Tips For Families On The Go

In The Cosby Show episode entitled, “Same Time Next Year”, Dr. Huxtable enters the living room where his wife is preparing a legal brief and exclaims, “Fresh squeezed orange juice for my lady to celebrate the Most Important Day of the Year!” and together they link arms and exclaim, “The First Day of School….We have survived another summer and now everyone must go!”

While the first day of school is a significant day for any parent, our feelings regarding sending our angels back to school are different – some feel jubilant while others feel overwhelmed logistically or are filled with angst. First off, all mothers are working mothers; however, as a working mom who also happens to receive a paycheck, my approach to Back-To-School is two-fold 1. Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) and 2. My goal as a parent is to work myself out of a job. With these two goals in mind, here are some practical approaches for our household of 3 boys in 3 different schools in 3 different growth seasons (really, I’m fine; the Fitbit relaxation button helps me).

MEALS

Breakfast Once all 3 started school, my husband Chris and I quickly began to feel like short-order cooks awaiting three individual orders for breakfast. Consequently, we created a fixed weekday menu – every Monday we have muffins, Tuesday – sausage biscuits, etc. If a child wants something different, they can speak to the chef for Saturday’s breakfast. Case closed.

Lunch School lunch inspiration found on Pinterest has crushed my feeling of success as a parent. I succumbed. I bought bento boxes for each of my Angels. I chopped, diced, and prepped and then begged, pleaded, and badgered to see if my nutritional and presentation efforts were treasured. They were not. Reality bites. My goal has shifted to survival. I purchase as many grab-and-go items as possible to ensure the Angels can assist in lunch prep and have enough food to sustain their brains.

Dinner In my late 20s, I discovered I was a foodie and enjoyed cooking. Next to Anne Graham-Lotz, Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa,” is my superhero. In my 30s, I discovered I had boys who were not foodies. The neighbor’s children love my food, but alas, I digress. Ideally, on the weekend, I make a 5-6 day menu for the following week. From the menu, I prep a grocery list of ingredients to purchase, noting where the recipe comes from, if needed. Depending on my mood I will use “Grocery IQ” app or good old-fashioned paper. Here’s a couple of menu variations with which I’ve experimented:
1. Rotating Theme
    •    Monday–sandwich night
    •    Tuesday–sheet pan dinner
    •    Wednesday–To Go/Drive Thru because we’re headed
        to church!!! (Wednesday night church rocks, people!!)
    •    Thursday–meat and veggies
    •    Friday–Mystery Menu (a.k.a. clean out fridge)
    •    Saturday–Foodie Fun; not planned until Friday
        afternoon or Saturday
2. Leftover Queen
    •    Two nights–Cook Like Crazy
    •    Wednesday–To Go/Drive Thru because we’re still
        going to church because there is music, missions, Bible
        study - sometimes I just need to be quiet and I read in
        the library. Don’t judge.
    •    Two nights–Leftovers from Cook Like Crazy nights
Eating Out Versus Cooking My husband teaches Crown Financial Ministries Bible study AND Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University AND we are both accountants, so this is easy. We eat at home as much as possible. However, I do love the occasional trip to Trader Joe’s for affordable, prepared meals to serve in an extracurricular time crunch.

MAYHEM

Extracurricular When the kids were in preschool, I looked forward to when they were in school so I would have more “time.” I was naïve, for as the Angels age they have more energy and more activities. When they were young, the day quieted around 3:00 p.m.; but now, 3:00 p.m. is the starting bell for Part 2 of the day. We are trying to be intentional about activities to make them parent-manageable. I recently spoke with a wonderful mom who gently and logically led her 6th grader to the conclusion that his latest desired activity would not fit his schedule or his parents’. While I admire this mom’s gentle spirit, I confess the words, “You know that would be fabulous if you were an only child, but NOPE. Won’t work for our family,” have been decried more than once in our household.

Mornings God has blessed us with two early risers and one whom God intends to set a perpetual alarm clock. If you can start an X-Box, you can be trained to set an alarm. I love natural consequences, and as the Angels age, there are many more opportunities to let life do some hard teaching. One of my Angels routinely leaves the house without breakfast. SCANDAL! It pains me, but he must live with that choice. More than once I have left a tardy Angel at home because it was time to go and he was not ready (the second “bus” leaves when I leave for work so said Angel can be checked in unexcused at that time). Not so long ago, one of my Angels went to church WITHOUT SHOES. Let life teach. My goal is to be out of full-time, hands-on mothering after high school graduation.

Clothes Here, too, my husband has offered wise counsel to let life do the teaching. We do not purchase back to school clothes. After a couple of weeks of school, we ask each Angel if there is something they would like to purchase for school apparel, and then we take them shopping, individually. This brief conversation with each Angel has saved me the frustration of purchasing the “appropriate” clothing they will never wear. One Angel insisted it was pajama day, I gently reminded him that PJ Day was the following week, but the Angel insisted. He was the only child that day in pajamas. If they want to wear colors or patterns that don’t match it is ok! My job is to raise spiritual leaders and help them succeed, not mold them into my ideal.

MOTHERING

Mary Mornings Angel 2’s birth continued a life season of tremendous stress for our family. Balm for my weary soul was discovered when I learned how to study Scripture with only a notebook and the Bible. I hate mornings, just ask my college roommates. Therefore, I forced myself when Angel 2 was a few months old to change my routine to get up earlier and spend time meeting Jesus at the well (The Samaritan Woman changed my LIFE); and friends, I’ve never been the same. I am a better mother and a better person when my day quietly begins at the feet of Jesus, just like Mary. Practically that means I set my alarm for 5:01 a.m., snooze once, prepare hot tea and sit with my Savior from 5:30-6:15. My highly supportive husband makes this time possible by prepping the day’s breakfast.

Identity Another balm for the weary soul came from a physician friend who actually wrote me a prescription for four consecutive hours weekly, during business hours, for personal time. Personal time, she explained, is not at the grocery store without children or sitting at the coffee shop ordering clothes for the kiddos. Personal time is doing something I enjoy doing. Again, my husband has been a great supporter of me enjoying friends and hobbies outside of work and our children. Nancy-time has not always been easy; we have prioritized budgeting for babysitters during some seasons. Now that the boys are older, four consecutive hours are easier to find but more difficult to schedule. Consequently, Nancy-time is marked on the calendar the same as work and church obligations.

Above all, please remember grace. Our house is rarely completely tidy, voices are raised not infrequently, and there are always more dishes and more laundry than can be addressed in one day. Start with the Lord, give Him your day, and get those kids out the door!

Nancy Hartin is married to Chris, mom of 3 sons, Business Department Career Strategist/Adjunct Instructor of Accounting at Birmingham-Southern College, Bible study teacher, and co-teacher of DYP.