4 Moms Q&A: sleep, exercise, and making do with one bathroom

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Well, the Headmistress may like to talk about food on the second Thursday of every month, but my favorite is the fourth week of the month, in which we answer questions from you. Lest you think too highly of me, I’ll confess right away that it’s my favorite because I’m lazy.  This is the post where I don’t have to ramble on trying to sound knowledgeable.  I can mumble “I dunno” and move right on to the next question.  I also don’t have to think of what to write about because you all are providing the topics.  That makes it easy, and I like easy.

Of course, sometimes it’s not so easy because some of these questions are hard. If you would ask me how and why an algebraic formula works, I could help, but ask how to keep moody teens from bickering and you’re more likely to get a deer-in-the-headlights look followed by a lot of theoretical hypothesizing about what I should probably be doing differently.

Now that I can cross that question off the list, let’s try some easier ones.

Click below for the audio version with extra material and bonus bunny trails:

Listen to 4 Moms Q&A, #2

Sound quality may be low in certain browsers; if that’s the case, right click and save before you listen.

1. Elizabeth R asked:
I have a question about beans as you mentioned that your family eats a lot of bean. How do you cook dried beans so that they do not become a mushy mess? I do fairly well in soups, but for something like Chili, without the broth to cushion them they become “mashed beans” when I try to add other ingredients. I would love to get away from the high-priced cans if possible.

We like our beans very soft, so we don’t mind if they get a little mashed.  However, if you like firmer beans, you would probably love them cooked in a pressure cooker.  It’s very convenient and economical too, since they cook in just a few minutes rather than all day on the stovetop or in the slow cooker.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker/canner, I highly recommend you get one. and actually use it. If you do have one, don’t be afraid of the thing.  Make the most of it, and let me know your favorite uses so I can make the most of mine!

2. Michelle Ross wants to know:

Can you post pictures of the bunk beds with the safety rails? How much did it cost to order the rails and did you only get them for the top 2 on each set?

We only allowed the older children to sleep on the top two levels of the bunk beds, but we still ordered rails for them right away for the sake of safety.  We got them directly from the manufacturer.  They’re a little behind the times; we had to order by phone, then send an old-fashioned check by Pony Express, er, snail mail before they shipped the rails.  It didn’t take too long, though.  I think we had them in less than 2 weeks.

Later, we decided to order more rails for the lower levels as well.  They make the unit look a little neater and help keep the bedding from slipping around or threatening to slide out entirely.

Lovely patchwork quilt from Marie Madeline Studio.  Note the pocket knife.

The rails were about $15 each including shipping, which means that overall we would have been slightly better off to simply buy another set of shelves from Costco, cart the 180 lb. box across the parking lot and cram it into our van, haul it up 12 steps onto the deck, keep the 8 rails included, and throw away the excess parts.  For some reason Perry didn’t see it this way and opted to let the FedEx guy bring the rails right to our door.

3. theresa asks the big question on everyone’s mind:

How do you work one bathroom?

The short answer is: barely.  It was pretty easy 6 years ago when most of the kids were little and there were less of them.  Now that nearly everyone in the house wants or needs daily showers, it’s becoming a balancing act.

But keep in mind that just one or two generations ago it was nearly unheard of to have more than one bathroom, and households our size were not really unusual.  This is what we keep telling each other while we stand in line outside the bathroom door.

Oh – and we actually do have more than one restroom.  There’s an additional facility outside for the males in the family.  It’s called The Woods. 😀

4. Claire is curious:

I have a question about naptimes with your little ones… I have a 1yr old and one on the way and I feel like my life revolves around her naptimes (2 a day now). How do you handle naptimes with your younger children and do you plan things around their naps, or just expect them to learn to sleep wherever they are? I was wondering how this works in a large family where it may be hard to coordinate those kind of things perfectly.

When everyone was young, naps were a fixed part of the day and we did everything in our power to schedule around them.  The very young ones could sleep in carseats if necessary, but it was hardly convenient and there was still the question of 4 and 5yo’s who did best with naps but might have to do without.

Now I have babysitters everywhere I look.  If we have to go out in the middle of the day and a little one falls asleep in the carseat, I’m nearly guaranteed to have a teen near at hand who will beg to stay in the car with a sleeping toddler and a good book or her iPod.

As our schedule has become more flexible over the years, I have found that my children become more flexible as well.  Back in the days of rigid naptimes, my 2yo would fall apart if she didn’t get her nap on time.  Now that we often fly by the seat of our figurative pants, we find that our little ones can skip a nap now and then without dire or drastic consequences.

I must conclude that children are highly adaptable, and schedules are for the sake and sanity of the parent even more than for the good of the child.

5. Sarah has another sleep-related question:

Do you have any problems with your children sleeping? We have a toddler who wakes in the small hours, often due to itching from a skin problem, but then wakes his sibling in the same room. We are working on treatment for the skin but this causes a fair amount of disruption.

At the risk of sounding harsh or flippant, I’ll ask: Why is it a problem if he wakes his sibling?  Maybe I’m a mean mom, but I expect my children to fall back to sleep with a minimum of fuss if they’re awakened during the night.  I tell them, “Stay in bed.  Be quiet.  Go back to sleep.”  And eventually, they do.  They might fidget or whisper to each other for a bit or get up to use the bathroom, but that’s ok.  They’ll doze off, and if they’re very little they might sleep a little later or take a longer nap the next day.

6. Sandy wants to know:

You’ve said before that you wear clothes more than once if they are still clean enough.  I’m wondering if you have a system or a place for putting the worn-but-not-yet-dirty clothes, or do you just put them back in the cupboard with the clean ones?  It seems that we often end up with piles of clothes that are waiting to be worn again….

We have a variety of methods for handling this in our house.  I like to fold mine neatly and drape them over a chair if I’ll be wearing them again the next day, and if they aren’t perfectly clean that’s the only alternative to the laundry hamper.  If I don’t plan to wear them that soon, I hang them in the closet again.  I don’t think this is a problem with clothes that still look and smell completely clean.
If I think Perry will want to wear a shirt again, I often hang it from a coat hook next to our bedroom door rather than inside the closet.
Most of the children find it simpler to put their clean-but-worn articles of clothing on the floor or under the bed until they’re dirty, then they can put them in the laundry.

7. Liz p flatters me with her assumption that I exercise:

How do you find time to exercise, especially when there are no children old enough to baby sit yet?

Me? Exercise?! Well, laughing is great for the abdominal muscles.

Honestly, remember that time I started walking when I was pregnant with Parker?  And the entire extended family thought I had been kidnapped? Because nobody could entertain the possible that I might be walking for exercise?

OK, I do exercise  a little.  When I had lots of littles I actually exercised much more, and I suspect that’s closer to what you wanted to know anyway.

I really didn’t find it difficult, but maybe that’s because my notion of exercise differs from others:

  • I put a baby in a backpack and 2 or 3 toddlers in a double stroller and hauled everyone to the library, the store, and any other destination within walking distance.  If I wanted a more rigorous workout, I carried a heavier toddler and let the baby ride in the stroller.
  • When Perry and I had a lawn mowing business one summer, I begged to do the mowing in the evenings while he stayed home with the wee ones.
  • I ran up and down the stairs on every excuse that arose rather than waiting and combining trips.
  • I did various floor exercises and body weight exercises with babies and toddlers around, under and on me.  Try a couple of pushups with a monkey on your back.  You’ll get in shape pretty quickly.
  • I carried babies and toddlers on my hip through much of the day.  Great for toning the arms.  Breastfeeding without a special pillow or other support is also helpful.

I think you get the idea.  A mom’s life can be very active, and your physical fitness is far more limited by your activity choices than by the number and age of your children.

8. Lora wonders:

How do you handle sunscreen? It is apparent that your family is outside for many hours a day. Do you all wear sunscreen, do only some of you wear it, how do you afford it, and who is responsible for making sure that you are all slathered up when necessary?

We’re probably not outside in the direct sun as much as you think – we do most of our outdoor stuff early or late in the day.  Because of that, we don’t often wear sunscreen.  We don’t worry about sunscreen unless we’re likely to wind up with sunburns, e.g. swimming  or in direct sun for extended periods while the sun is high.
There are some questions about the safety of sunscreen, and with a few exceptions, we’re not prone to burn easily.  Our children have Indian heritage on both sides of the family, and even our redhead is the darker type, with brown eyes and unfreckled skin that tans more readily than it burns.
If there does seem to be a chance of getting burned, I usually make sure that we have vulnerable areas covered with either cloth or sunblock.  This means the little ones often swim with a t-shirt to protect arms and shoulder, and I sometimes encourage our redhead to swim in capri pants if we’re going to be in direct sun for a long time.

9. Malia had a whole list of questions.  I’ll answer some now and save some for later:

How do you train older siblings to help younger siblings and how do you train younger siblings to be respectful of older siblings?

I think it largely comes to down the behavior we model for our children.  These 2 questions are tightly connected because they touch on the concept of the servant-leader.
A good leader doesn’t just wield power; a good leader serves those he rules.  Christ was the ultimate example of this, and we emulate this in our own relationships by serving those under our authority: the husband serves the family, the wife serves the children, the older children serve the younger ones. Yes, it goes both ways, but if you were worrying about that just now, you’re missing the point. This service can and ought to take many forms, but as a whole it becomes a picture of Christ’s sacrificial love for His people.
At the same time, out of respect for God we must honor those who have authority over us and we teach our children to do the same.  Little ones don’t just learn to obey Dad and Mom as directed in Ephesians 6:1.  They learn to obey Big Sister, because God said to obey your parents and your parents told you to obey Big Sister, or because Mom gave her authority over you, and if you disobey her you are disobeying Mom.  When they get a little older, they begin to understand that all authority flows out of God and we obey those in authority over us out of respect for God, even if we don’t like the way a particular authority is acting.
All this may be more than your 3yo can grasp right away, but if you understand it and begin communicating it to your children they will get it when they’re ready.

10. Malia also wants to know:

How often do you really sweep and mop your floors. Mine always look dusty and have an assortment of things on them. Crumbs, toys, paper, food, etc… What time of day??

We sweep constantly, and mop not nearly often enough.  We have a small house with lots of foot traffic in a very dusty climate.  If that’s not enough, we have 3 dogs and a very large cat in the house.  If that’s not enough, I can probably come up with more excuses.  I’m good at them.
I can also make you feel better about your floors by assuring you that mine are dirtier than yours, even though we just finished sweeping and will sweep again in a few hours or less.

Solution: you need floors that hide dirt better. I recommend tile or linoleum in a print that helps camouflage dirt, pet hair, crumbs, wads of paper, crayons, pillows, socks and underwear, and small children.  Then your floors will look nice.
That’s all for today, folks.  I have a few questions left over for the next session, and if you have a question of your own, you can ask in the comments on this post.

The other moms:

Upcoming topics:

  • er…it’s a surprise. Because we don’t know yet.

Recent topics:

  • April 21 – Large families & church, part 2: keeping them quiet
  • April 14 – Eating inexpensively on the road
  • April 7 – 4 Moms teach history
  • March 24 – Large families & church, part 1: getting there on time
  • March 17 – Bread baking linky
  • March 10 – Spring cleaning
  • March 3 – Books for early readers
  • February 24 – 4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more
  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
  • January 27 – Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff
  • January 20 – Top 10 Books for Preschoolers
  • January 13 – Soups and Stews
  • January 6 – Teaching Bible
  • Comments

    1. I grew up with only one bathroom and lots of girls, we had the woods to use as well…..but lets just say some some memories of dancing the bathroom dance outside the bathroom while someone was taking even a quick shower, prompted me looking for a house with a second bathroom. It is nice to just have a water closet with a toilet, or even just a room with a mirror and sink for the hair and teeth brushing!

    2. I think I ask questions on here lol… Do y’all vaccinate your children? Why or why not? Favorite healthy meal? Do you pack your husbands lunch?

    3. Do you find exposing your children to diversity more difficult whilst homeschooling? And if so, do you make any special efforts to ensure that they spend time with people of /from different races/ethnicities, family types, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds? I ask because I am interested in homeschooling, but lack of diversity is a concern for me.

    4. I would love a four moms post on how you handle the Lord’s supper. I have several questions.

      My church observes the Lord’s supper every Sunday, and every Sunday my husband and I stumble over answering the question, “Why can’t we have a cracker and some juice?” My blessings are six and under.

      My husband’s parents didn’t become Christians until he was a teen, and the family I grew up in didn’t really hold the same reverence that we are trying to teach our children. Everyone got their cracker and juice regardless. The little ones among us were “practicing.”

      Explaining salvation is so slippery for me. My children would protest that they are following Jesus, but are they really?

      How do you know your children have committed their lives to Christ? What age is it possible? I’ve heard of four year olds getting saved, but is it authentic?

      I’m kinda critical of having a “getting saved” moment exactly. It seems more of a commitment and process.

      I hope I’m making some kind of sense.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this, and the thoughts of the other Moms of Many. I have a lot of respect for you all.

    5. I have a Four Moms topic for I’d love to see all of you discuss… Hope this is an ok place to make the request.

      I’d love to see all four of you talk about extra-curriculars. What do you do? (sports, music lessons, clubs…) How often? Curious about how much costs and being a large family factors in to that decision and how much is just preference or principal.


    6. Thank you for another wonderful Q & A Thursday.
      I am commenting today because this is when I was able to listen to the audio eventhough I had read the post last Thursday. That means I have reading time and not as much audio time.
      The audio was great-I loved the description of your home. Of course, it only served to make we wish when I pushed play that instead of an empty grey screen coming up, a beautiful shot of what you were looking at through the vehicle window could come up. Humans are never satisfied and we always want more. Maybe I should just speak for myself! : )
      Thank you for the sacrifice of your time to do these posts for us!!! I for one have learned so much from you and been encouraged.

    7. Andrea says:

      I love the audio recording! Please keep doing them! 🙂

    8. When you had only littles, how did you handle shopping and potty training and/or recently potty trained kiddos? I don’t really want to deal with “potty clean up on isle 5!” Embarrassing for all involved!

    9. Whitney says:

      As for suggestions for exercise…get up for a walk/jog before husband leaves for work…..exercise DVD that you can do while little ones nap….if you have any equipment (ex. treadmill) do it while kids are napping, playing, etc. I really believe that we will make time for what is important to us and exercise is important to me because of health benefits and looking/feeling good for my husband. I homeschool my 7 kids so some days after putting baby down for morning nap, I make sure all kids are settled into school work and I bring the toddler & preschooler with me into the garage and I jog on treadmill for 30 min while they ride trikes, play with balls, etc.

    10. I have theological questions.

      1) What translation of the Bible do you read?

      2) Do you encourage questions from your children over interpretations?

      3) How do you discuss other religions or interpretations?

    11. I’ve got a question for next time!

      How do you (if you do) cut corners and save $$ when eating out with a large family? Our family numbers 8. 3 adults (my mom, hubby and I) and 5 (that eat real food) kids.
      We only sit down at a ‘nice’ (LOL) place once or twice a month, because it’s getting very expensive, even with ordering the lesser priced items. Even drive through is getting costly.

      Any tips?

    12. I really love the audio too. I like to listen as I’m doing other things. I like the bunny trails too!

    13. Heather L says:

      Thank you for doing the audio again. I prefer being able to do other things while I listen rather than sit and read. I also like the extra personality that comes through.

    14. When we had one bathroom with only six littles, we often had to use the toilet, potty chair, and bath tub simultaneously. (Bath tub was only for those who needed to relieve their bladders.) Yep, kinda gross, I know. We are so thankful now to have not one, not two, but FOUR bathrooms with our family of twelve. Problem: the septic is sized for a family of four.

    15. To Camille,

      4 Children under 5 is a super challenge. A couple of thoughts,

      ~ In my state (Kansas) children don’t need to legally be in school until 7 years old.

      ~ Once a child can read they can do very well on their own with most subjects.

      ~ At this point I would get down a good schedule and only try to do school with the 5 year old if/when all or most of the other kids are napping. I know it is a challenge to get 3 others napping, but it is VERY worth it.

      ~My 5 year old’s school only takes about a half an hour (phonics & math) I use ABeka for teaching these. I know we would all LOVE to do the whole sha-bang with all of our children including science, nature studies, and all kinds of other wonderful things, but God knew how many children you would have and how close together, so if you can only teach the basics while allowing the others to learn through playing at this early stage, I am sure they will still be smart children later. : ) …at least that’s what I’m hoping for mine.

      ~Although your children are a little young for it you may want to check out Robinson Self-teaching curriculum. It has a very good philosophy on families with many children…because once your sweeties are all school age it will be difficult to conduct school “Public school style” with you teaching several lessons over many grades without a curriculum that either blends grades, or where they teach themselves and you over see like Robinson. It’s VERY economical, and worth a look! : )

    16. Samantha says:

      Just so other ppl know that being Native doesn’t mean you won’t burn. Being mostly Native I know better then to be outside without some sunblock on my nose unless I really want to fit the stereotypical “redskin” LOL

    17. I enjoy listening to you! For both your audio posts now I’ve cleaned the room I was in while I listened, though with little ones bouncing around me, I think I missed bits.)

    18. Thank you for answering the question about training the kids to be respectful. It put a new light on some things for me that I hadnt thought of before. You are totally right that its all about a servants heart. I think it might put an end to some of my issues with my smaller kids. Again, Thank you!

    19. My mother was one of ten children, and most of the houses they lived in had an outhouse.

      She told stories of boiling water over a fire in the yard to do the laundry too.

    20. I have a question maybe you can answer. I have four children ages 5 and under. We want to homeschool but I am having an extremely difficult time finding the time to do it on a regular basis. On a good day I’ll devote about 30 minutes to schooling, but that’s really hit and miss. It seems that someone always needs a diaper changed (2 in diapers) or nursed or fed…etc. Thankfully, my 5 year old does read so that’s one hurdle already overcome, but I do not feel I am doing a good job of schooling her otherwise. Any suggestions?

    21. Have you considered setting up an outdoor shower for a quick bath before bed? My parents have one set up to use before getting into their pool. It is a delight to use on a hot summer day.

      • Roxie,
        I love the idea of an outdoor shower. We’ve talked about it several times, but the children threatened revolt because of concerns over privacy. 🙂

    22. Regarding floors that camouflage dirt, I have looked and looked for linoleum in Mossy Oak camouflage pattern. I must be the only one though, because I can’t find anything close. (No, I won’t pay for custom ceramic tiles). But surely there must be others out there who would love floors that looked like you were walking through the forest? Where dirt is expected?

    23. I’ve never seen 4-high bunk beds! My husband would LOVE them!! I don’t usually share blogs with him, but he has GOT to see these! Thanks for sharing! Where did you get them?

      joyfulmotherof5 +1 on the way

    24. I get so many laughs when I come here…and a lot of reassurance that our big family is OK with all our foibles and idiosyncrasies. (had to do a spell check on both words)
      thanks for sharing…

    25. Question for next time:
      Why is the use for the “woods” limited to the men and the boys? I mean years ago………….the men and the women and all other children were using the outdoors.

      Seriously, I think putting up a little outhouse by the animal barn would be great…………..no more tracking through the house for litle trips to the 1 man bathroom.

      So if years ago they got by on one bathroom…………they also got by with an outhouse………….

      • jane,
        I’m with you on this one, but certain other parties think I’m crazy. There might be problems with waste disposal too – rules and times have changed, and our society is extra squeamish about human waste.

    Don't just think it: say it!

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