My husband is out of town... again. The house looks like it has been cleaned by a two-year old, the kids are home from school, and the crazy is in full swing. I jump between the three older kids and help them with their homework while trying to keep the two younger girls from killing each other over the kindle. The baby, who has discovered how much he likes to be held while I'm trying to do things, refuses to be set down without letting me know how much he doesn't care for that plan. Sign a little something here. Time a little something there. Plead with a child to stay put and, for the love of all that is holy, finish up their homework so we can both go do something else! Get stumped on other homework, call my mom, consult google and... finished! (I would never last on the "Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader" show.) Five o'clock and the kids are hungry. They raid the fridge and scarf down a package of hot dogs. I kick them out of the kitchen saying that the next person to sneak something doesn't get dinner! Which is when I realize that I have to make dinner. I bust out the dino-chicken nuggets and some salad. At least they like salad. I survive dinner while doing some wicked multitasking that involves rocking the baby in his seat with my foot, getting up and down from the table a thousand times for refills, getting more ketchup, grating more cheese, cleaning up spills, and trying to convince the toddler to actually eat her dinner. Between it all, I am shoveling food into my mouth as fast as I can so that I can actually have a bite to eat. Tonight is supposed to be our family service night. I have a rare moment of brilliancy and I tell the kids that we will be preforming a service project for their dad! By cleaning the house! Yes, I know he's not even here! Realizing it is already seven o'clock, I tell them we only have thirty minutes to work so that we still have time for treats. It's funny how the kids are far more willing to do the work when I put on a timer. Thirty minutes are up and you can at least see the living room floor and there will indeed be clean spoons (and underwear) for tomorrow. Now the baby is hungry and the kids are wanting their promised treats. I tell them to all get ready for bed and in their jammies while I feed the baby. Finally, I melt down a bag of chocolate and slice up a carton of strawberries. Getting each child a fork, I dip a piece of strawberry into the chocolate and hand it to the first child. A round of this makes one thing clear... these treats were a really bad idea. Chocolate is everywhere! On faces, on pajamas, on the table, on the floor. I begin to get upset, then I remember that this was my bright idea. Finally, blessedly, the strawberries are gone. One by one, I send the children to wash their hands and faces, and then to brush their teeth. I take a few minutes to go through the daily routine of removing the baby's helmet, wiping it out and then washing his hair. He smiles at me. Then drools on me. I can't help it, I laugh. Turning my attention back to the other children, I become frustrated. Some still haven't brushed their teeth, others are fighting, one wants new pajamas, and one soaked their hair instead of washing their face. My stress always seems to escalate before bedtime. I start to get loud and more forceful with my words. Calm mommy has gone. The baby is crying... again. The girls are fighting... again. The boys are running around karate chopping everything... again. The oldest is calmly reading a book ignoring everything that is going on around her... again. Between all the noise, I feel the boiling anger and frustration in my chest. I sense the urge to shout, to yell, to cry all at once. And that's when I quite literally take a step back. I inhale a deep breath, and tell myself to act and not react. I have been making a serious effort to be more conscious in my parenting, to relax in the heat of the moment, and to be okay when everything is thrown off schedule for a bit. Who cares if they to go bed a few minutes late? Is it really worth getting upset? Saying a quick prayer, I step back into the fray. This time, in control of myself. Now I am not bothered by the craziness. I calm down the baby, break up the fighting and quietly stop the boys, asking them to settle down. It takes a little while but eventually we are all calm enough for family prayer. Savannah prays. I can't help but smile when she prays for the poor, and roll my eyes under my closed lids as she prays that "we kids can all be kind to one another". Shooing them all off to bed is put on hold as they all insist on kissing and hugging both me and the baby. After hunting down lost blankets and sippy cups, they are all in their beds. Before I can shut the doors I hear the expected call for a story and song. Claira, like always, sets the precedence for what the story should be about and who needs to be in it. Right now it's Claira, Alayna, Savannah, Joseph, Jacob, Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Freddie, Velma, and Daphne. Got it. After telling some weird story about how the monster who was trying to eat all the chips and kidnap Claira was really daddy, good nights and I love yous are called out and the doors are closed. The night ends on a fun, uplifting note. And it felt good. Five down, one to go. I spend some time playing with my sweet little Jackson before putting his helmet back on. While feeding him, two of the kids came out, one insisting on a drink, the other needing to use the bathroom. Jacob comes out and asks his customary question of the night. Usually something about God. By nine o'clock, all six of my little monkeys are sleeping and I breathe a sigh of relief. I have done better tonight. So many times, I have merely reacted to situations. Usually not well. I'm trying to be an active parent and not a reactive one. Slowly but surely, things are going more smoothly and everyone is happier. Especially me. I still have a long way to go, and I know I won't be perfect, but tonight? Tonight I did good.