Today’s post is from Katie and she is sharing what the evening routine looks like in her family. Katie has previously shared moments of her family’s life on the blog:
Every post Katie has written including the one below has made me cry. Katie writes beautifully and shares her story so honestly that she draws you into her big family, with all its love, energy and flaws. Thanks for sharing once again Katie!
This post is part of the “What Other Mums Do” series.
I have been fortunate to write two previous posts for Nicole’s creative and informative ‘Planning With Kids’ blog in the last year. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing each one. It is so special to take the time to reflect on our busy lives. We are a family of Mum and Dad with eight gorgeous children aged between two and thirteen years. Our eldest is our only boy. Seven beautiful girls with one big, lovely brother.
In my often scrambled head, our evening routine seems to begin earlier and earlier. When the children arrive home from school, my mind is ticking in to the evening already. At this point in time, with our children the ages they are, I find the evening trawl more drawn out and often more excruciating than the morning routine. At least in the morning there is a slow exodus of children to school and sometimes kinder. The evening is much more frantic. Seriously, by the end of the evening, I just want to lock ‘em up!!!!!
Our evenings are reasonably predictable. Some evenings I look forward to and others I endure. I love it when our children are all home. I feel very much like ‘mother duck’ with my wings outstretched and my little ducklings all nestled in. I know it won’t be this way forever. An array of my wise, older friends with grown children tell me to cherish these times. And I know they are right! I can see the quieter times ahead. This madness won’t last for long. It just seems like it. At times I revel in it, and other times, it seriously feels as though it is destroying me.
The other night our eleven year old sat herself on the physio ball, pumped up some funky music and had all of our children dancing and jumping around for a good thirty minutes. It was beautiful. I joined in and completely collapsed laughing at their antics. I love these times. I wish the whole world could experience them they are so special and delicious. It is difficult to manufacture the energy that is generated from so many bodies! These great times carry me through the more difficult times, of which there are many.
I find by around 4.30pm, our little darlings are beginning to show their claws. Our home has this magnificent set up whereby the main bathroom is directly opposite the kitchen with a hallway in between and the bath plum centre. So, whilst I am pottering in the kitchen at 4.30pm, there is a procession of children through the bath, whom I can keep a close eye on. The youngest is two and a half years old, and I am quite paranoid and over zealous about watching the children around water. Our children have always used the bath as playtime. The bath is generally run once or twice – I don’t like leaving a full bath unattended – and now I have the pup to worry about as well as the children. Our girls play with Barbie’s, cups and each other. I find it is a great way to remove a couple of children at a time from a busy, frenetic and often unreasonable equation.
Dad arrives home
I sometimes observe my husband arrive home from work with quiet envy. He looks so refreshed. And happy. He engages with each of the children. He is smiling, clearly enjoying their company. By this stage I feel as though my head has sunk that far into my shoulders that I can barely see straight. It takes about half an hour generally. Then I know that they have got him. Ground him down to my level and we are on a level playing field and are ready to bumble through the evening together. Some nights it takes a little longer for them to get to him – and others it is frighteningly fast!
I totally admire the fact that my husband comes home every night with a wide smile and a real and true anticipation that the evening is going to be great. I love that! I need it! When he walks through that door we are a total team. There are no lines drawn. From cleaning up the pup’s diarrhea the other night (up the walls – how does that happen???), to changing nappies, to serving dinner, to reading bedtime books and getting up to the children during the night. We are totally on the same page. I could not do it without him. He is marvelous. Kind. Even-tempered. All the things we need as a family. I like to think of myself as the flawed character in a great movie. He is totally the hero! Sometimes it feels as though he’s bringing us all up!!!
Without the immense amount of assistance we receive from both family and friends, and the inherent flexibility of my husband’s job, I sense I may have drowned many times over. My two gorgeous nieces arrive smiling one night each per week to help between 4pm and 6pm. Our children’s primary school is also located in the next street. I cannot exemplify strongly enough the joy of waving off our four school girls at the front door. And my thirteen-year-old son carries himself off to the station (when not running late).
Some days the relentless nature of this job is exhausting. I know it is an extraordinarily important job. It does not bother me that some people may think it’s not. I know I’m right on this one. We have eight little, but big lives to help navigate a great beginning. I was listening to a radio program the other day where it was suggested that nowadays, as parents we try desperately to ‘get it all right’. To tick all of the boxes. And we cross our fingers and hope and pray that this is enough. Enough to ensure that our kids lives ahead are stable, successful, productive. That they are kind, family oriented, and contributing members of society. That they are happy. It’s a big job – for them and us.
After School Activities
I was standing at netball the other evening with a friend (freezing). And it was raining. Most pleasant. She works three days a week and has been completing a Masters and is now converting it to a PhD. She is also a runner, and has three small children. She looked so earnest and honest when she told me that when she used her brain it had the same intoxicating feeling for her as running. I thought that was poignant and beautiful and inspirational. And it made me question my own life. I asked my husband that night when he had that feeling – and I do recall that he began to answer, and then was interrupted by one of the children and that was the end of that conversation.
I pondered it also in bed that night. And I struggled to think of anything. It worried me. I stewed on it for a few days. Then!! For me, at the moment, it is cooking (baking in particular), looking at beautiful objects (homewares, jewellery). I am simply caught up in the gorgeousness of it. And moments like the other night when our eleven year old had the entire family jumping around and dancing and having fun together. Or last night when we were laughing hysterically with my son about how at his parent/teacher interviews I was going to drill his teachers on sensitive topics. Of course he knows I won’t (although I sense a small lack of surety and nervousness). And this. What I am doing now. Writing. Has always been a divine distraction for me. I think it is so important to have some of these little bits of loveliness in your day.
Homework is an ever present and negotiated part of our evening routine. Why, when I had children, did I not stop and ponder how much of my life would be immersed in MORE homework. I spent a seriously long time studying, and as much as I enjoyed it – I am not relishing another twenty years of it! We are drawing lines in the sand all the time. My son began Year 7 this year, and I am embarrassed to say that I completely took over his English essay writing. Aaaaaaah!!!!! We battle our demons daily, don’t we???? I must say I was beyond despondent when ‘we’ received a D for his first essay!!!!!!!! A D!!!!! Are you serious??? And I could not even call the teacher to complain.
Anyway – I am reformed. At the end of first term – my son, who had initially resisted me taking over his homework, had gratefully settled in to the idea and was enjoying the extra TV viewing time it was adding to his evening. I can see the hilarity of this situation in retrospect. I would shuffle him from his study chair, sit down and begin correcting his mistakes. But of course, I didn’t know where to stop! So I didn’t! I made it my own!
Then I began to look a little further ahead! What about the exams??? I couldn’t be sitting on his shoulder during those. So I pulled back. I pulled right back. We talked about it, and I think we both learned a valuable lesson. I, of course will battle my control freak ways for eternity. He, in turn, is writing good essays. Without me. It’s great. I suggested that he speak to his English teacher (who is young, funky and divine!) and tell him that his mother had been assisting him with his essays, and was now pulling out. His marks dropped marginally, then back to square. Amazing! And his teacher really appreciated him being honest. I was proud of both of us!
One of my school age daughters informed me this morning that her classmates are performing all manner of exemplary homework. “Not with the assistance of their parents,” she spat at me. “Their parents are out in the garage, making these fantastic projects FOR them!!!!” Ha!! I smiled calmly at her. “I passed year 5. Now it’s your turn”. Feeling completely smug and superior over all of those parents that have not quite worked it out. I have been caught in the spider’s web and am unlikely to be snared again.
Our evening truly runs a lot more smoothly when I have meal planned and shopped accordingly for the week. I used to shop at night, however of late, the children seem to be going to bed later, and by 9.30pm, frankly, I am flagging. So, there has been an unwelcome change. I am shopping a couple of times a week during the day with as few a children as possible in tow.
I am over making shopping a fun for all experience. I just want to get in there, work my way as quickly as possible through the list (have a quick flick through the mags in the cereal aisle) and get out!!!! I visit the local fruit shop a couple of times a week. It all feels a bit more haphazard than our meal planned weekly shop at night– but it’s like everything else. Nothing is stuck in stone. It’s a fluid process that is constantly changing and evolving. We just have to be ready to move with it. Even if we don’t love it.
I have tried setting up the online shopping process. In theory, it seems great. I generally get about half way through, give up in frustration and yell out to my husband, as I grab the keys and my bag “I’m going shopping!!!”
The Evening Meal
Dinner for me is kind of the peak of the evening. Beyond this point I feel that we are heading the children and ourselves towards bed. We all sit at the table together (it’s a big table!). I normally enlist help from whoever is loitering to put the cups and jugs of water and cutlery on the table. And invariably tomato sauce. How do they eat sauce on so many foods? The only reassurance I have is the fact that it is classed as part of their ‘vegetable’ intake for the day. I still wince when I see a tidy pile of it on their plate, and think about the sugar!
Some nights the conversation flows – other nights we eat in shifts dependent on the children’s activities or our own for the evening. It is really the only opportunity we have to sit together as a family for the day. The television goes off, and we attempt to open up the conversation. Some nights I am struggling to keep my eyes open, and invariably so is my husband. We generally insist on the children finishing a reasonable amount of dinner to make it to sweets. The bigger children generally have to eat everything. I don’t serve overly large meals. There are often requests for more (depending on what’s on offer). And this is fine. I try to make the amount of food I put on the children’s plates achievable.
Nothing…. absolutely nothing incenses me more than having spent time…precious time having lovingly prepared the evening meal only to be abused. And believe me, no part of it is easy. From finding the time to flick through cookbooks, or have a trawl on the net, for an interestingly delectable recipe that I feel may tick everybody’s boxes. Then, somehow shopping for the meal with or without children in tow. And by the time that lovingly prepared meal is laid on the table, I am drooping in every sense. We sit down and I have a quick glance at all of their little faces. Try to get a feel for the reactions tonight. My children diagnose a dinner with their eyes. I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard, “That’s disgusting!”, “I’m not eating that!”, “What is it?”, “I hate it!” This is all before the food has even touched their lips. They flick at a tiny piece of the dinner as though it is alive and might bite them!
I feel like slipping down the chair and laying myself restfully on the floor. There are times, I am embarrassed to admit, that I want my husband to turn into the 1960’s version of himself. I want him to pipe up with “Don’t speak about your Mother’s lovely dinner like that”. Or maybe, “It’s a glorious meal!” or “Leave the table then”. And of course in the 1960’s the children would have left the table knowing that a thick ear was coming their way if they didn’t. But of course, and rightly so, none of this ever happens. We patiently urge the children to ‘just try it!’ If they really hate it, try eating just half. We have tried “There are children starving in Africa!!!!” – and we get the same response we gave as children, “Then send it over to them – express!!!!” I find this evening tirade exhausting because by this time I am literally spent, depleted, empty. It’s sometimes the knockout punch. I can’t even string sensible words together into a sentence. If I want a night’s rest from the nightly abuse, I make pizza. The children love helping me to roll out the pizza dough. Or it’s pasta – with sauce. No, not a lovely napolitana, just straight sugary tomato sauce. No effort, and they think it’s the most glorious dinner ever.
I know their palettes are sensitive. I remember!!! I hated peas and carrots with a vengeance. I would gag on them. And brussel sprouts…..lordy!!!…they were disgusting. We ate them every night, because of course my parents LOVED them!!! I still think they are vile looking little green balls. Anything that requires being slathered in butter and fatty bacon to render it appealing surely negates any good the green stuff offers!!! My husband has relayed a story of when he was eight and given lamb’s fry to eat for dinner. He refused, and was served it up for breakfast the next morning, only to vomit it up after forcing it down, at the table!!!!!
One of our children has a surprisingly mature palette. She will ask for a salad sandwich, not because there is no vegemite or jam in the cupboard, but because she actually enjoys it. And she downs it with relish to my joy and amazement. Our older children (13 and 11) have thankfully become more robust and adventurous eaters. They eat pretty much whatever my husband and I eat with relish. So there is light at the end of the tunnel!
The Pressure Cooker (don’t be scared!!!!)
My latest time saving acquisition has been the arrival of a ‘pressure cooker’. My gorgeous mother-in-law gave me a ‘big’ and lovely pressure cooker for my birthday about a month ago. And I am having so much fun with it. I was initially very nervous. Everybody has a scary pressure cooker story. A patient told me of hers blowing a hole in her fridge. My girlfriend’s grandmother was cooking a chicken, which subsequently ended up on the ceiling. And my Mother’s girlfriend was cooking a tomato based dish, which spread tomato spots from one end of her kitchen to the other, ceiling to floor. So, my first chicken casserole was cooked with some trepidation.
My pressure cooker has an electronic timer, seems very secure, and cooks in one third of conventional cooking time. And the flavours are amazing. I have made chicken and meat casseroles, rice pudding, custard (not so successful!), soups and bolognaise sauce. I love that it’s quick. It suits my personality. The slow cooker feels a bit to me like looking after a sleeping baby. They are no trouble but you still have to keep and eye and an ear out for them. The ‘Syrian Chicken’ recipe I have included in this post I am going to try tonight in the pressure cooker.
The Best Years?????
Perhaps the evening is so fraught because it is so contrastingly different to evenings pre-children. Evenings were a relaxed wander along our local shopping strip after a day’s work. Musing over what delights I would prepare for my husband and I for dinner. Which we would eat at 8.00pm!!! A relaxed listen to some lovely music, maybe a glass of wine and a lounge outside in the gorgeous courtyard of our rented terrace house.
A girlfriend and I were texting back and forth the other day when she said, “This is great, but your 20’s is hard to beat. Still, this comes a close second!!!” What!!!!???? Are these REALLY not the best years of our lives? What an insult to our children! But I pondered it. And I get it. And I agree. There is a total loveliness, freedom and gorgeousness to your 20’s. It is an entirely selfish and indulgent time. There are fabulous parts to both times of life. This time of our lives cannot hope to offer the flexibility of our 20’s. Then, I could visit the bathroom and take my time. Now, there are usually three little faces pressed to the glass asking me, “What are you doing?” “Can I come in?” “Why are you taking so long?”.
I am so much less judgmental these days than I was in my youth. I accept that every single person has their own battles, their own joys, their own individual story. When I hit forty, suddenly I gained this new perspective of life. I felt about half way there. And the end was a long way off – but I could just see it. I could see the possibility of what would fill those next forty years. Maybe lots of grandchildren, a return to work, study, lots of time cooking and spent helping children, listening – and much driving to and from the children’s activities. At the age of twenty I had no idea what was ahead. I thought I was a career woman. I guess I am – I just don’t get paid in the monetary sense and can’t see any possibility of promotion!
It is a rollercoaster – all of it – life in general, I think. I was equating it in my head the other day to being on a hike. Each of us on our own journey. As parents, trying to navigate our own path of ascents and descents, whilst helping the youngsters negotiate their own exciting journey. Sometimes the thrill of the downhill is as overwhelming as the uphill – because you are bracing yourself for what is invariably to come. And really – it all began at their conception. The worry, the excitement, the constant wondering at what will happen next! And it will…..just….keep…..going! If we are lucky! I just hope I can!
Syrian Chicken Recipe
This is a fabulous recipe by Karen Martini. My two boys had a father/son cooking night at my son’s school and this is what they prepared. It is so special every time we cook it. I adore that it reminds my two boys of a special evening that they shared together. It was done in preparation for Mother’s Day, where my husband and son prepared it together for our family. Everybody (mostly!!!) thought it was d’lish!!!! I hope you do too!
I double the ingredients!!!
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1.4-1.6 kg chicken (I use chicken thighs)
- 100mls extra virgin olive oil
- 2 brown onions (thickly sliced)
- 100 grams ginger (cut into matchsticks)
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 small red chilies split (omit this for littlies)
- 2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I use a can of chopped tomatoes)
- 2 pinches saffron threads
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 5 sprigs thyme (leaves only)
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 100 grams of currants
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable stock powder
- ½ bunch coriander, leaves only
- cous cous or rice to serve
Combine the salt, cumin, cinnamon, pepper and turmeric in a large plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces and shake to coat.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over high heat. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and chili to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, adding a little more oil if necessary. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cumin seeds and thyme and cook for two minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan and add the lemon juice and zest, honey, currants, stock powder and enough water to just cover chicken.
Cover with the lid and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through, and the sauce is slightly reduced.
Arrange coriander on top and serve with rice or cous cous.
I love Katie’s thoughts on family life at the end. I know my perspective has changed over the last year on many things. What about you? How are you viewing life at the moment?katie, motherhood, planning mum, what other mums do