Four Things Your Kids Really Need for Back to School

It’s back-to-school time for us and I see parents anxiously requesting information on the best places for new backpacks and lunch boxes and fretting over fall wardrobes. Like most holidays or life events (weddings! college!) we tend to zone in on preparing ourselves by buying stuff. Yet, the emotional, psychological and physical strain of these changes and events usually can’t be smoothed over with new shoes or a fresh hair cut. So in response to these lists of must-buy-now-to-ensure-student-success lists here are four things your kids really need for back-to-school.

Four Things Your Kids Really Need for Back to School

Sleep

Yeah, that’s right, your kids really really really need good sleep. So don’t worry if their jeans are running a bit short or you don’t have a winter jacket for them yet, try to encourage and enable good sleep. Limit screen time in the evening and insist on lights out at the same time each night. Your kids need sleep like they need good and nutritious food. It’s essential. And the benefits are not just less grumpy and more energetic kids: quality sleep reduces their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Reassurance

Change can be hard even for the most adaptable and easy going kid. We notice during this season of transition back to school that even our no fuss kids can have a rare meltdown or explosive behaviour(this book is really helping my family right now). If you have a sensitive child or one that struggles with change or transitions – you probably already know that the next few weeks are going to be tough on all of you. What to do? Give them some extra reassurance that you’re there for them and that even if it’s a rocky start to the school year, it will all be alright.

Lunch. Plain and simple.

This is the time of year where articles keep popping up with ’30 school lunch ideas’ and Instagram is filled with beautiful bento box lunches that look like a boutique Manhattan deli made them. If beautiful school lunches are your jam and something you love doing for your kids – enjoy! For the rest of us: just pack a lunch. Note: I got these YumBox lunch boxes for our family a few months back on sale (Vancouverites: Vancouver Community College clears them out at the end of the school year at a good discount) and they have actually made our life easier. I so rarely recommend products here but these really are great. We eat very simple lunches – fruit, vegetable, something substantial that is easy to make or leftovers – and these containers have made it easy for me to offload lunch making to my husband and the kids. They’re also so fast to fill up that if we are in a rush before leaving for a day trip I can have these things packed before I convince myself that buying lunch out is a good idea. 

Your attention.

Even ten minutes of your time each day in the next few weeks can be gold. No television on, no multi-tasking, no checking your phone. Be with them. Ask them how it’s going, who’s in their class and if they have any concerns. If they don’t want to talk about it and then do something with them: play, a board game, Lego, a walk around the neighbourhood, reading a chapter book together.

My oldest needs a new pair of shoes (and we will get them eventually) but I also know that the more important back-to-school items for him are sleep and a lot of quiet time as he gets used to a new school, new teacher and new classmates. My youngest also has a transition this fall so we won’t be planning much for the early evenings the next few weeks as he will be extra tired and emotional. And yes, I have to remind myself of all this stuff too as the onslaught of what to buy for back-to-school is everywhere. It is so pervasive that I even start to think, do we need to go shopping? What are we missing that’s important? Guess what, we’re not missing anything. The bigger things my kids need in a season of change can’t be bought in a store.

Book Review: The Condo Kids

fullsizeoutput_529d

 

Last year my oldest son brought home a fire safety pamphlet he received at school when the fire department did an informational visit. I laughed when I saw the basic ‘what to do in event of fire’ safety steps spelled out and illustrated for kids. The pamphlet showed a rancher style house. I don’t think any of my son’s classmates that year lived in a detached home; most of them lived in condos and a few in townhouses. Most of the kids in our neighbourhood have never lived in a detached house and likely will never live in a detached house. Yet, fire safety pamphlets and, the point of this post, most kid’s books assume that we all live in a suburban neighbourhood in a house. This frustrates me.

My children read stories about kids with backyards and their own bedroom that live on quiet streets. We live in a loud part of the city, they sleep three to a room and our backyard is a little courtyard sixteen floors down that we share with the hundreds of other people living in our building. We love all the great things about city living – we can walk to EVERYTHING, great parks and the seawall a few blocks away – but it’s certainly hard to keep that in mind when every book we read shows all the perks of suburban living (and none of the downsides like Billy spends two hours a day in the car!).

So I was excited to hear about a new book series Jackie Burns has started called The Condo Kids. Jackie is a condo parent herself to two boys and her family lives in a condo in Toronto. I connected with Jackie and requested a review copy of The Condo Kids first book and Jackie was kind enough to send one to me. We recently read the book over three nights to our two, four and seven year old.

My kids were pretty excited about this book before we even read it. We were finishing up another chapter book and they had to wait a few days until we started The Condo Kids. I told them what the book was about and they were anxious to start reading it.

Kids. In Condos. My middle kid kept saying “just like us!” whenever they talked about elevators, living in the city and condo pools. They liked and I loved this ‘normal’ look at kids living in apartments. Living in a condo isn’t treated as an oddity or something that makes the kids special – it’s just where they live. It’s as normal to share a room with your brother

The book takes a bit of a fantastical turn when the kids sheep-nap a Barbary sheep from the zoo. Hilarity ensues of course and my kids did indeed think stowing a sheep in a condo was hilarious.

There is an 80s laissez faire parenting style to the book that I found refreshing and also lent to the magical adventure of the story. These kids have their own apartment keys and can roam wherever they like. Hopefully my kids won’t start asking for the long leash these kids have going to the pool without a parent and walking to the grocery store solo (that last one is coming sooner in our family than the unsupervised pool time).

Here’s my condo kids playing a recent at home game of piggyback your brother and fall into a pile of pillows:

This book would be great for a young reader of 8+ and was a nice short chapter book with illustrations to read together as a family. We’re already looking forward to the second book in the series that comes out this fall. Thanks Jackie!

 

What My Son’s Disabilities Have Taught Me About Minimalism

 

I’ve spent the last two years not writing this post. The first year it was because I felt that if I said my son had a disability(ies), it would be true (and I really really really did not want it to be true). Later it was that I thought I should keep this part of my/our life private. But I’ve realized over the last few months that if you know us, if you ever get to know my son, then what I write here will not be a great surprise. And after being truthful and open with other families recently, I’ve seen that we are not alone. I’ve met some kindred parents in the last few weeks and had wonderful wholehearted conversations with people who ‘get it’. The kind of conversations that I’ve been craving for years. So maybe I can find a few more of us from writing this post.

Also, our son’s disabilities have been a big part of our life the last two years. It has taken up a lot of my mental and emotional capacity. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been writing on the blog as much. I’m hoping that by sharing here I’ll feel more comfortable writing in this space about our continued quest to live a bit smaller and simpler – without feeling that I have to censor myself. The ‘secret’, a very common one that shouldn’t need to be hidden, is out.

One of my children has several disabilities that make our life complicated, often stressful and far from simple. Some days it really sucks. Some days I feel very isolated. Luckily I don’t have a lot of those days and when I do I try to remind myself that everyone faces challenges, some we see, some we don’t. And I also remind myself that I’m learning a lot about myself, becoming a bit more resilient and a lot more patient, parenting a child that faces a lot of challenges in his day to day life.

My son’s disabilities have also forced us to be minimalist-ish in a lot of areas of our life. I think my son’s disabilities, the challenges they present to our family, is one of the reasons I continue to be so attracted to minimalism. When things I cannot control are complicated, I feel the need to make the things I can control as simple as possible  My son’s disabilities have taught me a lot about minimalism, why we need it and why he specifically needs it to make his life a bit easier.

Keep Simple Routines & Easy Schedules

Over-scheduling for our family looks different than for most. We can only have one half day ‘big’ event at a time. That day needs to be followed by a quiet day of rest and routine. So going to a model train exhibition in the morning and a birthday party in the afternoon, with a full day event the next day, is a recipe for a lot of tears and meltdowns and leaving early. All that ‘fun’ quickly becomes unfun for us. Our two other children can handle more taxing events and when it’s possible for them to do that, we try to make it happen. But the overall schedule for the family is mostly dictated by what works for our child with the greatest needs. So we do a lot of the same easy and local activities that we can easily adjust/drop out of if need be.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

After a few years of your child not having a typical development pattern you FINALLY learn to stop comparing your kid (and yourself) to others. A few years of leaving parent teacher conferences with red rimmed eyes, have got me to a place of only comparing my son to himself. His progress is on a graph with… his progress. It’s been very hard to get here but I feel that I’ve stopped comparing him to other kids and in turn, I’ve let go of another layer of comparing my life to others. One of the ways we get in the buy more/want more cycle is watching our neighbours, counting what they have and comparing it to our own pile of stuff.  Having a child with disabilities really pushes you to stop comparing yourself/your kids with others.

Boil it Down to the Essential

We simply can’t do ‘everything’ for all three of our children. We don’t have enough time and energy and money to run our own part-time forest school, teach them a second language and do whatever else is on the ‘must do to achieve any success in life’ checklist these days. We do the basics: brush teeth, read as many books as we can and get time outdoors. The ‘essentials’ for our son with disabilities include therapies, tutoring, doctor’s appointments, medications that have to be adjusted and notes taken on and lots more. We don’t have the bandwidth to find extra, nonessential ways to complicate our life even more. The basics are good enough!

Own Less Stuff

If you have a child that is highly distracted and gets overwhelmed, it’s best to not have a lot of stuff for them to get distracted and overwhelmed by. So yes, we do have toys, but we try to keep them in one place and not have too many of them. We cull their stuff regularly and remove what isn’t being used. We give modest and few gifts at birthdays and at Christmas. We are slow to introduce new things. The kids are 2, 4 and 7 and are just learning to ride bikes for the first time now.  For many years they all just had kick scooters to get around on and have fun with and that was enough. Introducing another option for them complicates things, can overwhelm them and gives us three more things to maintain, store and worry about.

Try to Live in the Present

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the past (what did I do wrong that caused this? how could I have gotten him help earlier?) and the future (how will he learn to ____? what will life look like for him at ____? how will we get ____ help?) for my son with special needs. But as we have gone further down the diagnosis route and finally into the therapy/management phase of his disabilities, I’ve learned to live in today a bit more. I cannot change the past, I do not know the future, I can only do the work of today. I’m not perfect at living in the present (nor will I likely ever be) but I feel myself living more in the day right now than I ever have before. Credit to my quirky beautiful son that keeps me here.

IMG_3937 (1)

Having a child with disabilities has made me lean into minimalism. It’s not a pretty Instagram-able kind of minimalism of nicely folded clothing and spartan rooms with white walls. Some days it’s an exhausting, tearful frustrated kind of minimalism that leads you to make sandwiches for dinner so you can simply sit with that kid that really needs you, needs to be hugged and seen, needs a level of patience that is hard for anyone other than his family to give him, in the time you would usually prepare dinner. It’s a kind of minimalism that has you putting the spring community center programming guide into the recycle bin as soon as it arrives because your child is not in a season of being able to follow instructions, participate or enjoy after school soccer. It’s the kind of minimalism that has nothing to do with what your home looks like but rather what your home feels like: a safe and easy place for your child to just be his or her self.

Storing (Less) Kid’s Clothing

 

It’s been a while since I talked about kid’s clothing and how we try and keep things minimalist-ish with three young kids. So I thought I would give an update on what we’re doing now, how things are changing as our kids get older (and bigger) and share some of my favourite strategies that work for our family for keeping clothing under control.

Above is what we have stored for our three kids. The top box is shoes and rain boots. The bottom box is summer clothing and hand-me-downs. My kids are now 7, 4 and 2 and our family is complete as they say/ we’re done with babies!! There is a three size gap between the seven year-old and four year-old and a one or no size gap between the four year-old and two year-old. We have cool to cold winters with a lot of rain and the occasional snow day and our summers can go as high as 30C.

Strategies for Small Kid Wardrobes

We’ve made it the last year and a half with two IKEA Antonius units storing all the kids clothes and diapers. It’s getting tight. The culprit: our oldest is wearing a school uniform this year (and they have TWO different uniforms) plus his clothing is getting bigger, just likehim. Luckily the school uniform will be gone at the end of June and we’ll get back 25% of the space once our youngest potty trains in a year and we’re out of diapers. In general I think we do a good job of keeping the kid’s wardrobes modest while still keeping them appropriately clothed. Things we do that help us have less clothing:

  • we don’t buy/accept a lot of clothing – simple but it helps immensely
  • we regularly cull the kids wardrobes for things that aren’t being worn or no longer fit
  • we think holes in the knees of jeans are cool. Someone asked me if we put holes in the knees of the youngest jeans ourselves, like as an ode to distressed jean fashion. I laughed. Nope. He’s just the third kid to wear those size 2T jeans.
  • if the outfit was clean at the end of the day (exception: underwear) it gets worn the next day
  • we try to invest in durable brands for our oldest son that will last through another kid or two. Especially in outerwear and rain boots.
  • we try and wear out items. I won’t send my kids out in torn (besides knees on jeans) clothing or items with big stains on them, but fading or some fraying from lots of use, that makes me happy. So we don’t replace things simply because they look old.

I’m not very particular about what my kids wear and so far they aren’t very particular about what they wear either. I know we are really lucky on this front. There aren’t fights about what to wear in the morning and, THANKFULLY, no one is asking me to go the mall and buy them the latest on trend piece from H&M. We do laundry frequently so at most my kids need a week’s worth of clothes. We try to wash clothing after it’s been worn two or even three times if possible and this increases the longevity of the clothing.

We don’t store a lot of hand-me downs

One thing I am seeing as my kids get bigger: the clothes are wearing out faster. We don’t have as many hand-me-downs to store as you might expect. Sometimes the middle child will be the last to wear something that was originally the oldest. Usually it’s because both of them wore that size for 2+ years so, combined with wearing things more frequently than a lot of North Americans do, the t-shirt is ready to be cut into rags or the jeans are ready to be made into jean shorts or sent to textile recycling.

I *never* buy ahead in sizes during sale season

My oldest did not grow in a steady pattern at all so I decided early on not to buy ahead at end of season sales. It’s just not worth it to me to spend money and take up our limited storage with things that may, or may not, fit one of my kids next year. A lot of our winter and fall clothing comes from Grandmas at birthdays and Christmas and if they have bought in a generous size I’ll store those items for next year. But that’s it. If buying ahead works for you, awesome. But my kids are all over the growth chart and we have very little storage so we get things in season as we need them most of the time.

I let my kids grow into and out of things

I let the t-shirts get a bit short in the body before going to the next size and that oversize sweatshirt gets to be a fitted style before it’s passed down. My oldest just passed down a zip up sweatshirt he has been wearing for over three years. We have adjustable waistbands on EVERYTHING. We roll up cuffs and sleeves for a few months while a child grows into things.

We keep shoes to a minimum

Our oldest is the shoe-a-holic out of the kids. He has four pairs: rain boots, athletic shoes, formal school shoes, pair of Converse. The other two kids have rain boots and a pair of running shoes. They each have a pair of slip-on style summer sandals that we keep out in the winter to wear to the condo pool downstairs.

Of course, I know we could be more minimalist. We spent a month overseas and the kids took about 2/3rds of their wardrobe and with frequent laundry going we did just fine. I’m all about finding the sweet spot between making life comfortable and having less stuff. Right now this is what works for us.

For parents of many, how do you manage storing hand-me-downs? I would love to hear from those of you with big families, those of you that are the buy ahead type and anyone with an more elaborate or more stream lined system than mine.

Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

renovatingourspace2

Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.08.47 AM
Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.53.50 AM
Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. Technically this room is an enclosed balcony per city building codes. Semantics really but it doesn’t have a closet and has a glass wall and door that faces into our living room. Because of building codes and rules we will likely never be able to pull the glass wall out and enclose it though we could remove the wall and leave it open (maybe the plan once the kids leave the next!). It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed and maybe a small dresser if we were able change the door to swing out instead of in. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When the oldest moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. I’d also love to get an Oriental or Persian rug, something luxurious on our feet, to replace our thin woven rug once the kids are out of the smearing banana on rugs phase. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...