If day starts with a meal of eggs and anxiety, change is in order @

April 20, 1993|By Nancy Imperiale | Nancy Imperiale,Orlando Sentinel

For many families, more than eggs are scrambling in the morning.

Forget the tweet of birdies or the warm rays of the sun: Morning in America is a mad frenzy of fast showers, flying clothing, smeared makeup, slap-- lunches, AWOL wallets, misplaced keys and enough threats to make even Saddam Hussein think twice.

After that, driving in traffic is a cakewalk. In fact, any parent will testify that rush hour ends when you hit the road.

On a recent daybreak visit with Caryl Elrod and her three children in Orlando, we had expectations of a ringside seat to some morning mayhem.

But the Elrods' was an immaculate house with gleaming breakfast dishes laid out in advance. Children sprang from bed when their alarm clocks dinged, and they rushed to get dressed. Mom was left in peace to apply makeup and put her hair in hot rollers. The older kids helped the youngest tie her shoes and sit down to breakfast. There was no whining or nagging. After a pleasant breakfast together, Mom relaxed with the

paper while the kids watched Lassie save a pony.

What does Mrs. Elrod know that the rest of us disorganized parents don't?

Well, it didn't hurt that they knew the press would be poking around. But the Elrods have been perfecting their mornings for some time. They prepare the night before. They take responsibility for getting themselves ready. And they pitch in to help each other.

Those are the keys to easing morning madness, say the experts -- preparation, responsibility and teamwork.

"It hasn't always been like this," said Mrs. Elrod, 37, who works for her family-owned company, Paul Curtis Realty, and chairs Orange County's Planning and Zoning Commission. "There were many years that I did not organize mornings, and it was mayhem."

But after a divorce 1 1/2 years ago, Mrs. Elrod became single-handedly responsible for getting herself and Christopher, 8, Sarah, 7, and Elizabeth, 4, out the door.

8, So she learned the value of the night be

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fore. That's when the kids take showers, lay out their clothing, put out the breakfast dishes and cereal, finish homework, have notes signed, have lunch money in their book bags and set their own individual alarm clocks.

In the mornings the kids are responsible for rousing and dressing themselves. Mom lends a hand when needed.

The difference is night and day, Mrs. Elrod said.

"That 30 minutes at night really makes a big difference. The key is, I think, getting them so organized that all you have to do is oversee them. And take care of yourself -- which I don't know about you, but that's enough for me!"

But theirs, like most families, is a precarious calm.

"All it takes is one telephone call to disrupt the routine," Mrs. Elrod said. "Or the TV -- if that goes on too soon, it's the kiss of death."

Last-minute remembrances are the other straw that can break ** the car pool's back. Call it "Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you I need to bring 50 cupcakes to school today" disease.

It happens to the best of parents -- even fictional ones. In the March 22-27 Sally Forth comic strip, Sally was late to work when daughter Hilary suddenly remembered she needed a birthday present for a school friend. They ended up searching for the gift at a gas station.

With U.S. Census data showing that the majority of American families are run by parents who work outside the home, mornings and evenings are the only together time most families have. Add the stress of trying to head out in the morning, or unwind in the evening, and these times also become tests of family endurance.

"And they can become real attention-getting times for kids," said Nancy Kellman, program director for the Parent Resource Center in Orlando. "Kids know they can really get under Mom's skin when they dawdle. One of my favorite suggestions for this is 'Give your kids an alarm clock and have them use it.' "

Ms. Kellman says you can start this as young as age 6.

"I think," she added, "you need to set real time frames -- like, 'The car pulls out of the driveway at 7:45. If you're not dressed, too bad.' Load the kids in the car with their pajamas on one day. That will not happen more than once."

RF Giving kids responsibilities -- and consequences for not following

them -- can eliminate the constant nagging that turns a rosy morn into a gloomy one.

"If you nag them, what happens is that they'll depend on you to make sure things get done, and you will always have problems," said Millie Ferrer, a parenting instructor for the Orange County Cooperative Extension Service. "The key is that once you give them a responsibility, follow through on the consequence. For example, if they are to wake up themselves with the alarm clock and they don't follow through, the consequence could be they can't watch their favorite TV program or they won't have their favorite cereal in the morning."

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