I have a good friend who goes on what it seems like four outings a day with her kids ranging from play dates, to grocery shopping, to a museum, and finishing it off with the arboretum or zoo. We have her over for a morning play date and she has been somewhere already. She heads out for a big grocery shopping trip when she leaves our house. And she seems to draw energy from this–it is fun for her!
I think I must be her opposite. One outing, about 90 minutes long is fun for me, any longer than that, and things start to fall apart. But as it happens the outing are always longer than 90 minutes. Most place we go to it takes a full 30 minutes to get from the driveway, park the car, and get into the door of whatever place (unless it is the grocery store…). Yet, I have learned over the years, if I am going to take four kids on a long outing parenting solo, be it a friend’s house, museum, zoo, home school co-op, orchestra, well-visit with the pediatrician, OB visit (when I am pregnant) etc. I have to do several things to keep myself sane.
Here are my seven rules for myself when I go on outings with kids, and I am linking them up with Kelly’s seven quick takes!
1. The outing is the only special thing we do that day. The rest of the day is normal life. We get up at the same time, eat breakfast at the same time, do our outing, come home fed or before lunch, I coerce the people into their naps and quiet times, and then just savor the afternoon quiet…and then start dinner too late because I am wiped.
2. Bring the right stroller or baby carrier. The doctor’s office requires an umbrella stroller for strapping the toddler into when necessary. The zoo requires the double stroller so that the toddler can’t get away and for a tired kid to ride when necessary. The art museum does best with a single jogger because they won’t let us wear backpack diaper bags on our backs and it is easy to maneuver. The wrong stroller ruins the outing. Orchestra is no stroller, just baby in a carrier as there is no room for strollers.
3. Make them eat a snack in the car on the way and bring water bottles. Full bellies=happy kids. Having kids fed before going out solves about 90% of mood problems (I may have just made up that stat). Plus, the other day we went to the zoo, and it was a lot easier to breeze by the refreshment stand with kids who had just had snacks and had full water bottles that way. Not that we ever buy concession food anyway, but they always want to ask.
4. Pack a lunch that they can eat in the car or before we go home. If I know we are going to get home after 12pm, a packed lunch is a necessity. I was not sure if the lunch on our zoo outing was going to be eaten at the zoo or in the care on the way home, but I knew that when we got home, there would be no need to feed anyone. We ended up eating at the zoo. We ate it walking from one exhibit to another, and the four year old and toddler ate in the stroller. You know that a stroller is basically meant to be a high chair with wheels, right?
5. Plan ahead and meet a friend there. My real pleasure in outings, besides going places with my perfectly mannered children (ha!), is hanging out with another mom and family that we love. That way the kids get to see friends (home school problems) and I get to see one as well. It is also helpful if the little people need help in the bathroom. We can tag-team guarding strollers or help reign in a wandering child. The other day at the zoo, I lost a child and my friend stayed with the other ones while I found my lost, sobbing child. It is all about the solidarity.
6. Do not push myself or the kids by staying too long and get home by quiet time. When I was leaving my weekend long silent retreat a last month, I called the professor to let him know I was on my way home. He mentioned that the toddler had only been napping about an hour; it was five o’clock. Then he explained that their outing had gone from about 11am-3:30pm, and I was like, “Are you insane?!” My day revolves around my 2-4pm quiet time, and I do not miss it except for very few reasons. He, however, seemed to enjoy breaking all of my rules while I was away. I, on the other hand, need the afternoon quiet to recharge for the rest of the day. I often get home later than I plan too, but we always make sure there is some time for rest.
The other factor here is the kids. People at certain ages and with certain introverted personalities tend to completely lose it after a certain amount of time out of the house, whether or not his or her stomach is full. We call it “turning into a pumpkin.” Pumpkins tend to lose the ability to control emotions as they have no reason, and they don’t listen to anything you say as they have no ears. I try to avoid my kids turning into pumpkins. The other day it happened because a pumpkin fell while running. It was all chaos with her after that…
7. Plan an easy dinner for that night. Who wants to cook an elaborate meal after being out and about all morning? Dinner has to be quick, and I will probably not start cooking it until 4:30pm, which is the time my conscience really makes me get off the computer or stop reading and get going on feeding people…
Note: The library is an automatic free outing for which I break all of these rules for. 1) It is like 5 minutes away. 2) We do it in like 30 minutes, and the toddler always comes home soaked because someone thought it would be a good idea to put a toddler height water fountain in the kids section of the library… why??!?!?