When The Man works an ICU rotation the kids feel like he’s out of town for a week. He leaves long before they’re awake and comes home long after they’re in bed. As any parent can tell you, young kids tend to act out and test boundaries when the household dynamic shifts. Maintaining familiar routines when Daddy is gone provides stability and comfort for our crew, but they also benefit from a bit of novelty thrown into the week. Our kids are always calmed by good outdoor play so I cringed when the weather forecast predicted heavy rain for four of the first five days this week. We take the kids out to play in all weather, but it’s just harder to pull off hours splashing in the mud when there are two shivering wet babies in tow and only one parent to handle the necessary post-mud cleanup and drying. Instead, every day this week during the kids’ nap I’ve prepared a simple tray with their snack and sippy cups, a few books, and a picnic tablecloth. When I get the twins up from their naps I announced that it’s special day. Instead of having snack time in their booster chairs as usual, we’ll be having a picnic in the living room! (/library/porch/bedroom…). To add to the novelty I picked up Cheez It crackers, a favorite treat the kids rarely get. We spread the picnic blanket in the room of the day, set out the snacks (deliberately low-crumble/smear food items like hard crackers and apples), put on some classical music, and settle in for some read-alouds while they eat. It’s turned into a surprisingly sweet and calm time that I enjoy myself.
As a kid we always had meals at the table. Snacking around the house wasn’t allowed, so it felt very special when my Mom would call us to a Sunday afternoon tea with scones in the living room, or when we ate dinner around the fire on a cold winter evening. My kids are no different; though they always have an afternoon snack and we often read them books and listen to music the novelty of all three with a “picnic” clears their mood and puts them on their best behavior.
As a side note, our in-home picnics are definitely easier with a few minutes quiet preparation and thought. It always amazes me that tasks that take five minutes (like prepping the snack and selecting books) turn into half hour jobs when the kids are on the move. I also make sure in advance that there’s a place to put each baby if I need to set them down. Jenny’s crawling now, and would love nothing better than a marauding romp through the twins’ plates of food on the floor. Extra baby seats help me juggle the two babies and their feedings while I read. Books and the internet are full of ideas for ways to entertain your kids, but they’re often not a good fit for us. Indoor picnics are one of those activities that just wouldn’t have worked with our kids six months ago. At two and a half they’d still likely have stepped in the plates, been jumping up and down through the meal, or crumbled their food into the rug for the joy of it. At three, it suddenly works well and provides a daily bright spot in long days with one Mom and four small children.