Calendar Advice from CalifMom

by cv harquail on August 10, 2009

A treat from Calif Mom! Knowing that I’d be away from the blog (for a little longer than I’d planned) Calif Mom sent us a present: a guest post on calendars! Here’s her advice, with the usual blend of wisdom and wit! cv

Dorsi mentioned Google Calendar in a comment advising a host mom who is managing both a recalcitrant AP and a complicated schedule. Which got me thinking about the whole calendar bugaboo.

The simple calendar has more often than not been my nemesis, instead of helpful tool.

They would sit optimistically in the kitchen, stuck on the fridge and scribbled on in a riot of colored pens, blissfully unaware that they were missing half of the “no school” dates. Or, trying diligently to follow The Organizers’ Rule about only having one calendar, I would put personal items in my work calendar on blackberry, and forget to hide certain items. I don’t necessarily want my boss or colleagues knowing I need to leave early for a urologist appointment or which morning the preschool play is being held. Through the years many playdates have slipped away simply because I couldn’t confidently pick a date/time and so didn’t take action, or the kids got double booked. I’ve even been surprised to learn of a morning that HD was traveling that day for three nights that he thought he told me about. These things have a big impact on parents, kids, and APs.

These days, I am all about simplifying the things I personally need to try to remember/worry about, and clearly, calendaring is a huge challenge for us. And try as I might, no one else would take it over as their job. When I read about google calendar in the comments here on aupairmom, I pounced.

So, at the risk of sounding like an ad, here’s why I am a new convert (and proselytizer, apparently) of Google calendar. Its whole premise is that many people can sign into a single calendar any time of the day through their web browser, and post both schedule items and tasks. “Change orthodontist appt”, “big car’s oil light came on,” etc. It even lets you add appointments from your blackberry so you can pop them in whenever you think of it, then go back and add details later. Very handy.

HD may not like it as much as I do, because now he “has to” enter his stuff onto our calendar all by himself, rather than emailing it to me, happily dumping them off his list and squarely onto mine.

Google calendar is an emotionally neutral way to stop the “Mom’s in charge of the calendar” madness!

Gone are the crumpled sticky notes in the crevices of my handbag. Plus HD can feel like an early adopter of a spiffy new electronic app. Perfect!

I want our AP making playdates (I confess, I hate that job!) but I figured out she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t feel confident that the schedule is really free. Nor is she willing to bug me at work (and often can’t reach me), bless her, so that’s another hurdle put behind us as we run this relay race of modern family life. Now AP can see what days and times are available. She adds the playdates she sets up, the day the library books are due, and the days she *really* needs me to get home on time because she’s going to volleyball or conversation class.

One caveat–if you truly enjoy, need, or want to be the sole person in total control of your family’s calendar, you probably won’t love this as much as I do. Though it would still work for you, because you could set permissions so that only you can add or change items. Plus, if you like to be in charge of the calendar “all by myself” you undoubtedly already have systems figured out that work for you. You probably always know exactly what you’re doing a week ahead of time so you can share it with AP, and you remember to do so. This app really helps cover for me in those regards.

I love that my au pair, DH and I can all add things to the calendar when we think of it or when it’s convenient. (And access is unlikely to get blocked by the hyper-vigilant IT folks because, well, it’s google and I can’t imagine they will ever block that.) Unlike my old paper calendar on the fridge, this one is never only partially up-to-date because there is other stuff in my head or stale emails in my inbox waiting to be written down. (Hmm. Come to think of it, my fridge still says it’s June.)

We have been using “The Goog” for several weeks now, and it seems to work well for us.

Problems arise only when we forget to use it — GIGO, as the programmers used to say. :-)

[note: When I grow up I want to be CalifMom’s au pair!  cv]


Jeana August 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

I use Google, and it is awesome! I have a setting which sends me a reminder each morning, very early, so I receive a summary of what is on the calendar for the day. It has saved me several times!!!

StephinBoston August 10, 2009 at 8:09 am

LOVE google calendar, I have one for the family, one for HD, one of AP, one of school days and I can see them all on one, it’s pretty amazing!!! I’m going to start using it with my next au pair coming in October, our schedule is going to be a lot more complicated this year so it should help a ton!

NewAP Mom August 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

Thank you for this post. I was actually just thinking about this last night and wondering if Google calendar would be the way to go, but didn’t even think about having one central one that everyone could add to. Great idea.

Do you know if I can give my AP access to the calendar without giving her the password for the email address?

TX Mom August 10, 2009 at 11:37 am

Thanks for the post!
Can you synch Google calendar to Outlook (work calendar?) I need a mechanism to combine the life controlling calendars (HD and my separate Outlook “work calendars” and home calendar.) Currently we (try to remember) to send eachother Outlook mtg invites (without blocking out the times, etc.) and then I have a paper calendar for the family and AP. I’m afraid Google Calendar will become “the other” calendar much like the paper version hanging on the fridge (that apparently only I can read) if I don’t synch the 3 electronic versions.

Jenny August 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

You CAN sync Google Calendar to Outlook. And you don’t give your AP the access and password to YOUR email, you send her an invite to view or change the calendar to HER google account email (so you do need her to set one up). So there is no worry about access to your personal files. I also get an email at 4am giving me the daily schedule ahead, which reminds me to log in. I love Google Calendar, use it for my employees at work, and my hubby (he doesn’t love it for the same reason CA mom’s DH doesn’t but such is life), and in the past my nannies have shared their schedules affecting work their too, as well as kept track of hours and schedules. Our Au Pair arrived at Au pair school today, so planning on having her set up a gmail account for the calendar as soon as she is settled.

I have some other calendaring questions for our first incoming au pair from Germany. Maybe this isn’t the right place to post it, but maybe it is… I’m going to go get my thoughts organized and post a few questions of my own later.

AZ HM August 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

We have been using a shared google calendar for our household for about a year and it is a huge life saver. HD and I are both pretty good about adding child or adult related items. We indicate pick-up and drop-off responsibilities and times, as well as weekly commitments, lessons/practices, and special appointments and outings. We create a separate “appointment” showing when our AP is “working” or when she has had “vacation”, etc.. During our APs first few months, I’d print out the weekly calendar on Sunday and go over responsibilities and total hours. And that may have lead to the one problem we’ve had….

The problem with current AP (who is leaving in 1 week) is that she has not been good about adding events (or for that matter, checking the calendar at all). So, that part has been disappointing. I’m anxious to see if our new AP will be more excited and interested in participating in the google calendar. I’d love to be able to delegate some of the child related scheduling to our AP.

Regarding the question of syncing work Outlook with Google Calendar….should be possible — see

I personally haven’t set this up yet…but need to give it a try. Looking forward to hearing from others that do sync.

Momof2Girls August 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I can’t wait to try this – it sounds like a great solution to our own family’s schedule! I was accustomed to using a shared Outlook calendar where I worked, so if I can just get AP’s cooperation & hubby’s buy-in to adding his appointments and checking the “Master Plan” we should be good!

Calif Mom August 10, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Jenny’s quite right. One other tip: you do have to have a gmail *account*, but you do not have to use a gmail *email address* for this. I use my ‘regular’ email account that i’ve had for forever. My hub set up a new gmail one, which he has set as an auto rule to forward to his regular email.

I live by the email reminders, too! And you can set those to go to whatever email account you need them to.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how to have the email reminders going to the DH and AP yet… Right now I’m the only one who gets those.

And yes, getting people to actually enter stuff is the key. I mostly trained through the use of “natural consequences” and supreme self-discipline not to enter things for other people. Ever. As I learned as a young turk working under insane pressure on a political campaign–never let anyone else know that you know how to fix the copier.

Jenny August 11, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Ha! So true about the copier, especially if you sit near it. Also never help someone send a fax or unjam the fax machine…slippery slope!

As I mentioned earlier, my first au pair arrives on Friday. I have some how survived the past 4.5 years with no close family and only 24 hrs of child care per week while I worked 45+ hrs – 2 days from home with the kid(s). The became increasing difficult with my second, and now pg with my 3rd, we decided on an Au pair. I’ve been so excited to nearly DOUBLE the help I’ve had. But now that it’s here, I’m not sure HOW to use 45 hrs, especially for the days I’m at home. It is a good idea for her to be on duty while I am with the kids too (esp at first). I have 2 & 4 year old daughters.

We plan to do a weekly schedule a month in advance, but we are so used to “doing it all” and doing with as little help as possible, we aren’t sure how it will work and neither of us wants to give up our time with the kids. Kind of silly, I know, after struggling to barely make it by for so long.

So I was wondering if anyone has suggestions for first time calendaring. Especially in this first month or two. I have my SYSTEM (Google cal) all set up to keep track, but am wondering if there are any tips about HOW to schedule. I think I’m just having first time au pair mom anxiety and wanting to do it all right! :) As always this site seems to help me with that! So thanks in advance. And please put me in my place if this isn’t the right place to ask this, I just thought that because it was related to calendaring, it could be relevant.

NewAPMom August 11, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Feel free to move this to another post or whatever. I would LOVE to talk more about this myself. Anyhow here’s my two cents as a first-time HM who learned the hard way.

I started out with a strict “time” schedule, since our kids were on a strict nap/eating schedule, and let AP decide how she would fill in the time around that. I showed her toys, books, how to find the park and the library, etc. For 6 months not much happened – she just sat on the floor and played with the kids. Then I gave her some activity books and suggested she pick out a couple of “projects” per week to do with the kids. Still, nothing happened. All this time I was also hoping that she’d notice things that needed to be done, like making lunches when the kids ran out. No dice. Finally I resorted to making a weekly schedule, wherein I scheduled 1-2 specific activities per day (go to the park, swim in the pool, playdate) and 1-2 chores per day to do while the kids are napping (do a load of laundry, steam some carrots). Finally everyone got out of the house and into the sunshine and things started getting done. It is totally not my style to micromanage like this but I’ve found it’s necessary. I’m hoping that’s not the case with all au pairs because I would love for the next one to take more initiative.

Franzi August 11, 2009 at 2:32 pm

@jenny and NewAPMom i think that a detailed schedule is better than no details at all. this will help in the beginning where everything is new to the AP (toys, places to go, how things are being done, how the kids react etc). if after a while you notice that your AP comes up with own suitable ideas on what to do with the kids then you can give her more freedom to do so. if she is like NewAPMom described, then you just continue the detailed schedule.

i don’t think any new AP would mind too much information. it really helps to get settled, but allow opportunities for her to bring in her ideas (so that you don’t micromanage a girl who doesn’t need this).

just to give you an example, when i rematched, i matched to a new library district (i was in the country for 6 months then). at that library they had a so-called playroom. with games, dress up costumes, musical instruments….everything! yet i had no clue and my hostmom never really explained it to me (she figured i would know since i already had been in the country, accustomed to stuff etc). so it never occurred to me to use that room because i didn’t know about the how’s and when’s. turned out i spent at least an hour a week there with the kids once i knew how to sign up ;-) but who would have thought?! don’t take “knowing about things” for granted and rather explain once too many than not at all.

TX Mom August 11, 2009 at 4:11 pm

New HM’s I second Franzi’s advice. There is another post you should read about setting standards from the beginning (put your AP to work right away, etc.) I strongly encourage to give your AP specific ideas and instructions at first; you might not like how some AP’s will fill in the gaps (McD’s playroom or the daycare at the gym…) You can always ease off later. And Jenny, take advantage of the help while you have it! You don’t have to feel selfish; you could have the AP take the older kids for an age appropriate activitiy for them (like the park) while you have bonding time with the newborn (nap.)

Busy Mom August 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Jenny, I’m self-employed and work at home between 3 and 5 days/week. When my kids were little, I found that transitions to new caregivers were much easier when I stayed out of the house for the first few weeks. (this was after I’d spent a few days training when they’d basically shadow me through the days). I’d work at Panera or at my father-in-law’s office, just to give the new nanny/au pair a chance to get used to the kids and the routine. I also made a firm rule that when the office door was closed, the girls were not to disturb me. It was very hard at first. I’d sometimes be working with a crying child outside the door, but my nannies were good at distracting the girls. I’d suggest supplying your au pair with a list of special things/events that she can tempt them with – going outside, going to the park, braiding hair, watching TV – whatever is special/a treat for them. It may sound heartless, but I wanted to ensure that I could efficiently work at home so I wouldn’t routinely have to go to an office and, ultimately, would end up with more time with my kids. I was able to get to the point where I could do just as much work at home as in an office, and I’d save myself 2 1/2 hours of commuting.

It’s hard on kids & caregivers when mom works at home. The kids don’t know who is in charge which puts the caregiver in an awkward situation. So, just be prepared for a rocky start. If you decide not to have her on duty when you’re home, the girls and the au pair may both get used to that situation. Also, don’t feel bad about using the au pair time to get some time to yourself…for whatever!

Jenny August 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Au Pair arrived and she is fantastic. Hubby got laid off on the same day she was arriving, so there has been TOO many cooks in the kitchen, unfortunately. I hope that soon we will be able to get our “normal” schedule in place. I’m so lucky that I seem to have a quality au pair and that even though we aren’t starting off on the same foot we’d like to continue on with everything and too many people at home…she’s going to make it work, I can tell. In the meantime, I’m keeping my working at home time out of sight for now, and hub is trying to do the same with the job searching. We’ve told her that she is learning under very hard circumstances and that she is doing exceptional. Regardless of all the advice, it does make life easier when it comes right down to it and you picked the right person for your family! Thanks for all the advice ladies, you are the best.

Calif Mom August 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

:-) :-(

Best of luck to you all!

Speaking of detailed lists, I came home to find that in this, the last week of “AP Camp” (because we kept real camps to a minimum this summer, timed them just so AP wouldn’t get totally burned out) there was a detailed schedule of the day on the fridge. Yes, the AP has started doing these every day with the kids — herself! woo hoo! Cymbals crash and bells chime out across the land! She discovered the power of it after I suggested one, and mocked one up for her at the beginning of summer. Turns out they’ve been doing it for several weeks when she needed to manage needs/tasks of two disparate-aged kids.

So yes, details are helpful to start with! Schedules and checklists can go viral!

TX Mom August 25, 2009 at 11:10 am

Good luck, Jenny! It might be harder to train your hub than your new AP! :)
I have a question for those seasoned HP’s… School has started for us. I was really prepared with the summer calendar so that the kids (very different ages and needs) were stimulated and the AP wasn’t overwhelmed. But now, one child is in school and the other child is bored. The younger one goes to a pre school a couple mornings a week and still naps in the afternoon; I’m not sure how best to fill the other 3 mornings of the week. I don’t approve of AP taking my kids on errands, to fast food, to the gym daycare, etc. I have had AP’s who will fill the time with “playdates” every day which I think was just the AP’s way to kill time. I want a weekly calendar (library, park, project, etc.) because I don’t want her filling the time inappropriately. Is it “unfair” to make the AP responsible for planning this calendar time for the child? She has a lot of down time (nap) and I don’t.

A August 25, 2009 at 11:49 am

TX Mom, I don’t think it’s unfair to make your AP responsible for planning but in my limited experience (we’ve had 1 AP), if you want something done your way it’s best to explicitly tell the AP. Plus, you probably know better where to look for information on storytimes, etc., in your area.

Busy Mom August 25, 2009 at 5:32 pm

TX Mom, Based on my experience with 1 au pair and a bunch of nannies, you will need to provide guidance and a push. Perhaps give her a list of all acceptable activities – sign up for a library story time, give her the link for the bookstore storytimes, provide a list of parks and other activities. art project, hike, picnic, etc. Stock a craft box. I personally allowed my nannies to take the kids along on my errands, but not on theirs. The grocery store is a wonderful learning & conversational experience for a kid. The entire staff knew my youngest daughter by name :-)

You could provide a paper form and ask her to fill in the blank mornings with activities from your approved list.

Comments on this entry are closed.