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Keeping Up

“Wow, seven kids! …How do you keep up with all that laundry?” It’s a pretty common follow-up question – especially from other moms.

For the last year, the honest answer has been “I don’t. I pay someone else to.” I’ve had a rock star of a regular babysitter who came to my house every week and did all of my laundry in one day, while I ran kids to various therapy appointments. It has been such a huge help over the last year and oftentimes saved my sanity. But God had bigger plans for my rock star and called her to full-time ministry in Guatemala. I’m crazy excited for her new life adventure. It’s also meant some re-adjustment for me.

So how do I keep up with everything, now that my laundry fairy is gone? Here’s my general system:

A hamper in every bedroom.
I keep a laundry hamper in every bedroom. They’re all just cheap, collapsible mesh bins and all dirty clothes from that bedroom go into the bin together. So, my husband’s clothes and mine are all together, my three little girls’ clothes are all together, my three little boys’ clothes are together, and my teenager has her own hamper.

Everyone in the pool!
My mother is a laundry wizard. She can conquer any stain, and very carefully taught me to sort my laundry by color, texture, etc. There has been absolutely no fault in my teaching. But I’ve learned that I needed to let my expectations of perfection in the laundry department go, or I would never keep up with it. So, each hamper just gets washed all together in cool water. I don’t sort colors or textures any more – I only sort by what room it needs to get put away in. (So the moral of the story is, I can get it done. But if you want it done flawlessly, go talk to my mom!)

One thing at a time.
I aim to do one room’s laundry a day, start-to-finish. Sometimes that gets done in one load – the little girls’ clothes often all fit together, especially in summer. Sometimes it takes two or three loads – like when my boys have changed super hero costumes three times a day for a week. I try to start a load in the morning (before I even get my babies up, if I can) and have that room’s laundry done and put away by the end of the day. This feels like a manageable amount in any given day, so I don’t feel like I’m trying to do it all at once. But it gets everyone’s clothes washed often enough that we’re never running out. It also leaves the washer open in the afternoon for things like potty accidents, wet swimsuits, dog towels, etc. – those things that you need to throw in the washer right away.

Older kids.
My teenage daughter does her own laundry. I help her with any stains or other questions she might have, and often I’ll move it to the dryer or help her fold if I have a chance. But I let her wash her own stuff within the bigger schedule. As the other kids get older, I’ll start switching them to this system too and we’ll re-adjust again.

Everything else.
Everything else gets washed on an as-needed or as-available basis. Kid bedding gets washed when it needs to be (because let’s face it, it needs to be washed fairly regularly with little ones…). Towels or my bedding get washed when everything else is done or they really need it. Dish towels and bibs get run a couple afternoons a week – my laundry is actually in my kitchen, so this is an easy end-of-the-day load while I’m making dinner or doing dishes.

Laundry is something that I consider necessary, but not important in my world. Teaching my kids, knowing them, spending time with them, investing in my marriage, being hospitable, following Jesus – those are the important things. So I’ve had to let go of some of my perfectionism in favor of just getting the necessary done. It works for me – hopefully it’s encouraging to you.

And hey, if you can hire a laundry fairy of your own, then I highly recommend that too!

Lifestyle, Parenting

Living Without the TV

I shared recently how we came to live without a television, or really with almost no screen time at all for our kids. I promised to circle back around on what that looks like for us and how it works, so here I am to do so!

First a couple disclaimers: Most of my kids have lived their entire lives this way, and they don’t know any differently. If this is a transition you’re hoping to make, there will be some “detox” and adjustment needed – we’ve seen it with foster kids coming into our home. It’s drastically different than what they are used to. Secondly, I am a stay-at-home mom. I don’t work outside of my family, nor do I have other major commitments that I need to fulfill for someone. I am also married and Jon is a very hands-on dad; I’m not a single working parent trying to do it all myself. I don’t expect that this is the perfect solution for everyone, so please feel nothing but grace here. So how do we make it work?

Out of sight, out of mind.
We got rid of the TV completely. Like I mentioned before, it was old and a safety hazard. I don’t even have the temptation to turn it on, because it’s just not there. We have a projector that we bring out occasionally for family movie night, but it lives in a suitcase in a closet when not in use. It takes significant effort to set up, so it’s not something I can break out without thought. A friend of mine shared that their TV stays unplugged most of the time so that her small kids can’t turn it on. Maybe putting the TV in a less-frequently used room (like we originally did in our master bedroom), will keep it from being the go-to.

I’ve had to adjust some of my routines to accommodate life without the TV. For example, I leave my little kids in their beds for a few (or sometimes several, honestly) extra minutes in the morning while I get myself dressed and ready for the day. I started a habit a couple years ago of getting completely dressed (and not in sweats – dressed enough to go out, if need be) and ready (hair, makeup, jewelry) every single day before I will even leave my room. The baby will be ok in his bed for a few extra minutes, and I won’t feel like I’m desperate to get away to do these things later. I also shower at night after my little kids are in bed. That way I’m not worried about who is getting into things while I’m showering.

I’ve trended toward a lot of automated or cook-ahead type meals. I have a rice cooker, a crock pot, and an Instant Pot. If I can put these things to work for me, or just throw something in the oven that I’ve previously assembled (say, during my littlest ones’ nap times), it allows me to spread my attention around and not feel like I need to try to be watching the stove while making sure a toddler isn’t pulling curtains down at the same time.

I use a lot of “near me, but not with me” time for my kids: having them do something nearby without necessarily having to directly interact with them. When I’m exhausted out of my mind (when I’m hugely pregnant, for example) and I just need to lay down, I will sit a child or two on my bed or on the other end of the couch with a pile of books to look at while I rest for a few minutes. Or I can put a baby or two in high chairs with a book or a couple toys while I’m prepping a meal or sweeping the floor. I have my kids sit together at the kitchen table and color or look at magazines while I’m making lunch or breakfast, instead of trying to make it and then corralling them all to come sit down.

And honestly, there’s a lot of the kids just learning to entertain themselves. They’ve gotten used to not being actively entertained most of the time. I’ve allowed them to get bored enough to find something to do on their own. They’ve stopped expecting me to keep them occupied and have learned to occupy themselves. For the natively-screen-free among my kids, this comes a little more naturally. For those that have had to get used to it, it develops over time and can be hard at first.

And, of course, the nitty-gritty… What do my kids actually do all day while they’re not watching TV?
Pretend play: We have a big collection of dress-up clothes and costumes; a play kitchen, table, and chairs where they pretend to cook for each other; baby dolls with clothes, bottles, a high chair, cradle, and stroller; and a few action figures that regularly save the day. One of the favorite games right now is “going home,” where the kids pack a bag of random toys and tell me “Bye Mom! I’m going home!” and then proceed to walk around the house with their bag of toys as if they are travelling home.

Building: Wooden blocks, Duplo, Lego, K’nex. Something is usually being created at any given point in time. Train tracks and Hotwheels cars are also constants.

Arts and Crafts: Crayons, markers, colored pencils, and a steady supply of printer paper are always available. Most of the time I’ll allow simple watercolor painting, too. Play-Doh is popular and a good one for when I need everyone sitting in one place for a while. I also have a variety of stickers, beads, yarn, felt, glue, scissors, etc. Painters tape is handy for all sorts of things, and my boys especially are fond of making all kinds of creations out of cardboard.

Games: Matching/memory kinds of games are great because they can be scaled to fit different ages and developmental levels; my two- and three-year-olds just sort through the piles looking for the matches, while the older kids can play structured memory and take turns flipping the cards. We have lots of puzzles in varying difficulties. Simple board or card games: Candy Land, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Uno, War, etc. Pictionary can be modified so that even very young kiddos can participate. My fourteen-year-old recently taught my four- and six-year-olds to play Uno, so that is the game of choice right now.

Books: Books, books, books for days. I am a total sucker for books. Always. I’m sure we have in the neighborhood of a couple thousand books in our house. I do a lot of reading aloud to the kids, but I’ve also collected a variety of big, beautiful, elaborate picture books that non-readers can sit and look at happily for extended periods of time (seek-and-find type books are great for this, too).

Outside: We spend a lot of time outside. We have a big yard, a couple great climbing trees in different sizes, a massive sandbox, and a swing set/playhouse. Bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, kiddie-pool, studying nature, collecting leaves or rocks, going for walks, and playing tag are all fan favorites.

And what about the older kids? You might be surprised how much these things scale. My teenage daughter will sit on the couch with a book for a couple hours. She’ll use the art supplies to work on hand-lettering Bible verses to hang on her wall. She takes the dogs for walks up and down the street. She’ll journal and listen to music. Or she’ll sit in the room and just talk to me while I do other things.

A Place for Technology
Even without the TV, there’s still a place for technology in our everyday. I do sometimes put on an audio book for the kids to listen to on Audible. A sweet friend got us a subscription to Adventures in Odyssey this year for Christmas. We have a series of Google Home speakers that we use to listen to music or podcasts. Once in a great while, I will let the kids play the Bible App for Kids for a little while. And yes, once in a while we drag out our projector and watch a movie together as a family.

It does require some different thinking and planning to be screen-free. It takes creativity, and sometimes a lot of patience. But if paring down your screen time is a goal, I hope I’ve given you some practical ideas to try. Questions? Comments? Things I forgot? Let me know!

Lifestyle, Parenting

What’s Missing?

“I’m looking around your house, and I’ve noticed something missing.” It’s a comment I hear occasionally when someone comes to the house for the first time. So what’s missing from my home?

A television. That’s right – we don’t own a TV.

Not only do we not own a TV, but our children get near-zero screen time as a rule. Now wait, before you start to defend your own family’s screen time to me, let me explain. We didn’t set out to be that way – my husband owns an IT company; we’re certainly not anti-technology.

When we were dating and after we first got married, we watched a lot of TV. We had a big, clunky, box of a TV that was handed down to us. I publicly admit to being a Food Network/HGTV junkie. Jon could sit in front of news channels most of the day and be a happy camper.

We moved into a new apartment just before our second anniversary. It was a God-send and provided some much-needed extended living space with a 3-month-old baby now in the mix. But the living room was an odd shape, and there wasn’t a natural place to put that clunker of a TV. Plus, we knew screen time wasn’t supposed to be good for babies, so we moved it into our master bedroom. Jon and I would watch movies or the occasional Netflix series at night, but it quickly became “out of sight, out of mind.” Life got busier: Jon’s new business grew, we had another baby, and we increasingly had other ways to spend our time. Eventually we realized that it had been eight or nine months since we had even turned the TV on.

About the same time our firstborn son, Gavrel, learned to climb. When he pulled the (thankfully short) dresser in his own bedroom over one day while climbing, we started taking a look around the rest of the house. Our dresser was much taller – with that giant box TV on top of it. If he were to climb that, it could kill him. We really weren’t watching it anyway, so away the TV went. We realized pretty quickly that we didn’t miss it. Jon and I still watched a very occasional movie, but a laptop screen worked just fine for that.

For a while, we would let the kids watch videos on a tablet or play with an app (I’m a huge fan of the Bible App for Kids) for those times when “Mommy just needs to rest” or “I just need to get something done.” You know – those times we all have throughout the day. It didn’t take us long to realize, though, that it affected our kids’ attitudes and behavior: they were meaner, shorter-tempered, and more demanding after screen time. We weren’t actually saving ourselves any time or effort by adding screen time back in. Finally we decided enough was enough, and we stopped even that.

Today, we will set up a projector for family movie night once in a while. I play videos off of my phone or computer for school lessons some days. But we largely still live screen-free at home during the day. It’s pretty drastically (and noticeably) different than most people. But it has been a good thing for us.

Trust me, I’m not sitting back here judging you because you let your kids watch TV or play with iPads. Life is hard, parenting is harder, and we all do what we need to to get through. I do frequently hear “I would really love to cut back on our family’s screen time, but I just don’t know how” or “I just don’t know what else to do with my kids while I…” I just want to gently and lovingly encourage you that it is possible, if it’s important to you or a goal of yours. I’ll be circling back around to talk about what that looks like on a practical, daily basis – you know, what I actually do instead of turning cartoons on.

If that’s not something that’s for you – great. Enjoy those cartoons with no shame! And hey, now you know why my family and I are a little slow on the popular culture references. We’re weirdos; we know.