It seems I’ve been doing a lot of learning this summer, and that includes what I learned when three of us visited a dear friend last week, and her family of nine. With seven kids spanning 6 months to age 20, I knew I’d pick up a few much needed tricks to get me through the rest of my daughter’s toddler years.
1. There’s always time for the important things. What’s important? Each family gets to decide. It’s not what the catalogs or TV or your peer group decides. Not being Catholic, I sat through my first family rosary. Yes, even their three year old and mine sat through 20 minutes of prayers. I thought they did this maybe once a week, but no, they do it almost every single day, even in the car if they have to. This wasn’t rushed or obligatory, but it is important to them, and so they fit it in. Bravo! I believe there is always time for things that pass the 5-year test. If it will matter in 5 years, then make time for it. If it truly won’t matter in 5 years, then maybe it’s just cluttering your day. I already know this family is sticking to things that matter on a routine basis because their nearly-adult children tell me so.
2. It’s easier to stay organized & sane if you don’t let others set your priorities. This is a corollary of number 1 above. They have a TV, but rarely watch it. They have the internet, but are rarely on it. The older kids have cell phones but no text messaging, and they are able to carry on real conversations with real people around them remarkably well. The kids can spend their own money on whatever they want, but their house is not cluttered. Thrift is valued, and they take care of their things.
3. We really don’t need more than two bathrooms. Angie and I will laugh for years that on the day I arrived, one of their toilets broke. With only one working bathroom, we still got by just fine, thank you, and no one was seen pounding on the bathroom door. And as she says, “Who needs 6 bathrooms to clean?” I also think the smaller bathrooms, that she and I both have in our homes, are easier to keep clean. We can all be grateful for what we have.
4. You might really need 15 boxes of cereal. Here’s where stocking up really does pay off, in a small or larger family. There was a window of almost three hours where family members straggled in to the kitchen for breakfast. Even though not everyone ate together, things were well orchestrated because the cereal was stored on the lowest pantry shelf, the older ones helped the younger ones with their bowls, and everyone brought their own dirty dishes to the sink.
4. Jack Sprat is where it’s at. Angie says it’s called the Jack Sprat diet, but they just call it a way of life. She builds their meal along a simple principle. She starts with a heaping helping of fresh vegetables, whole wheat grains pasta or bread, a small portion of protein, and fresh fruit for dessert. Very little candy, sugar, or fat. Meals are often followed by a brisk walk around the neighborhood, about three miles long. I felt right at home here.
5. A change of pace is good, but rules still apply. Both my kids and hers loved the change of routine that a trip and out of town visitors bring, but we all brought along our manners and good humor. Maybe we saw each other on our best behavior all week, but it’s nice to know that our best behavior is achievable and something to be proud of. Hey, we’re all human, but it’s nice to be praised for the good stuff on a regular basis. And even on vacation, we have more fun together when we all work together to clean up the toys.
This week was an example of one of my favorite sayings. If you come to see me, come anytime; if you come to see my house, call ahead. Thanks, Angie, for hosting us in your house that didn’t feel at all like it has 9 people in it usually, and 12 people when we crash there. I hope you know that when you come to see me, you can come anytime, whether you call ahead or not.