NItty Gritty Rhythm


This post is ridiculously long, but it answers lots of the nitty-gritty questions I get regarding how we juggle a really busy sports schedule, a traveling dad, and many kids over a big age span. If you hang in there and read, the answers are here. I wrote it several weeks ago and decided to hold it because there was too much detail about our daily whereabouts. Soccer season is coming to a close now, though, so it will all change.

Last summer, in the days before the feast of St. Anne, I offered a heartfelt (desperate?) novena. I so needed her intercession in the matter of my daily and weekly rhythm. Some of you might recall that when I wrote about the struggle I was having with burnout and exhaustion as a result of demands on my time, I offered no possible solutions. I didn’t even try. I crashed at the end of soccer season last spring and had no energy to figure anything out. Instead, I took comfort in the fact that summer would offer respite.

For as long as I’ve had children to ferry to and fro, my father-in-love has been willing and eager to help me whenever I had conflicts. Sadly, he is no longer well enough to play that role in our lives. He cannot pop over a pick up and deliver a child, cannot stay home with little ones if all the big ones have to be in different places. He cannot come fix this or that in my house when Mike is away or busy. He can’t do the late night or early morning run to the airport. He just can’t do it. When the day came last spring that that decision was made, I felt the rug yanked out from under me. All these years he’s been my go-to guy, the secret ingredient that made this crazy life more sane. I had no idea how much I depended on knowing there was a safety net until there wasn’t one. I struggled both with the fact that it rocked my world and with the intense sadness I felt for him and for us as we watch him decline.

When the time came to offer a novena in preparation for St. Anne’s feast, I recognized that the summer was half over and that very soon, I was going to have to revisit the dreaded SCHEDULE. No one on earth was going to rescue me. And I knew well that I could not figure this one out on my own.

I didn’t know how I was going to make the drive to where the boys play soccer in McLean (a good 45 minutes in traffic, a bad hour or more in heavy traffic) and get Mary Beth to ballet. I knew Christian would get himself where he needed to be, but that also meant he couldn’t help with anyone else. And when US Soccer plucked Patrick from the mix, that meant that it was a lot less likely that one teenager would remain home to care for little ones. It was going to be all of us driving, all the time. I worried that my little ones were lacking in play time and in time to make friends (particularly homeschooling friends). I worried I’d never have time to write. I just worried and worried.

And St. Anne heard it all. The plan presented itself to me in ways I could not imagine.

I get so many notes asking how to fit it all in, when to cook dinner, how to make sure family meals happen. This post is full of details and chances are your eyes will glaze over, but I offer it for the handful of people who are looking for just such details. More importantly, I offer it as a testimony to the power of prayer.

Let’s start on Monday morning. Dinner is prepped and put in the Dutch oven first thing. The day is going to lurch forward full speed ahead. If dinner isn’t ready to go before 10AM, we’re not going to eat. The rest of Monday morning is just the basics, school-wise (Reading, Bible and math), and then thorough cleaning of the house, with particular attention to the wood floors on the main level. Then we shove all the furniture out of the way to transform our home into a ballet studio.

When I could not figure a way to give ballet lessons (or any lessons) to my little girls because the times conflicted with everyone else and with retrieving Gracie from school and it was way too expensive, Mary Beth and her friend Mary Kate stepped in. Ballet is now in my dining room, sunroom, kitchen and family room, every Monday afternoon. It doesn’t cost me anything and there are 15 (18?—I’ve lost count)  other homeschooled girls to share the experience with Katie and Karoline. Now, my only problem is how to keep Katie from talking the whole time. So many friends, so little chat time.

While the girls dance, the boys play flag football with a whole bunch of other homeschooled boys. My friend and neighbor Mary Chris is the genius behind the very lowkey opportunity for good, old fashioned fun. Marisa comes out for football and ballet and she brings her little guy, my godson, Johnny. If you had told me in July that Marisa and I would have a chance to chat in person once a week, I would have been astonished. Also present for this golden hour is my friend Bonnie, with whom I used to walk for an hour every day. We go way back and I’m so blessed to be able to have time again on a regular basis to just bask in the warm glow of friendship.

After ballet and football, Becca, one of the moms whose son is on Nicholas’ soccer team, hustles the boys to practice. Christian takes Mary Beth to her dance class and goes on to his practice. I gather the girls, mine and Becca’s, and meet her at soccer practice a little while later. They all play in the park near the practice field. And I absolutely, positively luxuriate in lots and lots of conversation with a bright, faithful mother of many who also homeschools and is a fellow graduate of my alma mater. This is a rare blessing for which I am so very grateful. Now, I eagerly look forward to those Monday afternoons. (And we do it again on Thursdays, too.) My kids don’t whine about being dragged along to practice—instead they look forward to meeting their friends in the park. When it’s all over, we go home to dinner in the Dutch oven and I fall into bed in time for Monday Night Football. I’ve yet to make it past half time.

Tuesday is a bit more relaxed. Same long drive to practice, but this time I do it only with Stephen. Mary Beth and/or Christian are home with wee ones. I sit at the field with my laptop and write while he trains. There’s no wi-fi in the parking lot, but that’s a good thing. It’s writing time only; there’s no temptation to surf. Mary Beth and I prep dinner before I leave and she finishes off the cooking while I'm at training with Stephen. We eat when Stephen and I get home, which is just about when Mike gets home, too.

Wednesdays are crazy but again an unexpected blessing finds us. I make dinner really early on Wednesdays and pack two meals in bento boxes. I take both Stephen and Nick with me for the long drive (all these long drives are “read aloud” time and we are cranking through our reading list on audio).  I drop Nicky at his training and take Stephen with me to Starbucks. He eats his dinner, we chat, and then he reads and I write. Then, I take Stephen to practice, pick up Nick and repeat the process with a different child. At the end of the day, they’ve both had time alone with me. We’ve talked about books, maybe surfed a little together and just hung out a bit.

And on a recent Wednesday, when Nick’s training was canceled, but Stephen’s wasn’t, I discovered that I could drop Stephen a wee bit early and make it to a nearby (and beautiful) church for Adoration and confession.

Thursdays, both boys train again. Becca’s family arrives a little early for the practice time they share with Nick and they hang out with us during some of Stephen’s training, too. Have I mentioned how happy I am to have such good company? Thursday nights we eat dinner at the park. When Stephen is finished, I have just enough time to hustle to pick up Mary Beth. We get home really late and roll right into bed.

Fridays, we got nothin’. We stay home all day and love it.

Saturday mornings find me dropping Mary Beth at ballet and taking just the little girls grocery shopping. This is new for them. Ever since Michael learned to drive, I’ve avoided grocery shopping with little ones. When Michael was at home, he did with a very detailed list. Then, Christian did it for a while. Then, I’d drop Patrick off, let him do it and go back and pick him up after dropping girls at ballet.

Now, I actually look forward to the Saturday routine. I take my little girls to Whole Foods. We shop there and have breakfast.  We poke our way through the craft store. Then, we go to Costco and finish out our shopping. By that time, it’s time to pick up Mary Beth. It’s an unexpectedly happy thing. Who knew I’d ever like running errands? Not me

Just before Patrick left, we were shopping together. I bought a bag for my laptop and the boys dubbed it my “McLean office.” It’s true, that my work is only being done in fits and spurts in the car and at Starbucks while waiting out soccer practice in McLean. I have a schedule for meeting deadlines, but the reality is that there are fewer deadlines and much less writing because there is much less time to do it. But there is time to do it. God blesses the time there is.

Of course, as I write (in the car on a Tuesday), the light is waning quickly. I know that fading light this early in the evening means that all the times will shift soon and the schedule will change. I am not nearly as afraid of that as I once was.

It’s only time. In the end, God is in control of time. And when I hand it to Him, in all humility, He provides abundantly to meet my needs and to bless my diligence.