Back-to-school organization

The ABCs of Mom-survival starts with ‘O’

Cade Wheeler’s organization board has his backpack, folder for his notes and work to be signed, chores list and other important information organized for his, and his mother’s, convenience.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Cade Wheeler’s organization board has his backpack, folder for his notes and work to be signed, chores list and other important information organized for his, and his mother’s, convenience.

Christy Wheeler gets her family ready for another school year. Children are Cade, in front; Allie, sitting on Tommy’s lap; and Tipton.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Christy Wheeler gets her family ready for another school year. Children are Cade, in front; Allie, sitting on Tommy’s lap; and Tipton.

Tommy Wheeler puts a book in his organization file as he gets things ready for another school year.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Tommy Wheeler puts a book in his organization file as he gets things ready for another school year.

Dandy Lions owner Joy Carver, right, shows on the Mom Agenda books to customer  Anne Hatcher.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Dandy Lions owner Joy Carver, right, shows on the Mom Agenda books to customer Anne Hatcher.

When it comes to the school year, its survival of the most organized, says Christy Wheeler as she prepares for another year.

The mother of four keeps an organization hub in her kitchen for book bags, school handouts and homework and meticulously maintains her electronic calendar. “The rest is survival,” she says.

Wheeler works constantly to stay organized at home, while using a calendar and To-Do List App on her cell phone.

“What I try to do is not look too far ahead unless it’s necessary to work ahead, like a school project. When I start thinking about what I have to do for the entire week, it gets overwhelming.”

Tab and Christy Wheeler’s sons, Cade, 7, and twins Tommy and Tipton, 11, play football and practice four days a week. Daughter Allie, 5, will take dance classes at Artistic Dance Unlimited. Before taking off for activities after school, they are responsible for unpacking book bags and placing papers, homework and library books in their “folder holder.”

The family calendar on her phone keeps up with dates for each child. “I color code my kids, which is embarrassing, but I do it. The phone is always with me, and, when I look at it, I can know quickly whose event it is. I’m a visual person.”

Along with managing her busy household, Wheeler is director of The Learning Tree preschool at Fairview United Methodist Church, where she keeps 120 students, ages 2 to 5 years old, organized.

“My classrooms are also color-coded,” she says with a laugh.

Wheeler used to rely on a faulty paper system to keep up with dates and lists before using the phone applications. “I used to do Stickie notes, and they always got lost. They weren’t working for me. But now, if I were to lose my phone, I wouldn’t be able to function.”

Joy Carver, owner of Dandy Lions, says not all moms have gone completely digital with their calendars. “Regardless of the digital age, there’s something about seeing what your day is like in writing,” Carver says.

While she also uses a digital calendar on her phone, she and many of her customers have found success with Mom Agendas, stylish books with unique features specifically designed for multi-tasking moms. The planners have a month at a glance section, daily rundowns with a menu planner and a removable address book in the back.

The 18-month calendar begins in August. “It starts with the school year on purpose because that is how our lives run. So often we’re starting a new year when our kids start a new year.”

The calendar offers four sectioned-off spaces to record individual kids’ activities, which Carver says is one of the most helpful features for getting a full-view picture of the day.

The store owner says she’s even used one of the ‘kid’ spaces for her husband. “Not that I feel he’s a child, but it was just nice to know if he had a meeting after work,” she says. “I like to look at my day and know when we’re going to be home together.”

Carver says she received six phone calls immediately after announcing the Mom Agendas arrival on Facebook and anticipates they will sell out like they have in the past.

One of the callers who reserved a Mom Agenda was Morgan Hodson, mom of 3-year-old Darcy and 5-week-old Kipling. Hodson says this is her fourth Mom Agenda but has used it for more than just organizing her household.

“I just finished my Ed.S. degree (Educational Specialist), and I had to use it to keep all my assignments straight,” Hodson says.

Hodson teaches 8th grade Language Arts at Alcoa Middle School and is a gemologist at Bristol and Bragg. She says the agenda helps her keep up with more than just appointments, but also is used for keeping up with her volunteer work.

Hodson is a member of Junior Service League and coordinates Toys for Blount County, the group’s annual toy drive. Staying organized is key, says the mom who leads the year-round effort to provide toys for more than 1,400 area children in need.

She says with the Mom Agenda, “I can keep track of who I’ve contacted and who has called to request a specific toy for a child. I’m a really forgetful person so I keep it with me all the time.”

One of her favorite features on the agenda is the menu planner. “There is a space everyday to list what you’re having for dinner. I can only do a couple of days in advance, but it helps so we don’t have Mac-and-Cheese four days a week.”

Wheeler says she tries to plan meals, too, but between managing the preschool and her household, it doesn’t always work out. “If you have a plan, it makes all the difference in the world. The weeks I have a plan go so much smoother.”

Often the mom makes casseroles, doubles the recipe and freezes one that the family will have a couple of weeks later. She says working that far in advance is ideal but not always doable. “Just knowing what you’re having (for dinner) and having what you need to make it really helps. But if it is really busy, there’s always pizza.”

Wheeler relies on help from the family to get kids to their activities, especially as she works to keep early bedtime hours for the two younger kids. “I have a great support system with my husband, my dad and my mom,” Wheeler says.

Wheeler said moms shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help, whether it be family, friends or fellow moms. She recommends getting to know the other moms on teams and at school for setting up carpools or last minute help with pick up.

“You think when they’re little that it will get easier, but it doesn’t. When you’re at home, you have your own schedule. As they get older, having to adapt to everyone’s schedule has required me to stay as organized as possible just to survive the day.”

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