I was trying to get out of the car in a stiff wind. My back lane parking area is definitely icier than the neighbourhood arena right now. My kids were in their car seats and not old enough to get themselves out. I had to get us all inside. I couldn't forget the 15 art projects, the inevitable mom purse, or any kid backpacks. Too strung out to think clearly at the time, I later had great hindsight. "If only I had ... !"
I'm passing these along to you, in case you've ever been stuck trying to hold everybody's hands on the ice and hang on — just a little longer.
1. Bring a bag (Only octopuses have eight hands.)
I'm not talking about the enormous purse or backpack — these are also useful, because they carry the crayons, scrap paper, tissues, snack, and other 38 essentials you'll need. I mean the lightweight, expandable, reusable, preferably cross-body bag that you stow inside of that other bag. On the day in question, I whipped out that extra bag, stuffed most of the art projects and papers in it, and slung it across my body, along with my purse. Weighed down like a pack mule, I then used both hands to reach the car seat three-point harnesses, get two kids out, and held on to both of them.
2. Ask for help
Believe it or not, most everyone around you was a kid once. I recently took the Canadian citizenship test, and it says that Canadians should know that helping out is part of the culture. When you are holding on to at least two kids, wearing your two or more bags across the body, and still cannot manage to open a door? Look around you. Ask somebody (politely, of course) if they can hold the door or otherwise help. Sometimes they will!
3. Plan ahead and take short cuts
If you have 30 seconds of down time (while pushing someone on a swing or stirring something on the stove), it helps to think through what is coming up next and how you can streamline the activity so it goes smoothly. My model is my father's 1970s era "energy efficiency" training, perhaps augmented by a 1950s housekeeping manual. In essence, it suggests that you should never do only one errand at a time when you can do two on the same trip. You'll drive a shorter distance, too. It saves time and gas.
It's retro. It works.
For instance, if you need to go upstairs to the bathroom for some reason (toilet training someone, perhaps?), try to carry something up or down at the same time. Laundry, shoes, whatever — it can be in a basket at the top or bottom of the stairs, or a jumbled pile, or in one of the ubiquitous expandable bags (see No. 1) that you carry upstairs while also carrying a baby in a sling or a laundry basket. This also works for kids … get them to carry and help as soon as they are big enough!
4. Set boundaries that work for kids and for you
Have you seen the breezy, relaxed well-groomed parent with multiple children who all seem OK, even while staying up late and running around like little terrors? Guess what? I'm not her.
We are a klutzy family — when we race around unsupervised? We get hurt. We can't manage late bedtimes. We thrive on routine. Even so, I feel harried often. Chaos is hard for many of us. Don't feel bad about this or to allow others to make you feel bad! Instead, smile regretfully, mention an early bedtime, and turn down that late dinner invitation that just won't work for you.
Some people thrive on spur-of-the-moment experiences, but it's OK to say that you prefer a quiet bath and story — a regular bedtime routine. It buys parents a little evening quiet time too. I'll take whatever I can get.
5. Be prepared
New parents remember the diaper bag, fully stocked with essentials…but when diapers are a thing of the past, there may be something your child cannot live without. Stick that snack, crayons or lovey into your enormous bag. Schlep it around. It's good to be one step ahead. Later, it might be shin guards, a helmet or a retainer.
6. Be flexible
It's inevitable. Things will implode. You're on your last diaper when someone poops (everywhere). Your school-aged child has a massive accident due to nerves, but he's long past the age when you carry a change of clothes everywhere. (Hey, it happens.) This is the moment you rummage around in your bag. With the spare plastic bag, you clean up the best you can. You make do. If you can get over the embarrassment, you can revert to No. 2: Ask for — and accept — help. Often, somebody has a spare diaper or a change of jeans (size 6). Remember to be grateful. Pass it along someday.
7. You are here
A friend says having children is an important part of character development. It teaches humility and resourcefulness, empathy and a focus on others. I never understood a lot of Buddhist teachings before having twins. Getting through this has taught me to learn to accept where I am.
Sometimes you have to be in the moment. It's the joyful shrieking as you play no-rules soccer in the sunshine, or it might be cleaning up a stomach bug disaster at 3 a.m. No matter where you find yourself in parenthood, this too will pass. It might not get better, or easier. It will get different — and you'll have other things to manage.
Joanne Seiff is a mom of twins, a freelance writer, knitwear designer and educator who lives in Winnipeg. Her current hobby is sleeping.