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the life hacking of school mornings

2017 September 17
by Rachel Turiel

We are trying to lifehack school mornings, which seem to be some test of American fortitude, or I don’t know, a scheme to increase reliance on snack foods. For the first couple weeks I felt a bit like an anthropologist discovering a highly strange cultural phenomenon. So everyone rises to an alarm and rushes around putting small bits of food in containers and shouting at each other?

Which is to say, mornings are intense. Dan told me a story he heard about 15 elk gathered at a water hole, clicking their teeth territorially at each other. He told me this after I had apparently been clicking my teeth at him trying to move him aside at the stove. After which he pivoted. And I grabbed the pot I needed.
We are on our bikes at 7:45am, all senses deployed as we ride single file through commute chaos, Dan practicing his elk call (he’s been put on notice by Rose to stop before we approach school grounds) and me reminding Rose that it’s not a great time for me to answer questions, unless it’s really important.

“Okay,” she agrees. Three minutes later she wonders cheerily, “Do you say fridge, refridge, or refrigerator?” Right. The really important stuff.

It’s all somewhat surprising, really, to hear Col announce on the way home from school, “I really enjoy the way Mr. Rich teaches math.” I make a point not to fall off  my bike, but just reply, “Oh, cool,” as if I totally saw it coming. Same with all the unprompted showering and changing clothes, something homeschooling at the kitchen table never inspired.

All of which to say, school is going really well for both kids. Col often goes hiking for P.E. and today groups of children spent several hours building boats out of cardboard and duct tape to send their teachers across the river in. During school. It was some sort of team-building competition of engineering, although a friend of mine asked if they were actually trying to drown their teachers.

Offering up an innocent little question to the kids, like, “how does lunch work at your school?” can yield so much information, it can get a little competitive, like if you were interviewing Sonny and Cher simultaneously.

I appreciate the streamlined nature of my new role: feed and support children (and drive them to soccer). Which I find to be much easier than trying to facilitate a whole education.* When they arrive home I am ready with snacks and empathy. Col tells me that he hates when this one boy shares his kettle corn with everyone but him. “Hmm, sounds like you want to be included,” I reply, rather than tracking this boy down and roughing him up, or giving Col a lecture about the nutritional components of kettle corn.

When Rose and I reunite, she usually needs about fifteen minutes to wade through everything that didn’t go quite right: her water bottle leaked, recess was too hot, she didn’t do well on her spelling test, this one boy at her table is disruptive. Offering her the balm of my presence without advice or empty reassurances (“it’ll get better”) is like beating a dusty rug with a broom, eventually all the dust falls away, and the rug is fresh, renewed.

And sometimes if everyone’s really ragged, I pull them close to me and we read, like I did when they were overstimulated toddlers, or exhausted preschoolers, or like I’ve been doing their whole life. I imagine Col calling me someday from work, overwhelmed and aggravated, and I’ll pull out Harry Potter and begin reading.

Speaking of reading, this book was a quick, light and fun read. This memoir was fascinating, funny and heartbreaking all at once, and actually, so was this one, just with way less swearing.

Also, here is a link to my last Durango Herald column, which a friend said was my best, because there was actually a plot.

And, I’ve written many things for Edible Southwest Colorado magazine, if you’re interested:

Squirrel for Dinner – yes, it happened

Bone Broth – nature’s multivitamin

The Great Homemade Dog Biscuit Challenge (in which I got to “interview” some of my fave dogs)

DIY BBQ Condiments

Karlos Baca – indigenous chef forages for a new paradigm

*A friend mentioned she’d been waiting for me to explain why we stopped homeschooling. For us it was a lovely way to keep the kids close when they were young, to avoid the reward/punishment game that most schools rely on for cooperation, and to give them space and freedom to get curious and follow that curiosity. As time passed it become clear that it was challenging for the kids to feel motivated to learn from me and Dan. Last year, trying to teach Rose the difference between it’s and its, I gave her seven sentences to work through. She reported matter-of-fact, “I’ll do four.” And instead of insisting she do them all, I might have said something like, “OK, then lets just snuggle and have a snack.” Which was a clue (one of many) that the parent as teacher dynamic had reached its limit for both of us. 

Oh – and this is Sadie, our latest foster pup. She’s part border collie and part cray cray, but so smart and fun. She often invites our neighbor’s enormous dog over for a playdate and they go wild finding bones and antlers in the yard. And then, Dan busts them for stealing useful bones and antlers out of the solarium, “hey – that’s the deer ulna I use to scrape my hide! And that’s the antler billet I use for flintknapping.”



p.s. Accepting any and all suggestions on how to life hack school mornings. My wise friend Carrie suggested that if I got out of bed at 6:30am rather than use that time to watch half an episode of Orange is the New Black, I might end up feeling a bit less frantic. This is the kind of help I need.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. September 18, 2017

    Getting up earlier is definitely key. Our son is only 2.5 but he can stall with the best of them already. I find having time in the morning to snuggle/talk/read/have a leisurely breakfast turns the morning into hang out tune instead of rush-out-the-door time.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 18, 2017

      Yes. Earlier rising makes it easier for them too, but do you hate getting kids up with an alarm? I feel like I’ve spent so much parenting time trying to “protect their sleep” it feels sort of painful to rouse them out of slumber so I end up arguing with myself for twenty minutes each morning about whether they’d be better off sleeping those 20 minutes then rushing for the next hour, or having a slightly more relaxed morning on less sleep. And I can see the next very reasonable suggestion would be to go to bed earlier. Yes. Working on that. I also hate telling kids engrossed in a book to turn off the light at night. Oy.

      • September 27, 2017

        I don’t use an alarm to wake my kids (nor myself for that matter). I wake naturally early (6-ish) and my oldest (13) does to, and will go ahead and get dressed and ready herself, except for lunch, which I prepare for her (she could do it herself, but I partially enjoy it and partially have a control thing).

        My youngest (10), however, does not wake early on her own, so I sing and kiss her awake. I have a couple of rise-and-shine songs I will sing to her. When I don’t sing (not in the mood or whatever) she notices and will take longer to respond. Singing and kisses is a much sweeter way for all of us and helps improve my mood as well.

        I realize an alarm would increase independence, but I think the act of waking her up myself is a bonding time and eliminates the need for the harshness of an alarm.

  2. Dale in Denver permalink
    September 18, 2017

    Mornings are so rough. Sometimes it helps if small containers of various things are already packed and kids can select from the containers in the morning. You might be able to do a gradual awakening for your kids. Start that 20 minutes earlier by opening blinds or turning on the light. A few minutes later, gently rub backs and quietly let them know it is time to start moving. And then 10 minutes after that have the alarm go off.

    Also a suggestion for Col – make something that he can share with the other kids, the one boy in particular. It’s a great lesson in showing kindness, even in the face of someone who hasn’t been kind. Might I suggest this to die for recipe –

    Good luck!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 18, 2017

      Dale, I love *all* your suggestions, and especially the idea to bring a to die for Catherine Newman recipe to share with all the kids.

  3. Sara permalink
    September 18, 2017

    When my daughter started preschool, I thought I might have to homeschool her because getting up and ready and out the door in the morning felt so rushed. (I had been freelancing for more than 10 years at that time so I wasn’t used to getting anyone up and out, never mind a preschooler and baby.) Six years later, it usually goes pretty smoothly. I make breakfast while they get dressed. Then I keep repeating teeth, hair, shoes until it’s time to get out or the bus.
    I still guard early bedtime as much as I can. I try to get up and do something for myself, even if it’s just drink my coffee in the quiet, before I wake them up.

  4. Chi-An permalink
    September 18, 2017

    My son just started high school which starts at 7.30, and he has to be out the door at 6.30 to walk to the bus. I get up at 5.30, wake him up at 5.50 with his light on dim, then roust him out of bed at 6 with the light on full. It is just barely workable- he and I both need to get to bed earlier at night!

    We always pack lunches the night before. Everything that needs to go to school is in the backpack ready to go the night before too- no running around in the morning to find stuff. For us it’s a matter of knowing the routine down to a few minutes- if he is puttering around at 6.25 I remind him he needs to start putting on his shoes and loading up his stuff so he’s actually out the door at 6.30. There’s a difference between loading time and leaving time!

    I have friends telling me that I should just let go and let him get up and ready and out the door on his own, now that he’s in high school. He’s surprisingly sociable at that hour- it is almost a private time for us, without his younger sister around, there’s no bickering. And I realized it means something to me, to send my kids out into the world every morning knowing that someone cares for them. So for now I keep setting my alarm for 5.30.

    My daughter is naturally an early riser and is often awake an hour and a half before she needs to leave. That’s enough time even for her, a champion dawdler.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 19, 2017

      Seems like a beautiful tradition, your morning hour together, and all the more so because he *is* in high school and doesn’t *need* it.

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