How to Stop Being a Human Checklist & Losing Your #@*%& Mind Every Morning & Night

I just recently saw this hilarious meme online, & I thought, OMG, how do they know?marypoppinsbatman

Clearly, it’s a universal that getting out the door is a pain in the ass. Or if you’re our family, getting out the door/into bed/out of bed are all a pain in the ass. For awhile, I sounded something like this every morning from 7:30-8 AM:

Hey, babes, let’s get dressed.

Time to brush your teeth!

Did you find your socks? Please go pick some socks.

Get the bowls & spoons, please, & start eating already!

Where are your socks?!!

Go get your water bottle & fill it!

We gotta get going!

Put your freakin’ socks on!!

Do you have your homework? Put it INSIDE your backpack!!

You get the idea. I’ve been a Human Checklist, an exhausted robot that repeats herself day & after day. We have been a family that sends all three kids to school in the morning for THREE YEARS. You wouldn’t know it by the way we were functioning. There was a LOT of wandering around in the mornings, as though every day was the first day we’ve ever gone to school. And truthfully, I was yelling regularly. Not angry yelling–just Is Anyone Even Listening/ Am I Invisible Yelling. Because louder worked sometimes. But mostly it just got me so adrenalized that after drop-off I had to sit in my van & just breathe for about 15 minutes.

Logistically, there are about 15 separate tasks each child needs to do every morning before we leave for school. With three kids, that would be 75 things I’d have to remind them, if I only said each task once to each kid. So, I was probably really saying/yelling 150 things in that hour after waking up, which is a crap way to start any dIMG_0356ay.

But guess what works better than yelling? Actual checklists.

So now, instead of rattling off an increasing louder list of every single thing they need to do, I just say, “Do the checklist.”

Nothing but, “Do the checklist.”

Before becoming a mom, I was a high school teacher. One of the basic life skills I tried to teach my students was how to make a list & check things off. List-making helps your child to be more organized, efficient, & independent. You’d be shocked at how many 18-year-olds leave home without this ability & habit. True that some people are just not natural list-makers (my husband, ahem), but it’s not a difficult skill to learn. It just takes practice, & kids as young as five can do it.

Repeat after me: “My liberation depends on their individuation.*” What that means is that your sanity & ability to move fluidly from one thing to another depends on your children’s ability to know by themselves what they need to do. Yes, they do need reminding & guidance, so the checklist is the bridge between YOU needing to tell them everything & their eventual ability to know & do it without prompting. Stop being a Human Checklist.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a reward chart. This is a very important distinction to make. I do not believe in reward charts, gold star stickers, or prizes in general, & especially not for doing self-care tasks. As a high school teacher, I saw what happens after years & years of children doing things because of the “carrot or stick” approach: they don’t respond to either after awhile. And with a reward system, there always comes a punishment, even if that punishment is just not getting the reward. And with that system comes a lot of weird emotional baggage about whether or not I am a “good” or “bad” child. Honestly, that is all irrelevant to learning how to do these tasks.

These are “Skills to Practice,” as they are labeled on my own checklists. If we are really emphasizing to our kids that working hard on something is the most important–not just in terms of effort but in terms of what actually makes us better at something–then just practice the skills. Kids don’t need a prize for that–as you can see when they willingly & eagerly practice their soccer drills or pirouettes. And as they get better, that becomes its own reward. A child who does tasks for stickers now is a student who only works for the grade later, & who becomes an adult who believes he is entitled to some sort of pat on the back every time he does what he should be doing anyway–or craves that external feedback in order to feel good. Let’s face it, I don’t get a prize every time I do the dishes–nor do I need one or I think I should get one.

If you haven’t yet read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, & Other Bribes, I highly recommend it. It will explain a lot about why adults, as well as kids, are burnt out & uninterested in learning after a lifetime of the “carrot & stick.” And if you’ve been using a reward/punishment system in your household, & you want to explore ways to move away from it (because it’s exhausting & ineffective), check out Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards & Punishment to Love & Reason. And if you want to read a book that focuses on adults & their motivations, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is fantastic.


1.Consider making the list with your kid(s) together. Sit down with pencil & paper & ask them, “What are the all the things we do in the morning to get ready for the day?” People commit to what they co-create. If you know your kid is resistant to what you suggest, then start there. With very young children, you can make the list as you go through the tasks in real-time.

2. Introduce the checklist with enthusiasm–not like you’re making them eat brussel sprouts. “Hey, this is going to make our mornings go so much more smoothly. And it’ll help you remember to bring your Show & Tell item!” The way to implement any new habit with kids is to go over each item with them the first time you introduce it. Then walk them through it for the first couple days or a week, depending on your child & his or her developmental abilities. If your child is 7 or older, they will probably really enjoy checking things off, & after about a week, they’ll go to the list on their own.

3. Revisit the checklist when necessary. If your kids seem like the list isn’t working for them, then sit down & revamp the list together. Maybe the list doesn’t make sense to them because of the order of actions. Maybe your child would respond more to little pictures of the actions. My children added on tasks that we realized should be on there, so I recently edited the lists & reprinted them.

4. Let older kids help younger kids. The kids who can read (Miss Almost 10 & Miss Almost 8) can do checklists very easily. I listed the actions in the order they usually take place in our home, but you can edit it for however you prefer to do it in yours. The girls help Mr. 5 by reading each item to him, & he checks it off. This is great for reading & fine motor practice & cooperative learning & leadership, by the way, if you care about those things.

5. Stick to the checklist. What I mean by that is if you’re really going to use the checklist, then DON’T revert to calling out the individual tasks. Say, “Do the checklist.” Or, “What is next on the checklist?” But don’t BE the checklist!! Your kids will eventually figure out you’re just going to repeat, “Do the checklist,” & they will develop the sense to go do it themselves.


(You can go to to download Numbers files! I couldn’t upload them here.)

So in my search for a more efficient, peaceful morning & night, we made three checklists. I slipped each into a plastic page-protector sheet, clipped it to a clipboard to which I attached a dry-erase marker with a ribbon.

The Good Morning! Checklist: I have hung it on a very not-fancy tack that is on the wall in the foyer, which is also near the stairway they use to come to the kitchen.AIM Good Morning Checklist 3 Kids.jpg

The Welcome Home! Checklist is on the flip-side of the Good Morning! Checklist. For years, I had been chanting, “Shoes in the basket! Hands in the sink!” when we’d disembark from the van. But as the kids have gotten older & have backpacks & paperwork & lunches & snacks & everything, the chant didn’t cover all the bases. So again, instead of saying every single task that needed to be done, I just say, “Do the checklist” if they need prompting.

AIM Welcome Home Checklist 3 Kids.jpg

And finally the Get Ready for Bed! Checklist. This list hangs on a wall between the bathroom & the bedrooms.

AIM Bedtime Checklist 3 Kids


I will forever be stumped by the resistance to bedtime & tooth-brushing. The difference between children & adults can be summed up as those who hate to go to sleep & those who can’t wait to. I shake my head & tell my kids, “Every single night of your lives, we have gone to bed. Every. Single. Night. There has never, ever, ever been a night that we haven’t gone to bed.” And they laugh & laugh at me like it’s the funniest, weirdest thing they’ve ever heard.

Well, we’ve been doing the checklists for about four months, & these have been the easiest mornings & nights we’ve ever had, even though we are busier than ever. Good luck, & let me know how they work for you!

*Thank you to Tom Pitner, inspiring life coach, of Zen Four for this mantra!!!!






Not Fixing Her Feelings About Friends: A little talk after bedtime.

The girls have been in bed since 8:00 PM. At 8:30, they were still talking, so I stuck my head in & did that loud whisper, “You’re supposed to be sleeping!” Around 8:45, Zara came into my office & said, “Mama, I’m having some feelings about friends.”

I’ll be honest: My first thought was, Right now?! During my Me Time?!

Wallace QuoteBut I pulled her up a chair & said, “Okay, tell me what’s going on.” And then she told me about three frustrating incidents she’s had at school & at playdates. There were many overlapping topics, including: 1) classmates who quit playing a game because someone was a vampire, 2) wanting to be the doggie but being told no, 3) her suspicions that two friends were lying, & 4) her mechanical stuffed puppy being monopolized by someone. It was a lot for me to follow when my brain had already been switched over to Adult Time.

But it was incredible to listen to her verbalize not only what happened but how she felt about things. And I think I’m getting better at this parenting thing, because I just looked into her eyes & listened. For a long time. At least it felt like a really long time, because, you see, I have this “fix it” trigger that usually compulsively needs to be pulled. I start thinking in solutions & actions, & I start suggesting & advising. Well, I didn’t tonight. Maybe because I’m tired? No matter, because not trying to fix it actually helped me to give her enough space to talk. And my fatigue probably worked in my favor, because I’ve been working on this not-fixing-it for awhile now.

When it seemed like she had gotten most of her thoughts out, I said, “I’m really glad you came to tell me all this.” She visibly relaxed & took a breath, & then she shared some more.

One of the incidents was during a playdate from a long time ago. But I realized that she was still processing it, & maybe it was because it was related to similar stuff going on at school. I learned something about her & the pace or timing with which she is going over experiences in her mind & heart. Sometimes, feelings will come up weeks later. Okay, got it. Note taken.

I told her that we would figure something out, perhaps with the help of her teacher, & I repeated that I was glad she had come talk to me. At the end of the convo, no problems had been solved, but she jumped up & hugged me & said, “I love you, Mama.” Then she sort of twinkle-toed up the stairs with a lightness in her step & went off to bed.

I’m thinking in the years to come, the frustrations she has will be different. They’ll still probably involve friends & school collaborations, but they won’t be about sharing a stuffed animal or whose turn it is to be the doggie during pretend play. They’ll eventually be about crazy teenage sh*t I don’t even want to think about right now, but I do really hope that she’ll come to me saying, “I’m having some feelings about friends.” And I do really hope that I’ll be able to put down what I’m doing to just listen, because I am so, so glad she still comes to talk to me.

~Alice XO



Seriously, Picking Preschool (Part 1)

Couldn’t stop laughing & loving this post by Dan Hon on Medium, called, “It’s Preschool Open House Season, Motherfuckers.” This is how parents actually think & talk, just in case anyone was wondering.

After seven years & three kids, we are done with preschool this year, believe it or not, but for anyone searching, here’s my sincerest advice from my experience as a teacher & as a parent:

Find a place where your kid can be an actual f*cking kid–where everything about being a kid is celebrated & channeled into a joyful learning adventure. Pick a school that has teachers who specifically love children ages 3-5 & think that childhood is a magical, wonderful time that shouldn’t be rushed through. Pick a school that doesn’t shame & label & pick kids out to be victims or perpetrators. Preschool *is* a big deal–but mostly for the reasons that we all forget: it is the first place other adults’ voices will enter your child’s consciousness & become part of their own inner voice. Choose those voices carefully, because the inner voice follows us into adulthood.

Am I good?

Am I trying hard?

Am I kind?

Am I strong & brave?

Am I curious? 

Am I heard?

Am I worth listening to?

Will someone come help me?

Am I able to solve problems?

Am I resilient?

Your child’s preschool teacher will be the first one besides *you* who answers these questions in your child’s mind. Worry less about what your child will learn in preschool than who their examples will be.

RPS140528 10And when it does come to the actual learning part that you are going to worry about, do yourself & your kid a favor & do not pick a place that is actually kindergarten or first grade, where they’ll be doing worksheets & academics. Preschoolers should be touching, smelling, playing, getting messy. They are natural scientists if you give them sand & water & bugs & nature. They are natural empathizers & justice seekers if not every single interaction they have with peers is judged & monitored. They are natural learners if you give them an environment rich for learning–which is one that appeals to all five senses & that was designed with them in mind. Look for a preschool that is run & designed WITH KIDS IN MIND. The best environmRPS160115 133ent for learning may not look like you expect it to.

For example, we want things to look tidy & neat, but if it always looks like that at a preschool, then it means the kids don’t actually get to touch & play with the materials. We want things to be sanitary, but if it always looks clean, then it means the kids don’t get to make any messes. We want things to look modern, but sometimes it’s the old-fashioned toys that use the most imagination.

RPS11 197So if you go to preschool, and the wooden blocks are covered in paint, & the sidewalk outside is covered with chalk drawings, & all the artwork that the kids do actually looks like kids did them–you’re on the right track. If the water & sand toys look like they’ve actually been in water & sand, & the crayons are broken & worn down to nubs, then you’re getting close. If your cIMG_0135hild goes to touch a toy or picture that is hanging at his level, & the teacher says, “Of course you can touch that, honey,” then it’s a good sign. If your child spills the paint or knocks over his cup, & the teacher says, “DonRPS160115 141‘t worry. We’ll clean that up together,” then it’s a really good sign.

Now, if you’re wanting your kid to be reciting times tables by the end of preschool, then these tidbits are not for you. If you’re wanting your kid to start off school by loving it, then consider these things. And stay tuned for my next installment on Picking Preschool!

PS All three of my kids have attended Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA. It’s a truly special place conceived & designed & grown with children in mind. The owner, Linda Shannon, has combined a variety of teaching methods such as Montessori, Reggio, & Waldorf with a humanist, constructivist, whole-brain, whole-child approach that focuses on how the preschool neurobiological system works & on developing empathy & self-awareness. More on this in another post! Thank you to the Northup, Quinn & Bottura families for their beautiful kiddos in the pictures I took & posted here.



another last day of preschool

It totally snuck up on me: Zara’s last day of preschool was today. I didn’t realize it until I got there & remembered that next week is a holiday…After that, kindergarten, here we come!! Riviera PlaySchool, we you. Thank you, teachers, for nurturing them–mind, body, soul, & heart. Linda Shannon, thank you for creating this wonderful place…


Click “Unsubscribe” & free yourself

I recently came to know of Jen Hatmaker, blogger/mom/author/speaker, who wrote the most hilarious post, “Worst End-of-School-Year Mom Ever,” which had me laughing so hard I was crying. It’s gone viral, so if you haven’t read it, get on it & do.

I was searching her on You Tube, when I came across her video called “Possessions,” part of her series on simplifying her life, written about in her book 7.

In this video, she describes her experience traveling to Ethiopia during one of the trips to adopt two of her children. As with many third world experiences, first world citizens are often humbled by the modest homes and means by which their hosts live. Mama Hatmaker’s host brought in a meal, prepared in the outdoor kitchen which, as Hatmaker describes, was really just a covered space with a fire. The host told her, “This meal was made with loving hands.”

Hatmaker goes on to ask, what if, instead of focusing on making a house of beauty, we focused on making a house of love? A house wherein we loved well and were loved well?

Earlier in the video, Hatmaker described how her host made no apologies for the state of her home, & at first I thought, “Well, of course not, why should she? It is only by Western standards that we place so much weight on the appearance of a home.” And I thought it was therein that Hatmaker was revealing her own ethnocentrism, but I was wrong. Hatmaker was setting up a realization that she had about her own need to decorate her home: She realizes that it’s because she wants to impress people. She wants people to like her. And clearly, somehow, we’ve been conditioned to think that having a well-decorated home makes us more impressive and more likable. Why is that? I wonder. What does it say about us to others if we have all the accoutrements of interior design?

Beauty is a wonderful inspiration–if it moves us to do good & do well. I believe that the concept of aesthetics is essential to the human experience. As Ken Robinson describes it in this TED Talk, it is when all our senses are heightened & we are experiencing everything in the moment, when we are fully present in our sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, in our mind, body & spirit. I think we strive for aesthetically pleasing homes for this reason–because we want it to reflect our values and encompass us wholly. But sometimes our endeavor toward beauty misses the point of this, & we live in the future of what we desire & not in the present beauty of what is–which may be the people in our home, the warmth, the chaos, the mess, the meals, the imperfection.

So, how have I attempted to free myself from the lure of beauty & the race & pressure to have the coolest, most gorgeous home everrrr? First, I unsubscribed to all those wonderful companies that so generously offer to deliver their updates! & promotions! & sales! & the latest! to my email inbox. And I Pinterest less & only follow the boards that inspire me to do things, rather than just digitally hoard pictures that make me covet. It’s insidious, you know, all those perfectly photographed visuals showing up in my inbox or feed, with all the shiny, glittery faucets & chandeliers (for the laundry room! Yes, that will make the laundry so much more glamorous to do, I know it!), chevron patterns & toile, all those massive kitchens & baths for a house I don’t live in, all those pools & manicured gardens for a yard we don’t play in, all those fixtures! & frames! Seriously, all the totally not child-proof fabrics & surfaces that will make my life any easier to live. Tile! Glass! Staircases with no railings! White shag area rugs! Please, peeps, who am I kidding? I don’t need to do this coveting daily, because honestly, it just makes me less grateful for the completely functional, safe, kid-friendly home that I already live in now. And less gratitude cannot be a good thing.

The same with the clothing companies, because really how many maxi dresses & wedge heels do I need, & I look like a top about to fall over in those skinny jeans anyway (whose body are those meant for?!). Enough with the subscriber sites for DISCOUNTED DESIGNERWEAR! Every once in awhile, I will get that uncontrollable urge to purchase something (what I call The Biological Urge to Gather, see more on that in a future post), & when that happens, I’ll head on over to Target. Now, if I can just get by that dollar section of the store…

So, click UNSUBSCRIBE & free yourself from all that noise. Who needs Satan knocking at the door if you can keep him at bay with just a click?