Five quick and easy ideas to try!
Brought to you by Crayola.
The most difficult part of my day at the moment is the end-of-day rush trying to make a healthy nutritious meal (no, toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner doesn’t quite cut it!), put the dinner on the table, and tidy up afterwards so I’m not left to deal with a ‘Good Morning’ bomb zone… all while managing my two boisterous boys who decide that it is a. booby time, b. runaround time, or c. snack time. This is the one time of day where my calm approach to raising children threatens to slip. It often feels like overwhelm, especially on the days that I’ve been off teaching while waiting for our Family Day Care service to start.
It doesn’t even matter that my daily rhythm is lovely and strong, with regular and repetitive ‘touchstones’ and firm boundaries. This time is fraught and manic at times and some days I dream of sitting down with a cup of tea and a book to recover.
So lately, I’ve been putting a bit of energy into this small section of my day and trying to come up with ideas to smooth it down, tame the edges, soften the spikes… I thought you might like to hear what I’ve been trying.
Soothe with the grooves
The first thing I did was to make up a song list on Spotify. I call it ‘lovely listening’, and the album is filled with the adorable sounds of Israel Kamakawiwo’ version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, a few Lennon and Maisy covers (I adore those girls!), a little Sarah McLachlan and Jason Mraz, and a Clare Bowditch in there for good measure. With this song list in hand, and the computer nearby, the gentle sounds of pretty harmonies and sweet soulful melody are food for the soul. My soul, if no one elses. Somehow, with curated music playing in the background, mealtime preparation time feels much calmer and I definitely feel more sane. And my favourite bit about music melodies… the chance to relive and reignite old memories through song, and create new ones for my boys of mildly-mad kitchen dance offs while dinner does its thing. THIS does more for our combined mood than anything!
A month ago, my back room was dominated by my large handmade cedar dining table. But a few weeks ago, I moved everything around in a burst of energy and now have a huge open free space on one side of the room. It’s deliciously inviting to the boys, and has seen them dive back into their boxes of wooden, handmade and found delights. Inspiration is at an all time high, and new imaginings and stories are exploding out of Ned like a volcano eruption. His imaginative play is simply awesome!
I’m in shock and disbelief how this simple swap around of furniture in a room has soothed the lead-up to dinner time, as Ned and Jack now happily hover and build (or more truthfully, Ned builds and Jack destroys) while I potter about the kitchen finishing off the dinner prep. All I need now is a big soft short-pile carpet circle mat to make the play space a little more comfortable for them than a slate floor.
Why not try a bit of room swap magic yourself?
With baby Jack not so little anymore, and into EVERYTHING, it IS getting harder for Ned to enjoy imaginative play on the floor with all the props and simple wooden toys we have in the family/dining room. (See above point.) So he came up with a solution! Set up his farm scenes, roads, trains, caves, buildings and the like ON the dining table. Which is great, but not-so-great. How will he set the table for dinner?
So, we came up with a compromise and have run with it this past week. Dinner at the kids table! Ned and I have been dining low this past week, sitting on the child-size seats, around his lovely white metal embellished home-corner table. Jack’s been in the high chair. And Ned’s elaborate play-imaginings live another day to tell another story. Biggest bonus of this? A happy, occupied and self contained 6 year old, with a baby who is content to ride his little inside-bike around underneath the table, out of his brother’s way. This is the kind of thing I love… being responsive to the moment. This week of low-dining has been interesting experiment for another reason too- there has been a decidedly different, yet intimate, feeling of connection, and I’ve been floored by the heartfelt conversations we’ve been having too. Sometimes a bit of change can be wondrous for reasons you could never have imagined.
Picture making fun!
I popped a little surprise crafty fun on my fridge too. Ned (and Jack!) have been cosying up to me in the kitchen, content to draw to their hearts content on these magnetic whiteboard shapes. The My First Washable Doodle Magnets from Crayola come in a pack of three, with three coloured markers (red, blue, green) included. Ned has been drawing pictures of our family over and over and over again. (They wipe clean.) Sometimes he draws Jack. Other times not. Funny that!
The whiteboards are small shaped sections that pop out so they can be moved around on their own, The surrounding part of the mat is also a magnetic photo frame, with opportunities for the children to colour in, and write their name too. There’s a blue space-inspired frame with stars and moons, a green garden-inspired flower and bug frame, and a under-the-sea frame complete with friendly crabs, fish and shell buddies. One for everybody! I’m a big fan of little family photos on the fridge but I think I’ll have to print off a few super-sized ones to fit inside these. Why not?
The whiteboard part can also adhere to any metal surface so I’m thinking that popping the inserts onto a flat metal baking pan would give you a moveable creative writing/drawing surface too- perfect for those few minutes between getting the boys to the table and serving up the dinner. These washable doodle magnets are another trick in the crowd-control response.
Look book cook.
Inspired by Dr Seuss, three of my favourite words at mealtimes… Look, Book, Cook. As a book-loving family, we spend a big portion of our free time reading. (I’d like to be a book reading sloth in my next life. Just give me a chair in the lounge in a sunny spot…) So I’m more than a bit happy about Jack’s new habit. Pulling himself up onto my retro chairs with his truck or vehicle book, and ‘reading’. AWEsome! And as part of my big room swap, I shifted the red couch from the back window and moved it along the wall which adjoins the open kitchen. Best idea ever.
A comfy lounge sofa big enough to sit three is an inviting spot for little boys who want to be close to mama at all times. Both boys have taken to sitting here for mobile breakfasts (such as fruit bowls or bananas-on-the-run), snacks, and to ‘read’. I would NEVER have thought to put a lounge near my kitchen, but it has become the hub of my house. EVERYONE, every visitor, goes straight to it when I’m pottering about in the kitchen, and it is simply delightful to see my boys relaxing back with a cup of warm milk or smoothie, while chatting or reading but most importantly, refraining from nagging me! I’m going to make sure I set this up in every house. The cosy couch. It is a miracle worker.
What is your go-to tip to overcome your mealtime challenges?
PS: Want to win your own set of Crayola Washable Doodle Magnets? I have a pack to giveaway on my blog tomorrow. See you back here soon.