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Many of you have asked what our routines and schedules are like, or just how we do it on a day to day basis, etc. Welcome to a detailed look at our everyday lives.
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So, that's what our schedule looks like on paper. Now for the why, how, and what questions?
1. Why do Jason and I wake up so early?
Bulldozer and Sunshine are our nonsleepers. Their anxieties are worse at night. This is part of their autism. They will not sleep unless we are all sleeping. If we want to make sure they get enough sleep, and we don't listen to screaming for hours each night, we go to bed when they do. We just discovered this worked over the summer, but being a night owl, it has been very hard for me to adjust. Usually I'd just let Bulldozer fall asleep on the couch watching movies while I stayed up at night working. But his mood and behaviors weren't the best, and I know both he and I needed more sleep. Sunshine would drive me mad, when I'd just gone to sleep at midnight, and she'd wake up at 1 AM screaming until 5 AM. (I am so thankful, for the most part, food allergy diet alterations have remedied her middle of the night screaming escapades.) However, she does still scream when she goes to bed for quite some time (1-2 hours) if we aren't upstairs too.. Instead of Jason and I having alone time at night, when kiddos are supposed to go to bed, we have alone time in the morning.
On a more personal note, I have found I eat much less during the course of the day, if I go to bed early. I may have a chance to actually get 8 hours of sleep, if I go to bed early, no matter how many times kids wake me in the night. Over the past four years I've gained an extra 15 lbs a year, bringing me to my all time high weight of about 200 lbs. As I've had blood work done, talked to my doctor, and started meeting with a personal trainer, the one thing they've all mentioned is that my body will not work properly if I don't sleep. No matter how healthy I eat, or how much I exercise, if I don't get sleep, I will continue to gain weight. Sleep is my first priority, then healthy eating, and then exercise, per the directions of my personal trainer. On days when the kiddos are up all night, especially Sunshine, Jason and I skip out on our morning alone time, blogging, the gym, etc. for a chance to catch up on sleep we missed, before he has to be to work at 7 AM.
2. What is included in our weekly cleaning schedule and daily chores?
About six months ago, I a came across an amazing blog post with a checklist for cleaning on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I fell in love with it. At first glance it seemed completely overwhelming and unrealistic, but I knew that the end result was exactly what I wanted our house to be like. It took me three months to be successful at just completing the daily list almost every day. It took me another two months to be successful at completing the daily and weekly list, every week. This wasn't because my house was that dirty, but because accomplishing the tasks on the lists means your house is picked up and organized. There aren't extra unfinished tasks or items laying around. It also took Jason and I a little while to figure out the best time to tackle the daily and weekly house cleaning tasks.
And in case you're wondering, the three older kiddos (ages 5, 6, & 7) make their own beds, wash their own dishes & put them away, sweep under their chairs after meals, pick up their rooms and living room when asked, and bring dirty laundry downstairs to be washed. If the messes are too large for them and they seem overwhelmed, Jason and/or I help them. When we clean their bedrooms on a weekly basis, the kiddos love to help vacuum, dust, and wash windows. Dinomite and Princess LOVE to vacuum under the couch cushions and ottoman in the living room as well.
Our weakest area, when it comes to taking care of our home, is outdoor yard work. I love gardening, but rarely get a chance to take care of things. We have a lawn mower that doesn't like to work, so that's incredibly frustrating. Hopefully by the end of the summer we'll be doing better at this.
3. What does the kiddos' morning routine look like?
The kiddos wake up, get dressed, put their dirty clothes where they go, make their beds, comb their hair, eat breakfast, and brush their teeth. Depending on the day, they may also take a quick bath in the morning. Dinomite and Princess can usually do their entire morning routine with out assistance, except for their hair. Bulldozer and Sunshine usually need one-to-one assistance with all tasks.
4. What does our school day look like?
This year we've implemented the uninterrupted Montessori 3 Hour Work Cycle. I admit, I had my doubts, but it only took the kiddos one week to get used to it and now they LOVE it. The kiddos choose from activities on the shelves, workbooks, writing journals, math facts, and reading tasks all morning long. It is amazing to see how much they accomplish. During lunch, I fit in our read aloud time. They listen so much better when they're eating. In the afternoon I fit in their exercise, and then at night before bed, as part of their bedtime routine, they read to Jason or me. We homeschool like this year round. Sometimes our family fun time includes a field trip, sometimes it doesn't. If I have a special movie related to one of our themes, I want them to watch, I save it for my movie day. Music is on in our home continuously, if they don't fit enough of that in with shelf activities.
The older three kiddos work in the learning time room which is right next to our living room. Sunshine works in the living room. I go back and forth between the two rooms. The door is always open between them. I'm able to see all of them at all times.
5. What is media time?
Sunshine tends to have PTSD reactions to media, especially television, movies, and computer. All of these devices are off when she's awake to prevent her from becoming physical towards others. (We'll tackle this monster when she's old enough to understand it.) When Sunshine takes her nap, the kiddos have media time. Each kiddo has a designated day for them to choose a movie they'd like to watch. (We don't have cable or satellite.) Jason and I also have a day. The iPad is made available for this time for any who'd like to play games etc. During this time I have a chance to work on the computer, either blogging or preparing learning time activities for the kiddos. This is the only media time the kiddos have during the day, unless it's a special occasion. If the kiddos choose not to participate in media time, they can read, choose a quiet activity to do at the table, etc.
6. What does the kiddos' night time routine look like?
At this point the kiddos have already finished picking up their rooms. Some nights they have baths first. Then they're expected to put on pjs, but their dirty laundry where it goes, brush teeth, get a drink of water, go potty, read stories with Mommy and/or Daddy, and finish by saying prayers.
7. Why are there no extra curricular activities, therapies, play dates, etc. on the schedule (with the exception of Dinomite's swimming lessons)?
Last fall, we made the choice as a family to say goodbye to extra curricular activities and therapies and replace them with family fun activities and vacations. There were many reasons for this decision. Jason was returning to work after being home as a foster father for 2 1/2 years. He used to run them to their activities, while I stayed home with the other kiddos. That wasn't an option anymore. Taking all four kiddos to every extracurricular activity was not possible, especially with special needs and allergies. Finding a babysitter was even more difficult. Then there's the fact that we only have one vehicle, which Jason uses for work.
On a more personal note, I could not pull off all of the extra curricular activities and therapies, and meet the requirements for homeschooling the kiddos. Yes, those hours contributed to learning, but transitions, travel time, and abrupt changes to schedules due to weather, sickness, therapists being late or cancelling, etc., were more than the kiddos could handle. Their behaviors caused me to be extremely overwhelmed and stressed out. One small change and the kiddos were off for the rest of the day. I found it easier to just do things myself at home. The kiddos stay more regulated. There are less meltdowns and PTSD episodes. All of us function better.
The kiddos do have play dates on occasion, but they are a big deal. It takes a lot of effort for any of them to enjoy play dates because of their ASD and RAD. Dinomite looks forward to them, and then doesn't want to have another for at least another month, because the process of playing, sharing, and not melting down was so hard for him. Bulldozer enjoys them, but would rather play with Dinomite. Princess is trying hard to make friends, but she struggles with it. She has so many fears associated with play on top of the RAD behaviors, that makes the process incredibly hard. Sunshine always prefers people over objects, but she's not appropriate with her boundaries. When we do have play dates, they usually occur in place of family fun activities or Saturday afternoon activities. Our developmental pediatrician taught us how to keep them structured and planned out, to help the kiddos cope. Usually we try to go to a mutual place of interest, rather than our home, just because it's so much harder to share at home etc. With that said, the kiddos have started to show interest in neighbors, and enjoy inviting them over to play in our backyard, when we're outside in the afternoons.
In regards to Dinomite's swim lessons, I have a firm belief that all kiddos need to learn to swim and ride a bike. Our local YMCA offers swimming lessons for all kiddos who are 7 years of age for the entire year. Dinomite is finally showing enough coordination skills and muscle development to conquer swimming this year. When the other kiddos turn 7, I'm guessing they'll do the same thing.
8. How do meal times work in your home?
Jason and I eat breakfast before the kiddos get up. The kiddos are able to choose what they'd like for breakfast. Lunch usually consists of left overs from dinner or something else very simple. At dinner time I'm committed to making a meal that everyone can eat. This is not an easy task with Bulldozer and Sunshine's allergies, but it's worth it. For any who don't like it, (Dinomite), there is always an option of a peanut butter/sunbutter and jelly sandwich. In our dining room we have a meal plan for the week written on a whiteboard. In the kitchen, we have a monthly meal plan, that I create at the beginning of each month.
I love cooking and baking, except for in the summer. Jason enjoys cooking as well. So neither of us gets burned out, and so I can attend to other tasks at times, we rotate preparing dinner. Ordering or eating out really isn't an option with all the food allergies and special needs. After dinner, Jason and I rotate kitchen duty and bedtime routines with the girls. The boys won't go to sleep for Jason.
9. How do you find time for yourself?
I find that when I'm in need of a break from my kiddos, most times, if I spend more time with them doing something fun, the need passes. However, there are definitely times when I do need a break. On those days, the minute Jason comes home, I leave, and return at bedtime. I'll go out and meet a friend for dinner and/or errands, etc. Saturday afternoons are some of my favorite times, as I'm able to be by myself for several hours, shopping for groceries, clothes, gifts, and other misc. items, running errands, and listening to some of my favorite radio shows on NPR. As long as I have no expectations for anything to be accomplished while I'm gone, Jason can handle playing with the four kiddos for a few hours. They look forward to this. I find if I leave the house more often than once a week, it really throws the kiddos and their behaviors escalate.
10. Do we really have it all together as it appears?
I always look at our schedule as the goal. Sometimes we're running late. Sometimes due to no sleep, I don't get anything done during those early morning hours, and I spend my Saturday afternoons catching up. Sometimes we end up going to bed late, for various reasons, and that's okay.
I am surrounded by people in my house who crave and need very specific schedules and routines. If they are not in place, others can't function, and so I'm not able to function. At the same time, I am one who loves to be spontaneous. I'm very social. I love traveling and going places. In some instances, I've learned it's not worth it to try to force my kiddos and husband to do spontaneous things and be social. The consequences are too serious. However, in other cases, I push them along. If I wake up and I feel we've been doing great at our schedules and routines, I may surprise everyone and say we're going to do something totally different today and have the energy to help them work through the change. When I get antsy for travel and new scenery, I figure out a way to fulfill that need for myself, even if it means going it alone with four special needs kiddos. Usually we have a fabulous time.
The hardest day of the week for our family is Sunday. It is always our goal to go to church, however this is much easier said than done. If I know one of the kiddos is having a hard time and church will make it worse, we don't go. If Princess' RAD behaviors and PTSD episodes are at a high, I don't chance taking her somewhere things will escalate. Due to food allergies, we don't attend church on holidays. Bulldozer and Sunshine would think nothing of someone giving them a special treat and eating it. Then there are times we're on vacation or out of town. We can't forget those Sundays when people are just sick. On average, we make it to church about 2 times a month. I hope that as they get older this will get better.
On a day to day basis, I do okay, however, I always feel behind in something. Usually I'll focus on one or two things and let something else slide. I work incredibly hard to chase away feelings of defeat if things don't go as planned, especially during times of increased anxiety, PTSD episodes, and RAD behaviors for the girls and meltdowns for the boys. The hardest thing for me to realize for quite some time was that when our schedules and routines don't go as planned, it's not because I'm a bad person, or because I'm not trying hard enough. Usually it's because of a situation or scenario, that's completely out of my control. I try to remember that this too shall pass and we'll pick right back up where we left off, which we always have done. I'm only one person, who can only do one thing at a time, who is just as human as everyone else.
I've tried to answer any questions I thought you may have, after taking a look at our schedule. If you have others, please don't hesitate to ask in the form of a comment. I will respond for you and future readers!