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August 18, 2017
Raising children is a full time job. Raising children on top of holding down a part-time job (or jobs!) from home means life is often chaotic, stressful, extremely fast-paced, but all around rewarding. For some, holding down a side job while being a stay at home mom means bringing in extra income needed for day to day life. For others, it’s a form of holding onto one’s self – the part of yourself that holds onto childhood dreams, career aspirations, and passions outside the realm of child-rearing. It’s a part of how we stay whole, and albeit sometimes arguably, sane.
This will be my fifth year working from home. This will also be the first year my oldest child enters into school full time. Hello, Kindergarten! In what feels like a lifetime ago, I left my middle school teaching position when my daughter, Ava – and first and only at the time – was about 9 months old. A combination of missing my child during the day, being an Army wife, and a strong desire to make more of my career, I took a leap of faith – and here we are five years later teaching a full online course-load of English composition college courses while pursuing a freelance writing and photography side gig with three children in tow and a still-active Army husband. My life on any given day is chaotic. It’s a constant list of must-do’s and should-do’s, coupled with a lot of want to-do’s, both mine and those of my children. Every day is a juggling act in which I must quickly decide at which moment which ball is going to be the one that needs to fall. Most often, it is work. And sometimes, it is my children. I’m not afraid to say that perhaps a few too many movies have been watched because I had grades that needed to be turned in, or emails that absolutely had to be answered. I’m also not afraid to say that some emails went a little too long unanswered because my child needed me, whether it was a day spent swimming with the kids at the local pond, having simple yet entertaining conversations with my daughter while I braided her hair, or making the silly sounds that were sure to get baby Ben giggling like no other.
That said, the beginning of fall and the return of school gives me all the feels. It’s the light at the end of a very hot, sticky tunnel – a tunnel full of screaming, sweaty, dirty-kneed children – a 5 year old, 4 year old, and 10 month old, to be exact. It’s the return of quiet work, the ability to check email and answer accordingly without simultaneously warding off a battle over a purple cup. It’s being able to grade an entire essay in ONE sitting during daylight hours. And it’s the return of being able to wind down after the bedtime routine is said and done, rather than plugging in and logging on. But in order for all of those things to happen smoothly, it also means that I have to be on top of my game – I have to be prepared, organized, and efficient. For a creative, this doesn’t come easy. While time is precious to every parent, the time I’m given to work while my two oldest children are in school (kindergarten and part-day pre-k) is crucial to allowing me to give my children my full attention when they return home. And for this reason, I’ve comprised five of the biggest tips I can offer to a stress free back to school… and back to work.
Dress for Success
School mornings set the tone for the rest of the day. I need to be up, dressed, and sipping my coffee before my kids or else I won’t get in as much work as I need to once they are off. One of the hardest parts of a morning routine with kids is getting them dressed, and not only adequately clothed, but appropriately dressed. And if you have a fashionista like mine, you know exactly what I mean. My daughter stopped letting me dress her pretty early on in life, and I quickly learned to love her personal style like only a parent can. Love trumps morning battles always, let me tell you. Over the past few years of mismatched clothing, dresses tucked into skirts, and knee high socks paired with Cinderella glass slippers, I’ve come to learn a back to school pro shopping tip that not only makes for quick mornings, but a happy child: buy the bulk of your child’s clothing in solid colors.
Tip #1: Primary colors are your friend.
I have never been a fan of kid’s clothing sprawling sayings across the chest or bright neon colors. I’ll be honest, I’m not even a fan of character shirts, and even though I give into my superhero-loving 4 year old son on occasion, I try my best to keep my kid’s closets full of billboard-free branding (I blame it on the fact that I think a giant logo ruins a great photograph. #momtographerissues). This kind of strategic shopping though is as much as for ease and efficiency as it is for keeping up with appearances. Mornings are made incredibly easy when the majority of your child’s wardrobe can be mixed and matched, and they can easily pick out outfits themselves without a parent battle ensuing. This is why I believe that the creators of Primary clothing might just be my soulmates.
Primary provides brilliant basics for your child’s closet in an array of mix and matching colors without the brand logos, silly lettering, or even itchy tags. No glitter, no sequins, and no crazy designs. Simply, simple. And, incredibly cute. And, the best part of all of Primary’s clothing is that their color scheme remains the same throughout their entire collection, so no matter what you purchase, you can mix and match their pieces seamlessly.
Dresses are a must have in my daughter’s closet – it’s all she wants to wear. Primary’s The Short Sleeve Dress is everything when it comes to a quick morning. It’s an easy wash, dry, hang, and grab outfit. The fit is perfect for fall as well, offering the warmth of short sleeves and just enough fabric for a good twirl, according to my girl.
I also love the oh-so-handy The Reversible Sundress for adding style and variety to her wardrobe, but for less. One side is a perfect, classic navy with ruffle detail on the chest, while the other is a bright magenta pink that any little girl will love. The material is not only thick and sturdy, but also holds shape through washes.
Finally, a good legging and tunic are a must for the coming colder weather. Primary’s The Legging are a thick cotton, sure to withstand some playground tumbling, and they come in a variety of colors that will match just about any top or dress you have. We paired Ava’s navy leggings with The Peasant Top, which is the perfect combo of classy-chic and fun sophistication for little girls.
My son is entering Pre-K this year. While he has been in half-day preschool for the past two years, this will be his first time going every day, and he’s moving up to the elementary school, so he’s very excited to be able to walk with his sister in the mornings. Getting him dressed is quite a bit easier than my daughter, as he isn’t so picky, but for the sake of my sanity, I still keep things really simple.
I love that Primary offers their basic tees in cool solid patterns, such as The Layered Tee and The Baseball Tee. Both tees come in two tones and add a little more fun than just a basic solid t-shirt, and are made of a thick, soft cotton. They can each be easily dressed up or dressed down depending on the occasion.
We also like to pair tees with Primary’s super easy slip-on The Cord 4 Pocket pant. These pants are not only incredibly cute and soft, but they also have an elastic waist without the hassle of a button or zipper. For preschoolers, especially boys who like to wait until the last minute to use the potty, these pants are a must. In fact, this style was requested by teachers at his last preschool.
And while I don’t send my baby to daycare while I work from home, I do count on nap time and free play to get the majority of my work done. For this reason, keeping his outfits simple, soft, and transitional from play to sleep is important.
Primary’s baby collection is just that: no fuss. A simple The Baseball Babysuit (to match big brother’s!) and The Baby Pant are both incredibly soft and versatile, while The Snap Romper (it’s offered in zipper as well for a real no-fuss option) makes early morning walks to school perfectly acceptable to wear pajamas.
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Tip #2: Buy only machine-washable gear.
I love starting a new school year off fresh – new clothes, new school supplies, and a new backpack with matching lunchbox. In our previous preschool years, I realized one thing pretty quickly – backpacks and lunchboxes get dirty… and fast. They throw them on the ground, drag them as they walk, ditch them on the grass next to the neighborhood playground on our walks home after school, and of course, often get left in a heap in the foyer in a mad dash to the kitchen for a snack. Since my free time is minimal and I like to put my hard earned money into quality items that will last the kids all year, I am adamant that my children will have machine washable backpacks and lunch boxes. I want to be able to throw them in the wash and line dry when (not if) they decide to start a rock collection on their walk home from school one day or my preschooler thinks he’ll save the rest of his applesauce pouch for later, sans screw top. It will happen. I don’t have time to patch holes, mend tears, or scrub stains. I also don’t have time (or the extra funds) to go shopping for new gear every month. This year, I found not only the cutest, eco-friendly back to school gear for my two oldest, but it’s also machine washable and able to withstand a little bit of elbow – and food – grease! Bingo!
SoYoung‘s Raw Linen Backpack collection features a great variety of prints and colors on beautiful light linen, all of which are machine washable and dishwasher safe. For Ava, we chose the Raw Linen – Pink Birds Backpack collection, including the matching lunchbox and water bottle bag. For Jake, we went with a cool blue dino print with their Raw Linen Blue Dinosaur Backpack collection, also including a matching lunchbox and water bottle bag.
Their standard grade school size backpack is perfect for children ages six and up (they offer toddler sizes for preschoolers too!) and features two stretchy mesh side pockets, is roomy enough for folders, binders, books, and gym clothes, and even has a handy chest clip that keeps the backpack in place no matter what your child decides to climb.
Each backpack also has a matching linen lunchbox available and water bottle bag. Both are lined with an insulated interior to keep food and water fresh, and both come with an attachable shoulder strap so that they can easily be carried over the shoulder or attached to the backpack.
The lunch box also comes with a removable insert that can easily be cleaned, a name tag, and a back pocket for cute little lunch notes.
Raw Linen – Pink Birds Backpack | Raw Linen Blue Dinosaur Backpack | Raw Linen – Pink Birds Lunch Box | Raw Linen – Blue Dinosaur Lunch Box | Raw Linen – Pink Birds Water Bottle Bag | Raw Linen – Blue Dino Water Bottle Bag
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Tip #3: Make breakfast easy and on-the-go.
While school doesn’t start until 8:30 am, we are walkers – meaning we have to account for the time needed to walk to school, to include loading the baby in the stroller or infant carrier, as well as any extra weather gear we may need. Being that we live in New York, rain and snow make for some pretty interesting walks to and from school with three kids in tow. We have been known to grab an apple, banana, or granola bar and eat on our walk while I usually try to get in my first or second cup of coffee. In an effort to be more efficient this year with both Ava and Jake attending the elementary school every morning, and my need to get to and from school as quickly as possible so I can work, I’m hoping to whip up some yummy morning smoothies to make for a filling and delicious walk. And if I play my cards right and manage to wake up early enough to get a work out in before the kids start stirring, I might just be able to get a protein shake in as well.
All this being said, invest in a really good blender and food processor for life-changing results.
The Cuisinart Velocity Ultra Trio 1 HP Blender/Food Processor with Travel Cups is just that – life changing. Using the same base, I can chop a cucumber into perfect little slices for the kid’s lunch boxes, then switch out the jar and blend one giant smoothie by simply hitting the “smoothie” button.
The food processor comes with a 3 cup work bowl with feed tube, stainless steel chopping/mixing blade, and reversible slicing and shredding disc. Quickly and efficiently, I was able to chop a cucumber in a matter of seconds, dumping the bowl directly into a food saving container to keep them fresh all week for quick lunch packing.
The 56 oz BPA-free blender jar features a measured pour lid for easily adding ingredients without removing the cover.
The electronic touchpad base has pre-programmed ice crush and smoothie buttons, as well as on/off, low, high, and pulse. The touchpad is so easy to use, my kids love to help push the buttons in the morning.
Lastly, to create my personal protein shake, all I have to do is attach the blade to the personal to-go cup and blend away. After blending, detach from the blade and screw on the lid for travel. The Velocity comes with two travel cups with lids, so if coffee is my go-to that morning, they luck out with a smoothie to go of their own.
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Tip #4: Give them quality entertainment when you need it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past five years of working from home while being a stay at home mom, it’s that in order for any work to be done, their little hands need to be full. This year, Ava will be in school all day but Jake will still be home from pre-k around lunch, and of course, I will have the baby at home with me all day. While Jake will watch trains traveling through tunnels on YouTube for hours on end if I let him, I still can’t let the parent guilt go even when I have a stack of papers to grade or an inbox full of emails. I would rather that he spend his time doing something constructive next to me. And if you have a preschool boy, you know well that whatever you set in front of them better be either A.) a train, B.) a superhero, or C.) something new and exciting, or else all hopes of keeping their attention longer than 5 minutes goes out the window. This is why I am a huge fan of subscription boxes for kids. Not only do they provide a box full of something new, exciting, educational, and crafty, but they are delivered to my door and without much thought or hassle from me. They go above and beyond any little activity I would probably have to spend hours to come up with.
Kiwi Co creates my favorite line of subscription boxes for kids, not just because of their incredible quality, but also because of their break down by age. My two oldest are only 21 months and one grade level apart, but it’s still enough that Ava’s interests and abilities far exceed Jake’s. Kiwi Co understands this and has created lines for every age up to 16 years old. The Koala Crate is perfect for Jake, or kids ages 3-4, while the Kiwi Crate is right up Ava’s alley, for kids ages 5-8.
Each kit is designed to be appropriately educational for that child’s age group, but is also a lot of creative fun. The crate that Ava recently received was space themed. It included an educational magazine on the Solar System, an instructional booklet for two crafts, two crafts, and all of the supplies needed. Her crafts included a hanging mobile of the Solar System that she got to paint and put together piece by piece. It even lights up! The second craft was a meteor launcher that coincided with a game.
Jake’s kit was a farm kit that was created for learning through play. It also included an educational magazine, an instructional booklet, and three fun crafts. His crafts included making a barn carrying case, farm animal finger puppets, and a bead vegetable garden. Not only did we learn why barns are traditionally red (thanks to rust mixed into the paint to protect the wood back in the day!), but all three items are as much fun to play with afterwards as they were to create.
While I do have to read the instructions for them, I can still get work done while they work on creating the craft and playing with it when they are finished.
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Tip#5: Take a Break.
Lastly, take a break. It’s easy to say when you are feeling stressed with so much to do on your plate that taking a break just isn’t an option, especially when little ones are depending on you (as well as your co-workers, clients, employees, etc.), but by a ‘break’, I’m talking about something a bit different than a nap. Take a break with your child. Give them your undivided attention and just sit with them for 20 minutes. Grab a book and read with them, ask them questions, and sit still and enjoy each other’s company. After spending a little quality (keyword!) one-on-one time with your child, your child will more than likely be okay going back to quiet play time while you get back to your work again. Not only will you feel a little better about your own parenting as well (hey, we all experience parent-guilt now and then), but a brief break from the stress of work will bring clarity to your tasks ahead.
Reading is a favorite pastime in our household. Even though my children have some definite favorites that we have read over and over, I like to mix it up and find new ones at our local library. Even then, picking out a good book can be daunting, which is why I found GiftLit and fell in love (of course, anything to do with literature and the smell of books has me hooked).
GiftLit is a subscription box company that sends the best books to a special person in your life (including yourself!). GiftLit is comprised of educators, librarians, authors, and booksellers, all working together to pick the very best in literature and provide it to your loved one, beautifully wrapped, and at their door every month.
While GiftLit does a lot of the work for you, you do get a lot of say in what genre your recipient is interested in, what age they are if they are a child, and what kind of collection would interest them most.
For Jake, a preschooler age 2-5, GiftLit’s Cuddle Collection is perfect for him. The New York Time’s Best Seller, Dragons Love Tacos, came beautifully wrapped with a wrapped stuffed dragon and taco as well. The perfect combination!
For Ava, our budding reader entering into kindergarten, a selection from the Beginning Chapter Books Collection hit the nail on the head with The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation.
And lastly, GiftLit’s Cuddle Collection for Baby sent the iconic Pout Pout Fish board book with a matching stuffed animal. Receiving a box full of good reads each month not only takes the guess work out of finding a new favorite, but it also opens the door to finding new interests and makes reading exciting. I even received a selection from GiftLit’s Beach Reads Collection, perfect for our next vacation.
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If all else fails, remember your priorities and count your blessings. There will be days that challenge you as a parent and days that challenge you as a career-holder, and days that challenge both – and those are the days that you throw up your hands, count your kids, and pour yourself another cup of coffee. Or wine. Your call.
Photo Credits: Stephanie High