The first few minutes after you wake up in the morning are usually so beautiful. You lie in bed for a few precious seconds, perhaps saying a little prayer of thanksgiving that you've been given another day of life. You feel like your life echoes the opening movement of the William Tell Overture—peaceful and serene, full of joy and optimism. Then all at once you hear the second movement of the Overture—the one that is generally played to suggest galloping horses (the part that was played as an accompaniment to The Lone Ranger's 'Hi-ho Silver' many years ago).
At that point, your household surges into a gallop. You hear little kids up and arguing about something. A glass hits the tile floor in the bathroom. While screaming 'Don't step on that!' you jump out of bed and into your daily morning hassle. Pausing only to make certain the glass was plastic, you start to make the coffee. At that moment, a sleepy two-year-old wanders into the kitchen clutching a ragged blanket, holding arms up and silently asking to be held. Hating yourself, you say 'Mommy doesn't have time to hold you now. We've got to get Katy and you ready to go to school, and mommy has to go to work.' But even as you say it, you can't resist that warm bundle and reach down and pick him up.
Meanwhile, back in the bedroom the galloping continues. Katy can't find her left shoe, though she knows exactly where she left it. Tommy spots his new truck over in the corner and starts to play with it. So you try a compromise: 'Okay, you play with your truck while mommy gets dressed, then we'll put the truck away and get you dressed.' Then Katy whines because the blouse she was putting on has a hole under the arm, follows you into your bedroom and demands that you fix it immediately. No other blouse in her closet will do.
This sort of thing can go on and on—and I haven't even gotten to the breakfast table yet! There is usually one final blast of drums and trumpets, though, that merit special acknowledgment—the search for some missing, totally essential item that has to be taken to child care on that very day. 'Katy, what did you do with that permission slip I have to sign so you can go on the field trip?' Katy has no idea, and the search begins.
The search begins, and any composure you had left disappears. You wonder what it is all about, if it is worth it, how this sort of thing can be avoided. You're a nervous wreck before you get them in the car.
I went through many such mornings before realizing the secret to avoiding them lay in the night before. Only by planning the night before for the next morning's 'gangrene hour' (as my husband used to call it), can this sort of thing be avoided. That is, getting ready to leave the following morning needs to be part of the bedtime routine.
A good way to begin the 'getting to bed' routine (which has its own hassles) is to suggest to Katy that she lay out her clothes for the next morning and to ask Jimmy if there is anything he wants to take for Show and Tell. To help establish this routine, you might select your own clothes and have them participate in the choices. Then, an essential act is to check on whether there are papers to be signed and to involve the children in this process as much as possible. If you have room, make some kind of cubby (like the ones they have at school) and put it near the door through which you will be leaving in the morning. Put everything in there before anyone goes to bed—backpack, raincoat or jacket, hat, gloves (check to make certain both are there). It's not a bad idea, incidentally, for you to have your own cubby nearby.
My final de-hassling suggestion is one you don't want to hear: steel yourself to get up 15 minutes earlier than you usually do. Those extra minutes can provide time for dawdling, for talking with one another, for happy hugs and holds—and even an extra cup of coffee.
I have to end this with a word of caution from my wise 11-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, whose family life is characterized more by love than by organization. She was at my house when I was writing this and commented, 'Oh, you told us to try that. We did it for the first day of school, and it worked beautifully. But by Wednesday we forgot all about it.'
So, if it doesn't become as much a ritual as bathing and brushing teeth, it won't work. But if morning is usually a hassle at your house, try to make it past Wednesday and see if these suggestions help.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.