Friday, January 23, 2015

Grocery Shopping on a Budget: Teaching Life Skills to My Older Kids

My older two kids (8 and 6) are old enough now that I've begun to feel I should be teaching them life skills beyond using the toilet and bathing. For several months, they have been responsible for folding and putting away their laundry and their three-year-old brother's laundry. Soon, the three-year-old will be assigned to assist them with it, but he's still more of a hindrance than a help. The oldest recently volunteered to completely take over doing their laundry, now that he's finally tall enough to reach the dryer, which is stacked atop the washing machine.

They also are sometimes tasked with emptying the dishwasher and setting the table. Sometimes they help me cook, by measuring ingredients, stirring pots, or reading recipes.

I have them help me straighten up toys, sometimes do some light organizing, and sweep the floor.

Today, I decided to take the opportunity to teach them a little about budgeting.

I've only recently begun to seriously delve into the nitty gritty of budgeting and managing money more proactively. I started experimenting with a new budget software, and I noticed how many skills there are to build, and these are skills that can be easily taught at a much younger age than my tender 33 years. Managing money, spending and saving wisely, being choosy about where your money goes, these are things even a six and eight-year-old can begin to understand.

So I issued the family a challenge. We went to the grocery store this afternoon and we made a goal of spending no more than $150. The idea was to pick and choose the best deals, be aware of prices, find good value for the products we needed, and know when to give something up and when to insist on something based on our family of six's need to eat 20 or so meals per week (assuming we have brunch on the weekend!). I wanted the kids to see that when they ask for just one more bag of chips or a drink or treat at the end of the shopping trip, or this snack instead of that one, or "can we get this, too, please?", it all adds up and may prevent us from buying something else because it maxes out the budget.

I had made a pretty comprehensive list of things we needed. Uncharacteristically, we were out of basics like coffee and salt, sugar and paper towels, so I knew those would take up space in the budget that might otherwise be allotted to snacks or a treat at the end.

It made for a perfect lesson.

I handed the eight-year-old my phone in calculator mode, and every time we chose an item, he added the cost to a running total. We checked unit prices to see if what looked like a good deal actually was one. We chose one brand over another based on whether something was on special. I was able to show that by purchasing a large volume of nonperishable items that were marked down, it would mean we could go several weeks without having to buy it, and it would save several dollars in the long run. I was able to demonstrate that even though it took a little more space in this week's $150, next week we wouldn't need to buy that item at all, so we could use that same space to buy something else that was on sale another time.


And, we had to forego some items. Butter would have taken us over budget. The kids wanted a treat, but when we clocked in at a little over $148 when I added some bell peppers (on sale $1 each) and carrots ($.99/pound) and bananas ($.79/pound), I said we had to wrap it up.

We could have made some exchanges. Maybe we needed butter more than tortillas? Maybe, but a 24-pack of tortillas goes a long way, even in a family of six. Maybe we could have made do with less bread in favor of some apples? Possibly. This kind of thing takes practice!

After purchasing four bags (because, of course, I always forget to bring bags) and the tax on a few non-food items, the total came to $151.54. I gave us all a pat on the back. We did very well!



After the experiment, I asked them what lessons they could take out of our little game. We talked about choosing what we really need and not just grabbing what looks good. We discussed making choices that would be beneficial in the long run and not just something we want right now. We said how if we had to forego an item this week, if we got to buy it in the future, we would be that much more excited to have it. We learned how to read price tags and figure out what they really are saying and not just go, "Oh, hey, that's on sale!"

Now, if we had gone over by $25 or $50, it would have been okay. Truthfully, we may need to go back sooner than a week from now to fill in some gaps. I hope not, because that would dilute the lesson a little. But I think they enjoyed the game, especially my oldest, who is definitely a numbers guy. And I hope that now they can appreciate a little better when I say, "I don't have the money for that right now," or, "That's not in the budget this month," or "Do you want to spend your money on THIS or THAT?" They need to understand that money is finite and you have to make good choices!



What ways have you tried to help your children understand the value of money and how to budget?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Joy of Not Rushing

One of the things I pride myself on is my ability to estimate how long something will take and plan accordingly. I'm rarely late and usually early for appointments, school drop-offs and pick-ups, get-togethers, and so on.

Having four kids, two of whom are toddlers, has made everything take a little longer. It took me a little while to learn to pad my time estimates, but I'm pretty much on my game these days.

Unfortunately, the more personalities involved and the more you have going on, the likelier it is that things won't go quite according to plan.

It's when things start to derail that I am at my worst as a parent.

A three-year-old does not live his life by the clock. He does not care if you need to be somewhere in 15 minutes. He doesn't know what 15 minutes is. He doesn't understand that if he gets to finish watching this episode of "Blue's Clues," Mommy will be late to pick up his brothers from school. He doesn't understand (or care) that if he doesn't walk just a smidge faster, he'll throw off Mommy's carefully laid-out timetable for the afternoon. And he doesn't realize Just. How. Slowly. He's. Eating.

One recent Tuesday, I had the brilliant idea to go to the bank, then hit Target, then eat dinner, then head off to drop my two older boys at Hebrew school. I worked backward from the Hebrew school start time, estimated how long dinner would take, how long Target would take, what I needed to do at the bank (make a deposit in the ATM), how long it would take to get there, added 10 minutes for security and wiggle room, and set out at the appointed time, after filling everybody in on the plan. Everyone was on board, and my oldest even made it into a game to see if we could really hit all of my timing goals.



We got to the bank exactly when I estimated we would. The ATM gave me trouble, so it took a few minutes longer than I expected, but we were still on our way to Target exactly when I hoped to be. I had left us an hour for Target and knew exactly what I needed to get. Of course, once you actually get to Target, you find many other things you, er, "need," but I would have had plenty of time except for three setbacks: the pharmacy, where I just wanted to ask a quick question, was packed; it turned out the last item I needed was across the store from where I was; and the lines at the checkout were long and slow. Still, we had time to eat dinner. If we rushed.

I tried to rush, except...except I forgot to factor in the time it would take to walk across the parking lot to the car with a pokey toddler, unload the Target purchases, then walk back across the parking lot (with a pokey toddler) to the restaurant, which was right next to Target. I tried to rush, but I was met with resistance. He didn't want to hold my hand, so I had to half drag him, fighting and screaming across the parking lot.

And when I saw the line at the restaurant, I knew my timeline was blown. We were going to be late, and there was nothing I could do about it. Had I known it would then take half an hour to get our food after we ordered it, I would have gone somewhere quicker to begin with, but we all had our hearts set on this particular restaurant.

So obviously the three-year-old decides to eat one tortilla chip at a time, one grain of rice, pick at his food. This is how he always eats, but just this once, just this once, I hoped he would hurry himself a bit. But no amount of cajoling, explaining, or chivvying got him to pick up his pace even a little.

I tried to rush, and in the trying, I became more and more impatient. I yelled. I berated. I sighed heavily. Time stretched out. Every little thing seemed to take three times longer than it really did. I was angry and agitated. And when we finally, finally, all got in the car, we were already 15 minutes late, before even driving away. Did it even matter anymore if we rushed? What was another five minutes at this point?

I was so annoyed. I really dislike being late, and I especially dislike when other people make me late, even if those other people are small persons who live their lives marching to a whole different drummer.

By contrast, the following Friday, I had very little to do. I had work to do, but I had largely given up on doing it, because the baby has been clingy and the three-year-old needed attention. I had one short errand to run that was not time-sensitive, and we had a few hours before we had to pick up the older boys from school. I decided to run my errand and then take the little ones out to lunch at McDonald's.

I ran my errand, which took longer than it needed to, but was enjoyable for the relaxed nature of the thing. Then we got to McDonald's, ordered our food, and ate, slowly, savoring every bite of chicken nugget, every french fry, every dip in the ketchup. I set the three-year-old loose in the Play Place, where he climbed up and down and around, calling, "Look, Mommy!" Every glance at my watch showed plenty of time. Plenty of time. He can play for ages. He can just play.



I was so patient. I enjoyed watching him. I enjoyed just sitting, playing Candy Crush, listening to his imaginative game as he climbed through the play structure, narrating his ascent. "Look, Mommy! I can touch the rocks here. Look at this wall! Hi, Mommy! See?" I enjoyed letting the baby explore a little. We were the only ones there. We had the place to ourselves, and it was quiet and pleasant and lovely.

And when we finally really did have to go, we still had a little wiggle room. It didn't matter if we left McDonald's at 2:10 or 2:20. We'd get to the school in time. The only difference would be whether I was first or last in the car pickup line, and did that really matter? Not really. So we made our way to the car, headed on up to the school, and were early for pickup.

As we sat in the car line (we were the second car), I resolved not to rush so much. I resolved to savor the space to breathe a little, to explore, to toddle slowly along, to eat one chip at a time. I want to be on time, but being on time doesn't mean rushing. It means leaving more time to let things fall as they may. It means letting go of an errand or a bit of work to instead let your kid be a kid. He'll have to live by the clock soon enough. Maybe it's time I ditched the watch and joined him in the play structure.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's It Like to Have Four Kids?

"So, what's it like having four kids?" I get asked this reasonably often, especially by people with three kids who are considering another, or by people with one who can't imagine having more than that.

Comic Jim Gaffigan (now a father of five) has a great response. He says, "If you want to know what it's like to have a fourth, just imagine you're drowning...and then someone hands you a baby." (See his hilarious take on having 4 kids and home birth here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEbZrY0G9PI).



Now that my fourth is almost a year old, I find having four is not that much more difficult than having three. You're already used to being "outnumbered," you're already used to mentally counting kids and locating them and your eyes darting around looking for the little one and calling out to the biggest one to help you with something and storing and retrieving hand-me-downs and buckling multiple car seats and feeding many, many mouths.

So what's it like to have four kids? It's like today:

G-d-knows-when-o'clock-A.M.: I, my husband, and the 11-month-old are sleeping in bed. 3-year-old climbs in, too, proceeds to sleep on baby's arm. Baby tries to roll over and can't, wakes up, and I nurse him back to sleep. Only one of numerous awakenings by said baby.

7:00 A.M.: Everyone is getting up for the day when the 5-year-old throws up. Supposed to be a short day at school followed by parent-teacher conferences. 5-year-old will stay home, but 8-year-old will go, because he's feeling fine.

8:00 A.M.: Dad takes 8-year-old to school. 5-year-old throws up again.

9:00 A.M.: 3-year-old has annual well visit at doctor's and 11-month-old has appointment for flu shot. Must drag sick 5-year-old along. He throws up in the car (fortunately into a barf bag which I so wisely brought with us). 3-year-old does great at doctor, flu shot administered to baby without drama.



9:30 A.M.: School calls to double check that 5-year-old is caught up on vaccinations (he is, we establish).

10:00 A.M: Back home from doctor. 5-year-old lies down to take a nap. 3-year-old wants a snack. Snack provided. I try to get some work done.

11:00 A.M.: Baby nurses to sleep. 3-year-old wants another snack. I tell him to wait for lunch. I try to get some work done.

11:30 A.M.: 5-year-old wants toast. 3-year-old decides he also wants toast. I want last night's dinner leftovers. Baby wakes but nurses back to sleep. 3-year-old wants the rest of my lunch. I give it to him and get myself some crackers.

12:00: 5-year-old feels better. Everyone has eaten. I get a little work done.

1:00 P.M.: Time to pick up 8-year-old from school and then stay for book fair and teacher conferences. Older three play on the school playground while the baby roams the classrooms during the conferences and attempts to choke on small objects.

2:10 P.M.: Round everyone up and come home. Everyone wants a snack. Oldest has homework. Middle two watch TV. I get a little more work done.

4:15 P.M.: Round everyone up again to go to the bank, have dinner, then drop the oldest two off at Hebrew school.

6:30 P.M.: Arrive home with 3-year-old and baby, nurse baby, who has fallen asleep in the car seat and is now cranky but shouldn't really be napping, while 3-year-old watches TV and demands my assistance with selecting a show.

7:15 P.M.: Start giving warning that it will be time to get ready for bed soon. Await return of two older boys and Daddy from Hebrew school.

7:30 P.M.: Baby is crying hysterically while I try to get work done, so I take him to nurse him some more and hope he goes to sleep. He does not.

8:00 P.M.: Daddy and older two get home. Toddler goes running to say hi. Bedtime chaos ensues and resolves in the next 25 minutes. 3-year-old tells me to go away, so I take the baby to try once again to get him to sleep for the night.

9:00 P.M.: Baby is finally asleep for now. 3-year-old wants more attention but is told in no uncertain terms to go to sleep. Older two are drifting off. I go back to my computer to maybe get some work done.

9:45 P.M.: I've decided to practice guitar a little. I hear footsteps and find that the 8-year-old has emerged to get himself some water. Then the baby wakes up. I nurse him back to sleep, then return to my computer to finally (?) get some work done!

10:45 P.M.: Working steadily. Now the nightly question: Go to bed now and leave work unfinished in the hope I can finish it tomorrow, or stay up and finish it so I can move on to something else tomorrow? Also, I should get to the dishes at some point.

11:25 P.M.: I give up. I'm going to bed now. Dishes are not done and neither is work, but at least all four kids are asleep...for now.

So what's it like to have four kids? There's always something to do, always something going on. Someone is always pulling you in a direction you weren't planning to go, while another needs you to go in yet a third direction. Constant interruptions, constant noise, constant LIFE. It's lively. It's exciting. It's schlepping and cleaning up and serving and assisting. It's carving out moments to do what needs doing and finding minutes to do what you want to do.



And when you climb into bed at the end of a long day and snuggle up to your precious young one, you breathe deeply, sigh with relief, and mentally prepare for what surprises tomorrow may bring.

It's like...it's like you're drowning...and someone hands you a baby. And you snuggle that baby allll night.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Zombies, Run! Exercising after Four Kids!

I have often thought it would be nice to find some kind of exercise or activity I could do to get and stay fit and improve my overall physical health, but I always found that having my kids around made that too difficult, either financially or logistically or both. I also had trouble finding something that held my interest. Simply walking was too boring. I hated running. I didn't have convenient access to a swimming pool, and I don't like swimming anyway. Besides, no matter what activity I chose, I'd have to either find childcare or somehow cart my kids along.

Recently, I committed to trying a "couch to 5K" training program. These types of programs are aimed at sedentary people who would like to work up to running regularly. It sounded perfect to me. I have a double jogging stroller, my older two kids are at school during the day, and I could plop the 3-year-old and the baby in the stroller and go out for regular runs.

The beauty of the couch to 5K program is it's a very clear regimen. There are some variations, but they all use interval training and drills to take you from basically a couch potato to being able to run for 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in about eight to nine weeks.

I chose to use the Zombies, Run! 5K app for my phone to help guide me through the drills. The app has a back story in which you are the sole survivor of a crash into zombie-infested territory, and you make your way to a safe base. The people there train you to become a runner for them. Being part of a little story makes it more fun, but the training itself is solid.

For this particular program, you do three workouts a week for eight weeks. I've completed the first four episodes so far. The first episode is the introduction, where you learn about your character and do kind of a free walk/run for about 35 minutes. The next three workouts then were training oriented, using this pattern: You walk for 10 minutes to warm up. You then alternate walking for one minute and running for 15 seconds, 10 times. Finally, you take 10 minutes of a free walk/run, where you walk or run as you're able and cool off. Each workout is about 35 minutes. The app can play music from your internal device playlists, but I don't have any, so I set up a Pandora channel of 80's pop music, which is super fun to run to.

The app claims to also track your distance, but I couldn't get that to work on my phone for some reason, so I also downloaded Map My Run, which uses the GPS in your device to track your distance and draws a map of the route you took. It chimes in at each mile to tell you your distance and time, and at the end of a run, it tells you approximately how many calories you burned, how far you went, your mile times, etc. You can share this information to Facebook and other social media if you want.

The combination of the two apps is really motivating. I want to hear the next part of the story, and I want to work up to the next, more difficult, drills. My next training run will have me running for 30 seconds at a time and adds other exercises to the mix. That, combined with seeing my distances increase on Map My Run will be really neat. I'm excited for the first time I break that 3-mile point. So far, my workouts have taken me a little over 2 miles, mostly walking.

Exercise falls under the category of "self care," doing things for yourself that improve your overall feeling of well-being. I think parents often find it difficult to take time for self care because they're so busy filling the needs of the small people they live with, contributing to the family, and taking care of others. Thirty-five minutes a day isn't so much, really (I'm sure I spend far more than that roaming Facebook, for example), and the benefits I reap are great. I especially treasure the times I get to go out without the kids along (when my husband is available to be with the kids, or when we happen to have a babysitter at the house), because then it's truly "me time."

So far, my walk/runs have left me feeling good, energized, and pleasantly tired. I'm more focused when I sit down at my desk to work. I'm happier. I'm more patient with the kids. This is the first time I've actually enjoyed and looked forward to exercising, and especially running!

If you want to follow my Couch to 5K progress, I post a selfie with the results of the day's workout on my instagram feed. Here's today's selfie:

#c25k today was 2.28 miles in 36 minutes, same workout as the two previous. Next workout will increase run time and add a new exercise. Also, my first#zombiesrun mission completed! (Good news, I escaped the zombie. In case you were worried.)

Have you done a Couch to 5K program, or something similar? Tell us about it!

*I downloaded these apps for my personal use and was not asked by either company to endorse or review their products.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And On To Another School Year...

I'm ambivalent about the end of summer and the start of the school year. If all of my kids were in school, I would probably look forward to the start of school more, as a chance to have some quiet in the house. But since I will now have two at home and two at school, it's kind of a toss-up whether I prefer school vacations or regular school days.

The advantage, for me, of non-school days is not having to deal with drop-off and pick-up. If I don't have to worry about being back in time to pick up one or another of my kids from school, then we can take longer afternoon outings, plan errands, pop out for lunch or dinner, or just hang around the house all day, and no one has to be tossed into his car seat in the middle of a nap or playtime.

On the other hand, when my kids are in school, the house is quieter. There are fewer personalities to deal with, less arguing. It's generally more peaceful. (Although, I expect this to change as the baby moves into toddlerhood and buts heads more often with his brother.) Plus, when the kids are in school, I feel like at least for some hours of the day they're not simply staring at a screen all day, they're not sitting like lumps on the couch, and their brains are engaged. They're socializing and playing and learning. So when they come home and want to veg out, I don't feel as bad about it.

I generally despise "schlepping." Going from one place to another, strapping all four kids into the car, getting all four out of the car, into the car, out of the car, entertaining three while the other is at an activity, going to pick up one or two while the others are just along for the ride. I don't like being bound to strict schedules and having to disrupt everyone else's routines for the sake of one. This is family life, and no one is more important than anyone else, but I feel bad that the babies tend to get slighted and spend so much time in the car. I also dislike feeling torn between supervising homework and supervising toddlers, neglecting one child because the other needs more support, and leaving the older ones mostly to their own devices because the younger ones still need me so much. I think it all balances out in the end, but in the moment it is hard for everyone.

I am excited for my 5-year-old to finally start kindergarten, though! For the first time, two of my kids will be at the same school, together, every day. I won't get into the insane kindergarten schedule this school has that I am not as excited about. He's counting down the days until he starts. He's so excited. He really craves friends and learning and I'm sure this will be a great year for him.

My biggest is starting third grade, which blows my mind. I know kids get bigger and older and move forward through life at what is apparently a staggering rate, but third grade feels so big. I'm mostly excited for him. I hope he'll be challenged and rewarded for rising to that challenge. I hope he'll solidify friendships, learn all sorts of new information he can pepper his conversation with, and start really diving into what school is all about.

We'll settle into a routine and work out the kinks as the year goes on, and before I know it, it'll be summer again, with it's relaxation and stir-craziness. I have the feeling I'll really appreciate summer break by the time it rolls around next June!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Can't Face Telling My Son About Robin Williams' Death

I am very, very shaken by the news of Robin Williams' death. I read about it on Facebook yesterday while my oldest son was sitting behind me in the office, using his computer. I couldn't help but verbalize my shock. "Oh my God," I said. "Oh my God. I can't believe it. Oh my God."

"What, Mommy?" my son asked. "What happened?"

"Oh, um, an actor died. I'm just really surprised. He was only 63."

"How did he die?"

I stopped. It was only just being reported. Suspected suicide...struggle with addiction and depression...suicide by asphyxiation...died after a battle with depression and addiction... I couldn't. I didn't want to explain. I didn't want it to be true. Why couldn't it have been an aneurysm, or cancer, or a heart attack, or a car accident? Something tangible that I could easily explain as an external force, a tragedy.

And yet, depression so severe that a person cannot live with it anymore is a tragedy. A horrible, silent, gut-wrenching tragedy. But it's so much more hidden and so much more unrecognized, and it should be treatable. It should. It just feels so unfair.

I didn't know how to say this to my tender seven-year-old. How could I explain that some people get so sad that they kill themselves?

"Oh, um, they don't know yet. They just found out about it," I lied. I couldn't face the conversation.

"But why are you so surprised?" he asked. As if to say, he was 63, and sometimes people die, and it's not like you knew the guy.

"I guess I just wasn't expecting it. He's a really well known and loved actor, and 63 is still pretty young," I said. How could I tell him that this was a man so full of life and light? How could I explain that it was unbearably sad to see someone so admired and successful struggle through such a dark tunnel that he couldn't find his way out? How could I convey the depth of grief I feel for someone I've never met and yet could make such an impact on me and on so very many others?

He's probably already forgotten about the whole thing. After all, Robin Williams isn't a household name for him the way it is for me. One day we'll watch Mrs. Doubtfire together, or Jumanji, or Hook, and he'll ask if the actor is still alive, and I'll tell him he's not, and he'll ask how he died (because he's that kind of kid) and maybe then I'll be far enough removed from the shock and grief to find the words. But right now, I just want to protect him from that kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge that sometimes the world is unfair and diseases take people from us who had so much more to give.

If you're hurting, please seek help. And if you think someone around you is hurting, please reach out. Depression is a disease just as much as cancer or diabetes, and no one should suffer alone.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Solo Road-Tripping with Four Kids

I just spent two weeks with my mom and four kids. I drove from the Bay Area to San Diego by myself with the kids. The drive down wasn't bad, but took much longer than it would have (a) without kids; or (b) with more than one adult. The drive back, we encountered some very bad traffic and it took even longer than the drive down.

I did learn a few things.

New ideas that worked well:

1) Change up the seating arrangements partway through.
Since we have four kids, we have two in the middle row of our van and two in the back. Partway through the drive, I swapped the baby and the oldest, so the oldest and toddler were in the middle row and the 5year-old and baby were in the back. (Make sure you're comfortable removing and reinstalling car seats if you choose to do this!) Since the two oldest were prone to fight after spending too much time in the back together, this broke up that issue. It also enabled each of the older two to help out the younger two.



2) Individual lunch boxes full of snacks.
We went to Target the day before the trip and picked out different sorts of snacks. We then packed each kid his own lunch box with the same set of snacks. They could keep their food with them and eat what they wanted whenever they felt like it, and I didn't have to be handing around food while driving or policing what anyone was eating. This was an especially good idea since I was driving alone and didn't have an extra set of hands to help with the passing out of food.

3) Gallons of water and refillable bottles.
Each kid had a close-able, refillable water bottle, and we kept two one-gallon bottles of water in the car. We refilled water bottles at stops. This created far less waste than disposable bottles would have and was more fun. I also found the water tasted less plasticky and was more enjoyable from a reusable bottle.

4) Crayola Color Wonder markers.
My toddler is prone to color on anything within reach, so I bought a travel set of Color Wonder markers for them to use. It was novel, because we haven't used them much at home, and it was neat and clean.

5) Barf bags, emergency clothes, and hand wipes.
I bought a package of emesis bags from Amazon to keep in the car, just in case. I also had each kid pack a full outfit outside the suitcase that we kept in the car just in case a change of clothes was needed quickly. This way, we wouldn't have to dig through suitcases in the trunk to find a change. Fortunately, no one threw up in the car (I attribute this to the fact that we had barf bags available). However, at one of the rest stops on the way home, the toddler fell into a mud puddle and required a change of clothes. Emergency change to the rescue! I also bought a 4-pack of hand sanitizing wipes for the kids to keep near them. These were great for cleaning hands after a snack or after using a gas station or rest stop bathroom with questionable hand-washing facilities.

6) Plan to take much longer than the GPS claims.
Accept that an eight-hour drive may take 10 or 11 hours (it did for us, anyway). Stop when you need to. Use the restroom every time you stop. Eating will take twice as long as you expect. Don't push yourself or the kids. Make everyone (even the babies) get out and run around or move around every time you stop. They're confined in their car seats and need to stretch, too.



And some thoughts for next time:

1) Pack whole outfits in individual bags.
I've heard this suggested and had planned to do it this time but got lazy. Pack individual full outfits in separate bags so that each day the kid can pull out a whole outfit without having to root through the suitcase for what he needs.

2) Bring a collapsible hamper.
If going somewhere where you'll be able to wash clothes, bring a cheap hamper to put dirty clothes in so they don't get all mixed up with the clean ones.

3) Unpack into drawers.
I didn't bother to unpack the suitcases at our destination, but I think it would have been nice to do so. We were there for two weeks, and it got pretty annoying to root through the suitcases looking for clothes. Another option might be for each person to have his or her own suitcase instead of mixing up the clothes.

Do you have tips for accomplishing a solo road trip with kids? Have you tried any of the above tips? How did they work for you?