For our family, Bare Minimum Mode can be very, very long (I'm thinking the entire first year of Ana Therese's life), more to middling (those first three months of pregnancy), or a few days (flu season!). The longer stretches share several characteristics:
1. We ask for help. We have never, ever had the funds to hire a nanny or even a mother's helper. We beg. I have begged my parents to adopt my small children for three months and take me in as a patient. I have begged my deacon to find older couples to come cook, clean, and entertain kids. I have begged college students to donate hours of their time to change diapers or just take the kids away and return only for bedtime.
2. People come out of everywhere to help. Seriously, we have made the most wonderful friends during our Bare Minimum Time. Men from the Knights of Columbus have cooked amazing quantities of food. Their wives have played with babies. Students have taught my children how to read and paint and knit. Without exception, every person among them has thanked us profusely for asking for help. And we, of course, just gape and thank the good Lord for the communion of saints, for bringing us to our knees, and providing such company in the vale of tears.
3. Nap time becomes sacred. This echoes Jen, but ain't it the truth? Nothing touches the 1-4pm. No one. Nothing.
4. Post-dinner, too, is sacred. No one comes near the Philosopher Home after 8pm. This is time for nursing the baby down, catching a nap while Scientist Dad holds the baby, doing physical therapy, a just winding down and encouraging each other.
5. Laundry is not folded. Now we get to the knitty-gritty: I put two laundry baskets on th living room floor. One is for clean Grown-Up Clothing. The other is for clean Childrens Clothing. I don't care if the 6-year-old puts on the 3-year-old's underwear every day for a month. It's clean, the kids are warm, and I didn't spend my sleeping hours folding laundry.
6. The kids' routine is simplified, but not abandoned. They eat sitting together three times per day. They have snack. They may watch more movies, but also have play time (usually in the happy, morning hours). They have nap (or quiet-time). When their lives are sane, it's easier for the parents to stay sane.
7. Confession and Mass. Both mom and dad must cling to the sacraments. This is the hour. Whatever else goes away--homeschool, ballet class, recreational reading, exercise--these two sacraments must never go away. Monthly Confession and weekly Sunday Mass. It's hard, but these indeed are the Bare Minimum.
It sounds cliche, but it's so true: These times are passing. They come and they go. We always emerge from them blinking a little in the glare of day. Did that really happen? During the dark times, life becomes so physical but also so pure. Our focus is narrowed, but single-minded. We escape the distractions and flurry of ordinary life, and even in the suffering we find a certain peace.