to drop a commitment from the day to re-set instead of keep on going. Margin is one of the biggest reasons I homeschool my children…it gives me the flexibility to be in charge of my entire daily schedule and not have to live by a school calendar or daily bell schedule. I am not in the car for hours a day (unless I want to be), and my kids are not sitting still in desks for hours a day (unless I want them to be). Now that I have tasted the sweetness of having margin in my day, I can’t go back to the busy life. No way.

Choice
This is toddler parenting 101, but I think its an important card to hold when you’re managing a household of kids of all ages. Regarding choice, it comes down to this: I supply the options, they make the choices. There are many times that a child comes to me and says, “I want to play video games right now.” We don’t use our game system on weekdays to encourage more productive learning activities (and if I’m honest, preserve the helpful, positive attitudes of screen-free days), so I have no problem responding with, “That is not a choice right now. You may do _____ or _____,” and I supply their options for them. There is usually not much of a fight, because they already know the parameters for video games, but more than that, I don’t often insist that they do one particular thing. I give them two choices, and they take it from there. They love their autonomy, and I love that I still have a handle on the direction we’re going.

Reset
This might be the most important of all pacing the day strategies. Knowing how to re-set if the day has turned upside-down is a desperately needed survival skill for moms. What works for one person may not work for another, but I would encourage you to give some thought to making a list of five things you can do to re-set your day if it comes to that. Some of the things that land on my list are: quiet time (everyone separated—usually in their beds—to read or quietly play until a timer goes off), go outside (I used to be a mostly-indoor mom, but I have learned there is something to getting out and letting everyone have their space from each other), do something with my kids that helps us connect (read a book, paint together, have a silly dance party), do one-on-one check-ins (I do these sometimes during quiet time and invite the kids one by one into my room for a few minutes to talk about whatever is on their minds), or my last-resort: lay a blanket out on the living room floor, put a bunch of snacks out, start a movie and take an ears-open nap on the couch while they’re glued to it. << This is typically how I survive the toughest parts of pregnancy and/or being sick.

I hope that gives you a bit of a glimpse into how I manage my days at home, and possibly some ideas to incorporate into your own version of pacing the day. You’ve got all the cards, so choose which ones to play when they are needed. I try and take in the cues my children give me and steer them toward “Go Mode” tasks (being out of the house, household cleanup, school time) or Margin/Reset time if Go Mode isn’t going very well.

I would love to know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any questions for me, please feel free to be in touch.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Homeschool / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (1)

Welcome friends.

This is day 14 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: As I wrote out this post, it grew longer and longer, so I have broken it up. Part 2 will be up tomorrow! 

Yesterday I shared on my habit of planning one day ahead, and today I would like to follow that with a practice I refer to as “Pacing the Day,” a technique I have employed with my family for quite a few years. Please note, this is not a complicated concept to implement, but it is a little tricky to describe, so please bear with me, and if you have questions by the end, I am glad to hear them!

Ok. So you plan one day ahead and know what is coming at you from the perspective of tasks that need your attention, and details you need to keep in your mind, but you also have these wildcards children who might be on board with your awesome one day plan, or they might figuratively tear your plan to pieces with any of a number of sly moves—terrible attitudes, fits of screaming, stubbornness, apathy, selective listening, getting suddenly sick, squabbling over the tiniest things…are you with me? So what is a mom to do when she has a list and the very real possibility that accomplishing her list might be completely impossible that day?

Pace the day.

If you have young children, you already know that one day to the next, you have no idea if the house will still be standing by bedtime. You have no idea if your children will cooperate at any level while you try to get them out the door. You have dreams of being able to perfectly execute your to-do list and soul-care and child-care, but you know that it is not ever going to look like what it does in your dreams. It’s called reality, and mamas know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reality is what it is, but the way we look at it—or the perspective we take on it—makes a huge difference in how we respond to it.

Pacing the day is about sharpening your intuition to recognize the cues your children give so you can anticipate their needs instead of respond to them after the fact, and employing proactive strategies for smoother days. I am specifically referring to non-verbal, nuanced cues that give you insight so you can design the flow of your day as it unfolds around the present needs of your family. This allows you to capitalize on your kids’ energy when they have an abundance of it, build in times for rest and connection when that is prudent, and hopefully allows you a measure of peace in the midst of a challenging but wonderful season of life.

Most mothers pace the day at some level instinctively, but I’d like to look at it in more detail because like anything interesting, the more you dig in the more you discover.

I have a tiny backstory for you. I first started putting these thoughts together when my second baby was about 6 months old. With my first baby, I was a young mom with a steep learning curve (i.e. zero previous infant experience), and I mothered her as an infant with this cycle: baby cries, mom responds, mom tries everything she can to make the baby stop crying, baby stops crying; repeat x100 daily. It was an endless cycle of cry, satisfy, cry, satisfy, and I was all over the place trying to satisfy that child. With my second-born, I started to notice that my son had specific subtle cues when he was getting sleepy or hungry. He wasn’t yet crying, but he was subtly communicating. I was able to recognize little signs before there were big tears and tend to needs early with very little crying. I have had four more babies since then, and over time I have come to believe that little ones are absolutely capable of telling us what they need if we are able to observe and respond to their cues proactively instead of reactively. I have been able to anticipate their needs before we’re in all-out-frazzled mode, and as such my babies have not spent much time crying.

Please note, every baby is different and this is in NO way intended to insinuate that if you just do xyz, your baby will never cry. If they do cry, it is not a poor reflection on you or evidence that you can’t do this. This is not a formula, and not a prescription—simply a look into what I have discovered within my family in case it helps you.

The wonderful thing about the discovery of this concept: it works with older children too. It is possible to anticipate what the best next-step will be during the day by evaluating where your child is at. It takes far more energy to put out a fire than to prevent one in the first place. Is it always possible to prevent fires? No, of course not. But if there is a way to cut down on the number of fires I have to put out each day (spending my precious limited energy to do so), you can bet I will put a little effort in on the front end to save a lot of effort later.

That is the main idea behind pacing the day.

I use the term ‘pacing the day’ because motherhood feels something like a sprint on a marathon track. We wake to little faces with big needs and funny personalities, and we have to be on our toes all day long. The thing is, we have to be diligent regarding this mothering task not only for the day in front of us, but for years to go.

Motherhood is a marathon, and if you run it like a sprint, you are going to injure yourself or your children somewhere in the process. 

Pacing the day is an invitation to slow down and make strategic decisions about how help your children develop healthy habits, communication skills, and ultimately emotional intelligence—all in the course of an ordinary day. Pacing the day is about attentiveness. It is about staying engaged with your children and understanding the leadership role you hold in your household system. It is about recognizing that you have tools at your fingertips that can help you proactively manage the environment of your home. You do not have to hunker down and brace yourself for the drama, but you can gently direct and guide your children into a pattern of healthy habits that will serve them in the present and long after they leave your house. There may still be some drama—but you are not obligated to participate in it. You can instead strategically respond to the cues your children give you about the best next-step for the day. Pacing the day is about understanding that a mother is uniquely gifted to stand at the helm and steer the family ship with intention and wisdom.

Tomorrow, I will share in complete detail how I use this method in my family. Between now and then, if this idea happens to resonate with you,  would you think about a mama you personally know that might benefit from these ideas and share this post with her? I would love to encourage her with my experience, and I hope you’ll be back to check out the juicy stuff I have for you tomorrow. It’s going to be great.

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40: 29-31

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Creativity / Homeschool

Making Colors New

This is how we spent the morning. I didn’t mean to start into this project, but while I was organizing other things and the kids were getting on my nerves with their bickering, I knew I had to give them a task to do. The crayon basket had already been dumped out and needed to be picked up, and I had the brilliant idea of asking them to sort the broken ones from the others. A bit later, when that task was almost finished, I suggested they take the papers off the broken crayons….more to keep them busy while I finished my task. Only then did I think about actually melting them down to “make colors new” as E put it.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

Just so I didn’t find myself in a messy pickle, I did google up a few different tutorials before jumping in. We decided to sort the pieces by color. I sprayed the muffin tin with cooking spray so they would pop out easily when cooled. It definitely did the trick and cleanup was a breeze. I put them straight in the oven at 275 degrees for about 8 minutes. The trickiest part was pulling them out of the oven while hot, but once the tray was safely on the cutting board, all was well.

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

I let them cool for about 10 minutes on the cutting board, and because all of us were getting impatient and they were still slightly warm, I put them in the freezer for about another 5 minutes. I flipped over the muffin tin and tapped the bottoms with a butter knife and they popped right out. Everyone took a turn coloring with them, and they thought it was the coolest thing ever. I’m just glad it was so easy and thrilling for them. Even superheroes like a good art project!

http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com http://solacearts.com

Creativity / Family / Homeschool / Organization

Painting

http://solacearts.com

One thing I find is an easy but fun activity for my kids to do on a rainy day is to paint. There was a time that I was adamantly against all activities that risked making a huge mess, and the idea of toddlers and preschoolers painting, in my house, with brushes and paint and water, made me break out into a cold sweat. For a while, I thought of it as a who-would-ever-do-that-to-themselves activity, and as such, we didn’t do much of it. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that if I spend my time and energy trying to keep them from making messes that inconvenience me, they are going to internalize a belief that they should not go, explore, do, and create with freedom…which is not at all what I want for them. Granted, it still has to be manageable, but I’ve learned that the best things in life get messy and that’s ok. For those who aren’t so sure they are ready for a painting day, I put together a few tips that have helped me make this activity fun for them and not a big deal for me.

1. Get a cheap dollar store tablecloth to keep with the paint supplies. And if you don’t have one, use a kitchen trash bag laid out flat at each workstation. I just fold up the tablecloth (without cleaning it) and store it in the painting box. I sometimes keep the kitchen bags for a few sessions, but eventually I toss them out.

http://solacearts.com

2. Use washable, watercolor paint. I’m sure we’ll try some other kinds in the future, but for now this is what works for us. I’m still searching for a ‘favorite’ brand. Crayola works fine, and RoseArt works but isn’t great, and our favorite paint thus far (the round palette) is an unmarked mystery brand and I’m not sure where it came from. If you have a kids washable watercolor paint that you love, I’m all ears!

http://solacearts.com

http://solacearts.com

3. Use a ceramic bowl for the water. A cup will work, but a bowl, especially a heavy ceramic cereal bowl does not tip easily. I typically let each of the kids have their own bowls at their workspace instead of sharing, and they always enjoy making the water turn different colors.

http://solacearts.com

4. Find a great container to store all the paint supplies in one place. I actually use these clear plastic tubs all over the house. (more on my organizing methods, which are functional but not impressive or beautiful, at a later time). Our tub is labeled for the kids (any tub with “Kids” on it is open for their use…tubs not labeled with that are off limits)…plus I do have another tub of painting supplies for mommy. 🙂 The tub includes all our paint sets, brushes, kitchen bags/tablecloths, and sometimes the apron makes it in there. Most often, the kids take their shirts off  of their own accord during painting. Well, actually, half of the kids spend 90% of the day in their underwear already, so the apron doesn’t get used much.

http://solacearts.com

5. Don’t be afraid to display artwork for a while and then toss it out. Seriously, I if I have to save every paper they fill with paint or marker drawings or scribble words, I will drown in paper. I love celebrating their creativity for a time and then moving on. We often talk about how it is good to let go of some things to make room for new things, and everyone understands the drill around here. I do keep a tub (like the one pictured above) to drop the more ‘special’ art pieces that I plan to save for a longer time (or forever). That tub will be sorted and archived in a more permanent way whenever I get to it, but the tub is a quick way to get it out of my hair and keep it safe from little hands, gusts of wind, and the abominable paper monster.

6. Paint alongside your kids, even if only for a few minutes. When I stop what I’m doing and sit down to paint with them, they absolutely love it. They like to watch how I do things, and they also like to chatter on and on while they fill their pages with beautiful colors.

7. Have everyone help clean up. My kids know (as with pretty much any ‘special’ activity at our house) that in order to participate in the fun, they must also participate in the cleanup. One usually dumps the water and rinses the bowls. Another rinses out the paintbrushes. And I have to say, they really love doing anything that requires cleaning stuff in the sink. And the last one puts all the paint sets and washed brushes back in the container. The only thing left for me to do is fold up the tablecloth and make sure all the painted pages get to the right place. Easy peasy. It’s actually one of the easiest-cleanup activities we do.

http://solacearts.com

Family / Homeschool

Now Reading

http://solacearts.com

A is now reading with ease and gobbling up books. It has been interesting as we are out and about (especially driving) now that she can read billboards and advertisements. Lots of funny thoughts and questions. All. The. Time. The kid never stops talking. We’ve even asked her if she’s a chatty Kathy, but she says, “Of course not. I’m a chatty A!” Little M shows more interest in books at 1 year than any of the others did, and I think that may be due to the fact that the big sis has started reading to her. It is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

http://solacearts.com

For those who haven’t been around us to hear for themselves, M also has her own little voice. She has a signature sound that is something like a squeaky ‘huh?’ ‘what?’ or ‘uh?’ and we all get a giggle out of asking her leading questions to which the answer is always ‘huh?’

http://solacearts.com

Here you see the big brother squeezing in to see as well. Love a good kid-pile on the couch.

http://solacearts.com