surviving four under four {or a brood of small children} ...

03 September 2014

... because age ain't nothing but a number, right?


Who knows.

I do know that one of the fastest ways to get me to click out of a blog post is to start chucking parenting advice at me. I've only been riding the motherhood train for 3.9 years but I've learned that odds are very good that my kids have vastly different temperaments than your kids and my threshold for some things is probably a lot different than all the other baby mama thresholds on the e-block. So I think it would be terribly hypocritical if I typed a novella full of advice. Instead I'll just share some things that have seemed to help keep a lid on the chaos around here for the past few months.

Julia will be four at the end of the month so I'm slipping this is in just under the wire and please don't think that I think I've earned any sort of parenting badge of better honor up in here. Parenting is hard. Parenting one child is really hard and I'm sure parenting teenagers is really hard too. I've had countless people tell me to cherish these years when the kids are small because I'll miss them and countless others confide that the older years are so much more fun. We're all different. And I believe we're all doing the best we can today and probably striving to do a little better tomorrow.

I still occasionally get the same panicky and overwhelmed feeling out in public with all four kids that I got when I dared to take baby Julia out of the house. I think it's a combination of acclimation, lowering my standards, and then lowering my standards again that makes me say the old, "it gets easier" the more I have and the older they get.

Anyway ... I'll always have my days, my hours, and my minutes where I think my mind might be lost forever but I like to think we're on the upswing. Maybe.

Okay, here we go!

1. pick and choose priorities: This might be a, "duh!" for many but it took me awhile to realize that my mood would plummet to ugly very quickly if all the kids stayed in their pajamas all day. I'm sure a lot of moms might roll their eyes at that because, who cares?! I know. But I don't stress about dinner (I hide behind the excuse that Simon can eat for free at work/sometimes I don't know when he'll be home) nor is my laundry on any sort of schedule and I don't mind wearing the same running shorts + t-shirt day in and day out while at home. For whatever bizarre reason ... I like to get the kids dressed after breakfast. This is a somewhat recent development and I might not care as much when it gets gross outside again but my point is that it's been important for me to pinpoint the things that make me feel less frazzled and do them on the daily. Other examples include: daily exercise and uh, that's it. Shoot for the stars, everyone.

2. make a list for day then cut it in half: Unless a magical unicorn of a babysitter appears out of the abyss ... I will never get everything on my to-do list done. Most of the time at least three kids naps for ~3 hours every afternoon but usually Julia and/or Phoebe is awake which means my hustle time is very limited. And that's okay. As long as the kids are fed, relatively happy, and bathed every other week (joke time!), we're good.

3. make showering a priority: I have to. At least every other day. Whether I do it at night when everyone's asleep or I hire Netflix for an episode of something educational (Julia LOVES WordGirl and Super Why and the boys tolerate them) or not ... I make it happen. Washing my hair is a different story but I make that happen too. I've learned that I can't do a long shower and a Costco run in the same morning. Laugh it up but I know my limits.

4. park near the cart corral: When I go shopping I must park near the carts because Sebastian is a runner and would love nothing more than to play a game of Chicken with some moving vehicles, and I'm still working on growing a few more arms but the sooner I can get the two youngest caged in the cart and the two oldest to hold onto said rolling cage or holding hands ... the better. The same goes for coming out of the store and getting the groceries into the car. It's just easier if I can get my goods and my kids secured in the car before I put the cart back. And if anyone would like to sign my serious petition to all stores nationwide begging that they always leave just one cart in the corral ... let me know. Oh, and no car carts or the triple long trailer carts from Target. I can't. I know, no fun.

5. smile at the stares: Maybe I'm perpetually leaving the house with spinach leaves in my teeth and not realizing it or maybe I'm weirdly paranoid but it feels like people love a good stare at the Patton parade. I don't blame them because Julia is probably asking in a VERY LOUD VOICE if she can have everything she sees in the store (purple newborn socks, a leopard print bra, all of the Hello Kitty inventory, a box of non-generic cereal, Dora fruit snacks, a pink fly swatter, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g), "for my birthday?!" and Sebastian is probably trying to figure out a way to dart away and escape to the toy truck aisle (which he has successfully done twice, two heart shaped attacks for his mother!). Only a handful of the (imaginary?) onlookers seem to be borderline disgusted (but they might just be plagued with the default angry face that I am ... no harm done!) but if I'm able to catch their eye I always throw a smile in their direction. It catches them off guard and forces them to either say hello or be on their awkward merry way.


so happy together.

6. protein: This is huge for us ... I've found that getting some protein into the kids and myself SOON after we wake up in the morning and after naps for the kids ... everyone is much happier. I have a drawer full of string cheese, a spoon ready to shove peanut butter (or almond butter for the healthier nuts out there) into a whiny mouth, and greek yogurt always stocked for the post-sleep or mid-morning slumps. Julia and Theo love eggs and none of the kids notice if I mix chia seeds in the yogurt or smoothies but who knows if those help at all.

7. hire assistants: Ask a couple of toddlers to go grab the wipes in an emergency bomb situation and they will stare at you, but ask a couple of toddlers, "who wants to be my assistant?!" and they will enthusiastically do close to anything. Theo loves to "unload" the dishwasher (knives removed first, I'm only partially negligent) and he throws everything in all the wrong places but he seems so pleased with himself and it keeps him happily occupied for twelve glorious minutes. Unload away, drunk little sailor.

8. big picture: This is really hard for me to remember in the moment but is it the end of the world if Julia and Sebastian sneak-make some chocolate milk and spill it all over the freshly Swiffered kitchen floor? Or Theo sneaks his huge and cumbersome blanket into the car for errands? Or Julia and Sebastian get into an embarrassing tug-of-hair fight at the playground for all to witness? Nope. It might feel like it but taking the vast majority of the day's hiccups with a grain of salt helps keep me sort of sane.

9. escapism: I'm mostly kidding but losing myself in a book during nap time on an especially tiring afternoon or giving myself permission to watch some Netflix while folding the piles of neglected laundry and letting the kids throw all their books and toys down the stairs, over and over again does my overwhelmed a world of good on occasion.

10. gratitude it: I've mentioned this before but it is worth repeating. I know that we are very fortunate to have four healthy kids. Very fortunate. I get caught up in wishing Simon was home more or that we had family around or that I had some form of tangible support to lean on when the days get a little bit lonely but I'm so grateful for the kids and the joy they bring to our marriage.

I feel like ten pieces of not advice is a good place to stop but I could add ten more (the importance of getting everyone on the same blessed afternoon nap schedule, getting out of the house alone often, getting out of the house with just one or two kids often, the cathartic outlet of texting e-friends in similar blessed and chaotic boats, and those mini plastic bottles of Moscato - those are good too) but I'll have to save those for their own separate Tolstoys. Lucky you.

And finally! If you read this entire thing and think I have a couples screw loose or that my standards are ghastly or that I give motherhood an ugly name .... I'm with you.


But I'm so glad we're on the same page.


And if you're in the mood to read me repeat or contradict my former self, you're in luck! 
We've got ...
Surviving two under two
and Surviving three under three


84 comments:

  1. No way - you give parenting a great name! And I agree whole-heartedly on all of them, because if there is anything us 4-under-4 moms learn its, LOWER YOUR STANDARDS. Sometimes I feel like I shock people when I let the baby crawl around with markers without lids...but hey...sometimes I need a couple minutes!

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    1. Hahaha I'm so with you on the lower standards... Don't you love the "Is he/she supposed to have that?" that you get when various younger siblings are eating dirt/chewing on wood chips/playing with various other choking hazards? The answer is always no, but really looking at the big picture, who cares as long as they aren't *actually* going to try to swallow the entirety of that uncapped marker?

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  2. Agreed… We are string chees-ers too… Also I struggle so so so so so much with the being grateful aspect of our family… I probably should go to confession for it.

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  3. Am I really the first person to comment?! Incredible. Great post! I especially agree with "smiling at the stares"... tough to do some days! Keep up the awesome bloggin' :)

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  4. Even though I've only got 2 under 11, I enjoyed reading this post. Keep on keeping on mama! You are totally rocking 4 under 4!

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  5. Nope, same page. Word for crazy word! I too have wondered, is it getting easier? Or am I just doing a good job of fake embracing the chaos? Clearly it's the latter!!

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  6. I agree with everything, esp with #4. What is the point of special parking for new mothers if it's miles away from the grocery cart corrals??

    My kid #2 parenting philosophy (advice, your fave): It won't kill them. I can't wait to see my standards shrink even more in January.

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  7. if I lived closer, I'd gladly be an adopted grandma and take the kids off your hands for a morning every week! Win-win for both of us...I'd be in my glory because my grandchildren are older now and I miss those babies and toddlers!
    And you could have 4 hours of peace and quiet

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  8. I have a 9 year old daughter and two boys, one 2 years old and one 3 months old. I am most definitely losing my ever loving mind most days, especially today when I had to get my daughter to school at 8:45 and no one is napping. On top of that, both the boys sleep in my bed which really means that no one sleeps at all. One has special needs which causes sleep issues and the other is just chillin at the boob 24/sevs. And we don't have local family/help. Vive la internet for providing fleeting slivers of sanity amidst the tears and messes and mounds of diapers.

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  9. Well, you blow my parenting prowess (or lack thereof) out of the water!

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  10. Oh goodness! I'm always convinced that the world is staring at us when we are in public and being the Judgey McJudgertons that they can be. Of course, its probably all in my head, even when the kids are running through the aisles of the grocery store trying to find every tiny nook they can hide in and jump out to scare me. I usually threaten to sell them -- my kids are pretty good about calling my bluff, though. They know I'm all talk! ;)

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  11. I will use this if I ever collect any small humans. Or, just for me!! Applies to everyone!

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  12. My mantra is "lower your standards", no shame in my game! Keep up the good work!

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  13. This is great, thanks! I'll soon have 3 under 3 & am constantly looking for encouragement on how to survive! I'm impressed you take any of them to the store at all as I've done it but to disastrous results every time. I'd love to see a post on how to survive parenting little ones while pregnant because that seems to be me at my worst.

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    1. A to the MEN, Kacie! Haha.:) We just added our 3rd under 2 1/2 four days ago and although having a newborn is slightly world rocking in a few departments, I feel a MILLION times better than being pregnant-even while still recovering! Your comment just rang true to me, so good luck girl!:)

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    2. Agreed! I'm in the first trimester with #3 and I'm barely keeping up. Okay, I'm not keeping up. The kids are still alive but the housework, special outings, fancy meals, and any "extras" have fallen by the wayside. HOW do people keep going while dealing with the fatigue/nausea?

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    3. http://www.camppatton.com/2012/11/exercise-and-supplements-in-pregnancy.html#.VAfCjLxdUww

      here are a few of my favorite supplements etc .... but I really have no great advice :(

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  14. I love this list. It's awesome. I laughed and cried and it made me think of my mom.

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  15. Can you tell me what to do when you have a tantrum outside the house that includes kicking/biting/punching/everything? Because we just had a reallllll fun one of those that ended with me getting kicked in the jaw hard enough to make me cry and that freaked her out enough that she calmed down. but otherwise there was no end in sight and I'd rather not end up bruised and bloody to get it to stop. The day was going smoothly up until then :( So yeah, any meltdown/tantrum/unsafe behavior advice would be great.

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    1. hmm yikes. I do a lot of, "if you do this ... you won't get X at home" X is usually their beloved almond milk and they get water and they hate that. It usually works for a few days .... at the VERY least :)

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    2. *ha they don't hate water they just hate not getting milk when the other two do

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  16. i'm still waiting for a hair tutorial please and thank you.

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    1. http://www.camppatton.com/2013/05/finelimpflat-hair-help.html#.VAfCDbxdUww

      :)

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    2. ohmygosh! it has existed all along! thaaaaaank you!

      feeling dumb.

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  17. Number 11 is send them to school as soon as they they are old enough!! It's a sanity saver for me :)

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  18. I love it because #4 is a total true one for me. And when my husband DOESN'T park by the cart corral I'm all confused. And then I hold my tongue because there's another adult with me. Cake walk! xoxo

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  19. I love this! I have two under one and want more.... Soon :)

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  20. I LOVE Phoebe's face in the last pic.

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  21. #9 all the way!!! I like watching "19 Kids and Counting" because then I feel like there's hope that I can survive my mere two and counting...maybe even enjoy them! ;-)

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    1. Ha! I like watching 19 and Counting for the same reason! Except I'm working on handling my mere ONE and counting :P

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  22. Oh my sweet friend...I love this post. Love it more than chocolate covered coffee beans. You are brave and smart and capable and the VERY BEST Mama your four littles could have asked for. Yes, every family is different. What works for me won't work for you and visa versa. But where there is love , Moscato and Netflix...there os sure to be one strong marriage and four happy siblings who one day will have each others back. Pattons vs. the World. The Word don't stand a chance. Wishing you a quiet house, your favorite snack and a good book ALL while the kids are sleeping and Simon is rubbing your feet telling you what a wonderful wife and mother you are. Hugs from the One Day at a Time Suckas School of Parenthood. Love to ALL!

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  23. aww, i love this post :)
    i also have 4 children. my oldest was 5 when my youngest was born :) xx

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  24. Yes! Also kinda sorta related but not exactly-I just watched the movie "about time" and it was really good! Thoughtful ideas about time and appreciating our lives, whatever stage. Also prob great for a little alone time while folding laundry!

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  25. I have one under one and this is all still applicable for me. Haha! I've always wanted to have my kids close in age, but man sometimes I wonder how people ever have more than one. Or more than two. Or ten, like my (blessed!) mother. This gives me hope that maybe I won't go clinically insane when I *really* start multiplying and replenishing... assuming I get the guts to do it. ;) Anyway, you're awesome and your blog is one of my very favorites!

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  26. I just think you're the best!

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  27. So great! If I can approach motherhood with half of your good natured humor then I think I'll be doing alright. Love your outlook on the craziness of these little days.

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  28. I think you're pretty great, Gracer. And I love that you recognized "the joy they bring to our marriage". That's something we don't talk enough about in the blog world. Beautiful post.

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  29. We'll have two under 2 come March, and reading your blog makes me look forward to it. (And then I turn away from the soft glow of my computer and realize that the baby has emptied all of the kitchen cupboards onto the kitchen floor, and I wonder what I've gotten myself into.)

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  30. I think this post is sheer genius. I think you a near saint. I think people should keep their eyes to themselves. I think the moscato should be flowing like the river Jordan. I also think I need to add protein to breakfast! I mean. Lightbulb moment in a dull dull head. The low blood sugar tantrums are the worst to me.

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  31. #1 and #2, but definitely #9! I've been doing this Mom-gig for a LOOOONG time and my sanity saver is taking a brief break every once in awhile. Even just a short bit of "quiet time" with no child hanging on you, or calling for you, helps you power through the rest of the day. Love this post!

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  32. Yes, you are so so lucky, but your days are HARD. I only had three under four - but like you, with no support, and my husband had much more regular hours. Sometimes I just had to curl up in the fetal position with a margarita. OK, I still do that. But give yourself kudos - if everyone is fed at the end of the day, clean-ish (I mean like no poop on the extremities), and you are still sane - yay! Success! I have found that if you are patient, your children will grow older and you will have all this rotten TIME to do stuff like shop, work out, and get your nails done. Yes, it sounds heavenly, but I'd rather have a newborn. ;)

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  33. I love that you smile at strangers when they stare! I would definitely smile back. You are such a great mother. Thank you for sharing your non-advise. :)

    www.diaryofastayathomewife.blogspot.com

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  34. I am pregnant with my third, and I asked some friends for coping strategies. (My other two are 3 and 14mos.) My friend recommended this post to me, and wow, it feels great just to know I'm not alone. You make motherhood look great. :)

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  35. What a lucky girl you are! They are all beautiful :)

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  36. You seem like such a great mom! I have zero kids so I can't really relate, haha, but you seem like you've got everything handled.

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  37. Love all of these and I'm in St. Louis, so if you need a park play date I'm your gal :)

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  38. This is a good, great wonderful post, but I'm crying at how jealous I am that you get about 3 hours of nap time in the afternoon.

    HALP!

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  39. Jemma says the same "for my birthday" phrase ... ALL YEAR LONG!

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  40. You are so rocking this sweet mama - well done you (four times over!) I take my hat off to you and commend you on the awesome mother that you are, and all that you do! I have two under two and find that hectic - and I have domestic help and a granny close by... x

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  41. You put the carts back!!? You're a saint :)

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  42. Newish reader here... And fellow resident's wife... I only have one kiddo (9mo) and agree with everything here. Showering is a priority for my sanity. As is getting out of the house. And the Netflix and or wine on the daily. No family near us either and I only regret it 2% of the time. Kudos to you. I love reading all of this. We are a special breed up in here.

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    1. Oh and parking next to the cart corral is a must... I didn't one time and had to leave the baby in the car seat with the door open so I could return it... Of course he started screaming and a concerned woman started looking all around her... "he's mine".. #parentoftheyear

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  43. Next year I will write "surviving one under one" on my blog. And I'm sure things will be similar. Also, I'm only about 20 minutes away from you all, you're definitely my internet BFF.

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  44. Parking near the carts, Amen!!! One of the most important things I have learned!!

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  45. I went back and re-read the two-under-two and three-under-three posts and what I love about them is that there is completely different and contradictory advice in each one. Which means, I think, that our circumstances change and each of our kids are different and what makes us feel good and helps us survive/thrive changes with time. So you do what works for you and your kids right now. Which is the best advice ever :-D

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  46. Also, I'll soon have two-under-two and I'm a LITTLE BIT TERRIFIED. Mostly because my children refuse to walk until they're two years old. I keep hoping and praying that Caitlin will have a gross motor skills breakthrough in the next three months.

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  47. Thank you. Reminding me it is not all bad and I'm not the world's worst mum just because my not quite three year old has spent every moment we are together this week shouting or whinging. I only have one but I am the OBGYN registrar in our house and trying to be mum too.....holding on to the fact there is only 18 months left until I am a Consultant.

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  48. Can I just give you a BIG virtual hug? I LOVE this post! My 4 are more spread out but I found myself nodding to pretty much everything. A shower is a MUST for me to remain sane. Protein is also a definite must in our household. And I like the idea of cutting that to-do list in half. And calling them "assistants." And Miriam asks for everything as well for her birthday. Or "Can we get that for Lilia?" if I tell her that it's for a baby. I get a ton of "you've got your hands full" but I always smile and say, "Yes, I do" in a positive, happy voice and usually, they smile back at me.

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  49. Hahaha, parking near the cart thingy. I got ornery with Target the other day because parking lot was totally devoid of carts, which messed up my system for getting IN to the store. With only 1 under 1, by the way. Great tips, all around!

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  50. I have to say, I think you're my favorite mommy blogger. Somehow you get this awesome mix of "hanging on by a thread" and "holy cow I love my kids and my marriage." It makes me feel like I can do this parenting thing too. Even though I let my girl play with a pen at her one-year check up. The doctor came in and she had drawn all over herself. First time meeting this ped, no biggie. #notreallythatnegligent #promise Also, is Theo wearing leopard print shoes??

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  51. I enjoyed/needed to read this more than you could imagine! My first little one is approaching 7 months but has definitely given me a run for my money lately. None of my close girlfriends havr kids so there is never anyone to share this amazing kind of advice with me!

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  52. I don't have kids, but I can completely relate to your "strategy". You have a system in place to help maintain your environment, even if it doesn't totally control it. You seem to have a firm grasp on what you need to get thru the day as well as a great sense of humor to go along with it. I totally admire you and your beautiful family and I just love your writing. It's real and raw and funny, and actually a "Mom" blog I can read consistently even though, ya know, I have no kids. Keep on rockin, I'll be readin. 😊

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  53. The cart corral! That is totally my thing too. Stay at home mom to two girls, almost four and 19 mos. must park near cart corral always. Especially at Costco since I refuse to use boxes to haul out my stuff ( too much paper waste). The protein is a good tip - my little one is a huge pain in the ass about food but maybe this would help when they get cranky and I can't figure it out. Great post!

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  54. I'm so with you! I only have 1 under 1 (ha!) right now, but the always parking near the cart corral is something that I have learned very, very early. I am also with you on the showering thing. I always try to shower after my Jelly Bean goes to sleep at night so that there is no rushed, trying to rinse shampoo out while baby is crying fiasco in the mornings. Great post!

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  55. escapism and parking near the cart corral. Yes, and yes. As well as the protein part. And thank you for being so open and honest as a mom, and not pretentious and all "this is how we live perfectly". Smooches Grace, Smooches.

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  56. I think this applies to any number of children. I only have 2 under 4 and it seems like we have a daily lowering the bar ceremony!

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  57. Thank you! I actually found your blog a few months back by googling three under three. My two are 25 and 12 months, and #3 is due in February. There's a good chance we'll end up with 4u4 or close to that if all goes well. You give me hope that I can do this! :)

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  58. Totally agree. This list is pretty much what I strive for. Not that anyone cares, but the hardest one for me is my "to-do" list. I need to cross out most of it. Some mornings everything is going so well, I have these grand visions of doing the entire list....it's always a mistake to think that. Just choose a couple things and move on, Laura!! haha! Thanks for the great and very realistic post, Grace!

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  59. EVERYTHING IN THIS LIST IS SOOO GOOD.
    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

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  60. I don't even have kids, but I have a boyfriend under 25, and sometimes making sure he gets a nap can be big. Your kids are darling!

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  61. I have a 2 week old boy and a 4 year old girl. This was just what I needed! Thank you!

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  62. love love love. just found your blog and adore it. do you, boo boo!

    xo.

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  63. #4 is definitely the most important lesson I've learned in 5 years of motherhood ;)

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  64. hi grace =) I think u are a super mom! I shared this on my twitter @MariWorkingGirl :)

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  65. I feel like I can totally relate to you! I had four under four and we just added a fifth in May. Although she is farther apart in age than the others. My oldest is now eight and the craziness is different now but oh so good! Wouldn't change it for the world. You sound like you've figured out a lot of good thugs that I figured out as well. And the staring? The kids start to pick up on that. We have five girls and that makes us even more of a spectacle. People comment on it so much that my kids have now just started announcing to strangers: "we have five girls!" Haha. It's good to know there are other crazy people out there that have big amazing families!

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  66. Ha! Love this mom advice. Not a mom yet (fingers crossed it will happen soon!) but this is the kind of advice I want. Even if it's because I only use it on my husband… ;) "BABE I JUST CLEANED THE SHEETS AND YOU PUT YOU STINKY FEET ON THEM EWW" <---- time to use "big picture" and "pick and choose my battles"

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  67. So glad your posts are back!! Had to reread this after babe #5 came along. Still need the reminders as I crawl out of survival mode! :)

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