The Good News: Thanks to you guys (who are awesome) I now have (at least) 100 different topic suggestions. Thank you. Y'all gave me both the poke-her-brain-with-stick-ing that I knew I needed AND the nicey-nice pep talk that I didn't. (Know. That I needed. But I guess I did. Oy, this post is already not going well.)
The Bad News: WHERE TO START WHERE TO START THIS ONE THAT ONE OMG MY BRAIN IS BUBBLING OVER WITH UNBRIDLED OPINIONS AND WORDS AND IT'S LIKE MY INTERNAL DIALOGUE IS STAMPEDING ITSELF.
I should probably export the comments into some kind of spreadsheet and treat them like Actual Real Writing Assignments or a task list that I can smugly check off once I've written something. (Smugly only because I am never NOT kind of smug when I check something off a to-do list. Take that, list, I am super awesome and productive. For this brief shining moment, anyway.)
One topic I saw mentioned sevvvvveral times was the whole "giving each member of your brood the individual attention they deserve." I especially liked how Kerry phrased it, when she said "it seems like you find a nice balance between precious individual snowflakes and teeming horde."
I'm not sure if it's balance, necessarily, as in something I consciously set out to achieve each morning (or write down a task list just to cross it the fuck off, fuck yeah). Most days I can usually carve out some one-on-one time with each child by simply following the guiding principle of Don't Be A Selfish Asshole.
Let's say Ezra approaches me and asks if we can have a play picnic, but I'm really enjoying some Internet-ish diversion or game on my phone or I just came up with something funny to say on Twitter. If I were to say, "Not right now, Mommy's busy," I think that would make me a Selfish Asshole. And kind of a liar. All of those things will be there for me to read/play/be-stupid-on later. That moment with Ezra, when Ezra was four years, four months and four days old, will be gone forever if I pass on it. Sure, we might have a play picnic the next day too, but I'd really rather Ezra remember at least one of the 3,203,056 play picnics I sat through over the one time I said "Not right now, Mommy's busy."
And that's depressingly likely with little kids, you know? The other day I DID have to tell Ezra not right now, busy, because I was stuck on a work task that wasn't really negotiable. His entire body registered his disappointment. He dropped his picnic basket on the floor, put his chin to his chest and shuffled off to pout on the stairs. All that the moment was missing was the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing in the background.
Family outings are good. Crazy, somewhat akin to herding cats at times, but good. Museums, zoos, community centers— kids love that shit, and it gives a family our size a nice way to keep EVERYBODY entertained while we ration out our specific attention to specific children.
Our children's favorite place in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD right now is the Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore. It's hike for us, but always worth it, even just for a few hours. Noah disappears into the three-story climbing/crawling/whatever area in the center and Jason and I each get really nice time with Ezra and Ike, and then we switch. Then, if we can ever get the two younger boys interested in the same room/activity, one of use sucks up our self-consciousness and awkwardly climbs around with Noah (mom-butt ahoy!) or leads him through one of the rooms aimed at older kids.
Then we leave and get the kids some pizza, and us some beer(s). We probably go at least once a month, because IT WORKS. We have a family membership and know exactly what we need to pack for the day (and what we don't), and I also know that Noah will probably draw at least one picture or write one short story about it at school, which makes it pretty much a Total Win, all around.
Jason once read some parenting guru's advice that said we should aim to have 30 uninterrupted minutes of "in" time with each child. You don't necessarily have to redirect them to something new or do anything specific with that time — you just join them at whatever they are doing and give them your undivided attention for 30 minutes. Most of the time your child will notice and include you in the activity or game and by the end of the half hour you'll likely have engaged in at least one valuable conversation or connection with them.
Other parenting books I've read (okay, skimmed) (okay, read the back cover at the bookstore) say the "30 solid minutes" is less important than the bigger idea of giving your child your undivided attention several times a day in a more organic fashion, even if it's just a minute or two here and there.
That is probably closer to what we get around here, though I agree that making the conscious, deliberate decision to Not Be A Selfish Asshole, put down the phone/magazine/Twitter-fight and pay real attention to your child will always make the time you do get with each of them much more valuable.
Ezra gets the most attention from me in the block of time between Ike going down for a nap and Noah coming home from school. We try to minimize full-family errands (see: FERAL TARGET BITING), but grocery shopping solo with Ezra is an unexpected delight: He's helpful and excited and will basically eat any vegetable that he picks out "himself." (KALE. THE KID EATS KALE.) Running errands has become a special Ezra/Daddy time, and something they both really look forward to. And of course, anything involving cooking or baking is the perfect opportunity to pull Ezra in.
Noah thrives on routine, so our one-on-one time is usually after dinner, while he does homework. It's also usually the best time for him (sensory/behaviorial speaking) to sit next to one of us and calmly talk about his day. He's a world championship cuddler, too, who loves being under the covers with one of us, so he and I have nice lazy chats on Sunday mornings. After karate, one of us takes him to a nearby coffee shop for a cookie. (This may have had something to do with Ezra's enthusiasm for karate, yes. Better parenting through bribery, woot.) If he asks us for help building Legos we try to oblige, because we know that "asking for help with Legos" is Lego Master code for "I'm feeling a bit lonely and woud like some attention."
Ike still gets the solo bath and bed times, and no lie: Even diaper changes are a really nice one-on-one moment for us. I sing, we tickle, identify body parts (best is "where's your butt?" and he tosses his naked legs up and smacks his cheeks) and we end with a giant dive-bomb of a hug off the table.
Anytime anyone asks for a hug, they get one. Anytime anyone asks to be picked up, they are. Anytime anyone asks for help, they get it. These are pretty much the unspoken non-negotiables, no matter what we may be doing at the time. Don't Be A Selfish Asshole, go help the kid who got his pajama shirt stuck on his head because he mistook a sleeve for the neckhole. (Again.)
Bedtime is 7:30 - 8 pm, at which point Jason and I get to be just us again, sipping wine and watching wildly inappropriate television like The Walking Dead and Archer. We stay up pretty late, even though our bodies might benefit from a little more sleep, because that's just how we can give each other the most undivided attention right now. We try to have a date night as many weekends as the budget allows, because some weeks are just harder than others.
Some weeks are definitely more Team Teeming Horde than precious snowflake memories. Some weeks involve a lot more tantrums, fighting, random destruction and us yelling/nagging/scolding and GO TO YOUR ROOOOMing. Some weeks I feel like I'm a hopeless screw-up of a mother who loses her temper too often over "normal" kid behavior, while simultaneously raising a pack of barely civilized Pixy Stix.
And that's okay, I think. You're going to be screw-up sometimes. Just Don't Be A Selfish Asshole.
(Also don't be afraid or ashamed to embrace the warm glowing warming glow of television every once in awhile. I mean, sometimes you really do just need some down time to dick around on your phone without the threat of neverending play picnics.)