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Coping with four children under six

Following on from my really rather popular previous tips on how to cope with three children under five and daily life with four children under six, I hereby present ‘Coping with four small children redux’.  And if you don’t already have lots of small children, you’re certainly not going to want them after reading this.

There’s really only one way to cope with four children under six, or three children under five, or even two children under eighteen if you feel like it: routine, routine, routine.

If you have a small baby, he or she may not have any routine, but everything else can be taken care of with military precision. So how do you do this?

Perfect your morning routine by doing most of it the night before: lay out everything to wear, make as much of the packed lunches as you can, put everything by the door that you need to go out with (keys, library books, shopping list, whatever), plan the following day’s meal and defrost any meat required, lay the breakfast table and load the washing machine ready to put on in the morning.

In the morning, have a smug cup of coffee until you realise you forgot to wake and feed the baby because, well, you temporarily forgot you had a baby, so you’re going to be late leaving anyway. Run around like a blue-arsed fly until your stress levels are so high that you feel the need to inject caffeine intravenously.

Go to work for a rest. (Or longingly circle job ads at home as your toddler decides to go into progressive meltdown as you stagger through juggling baby, toddler, snacks, nappies, educational activities and lunch towards the highlight of the day: nap time. During nap time you can make all those telephone calls that you can never make when the children are home because world war three likes to break out at the exact moment the person picks up the other end.)

In the afternoons, you get the fun of dealing with picking up over-tired children from school and making them walk home when they have already told you their legs don’t work anymore. When you get home, make the children hang up their coats and put hats and gloves in a basket, hang their school bags and any sports kit on a kitchen chair and empty their lunchboxes into a washing up bowl so the snack boxes start cleaning themselves. Put any paperwork from school straight into an in-tray and sit down with a cup of tea. You’ve earned it: it’s been months and months of hard work training (read nagging) those children to do this stuff. Plus, the evening onslaught is only minutes away and you need to muster all the strength you can.

Realise you forgot to turn the washing machine on this morning so now you don’t have time to do the second and third loads that needed doing today. Think about what doesn’t really need washing (can they wear those muddy, yoghurt-encrusted school trousers just one more day?) and cut out at least one load from the week’s laundry. Feel better.

Cook supper, clearing up as you go because it’s easy to do that when you’ve got the baby slung on one hip. The children take it in turns to have a tantrum. You consider pouring a glass of wine but abstain on the grounds that one of the children is sure to slip in the bath and crack their head open requiring an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Feel smugly perfect-parent. Supervise homework and do more laundry with the crotchety baby refusing to sleep in the sling. Clear up more in the kitchen while the children eat because they clearly don’t need you to sit with them and supply scintillating conversation when they’ve mastered the art of fart-jokes-that-pass-as-conversation. They also won’t mind you hovering to take that plate as they finish the last few mouthfuls. Got a fussy eater? They won’t be if you start clearing up before they finish – they’ll be like spaniels at the feeding bowl, bolting down whole mouthfuls without it even touching the sides. Realise you haven’t thought about anything for you and your husband to eat later. Wonder if your husband will divorce you if you offer the children’s reheated macaroni cheese for his supper. Wonder if you can ‘dress it up’ somehow to make it seem more grown-up. And edible. Realise your cooking skills only stretch to nursery food at best and macaroni cheese cannot, under any circumstances, be anything but macaroni cheese.

Neatly bypass further witching-hour tantrums by telling the children that if they tidy everything away they can play Education City on the computer or read on starfall until bathtime. Award yourself brownie points for a tidy house and now educationally-superior children. Get the oldest child to run the bath while you finish spooning cartons of yoghurt into the baby in an effort to get him to sleep all night (ha! you wish) and then pile each child in the bath in turn with the baby. Realise your plan to keep the baby amused and not crying by giving him a long bath is foiled when he poos in the bath not once but twice and everyone has to vacate the bath like an emergency fire drill (no stopping to get handbags! Or lego boats!). Realise the second time was your eldest son playing a trick on you with the fake-poo he got in his Christmas stocking. Wonder if you should have had that glass of wine after all.

In the evenings you can do all the laundry, cleaning and ironing that you so love. Except you’ve got all that morning preparation to do and you’ll be late again leaving tomorrow anyway so forget it all and sit down with a glass of wine instead. You made it through the day without losing any children; you’ve earned it.

After two glasses of wine, realise your mistake when your preparations for the following day are, well, unprepared. Make plans to hire a housekeeper. Or, better still, a wife.

Photo: Nick.Fisher

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Selling a house: preparation, staging and frustration

for saleSo it turns out we are not moving after all.

I knew I shouldn’t have broadcast that we had a buyer – it’s the ultimate jinx!

This is the second buyer that has pulled out. The first pulled out because she was allergic to rapeseed which the farmer sometimes grows in the adjoining fields. The second buyers pulled out because they are divorcing. I can make our house look absolutely beautiful but I can’t do anything about those sorts of factors.

So now we have switched agents and are starting again. It is rather depressing though to look at our house with fresh eyes (for the new agent to take photographs) and realise that all the painting and deep cleaning we did last year looks like it never happened. We need to do it all again and then MOVE OUT if we are ever to have any hope of selling this place.

The agent took photographs of the house: living areas and outside only as that’s all we do, he said, so it was a little embarrassing to see another house come on the market with the same agent (admittedly in a different price bracket) which had a full complement of pictures including all the bedrooms which were beautifully presented with matching cushions and so on.

So now I know why our house hasn’t sold. It’s because we don’t have matching cushions adorning all the beds!

Of course, I’m not thinking that, not really, although I’ve watched enough of the programme Why Your Stinky Cluttered House Won’t Sell to know that all this ‘staging’ to make your house look as though nobody actually lives in it does work and, for the most part, we do do that each time we have a viewing. (Exhausting.) But the bedrooms could do with improvement so I have been and bought some crisp white bed linen, comforters (in an accent color) and some cushions in a different but matching color (see how good I am at this?).

Correspondingly, I fully expect the house to be sold by tomorrow.


Ha! Just as I was about to hit publish on this, the estate agent rang saying could someone come and look around in an hour from now. It’s a sign!

However, given I had to say no – there was no way I could get this place looking presentable in an hour – that may also be a (less than positive) sign.


Although we haven’t quite sold yet, I’m feeling confident. Here’s what we have learnt along the way:

Tips for selling your house

If you want your house to sell for a good price and relatively quickly there are a number of things you can do to make your house attractive to potential buyers:

Preparing your house for sale

1. Declutter and de-personalize – throw out anything you don’t need anymore and put any items you can into self-storage. Remove personal items such as family photographs, certificates or children’s artwork.

2. Fix all the little broken things inside and outside your house – make your house look like it has been well-cared for:

– fix any leaking gutters or broken fencing
– replace any broken floor tiles
– re-caulk around showers and baths
– replace broken window blinds
– clean or replace dirty or worn carpets
– make sure all light bulbs are working

3. Deep-clean your house including all the windows. And then clean your house regularly.

4. Buyers like to open cupboards so make sure your closets look clean and tidy and not too full (throw out or store clothes you don’t need), clean inside your refrigerator, make sure kitchen cupboards are clean and not crammed full of items.

5. Give your house kerb-appeal: mow the grass, invest in some plants to put by the door, give the door a fresh coat of paint or a good clean.

6. If the kitchen is looking worn, consider replacing it or replacing kitchen cupboard doors and old appliances.

7. Paint your walls in neutral colors so prospective purchasers can imagine themselves living there.

8. Arrange furniture to give as much space in a room as possible.

Staging your house

Once the preparation is done, it is a good idea to stage your house for viewing:

1. Use plain bedlinen in bedrooms and accessorize with cushions/pillows and comforters/throws.

2. Use plants, mirrors, lamps, cushions, flowers and other accessories in living areas to make your rooms look more attractive.

3. Accessorize bathrooms with nice lotions, soaps and towels. Close toilet lids and remove trash cans.

4. Tidy everything away, remove evidence of pets if you can and tidy away as many children’s toys as you can. Put away bulky kitchen appliances to leave kitchen worktops looking spacious.

5. Give your house a last-minute clean and open the windows for fresh air.

6. For the viewing make sure your house is warm, the lights are on and everything smells clean and fresh.

If you’re selling/have sold your house, let me know how you got on!

Photo: AKZOPhoto