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Marny Stebbins.

It’s the first week of school and Nutrition Services has already added my name to the nightly call list. My youngest daughter, who would rather gnaw a plastic spork than ingest any food from the hot lunch line, carries a balance just shy of $5.00 in her lunch money account which means we are the recipients of a reminder phone call.

Every night.

At 6:52 p.m.

Since September 2014.

In fact, we are so accustomed to this phone call, that we measure time by its occurrence.

“Grandma called” my fifteen year old reports.

“Before or after Rosie?” I ask.

“I think before...”

We refer to the helpful, yet slightly sardonic voice of the recording as “Rosie”, the robot maid in the Jetsons. She is prompt, accurate and a little curt in delivery- like you’d expect her to grumble an insult into the receiver by accident on her way back to the kitchen.

I sympathize with Rosie and her latent anger. I’d like to buy her a fresh can of WD-40 and commiserate over the overflowing sock basket in my bedroom or the never-ending supply of empty Gatorade bottles stashed in between the cushions of the sectional sofa.

Rosie is part of our routine and routine is key in a family of six.

This summer had less structure than a bowl of Jell-O at Aunt Ida’s 4th of July picnic; there was a lot of good stuff floating around in there, but you couldn’t predict what would appear on the end of your spoon with any given order. You simply enjoyed one sugary marshmallow at a time (and tried to avoid the carrot shavings hovering at the bottom).

It’s time to return to structure: food groups and shoe laces, chapter books and retainers (who am I kidding, those are gone for good…). We need to rediscover forks and flossing, bank statements and bedtimes, and bedtimes, and bedtimes…

The kids need it. The parents need it. Even the dog is watching the front door with a look of impatience.

With four kids in three different schools this year, our “routine” is critical. A normal morning looks like: one kid in the shower, one kid at the kitchen counter, one kid in the mudroom, one kid (gratefully) still asleep. It’s like an early game of Twister- right hand toothbrush, left foot sock drawer, left hand cereal, right foot backpack. It’s not uncommon for someone to fall down, but there seems to be less laughing- nobody likes Twister before coffee.

Without fail, there are hiccups: a shoe is missing, a zipper is stuck on a ponytail, the last functioning charging cord is MIA, the dog ate a tube of Orange Crush chapstick, somebody decides to be a vegetarian on Tuesdays… the dance is constantly changing. But, by the grace of God, it works. People are clean and fed and fully clothed as they stumble to the bus stop.

And, best of all, … they come home happy (exhausted, but happy).

In a month, our feet will move to his new dance with ease. Until then, I take comfort knowing, Rosie has my back.

“Hello. This is Nutrition Services. Your child has an account balance of….”

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.

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