I Hope I Live Like I Am Dying

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I just could not get my thoughts together today. I have so much on my mind, and I was struggling to do it justice. I had almost a whole post written this morning, and it flat refused to coalesce. It’s still sitting there. I spent a lot of time this week really diving into relationships and exploring in my head what they mean to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought on this topic, but I was really chewing on what I want it to look like when I pass away. I know. That’s maybe morbid, especially considering the fact that I’m just settling into midlife at 41. But, you know, midlife crisis and all that.

I have a couple different groups of good friends that I spend a good amount of time with socially. I had two different girl’s nights close together last summer, and my 11-year-old asked who I was going out with. When I answered, “My friends,” his reply was, “Which ones? You have a ton.” I sat in that space for a minute just feeling so much gratitude for that statement. This hasn’t always been the case, but my life over the last 10 or so years has developed such a richness in this area.

This week was a good one for this to pop up. My husband spent some time helping take care of the belongings of a man from church that passed away and really had very few connections. He’s virtually a stranger to my very friendly husband, and it really struck him how sad it would be to leave this world without a full life in your wake. I spent last weekend away with some girlfriends, had a play date today with another friend and her girls and spent numerous hours connecting with a high school friend (really, more of a brother) around his writing. It isn’t necessarily common for me to engage so much in such a short amount of time, but, man, it was so good! These people and many more like them deeply enrich my life. I feel blessed beyond measure that they choose to share their journeys with me. They are all so different, and we have different things in common, but that fact is really one of the things that makes it all so meaningful to me.

So, when I die, what do I hope? I hope, first and foremost, that my kids will come together in love without drama or hard feelings or hatred. I know that can be such a hard one for families, and I hope to have raised my kids to be kind, loving and forgiving people that overlook small slights in favor of the bigger picture. I hope that they recognize how hard their father and I have worked to launch them well and carry the tools we gave them into their own successful and flourishing families. I hope they learn by example what we have fought so hard for.

I hope that I am widely missed. I’m not under the illusion that every person who crosses my path will be awestruck and heartbroken, but I hope that my character shines through and that the majority of people who met me remember me as a good person who had integrity, kindness and love.

I hope that my friends grieve me deeply. (I’m just assuming that my husband will go first. He’s 5 years older, and women live longer.) I hope that I am there for them when they need me and they know that I tried to show up as my best for the relationships that meant the most to me. I hope that I hold the confidences they trust me with as a sacred honor and never betray that. I can be careless and selfish and imperfect, but I hope that my actions reflect the fact that my love for them was stronger than that, and I truly tried to give them as much as they brought me.

I hope that even my acquaintances remember me as generous – someone who would take some time for you if I could and offer a skill or a hand or an answered question for something I had knowledge of. I hope they see me as impeccably honest.

I’m not all these things today, I’m most sure. But, I sincerely want the world, even if it’s just the small part I travel in, to feel it as a loss when I’m no longer here. I want my life to be rich and full and meaningful and to leave a hole where I once stood because I didn’t just breathe, I LIVED. Out loud. Fully. Completely. Deeply. Without apology. But, with love. Above all, with love. This is what I want to be when I grow up, and luckily, I have a good 40 more years to get there. It might be just enough time, I think. I hope.

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Just Say No to Amateur Surgery!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!! I hope you’re enjoying your day with your loved ones, showering them with gifts and kisses. My amazing husband brought me breakfast in bed (a bowl of cereal, y’all!), and I’m leaving tomorrow for a weekend away…with my girlfriends. Ha ha!¬† My 7-year-old quizically said, “Oh, is it Valentine’s today??” So, that about sums up our level of over achievement with minor holidays.

When you get to my stage of parenting, you have a lot of lasts. This last fall, all of my kids were school age with no babies or toddlers. I’m hitting a lot of childhood milestones with my youngest for the last time, including losing teeth. My 5-year-old had his first loose tooth just a month or so ago. He wiggled it out when he woke up in the night, put it in a safe place and went back to sleep – easy, peasy, right? Just a few weeks later, the tooth just next to it also started to wobble, and we were on for round two!

Except this one was a little more memorable. He had been wiggling the tooth for a few days, and I figured it was about half there. It was still a bit tight on the front, but I was sure it would pop out within the week. I hopped in the shower a few days ago and had just gotten dressed when I heard my little guy start wail, “It’s bleeding! It’s bleeding!” As he ran down the stairs holding his mouth, my 7-year-old daughter followed closely behind and informed me that my 11-year-old had tried to (ahem, unsuccessfully) pull the tooth. I have no idea what his preferred technique was, but it wasn’t great.

I got a short glance of his sad, little, hangy-down tooth before my little guy clamped his mouth down on a piece of tissue. He curled up in a little ball in the fuzzy blanket on my bed as I inquired as to what had happened.

“Did you ask him to pull your tooth?”

“Noooooo!” (In a very sad and slightly wailing voice.)

“So, he just convinced you to let him do it?”

“Yesssssss!”

My older son slunk into the room looking a bit sheepish, to his credit, and I forbade him to manipulate any more children into allowing him to practice amateur dentistry.

The youngest spent a good part of the day moping around with that tissue stuck in his mouth, refusing to eat. (I had to insist that he change it when it started to stink. I know, gross.) He finally fell asleep around lunch time, and sometime between that and me making dinner, he walked in with his mouth clear and no tissue or tooth. The last little piece had pulled off at some point, and the tooth was free. (Yay, because he wouldn’t even so much as let me look at it again, even when I promised profusely that I would not touch it.)

The moral of this story is to just say no to amateur surgery. While my son will probably remember this experience for a long time (he has the most ridiculous memory for a 5-year-old), I am pretty positive that he will never fall for his brother’s medical claims of expertise ever again. Also, kids are freaking hilarious. We’ll throw that one in for the parents.

I Don’t Always Love Being a Mom, and That’s Okay

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I’ve followed Shelia Gregoire, a Christian blogger at To Love, Honor and Vacuum for a long time. I really appreciate her stance on sex in marriage, focus on healthy churches and take-no-prisoners stance on abuse advocacy. I deeply respect this woman and her kind, but honest approach to the very hard questions that can pop up in life. She posted this blog earlier this week. I’m not someone who can really relate to this reader’s question – I was very excited to be a mom and definitely wanted to have kids. Still, I’m not the most, um, maternal person, I guess? It really wasn’t so much the question this reader posed or this blogger’s answer that made me stop in my tracks, but more the question she posed when she shared this post on her Facebook page. Sheila effectively asked, “Why are so many moms exhausted, and what can we do to help?” That’s what really made me stop and think.

I don’t always love being a mom. I like to succeed at things, and there are too many stubborn variables in parenting for me to always knock it out of the park. I’m not someone who would ever say that I savor every minute of motherhood and always look at my children with awe and wonder. I don’t like to play with kids, really. I wouldn’t even say that my emotional life revolves around my kids, though a good part of my time is spent with and for them. Though I didn’t hate pregnancy, per se, extreme morning sickness made me dread a good part of it. I had postpartum depression that got so severe that it led to the decision to stop having kids. (C’mon, 7 is a LOT!) Still, if you asked me what the most meaningful part of my life is, it would be parenthood, hands down. I cannot ever imagine NOT being a mom, and I wouldn’t want to try to wonder who I would be without what I’ve learned from my kids. Not the same person – that’s who.

So, how does someone like me – someone who I think you could reasonably assert isn’t the most ideal candidate on paper, mostly do okay? That’s the question this post made me ask myself. I think there are a few things that have made my journey a bit smoother and helped me be a more effective parent.

  1. I am real. I think so many moms get caught up in having everything look good on the outside and not showing any cracks. Can you imagine if you just thought that everyone’s marriage, for example, was sunshine and roses and nobody ever fought but you, and oh, my gosh, if my husband leaves his socks on the floor one more time, I’m going to throat punch him! – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?! Nothing. You’re normal. I think moms hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection, when the truth is they’re normal and life isn’t always pretty. Embracing that as a strength is probably the best thing I’ve ever done as a mom because it takes SO much pressure off and frees up my energy for things that are actually helpful and productive.
  2. I don’t really care at all what other people are doing. Most of my friends have their kids in tons of sports and activities, and I just don’t. It doesn’t work for me. If my kids really want to do something, I will help make it happen, for sure, but I honestly feel zero pressure to push them to do things because “it’s the thing to do.” And, if they’re resistant and it’s unessential? Pssh…not even going to spend any energy there.
  3. I try to look at the big picture. The fact that I don’t always love being a mom doesn’t really bother me because I really don’t consider that the point at all. I find fulfillment in motherhood, but it’s no picnic. At the end of the day, raising kind, decent productive people and learning a lot about myself in the process is more the point for me.
  4. It’s not about me, necessarily. I think one of the biggest points in Sheila’s post was that being a parent means being the adult. I struggle to always wear my big girl pants as a mom, but it is always my goal. I think we’ve become a society that wants everything quick and easy rather than difficult and lasting. I think the trick here is to be willing to do things that are actually best for your kids and their future and not necessarily the things that make you LOOK good.
  5. I know that it is vogue and, I don’t even know what, to completely sacrifice yourself for your children to the point where you feel bad about having “your own life.” I’ve pretty much rejected that. I have hobbies that I spend a lot of time on. I spend money on myself without guilt. I go out with my friends and give a lot of focus to my husband when he’s home. While I can see how someone might perceive this as being in conflict with the prior point, in my experience, this makes me a better, more stable and more available mom to my kids.
  6. Independence is literally my best mom friend ever. I remember being pregnant with #4 and visiting my husband’s friend whose 10-year-old spent a good 15 minutes nagging his mom to GET HIM A DRINK. Sorry to yell, but I just cannot even wrap my head around that. My 11-year-old regularly makes his siblings breakfast and can pretty much follow any recipe. My 5-year-old can make toast and peanut butter sandwiches. I encourage my kids to do whatever they can for themselves as soon as possible because there’s lots of them and one of me, and we’re all happier and more confident when the load is spread around. Being a slave to the whims of one kid let alone multiples just isn’t sustainable, and that’s nothing to feel bad about. A less-stressed mom and capable kids is a win-win in my book.
  7. I have community. I have lived around my sister pretty much my entire adult life. When I didn’t have built-in help at home, I had her to depend on. I’ve always sought friendships for advice, support and commiseration. As a bit of an introvert, it definitely helps me feel less alone and more supported.
  8. I’m adaptable and willing to change up anything that is causing angst for me or my kids. I’m pretty committed to the idea of homeschooling, but my 15-year-old is my second child now that has gone to public school. Both decisions were for the absolute best for both me and my sons. I was super nervous both times, but I had zero regrets in the end. I am pretty stubborn about my kids being good people, respecting boundaries and taking care of responsibilities, but most anything else I will change up or let go when needed.

Like I always say in posts like this, none of this is to suggest that any of these ideas are right for every reader. I’m not anything special. I don’t know more than any of you. I’m not a better mom, and I don’t have it more figured out. Some women really thrive in environments that register as “traditional mom things.” I think my biggest point is that not all of us do, but that you can still be successful and find ways to thrive anyways. I’m a big believer that we’re all the “right mom” for our own kids, and that whatever strengths we bring to the table can be employed for own good and for the future of our children. While I don’t always love being a mom, I’m a pretty okay mom. I don’t have to always love my job to love my kids.

An Ode to My Daughter

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Tomorrow is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is turning 20 which just blows me away. If you would have asked me as a young mom to guess which child would be the most difficult based on how they were as babies, she would have gotten number one billing. For the first two weeks of her life, she kind of just couldn’t decide if she wanted to be here. Once her breathing sorted itself out, she spent the next year of her life as the most colicky and sad little baby. I remember one particular morning we woke up and she refused to nurse. She was still very young – 2 to 3 months old? – so this was very concerning. She would just cry and arch her back and cry some more. I finally called my husband to come home, and we put her in the car and drove around until she was drowsy enough to forget to be mad and just eat.

My middle son was born when my daughter was 8 years old. I’m not sure what the trigger was with his birth, but she developed severe and acute anxiety right after he was born. Things that had normally been happy things in her life, like piano lessons, became battlegrounds as I tried to convince her that nothing horrible was going to happen. Some things I had to make her do, sometimes kicking and screaming and peeling her out of the car. But, I didn’t force her to participate in anything optional that she didn’t want to. The anxiety improved gradually over time as I both pushed and accommodated. She was well into her teens before she would sleep over to a friend’s house, however. While she is still a naturally cautious person that likes routine and predictability, you would never know that she struggled so much with this as a child.

I’m a pretty traditional mom. I haven’t spent too much time at all when raising my children worrying about whether they like me or whether we’re “friends.” I’ve just tried to parent them responsibly and raise them to be good and decent people. As my oldest ones have morphed into adults, however, I’ve found that the time, effort and headaches I’ve poured into them have naturally transitioned into a mutual like for who they are, and I think they feel the same about me. (I’m an unbelievably pleasant person when I don’t have to be in charge of you, apparently.) Outside of having grandchildren (which I’m eagerly anticipating!), I think this is the greatest bonus of being a parent – the silver lining that makes every sleepless night oh, so worth it.

I love all my children for their unique place in our family and the world, but it’s probably no secret that I find my girls easier. My oldest daughter is no exception to this statement. She is my right-hand girl. My mini-me. My reliable and responsible sidekick. We have the same taste in clothing and colors and decor. (She is the easiest person to shop for because I literally can just buy her what I would want in her size. Ha ha ha! It’s only the fact that she’s tiny that ensures that my closet is safe from plundering.) She’s smart and pretty and funny and, most importantly, kind. She has become a valuable employee at both offices she works at, quickly filling a gap that was desperately needed and becoming a reliable drafter for her bosses.

So, today is my reminisce day. My day to look back over the years. My day to feel deep and intense gratitude that this girl is mine. I know that she’s right on the cusp of being up and out and flying the nest for good (she technically could already, but she’s willing to put up with me complaining about her not helping enough in exchange for ridiculously cheap rent,) but I’m sure she’ll be back a lot. For now, we’ll buy her a cake and sing to her like we have since she was a baby. Except she’s not. She’s a woman, and I’m so proud of her! Happy Birthday, beautiful girl! I’m so glad I’m your mama!

 

Just Rip the Bandaid Off

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I’m late writing my blog this week (story of my life anymore) because we went to the local high school last night to catch the encore performance of their production of Disney’s Newsies. It was a great show, and we got to see the best of what the public school environment has to offer kids. I’ll be going back to the high school today to enroll my almost 16-year-old son as a full-time student. If he has half as positive of an experience, I will feel very lucky indeed.

This decision was a long time coming. While I think it’s the best one for all of us, I’m still¬† nervous about it. My oldest son went to public school for his entire high school experience, and he did totally fine. He struggled with motivation and expectations which resulted in a few failed classes that put his ability to graduate in question, but he finally pulled it out in the end. He was completely oblivious to the social pressures. I’m not so sure that will be the case with my younger son. He’ll probably do fine academically and struggle with social skills. We’re taking that chance, though, because something has to change.

I’m not looking forward to enrolling him. The local principal isn’t exactly homeschool friendly, and the last thing you want to deal with when making a pretty dramatic shift like this in your schooling relationship with your child is someone looking down their nose and voicing the fact that you are failing in some way with your kid. I already feel it, thanks. Please just take his paperwork and do your job. Maybe she will, and maybe I’m just projecting. It’s possible. As a parent, you’re supposed to be able to be everything that your child needs, and we’re clearly not. He needs more structure, more expectations and more accountability than what we’ve given him. I hope they have it, and I hope it’s enough to wake him up, but at least we’ll all get a break if nothing else.

That sounds awful. I know it does. I told my husband the other day that it’s only been the last hundred years of history that mothers have been expected to manage what is essentially an adult male with raging hormones and zero impulse control. (Seriously, he’s like 6′ 2″.) It’s not fun for me. I don’t feel like I’m any good at it or that I have what it takes. I also feel like I’ve honestly and truly put 110% of my effort into directing and correcting him, and I need help at this point. He’s not my only child, and I have to have something left at the end of the day to parent them.

So, today I will put on my most professional and pulled-together face, gather our papers and go enroll my son is public high school. I’ll let whatever is said that could make me feel worse about it roll off my back, and we’ll get the job done. He needs a change. I need a change. We all need a change. There are resources available, and I’m taking them. I hope that it is just the medicine we all need at the end of the day. I know that it will at least give me enough respite to fight another day for both him and my other kids. Wish us luck.

What’s Your Homeschooling Philosophy?

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Today, I worked on long division with my 11-year-old son. That was good times, right there. (If you aren’t picking up on the sarcasm, you definitely are NOT a homeschool mom.) When I had a Facebook friend suggest that she’d like to hear more about my take on homeschooling, I laughed inside. My short answer to her was, “Uh, I suck at it. But, we muddle through anyhow.” Still, I promised that I would think about it and share more with the, ahem, class. (See what I did there??)

I am not a born teacher. I hate planning ahead, and my attention span isn’t super high when I’m not actually interested in something. I’m not actually interested in long division. I am, however, interested in my kids, their futures and their lives. I suppose that is the biggest reason that I’ve walked this walk with them for so long, despite the fact that it’s really not my jam at all. I want to know where they are, what they’re doing and what’s going on with them.

People occasionally come to me and ask for my opinion on curriculum or teaching, and it’s a bit of a conundrum for me. I get why they do. I’ve been, in one way or another, directly keeping an eye on my kids’ education for, oh, 18 years? I’m still not that great at it, and I still don’t think I have much to offer by way of deep insights and experience. We have a basic system, I rely very heavily on my tools, and I encourage my kids to own their own education as soon as they’re able because I’m dropping balls all. the. time. Still, my kids have done okay with a very basic homeschooling philosophy.

  1. All kids have holes in their education. All. Of. Them. Public school kids muddle through and fall through the cracks all the time. Like my husband likes to say, “Don’t judge yourself from the bottom of the barrel!” Still, understanding that I’m meeting at least a basic standard takes the pressure off.
  2. A child can learn anything if they have a basic foundation and know how to learn. It’s hard to survive in a modern world without understanding the basics of reading and math, but you can literally learn anything you could ever want with those as tools, plus the Internet and YouTube. If you can’t do it all, focus on reading and math.
  3. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with a support team that is strong where I am weak. My sister has patiently taught all my teens to write. (She IS a born teacher!) I have two sisters-in-law that have been instrumental in helping almost every one of my kids learn to read. Working with co-ops has been a lifesaver for us through the years. It also serves as an accountability partner, keeping me more consistent.
  4. We keep what we need. (This is somewhat connected to point 2.) I was a straight A student in school, taking AP classes and higher math. I don’t use most of that. For the most part, I use middle school math on a regular basis, and that’s about what I remember. (Sorry, Trigonometry teacher!) My husband, on the other hand, was a C student on days he tried hard, and he knows way more math than me because, as a contractor, he uses it in his everyday life. We remember what we use, and we fill in the gaps when it becomes necessary for our work and life.
  5. I don’t have to know everything they need to learn. Use tools – they’re so readily available at this point. I use both a math and a language program that are mostly self-directing. (McRuffy Press and Teaching Textbooks, in case you’re wondering. We’ve been through a dozen over the years to find these.) If my kids need help with something that I don’t understand or remember myself, I find them resources.
  6. Your kids will always be better behaved for other people than they are for you. I have never seen my kids whine and complain for an outside teacher the way they do for me. You’re not failing when this happens. It is entirely normal. I am still not the most patient homeschool mom, but I’m a whole heck of a lot more patient after decades of dancing this dance with my kids than I otherwise would have been. And, I still lose it and say swear words some days. You probably will, too.
  7. Homeschooling is a part of our life – it’s something that we have to check off during the day – but, it isn’t my entire life. Allowing myself to spend time and mental energy outside of this commitment keeps it doable for me. I directly supervise kids that still need hands-on help and keep a loose eye of my kids that self-direct, and then I move on with the rest of my day without stress or guilt.

I’m a firm believer that there isn’t one way that is best for every family and every kid. I can’t say whether I’m doing a better or a worse job than if my kids were in public school. I can say that my (almost) 3 kids that have graduated or are near graduation are pretty well rounded. My oldest son is about halfway to earning a degree in software engineering while my oldest daughter works for a construction company and engineer doing drafting. I don’t have it all together by any means, but my kids really have turned out okay. I suppose that probably is the best way to sum up my philosophy around homeschooling – kids are resilient. They are born to learn. If we keep those doors open for them, they will. With or without us. At the end of the day, I just try not to get in the way of that too much.

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What Do You Do All Day?

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Last week I posted on my Facebook page asking people what they would like me to feature on the blog. I was surprised how curious people were about mundane, everyday things. Like what I do during my day. I think people have an idea that I have this very structured and disciplined life. I don’t. In fact, I hate that kind of thing. I tried to do Fly Lady when I was a young mom, and I hated its guts. (Go scrub the shower because the paper says to scrub the shower. No thanks.) Probably the number one priority for any “schedule” that I have is flexibility. I hate being tied into any particular strict timeline. On the flip side of that, I’m externally motivated, so I like to be accountable to other people. It’s weird, I guess, but it mostly works for me. While I don’t have a planner or an app or anything that locks me into anything particular, I guess my days have a general structure that is mostly consistent?

7-8:00- I don’t wake up at any particular time, but I’m usually stirring sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. My youngest kids come for snuggles, and I might hang out for a bit if we don’t have anywhere to go.

8:00-9:00- Shower, breakfast and coffee. Showering every day is a luxury that I have now that all my kids are moderately self sufficient, and I relish it. When I skip it, I feel draggy all day. If I’m in a hurry or he’s willing, my 11-year-old will make breakfast. He’s great at french toast, waffles and any kind of eggs. He loves to follow recipes and has become my best kitchen helper. (He’s also a bomb snow shoveler!)

9:00- On Tuesday, I help with a class in our homeschool co-op. (As in, I take notes and hand out tickets and shush the kids when they are noisy. I don’t actually teach anything.) I have to be out the door on Tuesday-Thursday by 9:00, either to make it to my class or to drop off kids at their classes. If it’s not a class day, I’ll often have my kids grab their books and finish them while I’m still in bed. If we get books done early, it usually only takes about an hour for the stuff that I have to supervise directly. Otherwise, I find myself nagging all day, and it drives me nuts. (Probably them, too, but it’s their own dang fault.)

Morning – I have pretty lazy and quiet mornings, usually. If I’m not spending all morning nagging my kids, I’m probably sewing or tracing a pattern or just wasting my time on Facebook. (Truth. LOL) If it’s driving me batty, I might wash the dishes. If I’m lucky, my kids might actually do their chores without too much trouble, but there’s lots of chores and lots of kids, so I’m usually reminding someone to do something throughout the day. If it’s not a school day, I’ll schedule appointments during the morning as needed, but that’s an occasional thing.

Afternoon – Regardless of the day, everyone is home from their classes by noon. Some days I have to ride my kids to finish their school books during this time of the day, and it’s always more of a battle than to get it out of the way first thing in the morning. Lunch happens somewhere in here. I usually do something simple for my 5- and 7-year-old like a sandwich or mac and cheese or leftovers, and my other kids make themselves whatever they want.

Generally, if my kids have chores and school done, we just have free time. I do projects or waste the whole afternoon on social media. They play with their friends or (gasp!) watch TV, and it’s pretty relaxed. My kids don’t have extracurricular classes, clubs, etc, really, until they are old enough to manage the commitments themselves. I did that for a while when my oldest kids were little, and I like my freedom better than running all the time. If I have errands to run or groceries to buy, I’ll usually plan them during the afternoon.

5:00 – I try to be sorting out dinner by now, especially this time of the year. I’ll make anything from pot roast to a casserole to soup.

Evening – My husband watches TV to decompress. I might hang out with him or continue a project if I left it halfway complete. And, though this will probably drive some of you in the crowd bonkers, I don’t clean my kitchen at night. While we’re overall pretty tidy, I leave it overnight and do it in the morning.

8:30 – I put my kids to bed around 8:30. I have a much thinner string of patience in the evenings, so we have a very quick and dirty “bedtime routine.” The only thing that’s an absolute given is that they have to brush their teeth because (and my kids can chant this with me at this point) “toothpaste is cheap, and dentists are expensive!” My kids have pajamas, but they usually sleep in their clothes because we’re that awesome. (If I tell my 5-year-old to put on pajamas, he’ll just put on a clean pair of clothes. Ha ha!) I do tuck them in every night, and they all sleep in their own rooms in their own beds for my own sanity. After decades of co-sleeping, I relish my space at night.

Honestly, there’s a ton more variation than it looks typed out on paper, but there’s a good chance that most days look something like this? This seems like the world’s most boring blog post to me because, well, my life is pretty boring. But, there you go. Now you know.