When the System Breaks Down

Those of you who know us or who have spent any time with the Strumolo Five know that we have a pretty strict system in place. For everything. The system has changed over time as Henry, Jack, and Sophie have grown, but there is always a system. This has helped us manage life with three newborns/babies/toddlers. The crazy is a little less crazy when we can all predict what’s going to happen and when. Except when we can’t. So this is a post about what happens when the system breaks down.

The first system to go is definitely nap time. And this is most likely to go haywire on the weekend. When Mom and Dad are home.

Reasons we might not nap:

  • We’d rather take our clothes off.
  • We’re too excited about blankets.
  • We insist on singing every song we know.
  • We just REALLY don’t. Want. To. Nap. So we cry instead.

When one-third of the group refuses to nap, chances are that at least another third will follow suit. The probability increases if Mom or Dad has to go in to quiet or retrieve the aforementioned non-napping child.

What ensues is a really LONG, pretty cranky afternoon, followed by an early (usually VERY cranky) bed time. No-Nap days are rough, but they’re survivable. The biggest casualties are laundry, dishes, to-do lists, and any semblance of organization and cleanliness we might have had in this apartment. Oh, and sometimes our sanity. I won’t sugarcoat it: a weekend without naps is R. O. U. G. H.

Even when the naps don’t fall perfectly into place, we have a pretty strict 7-7 policy for bedtime. Hate all you want. We are about to experience the Terrible Two times three.

When THAT system breaks down, God help us. One child screaming in the middle of the night is miserable. One child screaming repeatedly in the middle of the night is repeatedly miserable. One child screaming in the middle of the night followed by one more, oh wait, TWO more children screaming in the middle of the night is almost unmanageable. There is no good solution.

Option 1: Let the one cry? He might wake the others. Plus, you are awake anyway (hello, he’s screaming in a two-bedroom apartment), so you might as well acknowledge his terrified presence and try to calm him down.

Option 2: Go right in there and tell him it’s all right. Hmmm…sounds great. IF (and this is a big IF) it would get him to go back to sleep, and IF your going in there didn’t wake one or both of the other sleeping children in the room (who have somehow managed to sleep through their brother’s screams but the sound of your footsteps on the carpet in the room are just TOO loud and wake them instantaneously). This almost never works. So if it was one crying child, now it’s three. And you’re outnumbered. And sleep-deprived. So you try…

Option 3: Pulling them into your bed. This DEFINITELY doesn’t work because due to the strict 7PM-7AM policies (and the fact that you have a CRAZY cat), they have pretty much never seen the inside of your bedroom. And they know the crazy cat lives there. So they are 50% fascinated and 50% terrified, and they refuse to sleep. So you’re left with…

Option 4: Everyone’s up. For good. And it’s 4AM. Or 430AM. or 5AM. Whenever it is, it isn’t 7AM, which means you haven’t: worked out (ha!), showered, gotten dressed, made your breakfast, made your coffee, eaten your breakfast, drunk your coffee, emptied the dishwasher, or made their breakfast. And somehow you now have to do all these things (Ok, you’re obviously not going to work out, but whatever), WHILE entertaining three (two, if you’re lucky) toddlers, AND operating on far less sleep than you’re used to. Suddenly we’re eating breakfast at 6AM while watching Elmo on the t.v. Not our finest moment.


This has only happened to us a handful of times, and it was almost unbearable. I would like to take this moment to apologize to my own parents for refusing to sleep through the night for the first fifteen years of my life, and to congratulate all those parents whose children don’t sleep and they continue to function in the adult world. I don’t know how you do it. I am thoroughly in awe of you.

There is a domino effect when one system breaks down. For example, when they wake up early, the entire morning routine is off, and nobody appreciates this. Or when they refuse to nap, dinner doesn’t get prepped. Or when we’re all running on less sleep than usual and there’s a blizzard outside, this happens:

Have YOU ever tried to navigate a triple stroller on the streets of NYC after two feet of snow? Believe it or not, I think the detritus above is the lesser of two evils.

So I am reminded in those moments of how grateful I am that we have a system and that I have a partner in crime and a caregiver who help keep that system in place day in and day out.

And for those of you who wonder what our system looks like or who would like to implement a system of your own, here’s what a day in the life of Henry, Jack, and Sophie looks like right now. That is, of course, assuming that the system doesn’t break down.

6:40 AM: Awake and chatting in their cribs.

7:00 AM: Good morning! We fetch them (and their numerous stuffed animals) from the cribs and retreat to the “play area” (read: “baby jail”) for fresh diapers and a change of clothes. I get the clothes while Will does the diapering.

7:15 AM:  Will finishes the diapering while I get breakfast ready. The kids help carry their pajamas to the laundry and their diapers to the waste basket. Then we head to the high chairs.

7:25 AM: Will finishes feeding them breakfast while I depart for work. It is pretty important that I leave before they finish breakfast.

7:45 AM: Playtime in the play area.

8:15 AM: Diana arrives! Play, play, play.

9AM: Snack! We get to pick what we want to eat now. So grown-up! Slash demanding 🙂

Time for an outing or a play date. Playground, park, museum, indoor play space, they’re all fun!

11:30 AM: Back in the high chairs for lunch.

12:00 PM: More time to play! Or take a bath. They’re one in the same for this trio!

12:45-3:00/3:30: NAP TIME.

3:30 PM: Snack! Then PLAY!

5:30 PM: Mom and/or Dad are home for dinner.

6PM: Play time/pajama time/brush teeth with Mom and Dad.

6:45/7PM: Back in the nursery for a lullaby and bedtime.

And that’s all she wrote! When I write it out like this it sounds pretty easy…that is, of course, assuming the system doesn’t break down.




2 thoughts on “When the System Breaks Down

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