I have it all planned out. The next time a well-meaning stranger witnesses my struggle to wrangle several small children through a busy store, library, and/or restaurant, complete with spills, tantrums and games of hide-and-seek I most certainly did not sign off on, and gives me that knowing smile and whispers, “Cherish these days, honey. The time simply FLIES by…” They win a babysitting gig.

And as the little ones are hanging from the curtains and fighting over which color cup they get and who gets the last cheese stick while the toddler sloshes around purple grape juice into the carpeted area, I’ll slick on some lipstick, fluff my hair, glance over my shoulder and sigh, “Don’t worry. These next five hours will simply FLY by! Ta!”

I know what they mean, of course. Everything flies by in hindsight. When I look at my oldest’s baby pictures, I can hardly believe that used to be us.

When my husband and I turn around from our minivan’s front seats and see every other seat occupied with little people who look a lot like us, we invariably gaze at each other in wonder and ask, “How’d that happen so fast?” We still feel like newlyweds.

But truth be told, some days feel like years. Pregnancies do not “fly by.” Potty training alone seems to slow time down by more than tenfold. I can distinctly remember being very sick with the flu, a newborn in my arms and a two year old ripping something important to shreds behind a couch and thinking, “They all lied. This isn’t flying by.”

But lately, one thing has been flying by, without fail, and that is our weekday afternoons. And not in a good, nostalgic way either.

You see, as soon as the big kids shrug off their backpacks in the foyer, it’s a very real race against the clock until bedtime. Music practice, homework, online typing assignments, group projects, scouts, got to get to practice on time, the game, the meet, what about dinner? I’m constantly clapping my loud hands together, trying to steer everyone toward their next task. I’m air traffic control AND the pilot. The kids always feel harried, by 6pm I’ve lost my loving tone, and angst and frustration over homework is inevitable after 8pm…Ugh!

(And no, I’m not an over-scheduler. One sport, one instrument per kid. Combined with real life, it just adds up is all.)

We needed a change. What we needed was another hour. Another hour to get the work out of the way and let proverbial Jack play. Now I know this little epiphany of mine has occurred to young mothers who are wiser and smarter than I for centuries, and I’m arriving a little late to the party, but since I felt like Michael J. Fox nestled there in his DeLorean when he finally figured out how to save Doc, I thought I’d share it with you.

Everyone wakes up an hour earlier. That’s all. That’s our new hour. I’ve been getting up early to exercise and get ready for the day for years now, but it never occurred to me to get the kids up as well. (The baby sleeps in.) Now piano practice, homework, typing assignments, etc… all get done efficiently and without tears early in the morning.

At first, I thought it would be a struggle to get them out of bed, but surprisingly, it hasn’t been! I turn on all the lights, sing a bar or two from “Singing in the Rain,” hop on the treadmill, and we are up and going. In fact, that first afternoon was so pleasant the kids asked us if we would please get them up early again the next day.

It’s been a few weeks now since our first dawn patrol and the immediate benefits are real. Dinnertime is not rushed, there’s been a definite decrease in sibling squabbles, the kids aren’t tired because we are getting to bed earlier, and they are using their newfound free time in the afternoons to play with each other, create art projects, help with dinner! Why didn’t I think of this sooner??

And no flux capacitor needed. The only downside is, of course, if these afternoons continue to be so relaxed and enjoyable and I’m not watching closely…

The time will fly by.

Read more by Margaret Anderson at www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com