This is one of those mandatory posts that I really enjoy reading on other blogs. I like finding out how moms with young kids who also work at home, or exercise, or both, organize their daily schedules. I’m fascinated by how different all of our days are, yet how common the denominator of trying to balance all the Many Needs at once is. Flexibility seems to be key, as is knowing your own particular proclivities and strengths, and the idiosyncrasies of your kids. What works for my friends’ kids just doesn’t fly with mine, and vice versa.
I was also inspired by Tara‘s recap of how she survived a solo parenting weekend. My husband travels a fair bit (not as much as many, and luckily he hasn’t traveled too much since we became a family of four) and those weeks are always the most challenging. The mental energy of wake-up to bed-time single parent duty is somehow so much more draining than parenting 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That’s only one measly hour or two hours of help before the kids are asleep, so you’d think it wouldn’t matter too much to go it alone all the way through, yet something about the psychology of it seems harder.
For instance, this week Walt will be gone Wednesday and Thursday nights. Not a huge deal, I’ve done ten nights alone when I just had Anna. But that means I have no real way to even work out those two days. I only want to take one rest day this week, so how can I finagle the other day? Anna isn’t in school right now, so no jogging stroller runs. No 7 p.m. runs because no husband. I don’t really have any family who babysits. I’m iffy on the gym day care with Henry at his age, so I might actually hire a babysitter to work out. Crazy, right? But I know I will feel better if I get even an hour to go to Spin class, alone.
Not that there’s any time off from stressing about the kids. Is Henry crying because I’m gone (he’s a little attach-y lately)? Is he about to eat something he shouldn’t? I don’t have One Amazing Babysitter right now that allows me total relaxation, that the kids are okay, that I get when my husband is with them. Not that I’m leaving them with anyone that would be unsafe in any way, it’s just that Feeling of being totally free from worry. That’s why I’m admittedly pretty jealous of people whose parents or in-laws watch their kids for them. When it’s family, you just know your kids are safe, and happy, and with people they love, and who love them. You just don’t get that with a non-family member, as caring as they may be.
So anyway, the day in the life struggles (this one goes out to my homies out there) do get increasingly complicated when you throw in a traveling spouse. But it’s kind of fun, in a perverse way. It’s like a game: Here are your Limiting Factors, and here are your Things That Must Get Done. Now go! Besides the occasional sitter, when my husband travels, we also schedule as many playdates, friends, and outings as we can to make the time pass and we eat out once somewhere kid-friendly like the diner.
I thrive on deadlines, and pressure, and stress, and multitasking, and OMG Can I make it moments? So I don’t mind (except for when I mind). And I’ve reduced the list of Things That Must Get Done out of necessity. I can’t make a babysitting grandma materialize (although I’m not gonna lie, I’ve in-my-mind invented an exchange bureau where lonely elderly types can Adopt a Grandkid) and I can’t–for now, at least–make my baby nap in his crib, or make my husband get home at 5 p.m. So the list of non-negotiables has dwindled down:
Kids gotta get fed. Me too. I need to eat. Everyone has to brush their teeth, and floss, and take vitamins. The baby has to nap SOMEHOW, SOMEWAY, even if we have to go through drive-thrus and sit in the car with him, or I have to sit my butt down on the couch to hold him while giving Anna something quiet to do (read: iPad or movie).
Screen time has to be kept to a minimum. I’m pretty stickler about this. I use TV, movies or iPad very sparingly (and tactically). Want to watch Charlotte’s Web? I need to run that request through my Napoleon Machiavellian Mommy brain to figure out how to best to wring the most out of that time.
I have work calls that have to be taken, sometimes, maybe one to five times per week. I have at least three stories to file per month, which is not a lot at all, but because I never know when I will get the time to work, I start early and well ahead of my deadlines. I could work way more, but I don’t think without a regular child care arrangement I could do much more than I do now. I guess I could bite the bullet and set something up, and then dedicate those hours to pitching and networking and getting more work, but I haven’t made this decision yet. Partly because I don’t know who I would hire. If something extra falls in my lap (someone calls me, looking for a writer for a specific project) I absolutely take it and make it work. But I haven’t felt a pressing urge to Push, work-wise right now. I do periodically work on pitches and emails, and I stay on top of networking groups. I mostly work when the kids play. Henry is fabulous at playing. My older one, the extrovert to the core that she is, wouldn’t play independently until she was three years old. She used to cry for me to play with her, all day, unless we went out and played with friends or went on outings. We never stayed home because that meant her asking me to play pretend All DAY. I worked during her daily three hour naps. Then she stopped napping at 2.5 years old, but by then, she had undergone a major change in playing (on her own) and became an excellent player. I briefly worked a full-time job around that time (editing a local online paper) with her at home and no child care at all.
Luckily, Henry is great at playing. There are many days (non-teeething weeks) when Henry and Anna hang out, playing Legos (the big favorite here) for two, three hours in the morning while I bang out my work, interspersed with feeding, playing, talking to, caring for them of course. I’m pretty okay with that kind of interrupted work, I can go back and forth quickly, and I work fast, but I know some work at home people hate this. I also use Henry’s car naps to do work calls, edit things, and I even splurged for a Mac Airbook for this express purpose.
My workouts. That’s the other non-negotiable, because it just is. Sanity and all. This week I will: use the gym day care or baby-sitter twice, run after my husband gets home at 7 p.m. twice, and take advantage of him having summer Fridays to make it to a class on Friday, for my sixth workout of the week. When summer ends, I’ll have to figure out another way to get that other weights day in. Do I like running at 7 p..m? When it’s dinner time, and my husband just came home and I’m totally tired? No way. But I hate not running more. Fall will hopefully bring an easier schedule, as Anna will be in preschool five mornings, and I can run with the stroller every damn day. That will be a lot easier on our family’s schedule.
Besides those Musts, we fill the rest of our weekdays with fun stuff. In one summer week, using last week as an example, we went to the beach twice, the pool once, a farm festival, errands, a bookstore story time, a library class, walks, play dates, lunch out, and several playgrounds (whew!).
So what are the flexible things that may or may not happen?
The dog has to get walked, but not every day. That’s one of those things, that not ideally, I’ve relaxed on. Sorry, dog. I do what I can.
Baths? They do not happen every night, or even every other night. Just doesn’t happen in my house. Every three days is a good estimate, and the kids are fine. They smell like roses and My Little Ponies anyway. My showers? Best left unsaid.
My husband’s workouts. This is bad. He needs to work out more, for his health (and happiness). I’m nagging him lately to run before work. He sleeps all night away from the baby so he gets uninterrupted sleep every night. Before Henry was born I worked out at 5 a.m. before he went to work and I will again when the baby sleeps through the night. I know it sucks, but he’s even more of a morning person than I am, and if I did it, he can too. At least one or two days, so with the weekends, he gets 4,5 days of workouts in. He could theoretically work out at night after work, but it’s really hard, he’s tired from commuting, and I admit I don’t love having him gone again after I just spent 12 hours alone with two kids, with zero breaks (no naps in the crib blah blahblah). But we need to get better at figuring out a way for him to exercise regularly (besides the weekends). Before Henry (B.H.) I would bring his gym clothes and sneakers to the gym with me, he would meet us there and we would both work out with Anna in the day care from 7 to 8 p.m. It was late, but it worked. Anna got to play with her friends, after I fed her dinner earlier. Maybe when Henry gets older we can do this again. I kind of forced him to start, even if he was tired, by having his clothes there, and he would thank me later. (told you so)
Cooking is also not a Must. I like to cook, and I try to do it most nights, but other nights we eat pizza and bagged salad or leftovers and I’m perfectly fine with that. I never got the whole, OMG, my husband and kids can’t eat leftovers horror I hear about. Like, leftovers are good. Sometimes they are even delicious. I also stopped making some things from scratch I used to. I used to make my own salad dressing (so much better than bottled) and I used to get lettuce from farm stands that I used to have to soak and spin…Now I just use shortcut things. Frozen veggies are good, they are healthy, and I do still cook from fresh ingredients, just not every night.
Cleaning obviously has to happen. I am by nature a clean freak, but I have to be honest, and say my house was cleaner B.H. (before Henry). I can’t devote the three hours of hardcore scrubbing to a heavy clean like I could when I had a napping kid. I kind of clean as I go. Like, literally. I clean things AS I PASS THEM BY. Also having a Roomba vacuum is the best thing ever, especially with a dog that sheds. So worth the money.
Right now, it’s Sunday at 1 p.m. My husband’s at the gym, and I’m waiting for him to come home so I can go run. I can’t even get dressed to run, because Henry is napping in the car, with the a/c on, in the driveway. Anna is eating a Nutella on whole wheat bread sandwich and playing Legos inside (I can see her and Henry at the same time from the front lawn, where I’m typing this on my laptop). This is a ridiculous way, to live, this life I lead, yet it’s mine, and I somehow make it through. I’m sure some of it seems crazy to some of you, but I guess my point, if I have one, is that you really never know how your life has to work sometimes, or why something else works for another family. And the kids are alright. They’re happy, and healthy, and beautiful, and their hair even shines, and their brains are polite, inquisitive, creative, fun and friendly. We’re doing okay. Somehow.