Life's a Preschool

Guest blogger: Diane Carlton


Someone recently asked me if I was always this organized, and I had to stop and think about it. I knew that I wasn't … I just didn't know when exactly it was that I became what some people classify as "Type A."

I thought long and hard about when I turned the corner because, believe me,  it wasn't always pretty.

When parenting was new and organizing a pipe dream, I would describe myself as a "hot mess." My husband, Tom, would leave for work in the morning, kiss me good-bye in my robe and glasses, not having yet wiped the sleep from my eyes. At the end of the day Tom would return to find me still in my robe, still in my glasses, unshowered, hair unwashed, bed unmade.  

It was the first time in my life that I felt overwhelmed with things to do but couldn't seem to get anything done—not even basic hygiene or simple chores. I didn't know where to begin because my life no longer belonged to me. I had this little person to care for who demanded when and how often things had to be done.

I look back now on what it was like caring for just one child and, somehow,  it seems simpler. It probably wasn't … I just didn't know what I know now.

After Elizabeth came another child … and yet another. Three kids in less than three years. There were nights dinner didn't get on the table, laundry sat in piles on the floor, and sheets got changed only when someone vomited or we got itchy.

In contemplating when I became today's organized version of myself, I thought about when my children went to preschool. During drop-off and pickup, I witnessed how the preschool class was run in warm regimented order, not the chaos that 18 three-year-olds could be.

Neatly labeled bins of blocks and toys lined the shelves. A schedule on the wall noted free-play, circle time, arts and crafts, snack, and a nap before dismissal.

How simple an idea to structure my home like that loving preschool—not the chaos of herding kittens in a messy barn that my life often resembled.

At that point I started to think like a teacher: scheduling my household with to-do lists and regular chores instead of lesson plans and semester schedules.

If every Wednesday is gym day at school, then why can't every Wednesday in the Carlton House be wash-the-sheets-and-towels day? If every morning there's a moment for circle time, why not use that post-breakfast slot to throw in the laundry each morning? If every Monday means show and tell for the class, why not make it meatloaf muffin night for the family?

And that's when I thought about turning my life around, becoming the CEO of my family's business and the headmistress of our home life.

It might sound crazy, but it works for us. And I think, had I broken down my daunting challenges one block schedule at a time, I wouldn't have felt so overwhelmed when crossing that threshold from "me" to "we."

No matter what stage you're in, set some time aside and think about when you went to school: the daily, weekly, and quarterly challenges throughout your academic career. Parallel that with a list of regular chores and tasks that simply need to be done.

Even if you miss vacuum-the-stairs day because life throws you a curveball, it's OK … there's always next week, at which point you'll know the stairs need to be done, not wonder when you last vacuumed them!

Start small by scheduling a certain type of dinner for the same night of the week—and don't make it boring. Rotate four recipes for chicken on Tuesdays, four pastas on Sundays, and don't forget to add Friday pizza night to the calendar. You'll feel less guilty ordering takeout on nights things implode knowing you've cooked five meals in a row!

Before you know it, life will be running smoother, and you'll be able to carve out time to do the things you truly enjoy and not stress about the things you haven't done.

Diane Carlton is a regular contributor to HealthyWomen.org. As a full-time writer and mother of three children, she spends her days trying to get it all done...and finding the time to blog about it.  Check back often to read real-life stories from the trenches of ay busy mother and maybe take away a well intentioned tip or two.

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