When I was a single parent, I would get up at 6am to get ready before my kids woke up — all advice for how to get ready in the morning recommends this. But then the kids realized that if they woke up early they could watch videos, because what else is there to give the kids to keep them from fighting? So then I'd get up at 5:30, to get ready for work in peace, and then the kids got up at 5:30 with me.
1. Get a schedule and stick to it.
I made a visual schedule for each of us, which I learned about from my son's occupational therapist because people with Asperger's often forget what they are doing next, or get anxious if they don't have a clear list of tasks. It helped a lot, but it didn't overcome having two boys doing the tasks at the same time. Can someone tell me when brothers stop fighting with each other over everything? And are we the only family that has a violent wedgie problem after reading Captain Underpants?
2. Forget the Norman Rockwell vision of breakfast.
I almost never listen to advice about what to feed kids because when my first son was sixteen months old, he was failure to thrive. He basically stopped eating, due to sensory integration issues, and his energy got so low that he stopped being able to pull himself up to standing. He was just days from being admitted to the hospital when a doctor told me I had to get fat into him. I said, “What about vitamins?” And the doctor said that before a child is three, fat is what really matters.
I was shocked. I followed my son around all day with spoonfuls of butter, and I kept him out of the hospital until a feeding therapist could force-feed him other high-fat content foods, like, ice cream and French fries.
So look, after living through that, I am not susceptible to articles about parents stressing that their kids don't eat enough vegetables. Whatever. I mean, they're eating. Just be grateful.
3. Skip sugar in the morning. It’s like crack.
But I do think that if my kids eat sugar for breakfast, they will have a sugar crash before lunch, at school, and sneaking a sugar-laden pick-me-up is not going to fly with the teachers. So I make them eat stuff without extra sugar.
The farmer eats hamburger for breakfast. No kidding. He thinks a meal is not a meal without meat, and he used to eat pork for breakfast, but if you want to know what it looks like to have Jews on a pig farm, picture an Egg McMuffin with a hamburger in it.
The kids aren't going for that. They want to know why they can't have Sugar Pops.
“There's a free Nintendo in each box!” they tell me.
I tell them it's only the potential to win one in each box. But that they will not win one.
They think I'm a pessimist and they continue to clamor.
This makes me think I should market the farmer's beef as hotdogs with the potential to win a dream team to kill the Pokemon Elite Four. My fine print will say, “One winner every ten years. And offer applies only to people who have all their Pokemon at level 80 or higher.”
4. Reward good behavior.
The kids get a star each morning they successfully follow the plan, and they can use twenty stars to get a new Pokemon cartridge.
Wait. Are there any Pokemon geniuses here? Because I am convinced that video games are educational, I've been letting my kids become completely obsessed over Pokemon Platinum. But I started reading about it, because honestly I had no idea if it's a cult or what, but it turns out that the game is actually very collaborative.
People always ask me what Generation Z will be like. First of all, I think they will all be great at getting ready for work in the morning because their moms were so structured in the morning so they weren't late for work. But also, generation Z will be exceptionally collaborative because they are playing games like Pokemon that you can't win unless you collaborate, via electronics.
For example, my son somehow figured out how to trade Pokemon on his DSi without me ever telling him it was possible. And then he started begging me to go to Madison, which he normally hates driving to because it always means he has a violin lesson. I thought it meant that all the structure I am providing with violin has finally made him love the idea of schedules leading to achievement. But he wants to go to Madison really only so he can find other kids, via some DSi built-in tool, to trade with.
So the Gen Z workforce will expect to work in teams constantly, from their remote locations. This is a good time to link to the location independent site that blows me away with the community’s assumption that working remotely is a God-given right. Because I think, in ten years, it will be.
What will people with Asperger's do? Collaboration is not our strength, after all. And if you talk about Gen Z, you have to also talk about Asperger's because no generation will have more kids diagnosed with this. Ever. My son decided that he needed a second DSi and a second cartridge (Pokemon Perl) so that he could be both himself and the friend he needs to trade with.
5. Try breaking some rules.
I think a lot about how a generation of Asperger-diagnosed workers will change corporate America. Maybe the people with Asperger's will be the innovators. This is what I was thinking when:
I tried making waffles for my kids every morning. All advice says do not make fancy breakfasts on school days, but I thought this would shake things up. It did. But in a bad way.
I tried drinking. The house manager arrived at the house shortly after I got the kids to school and recommended some wine as a way to cope. At first I thought she was crazy, but then I thought: This is thinking out of the box.
I tried having my house manager come early, to help me. I did not actually think of this. I like to think of it as crowdsourcing my morning routine. Commenters told me to hire someone. And it worked.
But now that I'm married, it seems to me that I should be able to get the kids out of the house by following the mainstream advice in magazines. The farmer helps me as I move the kids through getting dressed, doing farm chores, practicing their instruments, and eating breakfast.
By the time we get to breakfast, I am so in love with the kids for getting through everything else, that I become a short-order cook. Today I made quesadillas for my five-year-old and oatmeal for my seven-year-old. The older one announced that the light in the house was too bright and he needed to eat his oatmeal with sunglasses.
“Fine,” I said. “Get yourself a spoon.”
Then he announced that the smell of quesadillas was making him sick.
“I don't believe it,” I said. “You've been eating quesadillas since you were three. You love them.”
“No,” he said. “They are disgusting. I'm going to throw up they smell so bad.”
And then he did.
“Clean it up before you eat your oatmeal,” I said.
I have to be very casual about his throwing up. He can do it on demand and I can't let him control me by grossing me out. If nothing else, he could threaten my stream of family productivity with the threat of throwing up, and this would make morning routines impossible. Such clear thinking makes me feel like a smart mom when I say “clean it up,” but only at home. Saying the same thing in public sounds heartless and does not go over well with bystanders.
While my older son is earnestly cleaning up vomit by using a dry paper towel to spread it around so the whole house will smell like vomit in an hour, my youngest sees an opportunity to improvise our morning script and he turns the quesadilla into a space ship.
I am about to remind the kids where we are in our visual schedule when my older son goes outside on the porch to eat.
I tell him, “Good job finding a solution to your problem.”
And I pat myself on the back that I've made it through another morning without tearing my heart out.