4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Phew! What a whirlwind the past few weeks has been. I am happy to report that Christmas was stellar for my Aspie girl. We finally got things right for her this year. She was calm and peaceful and happy. It was a joy to see! Our boy, on the other hand, was a MESS! So excited, so impatient, and such a handful.

We've decided that it must suck to be the only boy in a family of girls. 4Daddy remembers being the lone boy with two sisters (until his younger brothers were born many years later) and being a young boy very well. His insight has helped me immeasurably; meaning that I'm able to refrain from strangling 4B because I have a window into his world and because I know this, too, shall pass. We're trying a few new things with him that seem to be working. More on that later.

I'm cooking up a few posts for the new year, but progress has been slow with all the kids home, 4B's neediness, and a sick 4D. I'll get to them; I promise.

In years' past, I've rattled off lists of resolutions as long as my arm. Sticking to some but not most. So, I've decided to enter this year of 2012 with just one: take care of myself.

Taking care of myself includes the following things:
  • getting healthy (e.g., cutting out artificial and going natural again, exercising, drinking my water, tackling my anemia),
  • having more fun with my babies (taking time to love being with them and not just caring for them),
  • saying NO a LOT more (I absolutely love, love, LOVE to help and volunteer; that, however, comes at a cost to my family, my nerves, and my sanity; less is going to have to be more, or just less, but less it will be)
  • spending more time with 4Daddy (meaning that we can no longer tolerate being ships passing in the night, nothing but child-wranglers, and just co-parent roommates; we are real autonomous adults, and it's okay for us to act like it!),
  • working harder and smarter at making my children independent so that I'm not so needed and harried and maid-y and waitress-y and grumpy,
  • saying yes to and accepting more help (there are others out there, believe it or not, who know how and are willing to write social stories and create behavioral supports for 4A, to help 4B be a boy and burn off his boy energy, to listen to and enjoy 4C's constant enthusiasm, and to wrangle and wipe 4D; imagine that!; I can say yes when they offer, and I can even....gasp!....ask for it when I need it!), and
  • increasing my spiritual life (this is a subject for a later post).

Taking care of myself does not include the following things:

  • trying to make people happy (my children, my friends, my parents, my spouse, those I volunteer with),
  • taking care of others when they could do it themselves (honestly, it is easier and less of a hassle for me to shake up and hang the damn wet towel that's on the bedroom floor, but all four of my children have working arms and legs; I AM NOT A MAID!),
  • giving up what I need for the sake of someone else's happiness (now, this doesn't mean that I can't put others before myself; I still intend on doing that, BUT I have needs, too, and if they aren't met, I don't have anything left to give anybody else. As my dear friend, Ms. Paula told me, "Everyone's making withdrawals, Hollie. Who's making deposits?"), and
  • saying yes when I really mean no (no, actually, I don't feel like wiping your ass because you're 8 and you have to do it yourself; no, I don't feel like going to that PTA meeting because I'd rather watch a movie with my husband; no, I don't want to help you find the DSi stylus because it's not mine and I didn't use it last; no, I really don't want to put together another event or craft or activity because I'm tapped out--more on this in the new year, I promise!.)

2011 has been a wonderful year, full of all the things life should be about: love, loss, illness, health, fun, drudgery, family togetherness, sadness, bliss, and TIME! 2012 will hold, I pray, even more of that, for me and you, I hope. I determine to get better at being me and enjoying the time that I have, using it more wisely and being more grateful for it in each moment of my days.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas present

In the past four weeks, we have had two bouts of strep (both in the same child), two sinus infections, three allergy-induced sinus messes from what will sadly be our last live tree, and four bouts of a nasty GI bug (and something tells me there will shortly be two more).

4A, while she's fared better this December than in years' past, has struggled. While the move to her new reading group was necessary (even though she was entitled via her IEP to the supports she is now getting, but that's a long, telling post for the new year) and has been smooth, it was a change...in her hardest month of the year. These things together have amounted to lots of behavioral tickets, a blue slip in special (the equivalent of several behavior tickets in one class period), LOTS of missed or forgotten assignments, and several half-assed projects. This, consequently, has meant lots of over-corrections and negative reinforcements at home.

And, whilst all this, we've baked and made and bought and wrapped and sang and delivered and performed and decorated and cooked and made merry.

Phew!

But, this has positively been the best Christmas season I have had in my almost 9 years as a mom. Hands-down the most enjoyable, easy, calmest, and FUN season ever!

I'm not being sarcastic (for once, right?). Lest you think I'm crazy, allow me to explain.

4A has weathered the holiday storm the best she ever has. Here's why. First, she has the SAME teacher ALL day. The behavioral plan is solidly consistent across her entire day at school and at home. How an Aspie thrives on consistency!

Second, we have been adding lots of extra reinforcement when she does things the "right" way because doing so this time of year is even harder than usual for her. We've been HEAPING on the pebbles for good behavior and solid effort. In fact, while it often takes her months to fill her jar (she has the chance to earn three every day: one for no tickets at school, one for recording her assignments, one for bringing materials home), she has overflowed that thing twice this month. TWICE! The movie date with her bestie and the ice cream sundaes we had for supper were SOOO worth the calm she's showing. She is positively basking in the glow of her hard work and good choices.


Finally, I also had the stroke of genius to pay $3.99 to send myself (her) a custom text message from Santa last weekend to put her mind at ease: she is, in fact, on his good list. With that question answered, she's been much calmer and even. She knows. She doesn't have to wonder or worry. She has her black and white answer. Shades of grey she can not do. In her letter to Santa earlier this month, she asked, "I just need to know...am I on the good list?"

So 4A and autism aside, remember how I told you that I had been busting my ass since Halloween to get the to-dos done so that I could ENJOY? I made a firm pact with myself to be done shopping by 12/25 and done with EVERYTHING by 12/22. You thought I was insane. Be honest. It's okay.

Well, illness notwithstanding (both theirs and mine), I am happy to report that I am officially done with all shopping, wrapping, baking, project-ing, gifting, donating, EVERYTHING as of 12/14. Anything from here on in is just gravy. While it was a lot of work over a long time, it was sooooo worth it. This week alone, I have, even in my fever and barf induced state, played not one but three games of Candyland, 1 game of Trouble, and made a batch of cookies just because 4C felt like it. It feels wonderful. So wonderful!

I also had the wonderful gift of having my eyes opened to an unbearable, unspeakable, unconscionable secret. I have learned that certain babies, primarily those born with Down's Syndrome, in Eastern Europe, are so culturally shameful that they are disposable. Not in the "get rid of them before they're born" way but in the "tie them to a crib and feed them only twice a day so they don't grow or thrive, change their diaper only once a day, don't touch them" way. I think I probably always knew that this was happening, but I honestly either didn't really grasp it or really realize the shocking depth of the practice. If you didn't know this was happening or if you did and it hasn't kept you up at night, you need to learn about Katie's amazing journey to love.

My edification in this regard has drastically changed my life. Two-fold. First, my family and I will never, ever stop helping to bring these amazing babies to homes of LOVE. Stay tuned for more on this. Second, Katie and her brethren have opened my eyes to a big shortcoming in my life.

I am a good mom. And, by good, I mean that I meet my children's needs each day a best as I'm capable. I am the only mother that my children have, and I'm doing the best I can in each moment.

But, the Katies of the world have led me to realize that I'm not really loving my children. Please don't misunderstand. I care for them...immeasurably.

I feed them, cook for them, shop for them, and try to balance their diets. I take them to the doctors and dentist. I clothe and shoe them. I reinforce their good behaviors and stay consistent in reducing their poor behavior choices. I live for them by example. I ground them when they need it. I read to them. I hold their hands when they cross the street. I hug them. I participate in their beloved activities.

I clean: them, their house, their clothes.

I mend: clothes, toys, boo-boos, hearts.

I apply: band-aids, lotion, medicines.

I shuttle: them, their friends, their stuff.

I help: with homework, with arguments, with turning on the faucet, with getting on boots and coats.

I teach....Good Lord do I teach: how to be a good friend, clean up after oneself, solve one's own problems, be a good listener, how the world outside our house works, how fortunate we are, how good it feels to help someone else, that life is hard, who God is.

I remind...a LOT...use good manners, honor what your sibling says, pick up your coat, brush the back of your teeth too, remember to only use swear words in your room, don't eat your boogers (or at least not while someone's watching), turn off the light when you leave the room, put the toilet seat down when you're done, do what your teacher says even if you dont feel like it, gossip hurts, tell the truth, take your vitamin, everyone gets to make his/her own choices, your body is yours and you don't have to share it, write a thank you note, throw your garbage in the trash and not on the floor, I am not a waitress or a maid, be the kind of person you want to be, you can do anything you set your mind to, say you're sorry, always ask first.

I encourage: be tolerant of others differences; even better, accept others differences and love them any way; ask the new kid to play; save up for what you really want; relationships with siblings and cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles are the gold of life; good friends matter most; your time is more important than your money; if you see a hurt in the world, you can fix it; if you can't figure out how to fix it, help any way.

I wipe: noses, mouths, and asses (Good Lord! I wipe a LOT of asses).

And, I don't have to tell you that this list never ends. You know because you're out there toiling in the trenches, too.

But, what Katie helped me realize is that I don't necessarily remember to love them just for the sake of loving them. I suppose this is an inverse corollary of that ANNOYING, constantly-repeated-by-every-old-lady-in-the-grocery-store adage that it really does go by in the blink of an eye. People keep assuring me that I really will miss the incessant neediness; I suppose I ought to start listening.

It's not that I don't know that, but I admit to very real and vivid longings for time to myself. Time to do what I want when I want to do it. Time to eat what I want to eat because I feel like it (and, in this dream, of course, there's no bitching about what's on my plate, and I actually sit down while I eat it and I enjoy it). Time to poop and wipe my own ass without someone sitting on the stool next to me and trying to wipe my butt...always the helper, that wonderful 4D.

I love them, of course. But, I'm tired. I chose it. I wanted it. I love it. I'm happy. But, it's a lot of work, and it makes me tired. Sometimes, to be really honest, it even makes me resentful. I am an autonomous being, damnit!

Katie reminded me how obnoxious and selfish I am. I have been given the amazing gift of these beautifully whole babies, whom I received on my own without help, at a time in my life when I had a partner and family to support me in their care, in a country full of resources and wealth, into a relationship that allows me the luxury of caring for them on my own without hired help.

It's really not about me. It's about them. I can get so caught up in caring and tending and mending and reminding and encouraging and wiping and feeding that I forget to love. Not that I forget to love them because I do...I really do. But, I forget to love being with them. To stop what I'm doing and play that game of Candyland. To take my mind off my to-do list and listen (again) to how cool that Lego kit on page 26 of the catalog is. To put aside how badly I want/need quiet and spell, letter by letter, for the 761st time, "You are invited to my slumber birthday party." To be happy that I have someone to pull me off toilet paper a sheet at a time when I'm trying to finish in the bathroom.

This is, without a doubt, the best time of my life. I feel it. All the old ladies in the grocery store remind me of it. It's time to start enjoying it.

I have one new year's resolution. That's it. Enjoy this needy, busy, loud, constant, wonderful craziness that is my life now. Today really is the PRESENT.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday helpers, an addendum

Aaaaaahhhhhhh! Christmas season with an Aspie. It looks like this.

Behavior tickets daily for a straight eight days, two missed homework assignments (with corresponding loss of pebbles and overcorrections), and a blue slip in music.

Why, you ask?

A few reasons. First, she feels the excitement and anticipation that every one else feels and doesn't know how to manage it. Second, she has terrible anxiety about whether or not she's been "good," despite my constant reassurances that she is always "good" even if she sometimes makes poor choices. I just scheduled a custom text message for Saturday so that Santa can assure her directly that she actually is on his good list this year. Third, school makes her nuts this time of year. Everyone's wound up or worn out. Teachers allow a certain level of frenzy that is somewhat greater than the average off-season frenzy because the know the children are SO excited. That was my FAVORITE thing about school at Christmastime as a kid; yours, too, I bet. Watch a filmstrip instead of do a worksheet? You bet! (Did I just date myself?) The teachers let the frenzy go for awhile and then rein it in with a class "I know we're all excited, but we still have work to do" "chat." That settles neurotypical kids down. Not an Aspie. An Aspie knows that s/he got away with the frenzy before said "chat" so s/he believes that frenzy is still permissible as it was prior-"chat" and is now confused as to why frenzy is no longer permissible.

Such fun!

This year, I am actually having fun, I must say. I did a LOT of planning and work months ago to allow myself the freedom to enjoy the season this year. Moreover, now that she's with a teacher for the ENTIRE day who gets autism and all things 4A, I can relax and know that we're on behaviorally solid and consistent ground. So, firm at school, firm here, I know we aren't making a mess that we will have to clean up post-holiday. Instead, we can just keep toeing the line and know that this will calm come January.

And, I think she will do much better on Christmas day itself this year. She's been handling the advent countdown activity each day beautifully, even though it's unpredictable, with a new fun to-do each day (how the neurotypicals in this house love that surprise each day!). I have worked really hard, following the lessons that I learned last year, to make Christmas morning drama and tear free. So, we've been hangin' tough over here.

Not going so smooth over there for you? Here are a few more holiday helpers to the rescue, both for those living with and without autism.

Holiday helpers for those of you living with ASD or other differences/challenges

(1) A list of helpful hints to get through the holidays from the Autism Society

(2) A social story about handling the holiday break that you can purchase and customize from Sandbox Learning

(3) Holiday tips for families living with different/special needs

Holiday helpers for everyone

(a) Take a lights tour and picnic around town
This makes a weekly appearance in our advent activity countdown; we've been doing it for years. The kids LOVE it! We do an around-town lights tour in our jammies. Sometimes we get drive-thru supper to eat while we gander. Sometimes we just take popcorn. Sometimes we get a drive-thru ice cream cone. On nights that we do this, we do showers and baths right off the bus, getting right into jammies. We wrap up homework and supper (if we aren't getting drive-thru) by 5pm with an ETD of 5:30 pm. We pick a different neighborhood or two each time, and we always vote for our favorite, doing one last drive-by of the best of the night before heading home around 6:30. This makes for a super fun night for them and a super easy evening for me. That, friends, is what we call in the mommy biz a "win-win."

(b) Have a tree-side picnic
We always have a picnic by tree-light on the evening of the day that we've decorated our tree. They love this so much that it's now a weekly December activity. We usually order in pizza or make our own brown bag lunches. Showers, homework, and jammies are accomplished before supper, and we then dine tree-side with only the light from the tree to guide us. 4Daddy and I have been known to ship them in there and have a date night by ourselves in the kitchen while they're dining in the living room. To eat a meal in relative peace and quiet; it's delicious in more ways than one--try it and see.

(c) More homemade gift ideas
Here are a few more that we've done this year, in case you still need ideas. Can't post pics, sorry, because they're hidden, awaiting wrapping paper on 12/22, which is the day in our advent activity countdown that the kids are scheduled to wrap their gifts to each other.

Make a sock puppet for a sibling. This was entirely 4B's idea. He picked the sock out of the lost pile, picked the buttons and felt and yarn, and he even helped with the hand sewing. 4C is going to squeal with delight at this one!

Make and bling a figurine. 4C was desperate to make a snowman for 4A this year, for some reason. I think it really came down to her intense yearning to pillage the yard for sticks in her jammies and slippers, actually. Model Magic works a million times better for little hands than Sculpey or clay. You can paint the dried product (after two or three days of drying) with poster paint or acrylics; we've even used Sharpies. You can make air-dry clay, too; just Google.

Bling her/his initial. We stalked a paper mache over-sized first letter of 4D's name. 4C painted it with acrylic paint and doused with glitter. A LOT of glitter. Glitter makes everything cooler for that kidl

(d) Write letters to Santa on custom-made stationery
Another one of our advent countdown activities is writing a letter to Santa. The kids design custom writing paper here. Free and fun.

(e) Make a holiday trail mix
Yet another advent countdown activity fav is the making of a weekly holiday trail mix to use in our bagged lunches or for happy hour (aka off-the-bus snack; sans booze, unfortunately). A popcorn/pretzel/cereal combo always makes the best trail mix base, but I buy holiday marshmallows, crap cereal that I would never otherwise bring into this house, red and green M&Ms, etc. Each kid adds one cup of her/his fav to the underlying popcorn/pretzel/Crispix base, and we've got Easy Street snacks and lunches for the week. I scheduled this one for our busiest night of the week because it's fast and easy.

(f) Still shopping? Link up through Autism Speaks portal and give the gift of autism advocacy while you shop.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Update on reading

This is gonna be quick and dirty, friends. Sorry! Short on time and sleep, long on sick kids and to-dos...more is coming in this regard, so please stay tuned.

In the meantime, I didn't want to leave you hanging out there in cyberspace.

4A, as I last reported, moved from the highest level reading group to the lowest. She has been in her new group for one solid week. She is doing BEAUTIFULLY!! She is responding wonderfully to the explicit scaffolding and framing of inferential thinking that takes place there. She is interacting appropriately with her peers.

The most importantly glorious part is that she's HAPPY!!! She comes home much happier each day and rarely shows opposition about homework. We have more compliance and less drama.

It's a great, great thing. The brilliant Dr. Steve, OF COURSE, was absolutely right. 4A will always, ALWAYS do best when she has strong behavioral support from a teacher who "gets" her.

I promise to chat with you later about this in more detail, but for now, just know that she's doing great!

And, of course, 'tis the season. I'm thinking of rewriting the ever-popular 12 Days to go something like this..."In the first week of December, my Aspie gave to me: 10 overcorrected lost pebbles, 5 behavioral tickets, 2 missed homework assignments, 2 notes home from teachers, and a blue slip in her folder." AAHHH! The joys of an Aspie in this anticipatory season of mayhem.

More soon....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday helpers

Two words. Rum. Wine.

Just kidding! (Not entirely.)

So I was chatting all things merry last night with a fellow mom while 4C practiced for her choir Christmas pageant. She's the camel in the play, by the way, and she is outright ADORABLE in the role. Her elder sister told her that camels don't make noises like other animals but that they do spit. 4C's eyes got as big as saucers. So, you know my ass is gonna be frantically Googling to figure out what noises camels do actually make lest we have a spitting camel in our pageant.

In any event, this mom was asking about shopping for cherubs, keeping items hidden, keeping piles even. In sharing with her, I happened to say something about my shopping and it's completeness. She says, "You're done? Before Christmas? And you have four kids to buy for? I AM impressed!"

Oh my. Please don't be impressed. Please do pray for me and my children that we all make it to the jolly day breathing and that my local liquor store doesn't run out of the aforementioned holiday helpers.

But, this exchange got me to thinking. In many conversations with other moms this year and in year's past and in what I read on the loved/hated FB, I realize how intense this time of year is for my brethren in mommy land.

Whatever are we to do about it? As I've said before, you're already trying to cram 90 pounds of shit into a 10 pound day, and now you have to add all this holiday prep into that somewhere AND be calm and happy and cheerful? Right.

I feel like that crazy '80s "Stop the Insanity!!" lady with the ultra white, ultra short hair. I have put my foot down this year, damn it.

The key, really, is prioritizing. Not the propaganda holiday prioritizing that all of the "helpful" magazines and websites recommend, but the real and honest one that you do for yourself that is separate from what you think your family, in-laws, or society expects of you as a mother. This is about YOU, not them. This is about what YOU want, like, and need for your family. So, if the perfectly matching holiday sweater photo is something you can't live without, then you'll have that. Who cares what anyone else says you should or shouldn't have? They don't have to live with you. You do.

(Pssst! I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Ssssh! Don't tell. Christmas is fun for NT kids no matter what you bake or make or buy or do. They really don't care. They just want you to enjoy it with them.)

Priorities

I sat down with my harried ass in July and pondered the years' prior. Taking the time to figure out what I liked, what I hated, what I wanted, and what I didn't need really helped me set my priorities. Need help with that? Click here.

So, here's what I came up with. I patently refuse to be a bitch this year. Refuse. I am going to enjoy this holiday season. My poor mother has invited me to a holiday home tour for FOUR years in a row. And, damn it, I will go this year. I have wanted to do a big 500 count puzzle over the month of December with my besties for two years. And, this year, damn it, I will. I have burnt the midnight oil each year and ended up sick on Christmas. This year, damn it, I will not. I hate to shop. HATE to shop (unless I have a list of less than 3 items, know exactly where they are in the store I'm visiting, go when there is no crowd, and go sans cherubs--right. In what universe does that happen?!). I need sleep to stay happy. I hate missing out on all the cuddling and "lamping" and fun with my family on 12/23 and 12/24.

That was my list. Yours, of course, will look different because you, thankfully, are you, wonderful YOU! Remember when you make this list that is about YOU and what YOU want. Never ever entertain what someone else wants when you make yourself this list. Those things aren't relevant.

Reality
Okay. So there's all those things you want to do. We've eliminated the shit that you should do or the shit that so-and-so thinks you should do. We've got left, if we did it right, just exactly what YOU want to do. Now, how do you make that happen?

My priority list up there sounds dreamy, huh? How in the hell can I make that happen with MIA 4Daddy, strep in 4B that won't relent, only 24 hours in my day, and all the other myriad of things going on in my life?

Now, I've got that killer list of holiday bliss on MY terms for ME. But, I also have the following realistic limitations: autism and 4Daddy's job. The first requires a Herculean amount of patience and planning on my part to keep the days leading up to the holiday and the holiday itself the same as any other day. It's a backwards and bizarre feat, but it's the most important part of our family's holiday prep. The latter goes like this. November and December, God help us, are the busiest of 4Daddy's work year. Every year, 4Daddy says he'll be home more during the season. Every year, he says he wants to help. Guess what, friends? Every year, every single solitary merry year, I'm disappointed.

I gave myself an early gift this year. I factored 4Daddy and his "help" entirely out of my holiday prep equation. Gone. Soy solamente (if I have my Spanglish correct). That, in and of itself, has made my life MUCH more manageable.

Having set those priorities that I did above and having been really honest about the level of help available, I next set a few non-negotiable deadlines that reflect my priorities. I have made the following binding agreements with myself. They are non-negotiable. (a) I will not step foot in a store (save grocery runs for bread and milk) after 12/15. (b) I will be in bed every single night this month at 9:30. No exceptions. (c) Christmas deadline set at 12/22. Thereafter, I will do nothing but be still and enjoy my family. Nothing.

To make that shopping deadline a reality, here's what I did. I broke my ASS between Halloween and Thanksgiving. I made two big trips...one to Target and one to TRU. If they didn't have it and I needed it, I didn't drive my ass all over town to find it; I ordered that shit online. Done. Now, I've dabbled in Black Friday before. I've stalked flyers to get the best deal. Here's what happened when I did those things. I was a stressed out MANIAC! I was harried and overwhelmed and tired. I do not like to shop, and I usually have one or more cherubs in my presence when I do have to shop. Why am I going to make myself nuts to save $20? My sanity is worth every penny of that $20, friend. So is yours. But, again, this is MY Christmas. Yours will look different.

Anything that wasn't available at Target, my fav grocery, TRU, or online with free shipping is simply not being gifted by me this year. Serious. I will not run my ass all over town; I will make do with something else that is easier for me to find.

The latter two deadlines (non-negoitable bedtime for myself and non-negoitiable holiday prep finale) were trickier. To make those a reality, I made myself a time budget. I'm dead serious.

I figured out exactly how much time the single need (gifts for the kiddos) and major "wants" on my priority list were gonna take. To the minute. So, if it takes about 5 minutes to wrap a gift (find it, wrap it, rehide it), then I multiplied 5 x the number of gifts I need to wrap, and came up with the amount of time needed. You laugh. Go ahead. It's MY Christmas, remember?! Having figured that out, I plugged those hours into my calendar. An hour here, another there. Filled all of that in.

That being done, I now know how much time is left over for the "wants" on my list. To figure out how much time that actually is, I figured out how much child-free, non-chore time I have available in a week. It's a measily 8 hours, but those are MY 8 hours. So, I started plugging things in to those 8 hours. When I ran out of time on my calendar, I went back and reassessed, dropping stuff off (even though I REALLY wanted to do it) and plugging back in until it all fit.

More helpers
There were a few other GENIUS things I came up with this year, and I list them here in case they help you.

(1) Figure out how much fits in the stockings BEFORE Christmas Eve
Here's a novel idea....instead of waiting until Christmas Eve to see what fits in the stockings, I filled those babies up as I shopped! Hid them in an opaque Rubbermaid tub, plopped items in as I bought them, stopped when it was full. Then, I removed all the gifts, packed the stocking back away for decorating day, and now I know I know that I have enough to fill each one.

(2) Don't cook dinner
Eeeewwww. I hate doing it. I have to do it. Those damn kids keep asking for food! I very much dis-enjoy making a meal with a toddler attached to my leg while a preschooler screams that she needs me to wipe her butt while a third grader keeps trying to bail on homework while a first grader runs his trains at max volume. Not fun. So, I have taken to cooking not when they want me to but when it is convenient for me to do so.

How? Consolidating prep. Making more than I need for right now and freezing the rest for later. If you need specific ideas or inspiration, click here.

I spent most of October and early November stocking my freezer for the month of December. I look at it like this. It is easier for me to cook when kids aren't around. If I'm going to go through the effort of making waffles for supper, why on earth would I do that four different times if I could just do it once? So, on the first night that waffles were scheduled for supper, I made a quadruple batch and froze the extra. Now, I can pull those bad boys out and pop them in the toaster for supper on 12/20 when I'm starting to come unglued about wrapping the remaining gifts and keeping 4B from bouncing off the walls with excitement.

So, now, in the month of December, I have very little cooking to actually do. I can use that time I otherwise would've spent cooking doing more fun stuff with the cherubs.

(3) Ship early
I set a goal of 12/1 for getting out-of-town gifts out the door. I wrapped them as I bought them. I set an hour on my calendar on 11/27 for packing, printing postage labels, and scheduling carrier pick up. Dumped those bad boys on my porch on 11/29, along with the mail carrier's card and holiday gift of chocolates, and crossed both things off my list, thank you very much.

For perishables that are being delivered, I ordered those things in early November and set delivery for mid-December. DUH?! Why the shit was I waiting until December to order that stuff?

(4) Cards
Ixnay on the ardscay. No way. A few years back, I figured out that someone paid for power to manufacture those cards and oil to ship them to my local store. I used gas to go to my local store and buy them. Mailman used gas to deliver my stamps for those cards and then pick them up from me and drive them back to my post office. Then, a bunch of gas and fuel was expended to drive, boat, and fly those cards to your post office. Then, even more gas was spent to deliver them to your mailboxes. You opened it, said "Look how big the kids have gotten!," and filed it in your recycling bin. What an enormous waste of resources, wouldn't you say?

So, we started doing a Smilebox card. I love doing it, and folks seem to really enjoy hearing more about the kids and seeing more pictures. I schedule an hour on my calendar in early November to gather photos for it and pick a template. I schedule another hour or two in mid-November to make a draft, and then I schedule another hour of time in mid-Decemeber to send. The first year was the biggest time sucker because I had to add in all of the email addresses, but now it's a piece of cake.

And, no non-renewable resources are harmed in its production! ;)

(5) Baking
I only make two kinds of cookies at the holidays while the kids are little. 4Daddy's favorite from childhood and mine. Would I like to make more? Absolutely. And, some day I will, but for now, I want more down time to enjoy my babies. Both kinds are easy for the kids to help with, too.

I do this in thirds. Step one, blocked out on my calendar in early November, is measuring and bagging all dry ingredients. So, dry ingredients for cookie A go in one gallon ziplock bag, and dry ingredients for cookie B go in another. (I also, this year, had about SIXTY dozen cookies, yes, you read that correctly, to make to fill orders from our autism bake sale, so I did the same with these; and, yes, I am insane, and no, I will not be taking Christmas cookie orders at next year's sale, thank you.)

Next step is making the dough. Block that in the calendar, too. Put wet ingredients in bowl. Open ziplock of dry ingredients. Dump. Mix.

Another block is made later in that week for baking them. I do this in the last week of November, and I freeze the cookies, pulling out a couple of dozen each week for snacks and lunches. Three words. Deli. Waxed. Paper. Invest in it, my friend. It'll change your life.

4A also really enjoys decorating some cut out cookies, so I measure, mix, bake, and freeze those ahead, too, so that on decorating day, we just have to sit down and have fun. No hagged out momma on that day=happier momma, happier 4A, happier household.

(6) Streamline and simplify gifts
The kids, between them this year, have a ridiculous 20+ teachers (classroom, reading, Sunday school, and extra-cirriculars). In our family, teachers are the most important group of folks that we gift (save those in need). The kids, learning as they are to get into the practice of giving 'fore receiving, want to give to these most important folks in their lives. In year's past, I did a lot of customizing for each teacher. Now that three of them are in school of some sort, that has become a headache of epic proportions.

Going with the theory that it's the thought that counts, we have elected this year to make a gargantuan batch of one of our fav goodies, assembly-line package said goody uniformly, and customize thoughtful tags and a gift card to a fav store. It's gonna be a one-and-done for us, which will allow us more time for togetherness and fun! And, of course, the packaging has already been purchased, we've blocked the goody making on our calendar, and we've scheduled delivery on our calendar, too. And, since we're already buying the supplies for this goody, we'll make some for ourselves and that's also what our neighbors and my Girl Scout troop will receive. Why reinvent the wheel?

(6) Intentional fun/traditions
I use an advent calendar each year to make sure that I get to the things that we actually want to do. This year, I did little envelopes with slips of paper. Because it is a drag for me to referree endless bickering about who's turn it is to open which envelope, I have marked the envelopes with the cherubs' names. No fights, no drama, just fun.

To schedule these out, I made my wish list of activities in early November, sat down with our weekly activity calendar and the local activities calendar and the school calendar, and mapped everything put. I kept a list so that if we get to a day where the activity planned just won't work, I can swap it out the night before. Oh yes, I have spare envelopes, and I'm not afraid to use them. Ask me how I know that I need them.

Unfortunately, I had made mine before I found this easy and free one online. Click here.

(7) Less is more, flex on the fly
This is the biggie. Suppose I have goody A in mind to make for a neighbor. Suppose I have gift X in mind to by for a recipient. Suppose I have meal 3 planned for next week. Someone gets sick. I'm tired. Something comes up. I run out of time. I will not stay up all hours to get it done. I will not drive to three stores to find it or waste two hours of my time hunting for it online. I will, however, come up with something else. May not be as great as what I planned, but it'll do. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will come at the price of my sanity this year. Nothing. So, if that means that I planned to make gingerbread to deliver to my neighbor, but on the night I was scheduled to make it I decide that it'd be more fun to play an extra game of Trouble with 4B and lay in bed cuddling and reading Christmas books with 4C after lights out, then that neighbor is getting a dozen donuts, which were purchased at the drive thru twenty minutes prior to delivery by one of my cherubs the next morning. Oh, I'll put a bow on the box with a nice card, but that's where my crazy ends, friends.

(8) Decorations
Three lifesavers here. Package away your ornaments this year by child. In our house, each kid has a collection of ornaments that s/he has received as gifts over the years. I pack away each child's collection in a shoebox with her/his name on it. I also divide up the non-breakable family ornaments amongst their boxes. So, when we go to decorate the tree the next year, we have not an ounce of drama over who puts which ornaments on. There's no waiting for Mom to tell them which belong to whom. We are ready to roll from moment one.

Decorate only a spot or two. I think this one was born of necessity since we live with an Aspie, but we only decorate 4 spots in our house: our mantle, our bathroom counter and mirror, the shelf behind our sink, and our front door. That's it. If it doesn't fit in one of those four spots, it ain't gettin' put out. Period. Some day, I'll have a fabulously decorated and clean house. Certainly not now with 4 cherubs in my mist. And, then again, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll grow to love it this way, all simple and easy.

Organize your junk before the kids help. This was a LIFESAVER for me this year. We schedule a 1/2 day for decorating our four spots. When that morning comes, it's usually a chaotic frenzy of "I want to _____," hands digging into bins before I'm ready, and general mayhem. There's a lot of waiting, a lot of complaining, and a lot of stress (for me). So, this year, I blocked an hour on my calendar in early November to go through the decorations and group them for the big 3 to put out. I assigned each kid their items to put out, and I made a list so that I can change it up next year. When I put the stuff away last year, I packed it as it fit and NOT as it would be put out. So, each of the three tubs is a jumble of stuff. This year, thanks to that GENIUS power hour, I had three bags, one for each of the eldest cherubs. They knew what was theirs to put out, it was ready for them when they were, and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy. I'll be damned if it wasn't quieter, more fun, and less time-consuming.

What this really all boils down to, I hope, is that YOU get to put YOUrself in control of what YOU want this year. Don't let someone else decide for you. Don't let your time get away from you. It's YOUR time. YOU know how much YOU have. YOU get to decide how YOU want to spend it.

And, I wish YOU quiet and peace as YOU make merry for YOUR family, in whatever form that merriness has meaning for YOU.