Surviving the witching hour with babies, toddlers, & beyond is no laughing matter
Back in your pre-child days, if you’re anything like me, you tossed around the phrase “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” with both joy and longing. You couldn’t wait for 5 o’clock. In fact, when you literally couldn’t wait, you would hold happy hour early and say “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” 5:00 pm was a magic hour in your day.
Now that you’ve been blessed with children, 5 o’clock still comes every day, but you no longer eagerly await it. You fear it. You dread it like a necessary root canal.
I don’t know why, but it is a universal parenting truth that children lose their ever-loving minds around 5 PM. The term witching hour exists for good reason. For some kids, it strikes earlier, say around 4 PM. For the excellently behaved children, maybe a little later, say 6 PM. Regardless, surviving the witching hour is guaranteed to become a daily mission for parents.
If you happen to be Catholic, next time you go for confession and your priest gives you your penance, you can tell him you already did it yesterday at 5 PM and you’re doing it again today at 5 PM, and probably tomorrow too. Your sins are covered indefinitely.
For my protestant friends, who believe that Jesus has already paid your penance on the cross, good news for you too: you’re going to need that redemption and forgiveness for the things you are about to say and do today (and tomorrow, and…).
Religiously unaffiliated? Ten bucks says you start praying anyway come the witching hour. Children know when you’re weak–they’re like dogs that can smell fear. All parents are weak around 5 PM and that is when the children go insane. They’ve got you on the ropes and they know it.
This is usually the time of the late afternoon and early evening where I down a large Diet Mountain Dew and give up any and all commitment I had to limiting screen time in our house. Here, please have all the Netflix.
And the ipads.
And the iphone.
Invariably, this is also very often the one part of the day where the children refuse to be occupied by any of this technology.
Here are just a few of the insane activities that have occurred in our frat house while surviving the witching hour (ahem, I mean Satan’s Happy Hour):
- My oldest, age 3 at the time, managed to strip down completely naked and stand in front of the 100% clear glass storm door. When I’d left him there, approximately three minutes prior, he was fully clothed and waiting for my husband to come home. Our road is pretty well-traveled, so apologies to all my neighbors who got a full-frontal visual assault in the last minute or so of their commute.
- My children created a “Mustafar Path” (this is a reference to a planet in Star Wars, which is something my boys play 8,000 times per week). Below is a picture of one (of far too many) examples of their construction destruction. They “built” this in the two minutes or so it took me to get a frozen pot pie prepped and into the oven.
- I should’ve noticed that I had not seen nor heard from my youngest in at least a minute or two (a solid red flag for a 14 month-old). I discovered him soaking wet, joyously splish-splashing away in the toilet.
My Many Attempts at Surviving the Witching Hour & How They Ended in Failure
My husband drives home from work during the witching hour. He has a really long commute, so a lot of times we will try to talk on the phone on his way so that we can catch up. What I’m saying is, apparently we’re new here. We should know better than this, because it’s a well-known truth that the second you put a phone to your ear, even children who were previously behaving (and mine probably were not) start acting a fool.
The standard ending to a conversation like this between me and the hubby is us yelling to one another to be heard over the fray, mistakenly accusing one of yelling AT the other, and then ending up in a semi-fight until hubby gets home from work and we can clear the air. Delightful.
Sometimes, to (foolishly attempt to) alleviate a little of the stress on me during the witching hour/dinner prep, I’ll ask the hubs to talk to the boys on the phone instead of me. But again, this just goes to show you that I’m a slow learner.
While this does occasionally allow me to finish cutting up raw chicken without infecting the entire household with salmonella, more often, it ends in a full-out brawl over who gets to hold the phone, who is “hogging Daddy,” and who gets to push the hang-up button.
The latter frequently results in each boy attempting to beat the other to it, hanging up the phone mid-conversation, and then crying that they weren’t finished. When we call Daddy back, he suspiciously seems to “be in a dead zone” or “not hear it ringing.” Whatever man, I’m onto you.
If Satan has a number one tool in his arsenal for tormenting parents, especially parents of young children, it is most certainly the witching hour. This is the equivalent of Olympic-medaling in torture, and not competing is not an option. You no sooner succeed in surviving the witching hour one night than the relentless 23 hour and 59 minute countdown to the next round begins.
Very few things fill me with dread like the knowledge that the dinner hour is approaching. I’d like to crawl into a corner and rock myself back and forth while saying soothing mantras, but too much of that is liable to end up in a call to CPS.
Ambassador of Mealtime Sadness
The other night, my husband called me at the time he’d normally be a few minutes down the road. Turns out, he was calling to say there was an accident and he’d barely moved in the 40 minutes since I’d last spoken to him. I was on my own for feeding the offspring.
Honestly, my first thought was, “How did he get so lucky?!” Yes, that’s right, upon hearing of an accident, I’d love to say that I was moved with compassion and concern for those involved, but that would be a lie.
I’d also like to at least report that I felt sorry for the hubby, who was in for 90 to 120 minutes of traffic, but again, liar liar pants-on-fire. Immediately I thought: Oh no. It’s just me force-feeding them this dinner they will hate. If I’d known that’s how this was going to go down, I’d have hit up Mom Heaven (Chick-fil-A) and been everyone’s hero rather than the Ambassador of Mealtime Sadness.
So let’s talk about the food that you cook for dinner. I used to love chopping, assembling, and taking multiple steps to make a delicious dinner. Those days are long gone. My favorite meals now are anything that can be put in the crockpot frozen, or at the very least, prepped far in advance.
This has required a degree of cognitive dissonance on both hubby’s and my parts. Oh sure this crockpot chicken tastes delicious. It is not at all tasteless or dried out. Sure, we just put in a chicken breast and some cream-of-whatever soup, but the finished product is absolutely divine.
(Spoiler alert: No it’s not. But whatever you lost in taste you gained in sanity, as no one was clinging to your leg crying and screaming while you prepared this meal. It may taste like cafeteria food, but it pretty much cooked itself and that is your standard here.).
What do the kids think of these one-pot wonders? Doesn’t matter. Whatever you cook, they’re sure to hate, plus there’s a universal law of child dinners: the more effort you put into preparing the meal, the greater the odds that they hate it.
Whip up something truly divine and you’ve pretty much assured they won’t even taste it, declaring the meal a failure once it enters their line of sight. Better to have this type of reception for cheap, easy, blah-crockpot-chicken than for organic, grass-fed filet mignons served over actual-hairs-of-an-angel pasta (or whatever I imagine childless people cook. I don’t remember what that’s like – it may have only been six years, but my brain has atrophied).
Witching Hour Trauma: Photographic Evidence
As an example of the stress that dinnertime inflicts, I submit to you this photographic evidence. This is a photo of Southwest Barbecue Chicken that I cooked on Dec. 5, 2016. Or at least, that’s what it started as.
After serving each family member, I put the rest into the oven (which I’d turned off) to “keep warm” (boy is that an understatement…please continue). Courtesy of the lovely dinnertime antics that surely followed (I also blame chronic, severe sleep deprivation), I forgot about said chicken. Not for an hour, not for a day. For dayS, plural.
This wouldn’t be that big a deal except that I continued using the oven all week with the “warming” chicken still in there. I had set it on the top shelf and, apparently, dinnertime prep and execution each night is so chaotic and stressful that I failed to notice Monday’s chicken still in there as I prepared the food in that oven on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Each day, there was a terrible, burnt smell, and I told myself, “Man, I really need to clean the oven.” Umm, not exactly. It wasn’t until Friday, when I opened the oven for I-don’t-remember-what that something caught my eye. What is that? Removes pan from oven, again asks: What is that? (Because apparently chicken that has baked in an oven for many hours over several days no longer resembles chicken). Light bulb goes off. Oh. My. Gosh. My husband is going to commit me to the institution.
And if you think going out to eat is the solution to your dinnertime woes, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you. But that’s a topic for another time.
How does the witching hour go at your house? Do you have a struggle story from your attempts at surviving the witching hour? If so, make me feel better and drop it in the comments!