By Carissa Douglas
This past Saturday we went to a wedding for a lovely couple. So lovely were they, that our WHOLE family was invited and so lovely were they, that we were willing to get ten children ready for their blessed event.
It was a beautiful, holy experience, but it inspired me to write up a list of very smart things to do when getting children ready for an extra special, fancy event (most of which can also be applied to getting everyone ready for Mass on Sunday mornings). Some of these smart things we remembered to do and it made everything run more smoothly. Some things we forgot, which is a good reason for me to write these down.
1. Try on and lay out everything! I had picked out all of the dresses for our six girls. Not good enough. Time getting ready is lost in finding the accessories and other little things. For girls, set out dresses, tights, sweaters (if needed) hair accessories, a dressier coat (weather dictating) and SHOES. Have them try on their complete outfit (minus the hair accessories) at least a few days before the wedding. My brains starts to twitch when on the morning of an event suddenly shoes don't seem to fit right, or a dress suddenly feels itchy, tights won't stay up, or we encounter a vanishing sweater epidemic.
Boys need to have pants, under shirts, dress shirts, ties (if called for), pants, nicer coat and SHOES ready. Again, have them try everything on or the punishment will be a morning met with the discovery that they've shot up two inches in two days and their pants are now too short, socks are holey and dress shirts have strange unidentifiable marks.
I'm also convinced that shoe elves are real and they take swank shoes (usually one from each pair) and stash them away in exotic lands. Someday I'll go there, but for now I will set out perfectly fitting shoes for each child the night before the event, after the toddlers have been secured in their beds... moment of insight: shoes elves may actually be toddlers in disguise.
2. Give yourself more than enough time. My husband gives a necessary departure time that always builds in a half hour cushion. I know that the cushion's there, but I strive to meet the time stipulated, in an effort to be (dare I say it) early. I also factor in the time I think it will take me to get everyone ready and then add on an extra hour. Giving yourselves enough time also means making sure you have time to get yourself ready first - kind of like the idea of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting your children on an airplane. You'll be less stressed if you don't have, "I haven't even gotten myself ready yet!" looping in the back of your mind. But you may also want to perfect the art of doing your make-up in the car just in case.
3. Treat the hairbrush like it's "your Precious" - Kept in a secure (or better yet secret) location with no one but you touching it. With daughters, a lost hairbrush is a very scary state of affairs that can and will lead to heart palpitations. Hair should be brushed out completely the night before, so that hair styling time in the morning is minimized, as is the flood of tears that are associated with wildly knotted hair... and if somehow your little princess tosses and turns in the night like a seal with serious psoriasis, remember that braids, Princess Leia style or otherwise, work wonderfully in hiding tangles. Boys aren't off the hook either. Make sure you have a plan of attack for major bed head. I'll admit to cutting off chunks of stubborn hair in a morning of weakness - try not to let it get to that.
4. Cargo check list and prep. Small members often require a diaper bag of sorts. The diaper bag needs to be replenished the night before the event and set out in a conspicuous place. Ensure a good supply of diapers, wipes, sippy cups and bottles (if needed), snacks, and important baby care items. Strollers can be loaded into the vehicle the night before and I also pre-pack an emergency peed-your-pants bag. All potty trained toddlers have back up underwear and appropriate clothing, extra sleepers for infants and even a few larger clothing items for older children who are prone to spills. This bag can live in your vehicle so you're ready anytime for any surprise leaks. For me, I pack body spray. I've had pools of spit-up in my lap, on my shirt and in my hair and have discovered that some people aren't partial to the scent ofeau de vomit. My emergency sweet smelling bodyspray, means I can go through the reception line without appearing stand-offish. A little hug here and there.
5. Contain chaos-inducing small people. Our children are twelve and under, so we have some helpers in our home, but when we're busy getting ready for an event, we can all get distracted with preparations. That's why we need to contain the littlest members of our family. Highchairs have pleasant harnessing systems, so we set up snacks for them (picked out the night before) and blissfully skip back to our impending tasks. Usually, we have a responsible child to check in on them every few minutes. This saves us from total anarchy: toddlers dipping shoes in toilets, hiding purses in diaper pails, you know, anarchy stuff.
6. Final check going into the van... and coming out of the van. Everyone is given a once over when they climb into the van. We do a roll call inside the van, because I was left behind by accident as a child (*sniff* I'm not ready to talk about it yet) and a "once more" over when we arrive at our destination. I have diaper wipes on hand to wipe any faces that bear the remnants of breakfast or snacks and I make sure that the shoes that were removed during the voyage are located and reunited with their small, chubby feet.
7. Don't forget the pre-event pep talk. Prior to arriving to our destination, we spend some time talking about the event we'll be attending and going over our expectations. If there is a Mass involved, we remind them of the rules we have regarding behavior at Mass: quiet voices, staying in one place (no musical pews), keeping hands to yourself, reverent posture. This practice has really helped with our children's behavior. The reminders are fresh in their minds, so it is easier for them to recall and there is a greater understanding of our expectations.
8. Expect the unexpected. This one is a biggie. As well prepared as we attempt to be, we can never completely anticipate the possible misadventures to come. Our children did really well at the wedding ceremony and we had made plans on how we would fill the time between the wedding and reception. We started to pack the kids in the van and as our daughter climbed up the step towards her seat, she turned around and said, "I don't feel so well." She then leaned her head out the door and threw up in the parking lot. Yup. So we took a long unanticipated drive to Grandma's house to drop off our little sickling and arrived back just in time for appetizers. The crazy thing is that neither my husband nor I seemed too fazed. We've learned to expect the unexpected.
9. Be creative. This is helpful when faced with the unexpected. One time we were within metres of arriving to an event held at a church, when our car sick prone daughter emptied the contents of her stomach onto her dress. Mass was just about to start, so Patrick took the kids into the church, while I created a new dress for our daughter using my slip, some safety pins, a scarf I found under a seat and her sweater. Crazy times. Actually an event that is relatively "uneventful" is a bit of a rarity. So much is out of our hands, but a willingness to improvise and to face each situation calmly and with a sense of humor has helped us tremendously.
10. Pray. Seriously pray. This is the step that will help everything come together in spite of the potential chaos. It will give you what is needed to face each task with grace, patience and even joy. You may appreciate the extra graces that God can give your children too and there's a good chance you'll need Saint Anthony's intercession if one of your shoe elves/toddlers manages to break free and wreak havoc! If I pray during the week leading up to big events, I know that somehow everything will work out. And it really does.
I know this seems like a dauntingly big list (this is by far my longest post), but it's something that has become somewhat natural - almost instinctual for my husband and I, and in the end I always try to keep in mind that nothing's going to be perfect in the way I'd hope it would be, but we're doing something good for our family. We're creating memories (some cringe worthy) and bearing witness to the beauty of a family that prays, eats, dances, laughs and embraces life together. So all the crazy prep stuff is worth it. I'm also considering starting my own fashion line made solely from slips and scarves.