Solid relationships both stand the test of time and demonstrate flexibility as partners grow and change. This describes one of #missingessentials that I’ve relied upon for its important and evolving uses:
The Market Basket
Years ago when our twins were born, we had to streamline our life as much as humanly possible. It was complicated enough already having two preschoolers (3 and 4 years old), no family nearby, and no childcare. Anything that could be made easier was pared down or simplified. One decision was making a portable changing station to avoid running up and down the stairs of our then multi-floored townhouse. Fun fact: newborns average 10 diapers a day. Math fact: 10 times twins is more than 20. To help tote around said diapers along with wipes, creams, and more, I found a simple market basket: large, light, and tough. This screenshot below is the exact basket I bought just days before I delivered our two youngest.
Isn’t she pretty, and so very useful as a diaper caddy. When the time came to pass and we left diapers behind (bless), this trusty market basket became helpful in new ways. Having four little kids means needing lots of little things; there was no diaper bag or purse big enough, but the market basket was able to fit it all. Any time we left the house the basket would come along laden with activities for the car, changes of clothes, bags for the soon-to-be dirtied clothes, and so on.
Years later, her usefulness continued to grow as our needs changed. She’s my go-to for picking up and putting away the stuff families accumulate in odd corners of the house. She comes with me every other week to the library to swap out new books. She helps transport LEGO creations from room to room. She’s sat pitch-side with half-time orange slices for soccer teams. She travels with us on every road trip, from a drive to a nearby hike or to far flung rental home holidays, filled with snacks and sticker books for passing around the minivan. Even today as we celebrated our twins’ 8th birthday, our trusty market basket helped lug water bottles to the backyard to beat the heat.
Though each use of the market basket would be enough to solidly land it on the #missingessentials list from parenting checklists, it’s actually the variety of its use and the longevity of its usefulness that locks the market basket as a have-to-have. Resilient and adaptable, the kind of solid relationship every parent deserves to have.
Being prepared to take care of a sick child is a top priority for parents and caregivers. Age-appropriate fever reducers, thermometers of varying types, bandages and more each have their rightful place in the medicine cabinet. Our cabinet has a spot reserved for an unusual item that is another of the #missingessentials:
The Dry Erase Marker
Tracking an ill child’s temperature, medicine dosage, and timing has to be done accurately. Having a Dry Erase Marker handy to write all this information on the bathroom mirror has been a game changer for us. It might be just me, but fevers tend to spike in the middle of the night when I’m the least alert. And when there’s more than one unwell kiddo, it’s all the more difficult remembering these data points. Using Dry Erase Markers is a lo-fi and immediate approach to tracking our kids’ health, more helpful than fumbling with a wellness app or scrambling to find a notepad and pen. It’s already worrisome when our kids are under the weather, any methods to make it easier on us is a gift.
This past year the Dry Erase Marker brought us even more simplicity as we’ve quarantined at home. Managing our four children’s disparate virtual school schedules, in addition to both my and my husband’s work schedules has only been possible due to the growing collection of whiteboards and Dry Erase Markers throughout our home. We keep tabs on ever-shifting Zoom meeting times and classroom assignments by updating our boards in real time – so we all know who’s doing what and when. To sum it up, the Dry Erase Marker is my secret weapon in keeping key details straight – and I couldn’t be more grateful.
BONUS sick kid tip: Having battled an entire family sweep of the stomach flu many years ago, another practice we learned is stocking our hall closet with two small plastic buckets and two bells. The buckets are an easy grab for urgently queasy tummies, and the bells are a godsend when we have to leave the little patient to attend to their siblings – giving them the ability to ring for our attention, calling us quickly back.
Have other parents noticed this never-ending day feeling during the pandemic reminds you of what it felt like bringing home a newborn? Not knowing what day of the week it is, having no clue what you ate for dinner last night. What’s happening here? In part our unchanging daily routines create a hurdle for our brains to properly index memories and properly mark the passage of time. Dr. Catherine Loveday, professor of cognitive neuroscience, explains:
“Trying to remember what’s happened to you when there’s little distinction between the different days is like trying to play a piano when there are no black keys to help you find your way around.”
One of the ways we’ve tried to combat this phenomenon is using one of the #missingessentials from the Parenting Checklist:
the countdown app
By creating near-term experiences to look forward to and tracking on a countdown app, we’ve created a coping mechanism for our family in the face of so much unknown. Like counting down to birthdays and holidays (Arbor Day anyone?), or going on a hike and berry picking. Many of these apps are free to download and are easily customized. Every morning we check how close we are to our events, continually adding more as special days come and go.
Dr. Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and author, shares in her practical and helpful podcast her own pandemic experience:
“I’ve become much more aware of the loss of things to look forward to … Increasingly in my own family I’ve created these artificial things to look forward to or like I’ve brought the horizon much closer.”
NOTE: It’s important to also caution against toxic positivity. Insisting that others or oneself keep a ‘positive mindset’ or ‘positive vibes’ regardless of how hard things are can be harmful. Here are some great resources to keep it real and keep it healthy.
How’s the saying go? “Controlling what you can when things feel out of control.” Becoming a parent for the first time (and every time after) absolutely feels like things are in fact out of control. One way I’ve ‘controlled what I can’ has been using checklists. Nice, neat lists with check boxes with what you need for your newborn, what you need in your diaper bag, what toys and books to have, etc. Having a list can bring a sense of control and calm, even when you know things are actually overwhelming.
Over the years I’ve realized that as helpful as those lists were and continue to be, some of the most essential items we use as parents were missing from those checklists. I will be sharing these #missingessentials in a new series and as always welcome any ideas from our collective parenting mind. Please add your indispensable item in the comments!
Yes, this is a thing. Like clockwork around the beginning of March and the end of October, I start to notice our kids’ ability to sleep alter. It’s like a slow simmer that builds up to a boil and suddenly it feels like the nap and bedtime schedules go off the rails. And every year I forget, and then every year I look at the calendar and let out an audible OH! Daylight Savings. This barely 100-year-old tradition sneaks its way into our family’s daily life and causes … let’s call it consternation.
About two weeks before the twice annual time change our four children’s sleep schedules shift. In spite of blackout curtains and noise reducing machines (best investment ever), we’ve dealt with this hurdle every year for over a decade. And we’re not alone.
We all know that our circadian rhythm, the internal system that guides our physical being, is impacted by sunlight. Research shows that kids are more sensitive to sunlight than adults. Evidently children’s eyes literally allow more light into their bodies. Children have clearer retinal lenses than adults do, which allows more light to pass through — children preschool age and younger also have larger pupils which allows even more light in. This perhaps might create an even bigger disruption around time changes. The research also pointed out that sleep interruption is responsible for behavioral issues, to which all of us nod our heads furiously in agreement.
So what can we do? First of all, be aware of your kids’ patterns when it comes to sleep. This will help you identify if a sleep change is temporary or trending. When we noticed a trend around an upcoming time change we would slide nap and bedtimes by 30m for a couple of weeks before the actual time change. It enabled an easier transition for the kids, and maintained our sanity. This was doable when my children were younger (read: incapable of reading a clock). Now that we’re past that stage, we try to be vigilant and keep the bedtime actually on-time and not let any night creep later than it should. But what I’ve benefited from the most is the simple knowledge that there is a reason why sleep is trickier for these specific periods of time. I’m not just going crazy (well, maybe that too).
This virus has changed many things for all of us – plans, schedules, budgets. 4 in 4 Years had been simmering in my mind for a while, with plans to launch after I had written several posts (lighter topics than COVID-19 like, say, dealing with lice or toilet training, ha!). This new normal has turned my plan inside out — I’ve started this blog with only one post to help families immediately. Many of us have a house of kids of all ages while we practice social distancing which may feel daunting. I would love to set us all up for success by sharing some ideas (all free of cost) on how to make the best of this difficult time.
I will keep updating the list with more ideas (check the time/date stamp at the top to see if there’s new content at the bottom of lists). Please do share your ideas in the comments, I’ll include in the post. Let’s aim to keep these ideas free of cost. We’re in this together! YOU GOT THIS!!
Note: all links are live, WordPress has trouble with making them appear live, just hover over “link here” to click.
Khan Academy – learn all the things, we use this platform for math and coding for our family. Link here.
Crash Course Kids – YouTube video learning, looks fun! Link here.
Skype a Scientist – just that. Sign up to ask questions of an expert, kids’ questions welcomed! Link here.
MOOC.org (for the acronym-challenged like myself, this means Massive Online Open Course). They have currently 1500+ courses running now from MIT, Harvard, IBM and more. Great for high school kids. Link here.
Open Middle has a ton of math resources grades K-12. Link here.
TED added a new resource for elementary middle high school and university students: TEDED@Home. Link here.
The Capital Weather Gang is launching Weather School for kids. Link here.
The White House Historical Association (they manage all the objects in the White House, think plates/art) has a learning site. Link here.
Class Central has a list of free online Ivy League college courses. Link here.
Open Library has 30k books for kids of all ages. All free. Link here.
Josh Gad, known by our kids as Olaf from the Frozen movies, is reading children’s books nightly via live stream during this social distancing phase, using all the voices. Starting with link here.
Magic Tree House, the beloved series has a great online resource with activities and downloads. Link here.
Authors’ websites. Think about your kids’ favorite books, typically the authors have fabulous content on their site with activities and ideas. I’ve started a list at the bottom – please leave a comment with your favorites!
YouTube has loads of books read aloud – I won’t link as I’m torn about authors getting supported for their work, but some families really aren’t able to have an Audible account.
Storyline Online, videos of celebrities reading children’s books and includes has teaching resources. Link here.
The Spanish Experiment – they’ve translated popular kids books into Spanish and read aloud by a native Spanish speaker. Link here.
Acclaimed author RJ Palacio will be reading her blockbuster book “Wonder” at 12:00p ET, more info to come #WONDERreadaloud. Link here.
DC Public Library is holding live story times for young children and babies on their Facebook page every weekday at 10:30a ET with a friend of mine Theresa! Link here.
Audible – stream books read aloud – opened up their platform for kids as long as schools are closed. Link here.
PE at home – Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, is posting workouts for kids while they’re at home. Link here.
Working From Home Support
Lowell School offers some practical tips on how to balance being a working parent and full time parent while social distancing. Link here.
Child Mind Institute shares thoughts on Coronavirus and how to be successful at home. Link here.
Harvard Business Review (they allow 3 free articles a month), has a piece about parents who work from home with great advice on time blocking. Link here.
The World Economic Forum offers some approaches for success. Link here.
Entrepreneur has a working list of (now 65) free tools to help during this pandemic . Link here.
National Geographic published a piece about maintaining kids’ mental health. Link here.
Storm Family Resources
Our social distancing Daily Schedule, feel free to copy and make it your own. Link here. This updated schedule now reflects how we’re handling online school work, and for the most part has helped the day run smoothly! Remembering to be flexible (not always easy for me to do!).
Our Daily Checklist, checking off items is very helpful for our crew, we use this all year to help set a good pace after school. I’ve left the headers blank for you to customize. Curious about our list? Reading, Khan Academy, Piano, Homework. Link here.
Writing Prompts – to help keep up with creative writing, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Link here.
Digital Dinners – with social distancing we’re trying to be more connected than ever. We’ve invited other families and friends to coordinate dinner time and fire up their iPads or laptops and video chat during dinner. Our inaugural one was loud and lovely. Our kids helped create these tips for success and questions to ask. Our massive whiteboard calendar, now cleaned of all previously scheduled events now boasts the first few dinners we’ve slated. Something to look forward to! Link here.
Movie list – taped to the fridge is a hand written list of all the movies our kids want to watch, pen handy to be added to.
Activity list – also taped to the fridge is another hand written list of things we’ve wanted to do but haven’t had time. French braiding hair. Spa day. Baking. Finally nailing that terrible puzzle.
Pinterest is an amazing trove of art project ideas using their search tool. You wouldn’t believe how many things you can create with a toilet paper roll. Really.
Sleep – though we are keeping to a schedule, we’re also taking this time to let our kids rest. Maybe we will too!
Long term art project – we started a project we know will take time. It’ll be a testament to our time together. It’s just cut up pieces of magazines, glued to a large piece of paper in a rainbow gradient. What can you all work on together that will be a visual reminder of – for most of us – the longest time spent together ever (unless you’re in the habit of taking month-long vacations).