Q. As summer nears its end I'm remembering all the bedlam, the tears, the anxiety that go on in this house on school mornings. Are we the only family who can't get it together?
We have a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl, and Janey, who is 5 and starting kindergarten, so it could get worse.
Every year I make rules, but something must be wrong. If it's not the field trip money that's forgotten, it's the jacket that's lost or a fight over who gets the last Mallomar for lunch. When they've left it looks like a cyclone has hit the house and I feel like one has hit me too.
A. From the suggestions we've heard mothers exchange, and from 11,072 mistakes of our own, we do have some recommendations, but the best ones will be those that you and your full family hammer out together. It's hard to follow rules if you haven't helped make them.
There are some universal truths, however: (1) The school morning is the roughest time of the day, and (2) The only way for it to get better is for everyone -- including husbands, lovers and itinerant houseguests -- to pitch in. There is no king in the house of the schoolchild.
This cooperation is done ahead of time -- to eliminate any last-minute surprises -- and in the morning, by working together to make the breakfast and lunches.
To avoid surprises, we've found help in a big calendar -- as big as the cross-top freezer. Stick it there with duct tape, so it will stay and so every member of the family can write down his own appointment or requirements. Even your 5-year-old should be responsible for having someone write for her: 50 cents due for Janey's field trip. Like the rules, it's only when she invests herself in her plans will she feel responsible for carrying them out. While you will have to check the calendar at night and rustle through pockets to find 50 cents in change, at least that's one thing you're not doing during the morning scramble.
Alas, it took us years to learn that the night before is also the time for children to spend 10 minutes tidying their rooms. A lot of the morning chaos comes from the crazy searches to find something that is lost in a heap on the bedroom floor.
Most families decide that each child should stack his school gear on the same table every night -- with whatever money and permission slips he needs -- and should lay out his clothes for the next day.
Since children will lose anything not attached by skin and bone, mothers usually find it easier, in the long run, to mark the child's last name in whatever books, belts and clothes (including white socks) that they want returend, and to mark outerwear and boots with the child's name and phone number. Without identification, a Seven can (and will) lose half his wardrobe without ever looking in the lost and found, even when you tell him to.
With simplifications like these, most parents get the dividend of a few smiles, some good mornings, and, it is hoped, a quilt dragged across the bed.
As for lunches and breakfast, the menus are chosen by whatever person is putting that part of the meal together -- even your 5-year-old -- and from a list of food everyone has agreed upon already, since substitutions are the downfall of the short-order kitchen.
Once the lucnh bags are added to the school stacks, there is a chance that breakfast will be eaten with some degree of calm, and the comics shared without too much squabbling. However, since at least one person (possibly you) will screw up at least one thing every day, you still can expect a certain amount of bedlam, of anxiety and even of tears.
And that, dear lady, is the way life is. There's never been a Mom super enough to change this, and certainly not before 9 in the morning.
Q. My husband, our little girl and I have settled in an apartment in northeast Washington, in a pretty nice area, but I find I really miss my family. During the day nobody seems to be around to chat with or answers all those questions I have about the baby. I'm not talking about the earthshaking sort of things you ask the pediatrician, like when to wean, but all the little things that keep cropping up. Am I the only mother around who needs this kind of advice?
A. Apparently not. Vicki Lansky, the Minnesota woman who brought us that springtly cookbook for children, "Feed Me, I'm Yours," has started a newsletter for mothers, Practical Parenting, which throws out a half-dozen topics every issue for parents to comment upon. One includes informative, terse reports on sibling rivalry; sharing bedrooms, traveling with children and shampooing their hair. There also is a review of "The Feingold Gookbook for Hyperactive Children" (Random House, $5.95) and a list of recommended reading.
To subscribe, send $5 to Practical Parenting, 15235 Minnesota Blvd., Minnetonka, Minn. 55343.