This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!

After school is probably the most unstructured time of my day. As a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer, I work hard to make the most of the mornings and the opportunities that come after lunch during nap-time. I usually run a bunch of errands after getting my girls to school and breakfast cleaned away. My son and I sneak in some fun playtime and, before we know it, we’re ready to eat lunch. Nap follows soon after the mid-day meal, which gives me some time to do some writing. This set-up usually takes us right up to the bus arriving home and, voilà! Eight hours has vanished and all of my children are home again.

Life is so very busy that I think it’s okay to try to find some calm and take a little bit of the rush out of what is typically “rush hour” in the majority of households.

The hours between 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm are like a twilight zone at my house, because those two hours are so unpredictable. One day might involve a snack, homework, laundry-folding, and a highly anticipated cartoon viewing of “Ready Jet Go” or my girls’ PBS favorite “Odd Squad.”

Other days the weather may be wonderful, and my kids ride bikes outside with the neighbors while some of us stay-at-homies sit on tailgate chairs in our driveways to keep an eye on the kiddos while also mingling in the respite that is adult conversation.

Then there are other afternoons where extra-curricular activities override those two hours and I pretty much spend the whole time carpooling kiddos to different activities and wishfully thinking dinner would prepare itself.

My only real staple of duty for after-school is checking school backpacks, and making sure the girls put their shoes away and hang up their coats. I also try to have a meaningful dialogue about their day, which means getting creative with the questions I ask them. (I’ve written in earlier posts about the need to ask different questions to really engage kids so that they share details and actively converse.)

Here are a few of my favorite things to ask my daughters:

1 | What did you do at recess?

2 | What did you do in your “specials” today? (Specials at our school include art, music, computer, P.E., library, and guidance.)

3 | What did you pick for lunch?

4 | Who did you sit by at lunch?

5 | Who did you play with at recess?

My kids are big talkers, but it still feels good to ask them about things in a way that mandates we will get beyond the standard: “yes,” “no,” or “fine.” Generic questions like: “How was your day?” or “Did you do well on your assignment?” often inspire these one-word answers.

Also, if I’m being entirely honest, once 3:30 rolls around I’m pretty tired as a mother. I’ve usually been going full bore the entire day and just want to relax and enjoy my kids before the chaos of dinner and the witching hour that’s known as prepping for bedtime.

I probably need to be better about having a chore list and making sure my eight-year-old and six-year-old are aware of the responsibilities that go with keeping a house in order and somewhat clean. However, those two hours are not my strongest. I just want to relax or, at the very least, ratchet my Type-A, over-scheduled self down a notch or two.

I think of the time between 3:30 and 5:30 as my auto-pilot – the calm before the storm that my family calls the end of a long day. It’s the quietness before my husband gets home from work and my kids turn into hyenas. It’s the serene tranquility before the need to exercise, pay bills, empty a dishwasher, and lay out school clothes for the next day takes over my existence.

The after-school hours can be wild, but I choose to make them as pleasant as possible. It doesn’t always work because deadlines, music practice, gymnastics, and seasonal allergies can wreak their own special type of havoc. However, it’s the thought that counts, right?