The advertisements show a perky mom flipping pancakes, squeezing fresh orange juice and smiling cheerfully as her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed children politely eat their breakfast, brush their teeth (with toothpaste no less!) and then grab their pre-organized backpacks to march calmly out the door on the way to school, at least five minutes ahead of schedule. They probably said thank you to their mother also.
It's a fantasy image guaranteed to provoke tooth-grinding and expressions not suitable for this forum.
A more typical morning usually involves waking up tired, grumpy children who have no burning desire to go to school. Some of them demonstrate this lack of interest by immediately rolling over and going back to sleep, thereby necessitating precious minutes devoted to repeated rousing.
There's never the right cereal in the house despite the 11 varieties in the cabinet. No one brings tuna sandwiches for lunch. We are out of frozen pizza and peanut butter has been outlawed (when did peanut allergies take over the planet?). One girl won't lend her sister a sweater and one child is always slow to get ready, provoking angry attacks from her siblings and more unprintable expressions from her mother.
When everyone is finally in the car, teeth brushed (toothpaste optional), a sullen silence reigns only to be broken by a fight over which CD to play. This is frequently followed by a long list of items forgotten at home (one lunch, one crucial loose-leaf) as well as a list of school supplies that are due yesterday.
How does the average mother survive? Sure there are time-saving techniques: get everything ready the night before (I've heard that some children even sleep in their uniforms!), make to-do lists and to-buy lists, assign chores and responsibilities. All those efforts help. But the real issue is attitude.
In an area where there are no buses and I drive my children to school every day, I'd like our interactions to be positive. I'd like them to go school feeling loved and supported, and looking forward to returning home at the end of the day!
We have to make a decision about the importance of our relationship with our children that trumps our own tiredness and frustration.
It's sometimes helpful to get up earlier than the kids do (which is often thwarted by their choosing that very day to also rise early) and by an early injection of caffeine.
But in the end it's like all challenging situations -- a test of will and patience, requiring constant focus on the end goal. We have to make a decision about the importance of our relationship with our children that trumps our own tiredness and frustration. We have to be the adult, whatever the temptation to revert to more childlike behavior.
We have to be calm and patient and friendly no matter the cost or provocation. We have a very limited time with our children in the mornings and we want to use it productively.
I would advocate cold cereal over eggs and toast if it makes a difference in attitude and results in a less harried mom. (Around here we say an extra prayer of thanks for the creation of frozen waffles) And then lots of smiling. Smile as you ignore the fighting. Smile as you usher them out the door. Smile as you return for forgotten permission slips.
Some mornings it's really not easy. One of my teachers said that she uses the morning when everyone is together to review important Torah concepts. That seems beyond my grasp. I'm just grateful if I don't scream. Every day of calm is a real accomplishment.
Some days it takes longer to wake everyone up than others. Some days the fighting is more prevalent, more lasting. So everyday, regardless what has happened, I give my children as blessing as they leave the car (and before they slam the door shut), "Have a great day. Remember God loves you. Learn Torah and do chessed (kindness). Be b'simcha (happy)." Then I try to follow my own advice.