A Working Mother’s Twelve Days of Christmas

I survived the holidays. They are over for me. That is because from here on out, I have no more serious obligations or demands on my schedule. “We’re leaving on a jet plane” today. Unfortunately, I know when I’ll be back again. Nonetheless, I am about to embark on my longest vacation that I have had since I went to Argentina with my BFF in 2004.

I am a survivor!

Because we are going away for Christmas, holiday deadlines got moved up (in a big way) for me this year. I had 10 fewer days than I usually do to get all the Christmas shopping and wrapping done. That is partly why my schedule has felt totally over the top insane since Thanksgiving. Here is a short list of all I have accomplished:

  1. Hosted Thanksgiving for 15 people (including myself) while my husband was out-of-town. (#singleparenting) I calculated that I spent 4 hours just grocery shopping. (Went to four different stores – one just to get the fresh turkey – and once had to go back to get canned pumpkin and eggs. #totallyforgot)
  2. Made the Thanksgiving 4-day break (which felt like a serious vacay, to me, peeps) fun by taking the kids to the Botanic Garden and a Christmas parade, while intermittently cleaning up,  putting away Thanksgiving entertainment ware and decorations, bringing out Christmas decor, and wrapping presents when the kids weren’t looking. And, even though I had missed choir and praise band practice that week (and weeks prior), I was asked Saturday evening if I could help out and sing that Sunday morning, which means I was at church practicing at 8:15 and didn’t get home until after noon (the morning after The Hub had just gotten home from his week away to visit his family). Thankfully, I had nothing else to do that weekend – what with out-of-town guests soon to be arriving – so spending almost four hours at church that morning made the rest of the day easy. (If sarcasm is a sin, then I will spend eternity repenting.)
  3. Still, I managed to get all the Christmas decorations, including the tree, up by December 1st, to host my parents and three out-of-town relatives. This involved piecemeal tree decorating at 5 am two mornings in a row: one morning lights; one morning garland. The kids put up all the ornaments one evening. At 8:30 that night, after lugging the last of the boxes back down to the basement, I looked at the clock and realized I had missed choir practice…again. #totallyforgot
  4. Helped my mom plan and throw a surprise 70th birthday party for my dad on December 2nd. This involved spending the majority of that Saturday running last minute errands, including getting the cake and twinkly lights for the palm trees. It also included setting up for the party and putting twinkly lights on the palm trees with my brother. Have you ever tried putting twinkly lights on palm trees? I don’t recommend it.
  5. It just so happened that a very large work project was also due on December 1st. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the deadline got pushed and contracts got pulled. And I and another woman completed in three days what we had contracted with another company to complete in one month. That all happened the week of Dec. 4th. One night, the kids made their own dinner while I worked at home into the evening. (SC2 made herself oatmeal, chicken nuggets, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Yes, Fresh. Squeezed. Orange. Juice. The child is so Type A, she is going to get her own page in the Type A world record books.)
  6. After surviving the work project (that added about 5 hours to my work week), I spent all of Saturday running errands. And when I mean I spent all of Saturday running errands, I mean that I spent the entire day running errands for all the things that I hadn’t had time for between hosting three parties in the previous two weeks. Most of these errands were returns for some clothes I had bought online and/or things we needed for our upcoming trip. We also squeezed in a Christmas Pageant practice (that I mercifully did not have to attend as a cue parent for the first time in 4 years) and a birthday party of a very close family friend (or I would have skipped it). Sunday was the actual pageant (why do they call it a pageant?), and the afternoon was spent stuffing business holiday cards with my mother for my father’s business (that I help him with on the side, #secondjob) and helping him e-file a notice of appeal. That evening I spent sorting clothing into piles: Keep. Donate. Move from SC1’s closet to SC2’s closet. Take on trip. Leave at home.
  7. Somewhere during this time frame, I stopped sleeping. Instead of waking up between 4 and 5, I started waking up earlier and earlier between 3 and 4. And then one day this past week, my body even had the audacity to wake up at 2:15. But that is the only reason I got everything done. Because, remember, I am still “just” trying to work full-time and feed my kids during this whole mess. In addition, The Hub started a class when he got back from his week-long trip over Thanksgiving. The class doesn’t get him home until 11 pm on Wednesdays, and he is gone from noon until 6 on Sundays. (#moresingleparenting)
  8. This past week I spent finishing up all other last minute errands and wrapping all the last of the Santa gifts that my neighbor will kindly put under the tree while we are gone to the surprise the kids when we get home on Christmas afternoon. Only, I woke up this morning (any guesses what time?) unsure if she actually has a key our house….Gotta rectify that before our early morning departure! #whatkeepsyouawake)
  9. I gave myself permission to not get out all my Christmas/Hanukkah cards before we left, but somehow I squeezed that in there, too. Although, there are still a few stragglers after “T,” so if you are at the end of the alphabet, you may not see your card until after the 26th.
  10. I enjoyed a bad cold from December 3rd to about yesterday, as well as some seriously fierce PMS that drove me to actually honk at my own children in the driveway when they couldn’t figure out how to exit our vehicle and enter our house. (It’s apparently hard.) I apologized later to my neighbor for disturbing her while she strung white lights on her evergreen bushes in the front. I apologized to my kids, too. (But, seriously!) “Happy Holidays….”
  11. I also ended up skipping (or declining invitations for) four parties I was invited to (all in the same week), due to said cold. I felt badly about this, but given that each day I also had been awake since around 3:00 in the morning, I have no idea how I would have survived that. Or made time for them!
  12. You may recall my recent holiday toast mentioned two back-to-back school concerts this past week. That was fun. (That statement is a blend of both sarcasm and truth: I do really love attending the children’s concerts and activities. The logistics of doing so, however, are always a bit much.)

That seems like a pretty well-rounded list of the Working Mom’s Twelve Days of Christmas. If I was really clever, I’d turn that into a song.

That brings me to honoring this blogger for writing one of the best blog posts about parenting I’ve read in a long time. My favorite of her paragraphs include the ones that begin:

“This is for the full time working moms…”

“This is for the mom who is home all day and loses her patience so often and so ugly…”

“This is for the mom who plans all the fun things to do and see and when the time comes is so stressed out from the planning…”

“This is for the mom who is always worried about how they will pay for things…”

“This is for the mom who feels as though she has nothing left to give her partner, her work, her passions, her creative endeavors, her friends, her family…”

“This is for the mom whose house is never clean, whose laundry is never altogether done or put away…” and

“The mental load of motherhood is heavier than laundry. There’s always more laundry and there’s always more to worry about.”

Well said, Ms. Katy Blogger. Thank you for expressing so much of what I have been feeling lately. Thank you for making me feel less alone in this whole parenting endeavor.

Yesterday, I woke up again at 3:30. I didn’t get out of bed until 3:45. I had nothing urgent that needed tending to. (Thank you, God.) I was able to sit at my computer with my coffee and blog and share with you all the things that make me tired and wake me up in the morning (or middle of the night). I thought I would sleep-in, but I’ve been waking up so early for so long now, I’m sure I’m doomed until Spring Forward when I can start waking up at my “normal” 4:30 time again. All I had to do was pack, and though there was a lot to pack, and a lot to remember, I felt relaxed and happy. I still am. I have absolutely nothing on my agenda for this trip (other than to see the Grand Canyon! #bucketlist), and I plan to savor every single minute of it.

Friday night, we watched some family videos from Christmastime 2010 and 2011. SC1 was two and then three. SC2 was a baby and then one. (I also looked skinnier than I remember myself looking. Dang!) It was a good reminder to try to live in the moment and just enjoy the now as best as we possibly can.

It can be hard. I really get that. The stress. The literally never-ending to-do lists. The constant barrage of needs and little hands grabbing at you, pulling on your clothes and hanging onto your neck, choking you. But…this holiday season, I am promising myself and my family: I am going to slow it all down. For 10 days. For 10 days, I am going to try to make time stand still and imprint the memories of this time together into my brain. And just….relax.

May you, too, Mom on 11, get a breather. May you have a blessed holiday season!

Econ-mom: Well now I feel like a slacker! 😛  Honestly we’ve been busy this year too – I am also leaving town so I tried to get everything done by today.  It’s Sunday and I’m at a coffee shop (about to work on my paper right after I write this!) because it’ll be my last day to work before I head out of town, and I have a conference deadline on Jan. 15th.  I can’t say everything has gone smoothly for me – Thursday was going to be the last day I saw my son’s nanny this year and I got some gifts for her children, but 5 minutes before I needed to leave to pick up Tuffy I realized I couldn’t find them.  (I had hidden them from Peanut, and myself apparently.)  I couldn’t remember where I put them and I thought DH might have been the one to hide them so I called him at work.  When he said he had no idea I basically said “Bleep bleepity bleep now I don’t have the gifts and I’m going to be late to school to pick up Tuffy and he’s going to wander off and get kidnapped and DIE!”  So… honking at your kids isn’t so bad Law-mom! 🙂  (PS. He didn’t die and I ran home and found the gifts while he was at chess club.)

But other than that I actually have felt pretty good this year, at least relative to the past few years. (Even though I realized the other day that I *might* have given some of the teachers inactive gift cards – I mean, I do feel badly about this but I didn’t freak out.)  I think because it’s the first year in a few years that I’m getting a semi-decent amount of sleep!  Last year I was literally in tears because my Christmas cards were going to be late.  This is what happens to your mental health when you have a child who is awake from 2-4am every night. (Oh and by the way we were in the process of moving to a new city so I think I get a pass for being a hot mess then.) This year I’m adopting Marshall’s motto (one of the dogs from Paw Patrol) – ‘Do your best and forget the rest!’ (Some poor frazzled mom probably writes this character.)

So happy holidays to all of us and don’t forget to do your best and forget the rest!!

This Thanksgiving, I am Thankful for My Village

How many people does it take to get to get two kids to school, to tutoring, and back home on a regular work day? Four. It takes four people: Their mom (myself) and three neighbors who helped me out on Monday before and after school. Thank you, friends! I also need to thank my aunt who came to “Special Someone Day” at my children’s school on Friday. (That is another blog post about the incompatibility of school schedules and demands and work schedules and demands.)

The struggle is real, as they say. So is the guilt. “What if ALL women worked?” I ask myself, daily.** Then what? What would happen to the PTOs? The church youth group run by faithful volunteers? Who could help me out in a pinch like yesterday when my train was running 15 minutes late? A 15 minute delay may not sound like a lot of time, but it is when it takes you 15 minutes to walk home from the train in order to jump in the car to drive another 15 minutes to pick up your child on time from tutoring. It’s also a huge delay when you are then supposed to drive another 15 minutes back to get to a 20 minute parent-teacher conference on time. (That was some awesome scheduling on my part. #mentalload.)

The world needs caretakers. It is an undervalued role in our society, which usually falls on the backs of women. I am very grateful for the caretakers in my community, who make it possible for me to work and, therefore, live in the same community with them. It is a privilege to know and live among them. They are a blessing to our family and our community as a whole.

I loved Econ-mom’s comment in our last post that the only way she “does it all” is by living in abject filth. The only way I “do it all” is with the help of my friends and family. Thank you to my village! This Thanksgiving, I give effusive thanks for your support.

 

**If all men and women had to work, maybe there would be a change in how we structure the school calendar.

Is a “Mom on 11” and a “Default Parent” the Same Thing?

Dear Friends:

Yes, you, too, might be a “Mom on 11.” How do you know if you are one?

You do too d*** much.

Now, one might argue that all mothers are, by their very nature, “Moms on 11.” (Although, I’m sure we can all think of some people who do not win this excellent award/title.) But, if you are the default parent, have a Type A personality, and/or are a WAH-Pinterest Mom, then you very likely may be a Mom on 11, too.

I acquired the Mom on 11 title from my beloved husband (The Hub, who loves “Spinal Tap”). He thinks that I try to be and do too much for my kids. I have fought him for a long time on this irritating label, because, I actually like to consider myself the opposite of a Mom on 11, who has taught her kids how to pack their lunches and do their homework without prompting – by not doing it for them.

But, I suppose, if I am forced to be honest with myself, I deserve the “Mom on 11” title by virtue of what my days look like. I mean, if you’re working at your computer from 5:30 am to 6:30 pm with nary a break, you work hard. You work a lot. And when you are not working, you are usually toiling away at unpaid domestic labor. We all know the drill: laundry, dishes, dinner. Laundry, dishes, dinner. Laundry, dishes, dinner. It’s an exhausting hamster wheel of thanklessness.

A lot has been written about a woman’s (usually mothers’) mental load, or emotional labor.

I can’t say this mental load imbalance looks a lot different in our home, but I have a few points:

(1) I have two daughters. So, I cannot raise boys who will not repeat the well-worn-out cycle of male-domestic-cluelessness. Moms of boys (Econ-mom): You need to do this for the sake of my daughters. I thank you in advance for your service.

(2) Some of it is my fault. From the get-go, I was so determined to be the “best mom ever” (ergo, “Mom on 11” title) that I took on a lot of the mental load tasks myself. And I wanted to. I mean, what mom doesn’t want to have fun shopping for girls’ clothes? Also, I “leaned away” for the first five years of parenting and only worked from home on a part-time basis, so I had time to attend to all the “default parent” tasks. [Topic for another day: Why moms, and not dads, quit their jobs to be at home with their kids. Biological? Cultural? Economic? Discuss.]

(3) The Hub is an amazing hub, who does more than the average male around the house. So, I am not complaining. But I do manage many, many tasks that I don’t think ever cross his mind. But am I wrong about that? And should I just be delegating more?

I have linked a lot of articles to respond to here, Econ-mom. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Econ-mom’s response:

Well, there is a lot to discuss here!  First of all, on the topic of raising boys to break this cycle – I have a lot to say about raising boys in general, because this topic has been in the news a lot lately.  Just yesterday I read this article in which Michelle Obama says: “The problem is we love our boys and we raise our girls.”  I am a big fan of Michelle Obama, and I’m sure there is some truth in this statement, but I, of course, take issue with it on a personal level. However I think this is a topic for another post.  For now I will say this – IF I am lucky enough to get a job soon (I am in the process of submitting job applications now, wish me luck!) then our family will soon undergo a role reversal, and my boys will grow up in a house where their father is in charge of the morning routine, shopping, cleaning, you name it. (By the way, I am terrified at the mere idea of this change, but I do think that living this example for the boys would be one of the best ways to break that cycle.)

In our house, I – of course – became the default parent. This is largely because I’m not the one earning money, but it also had a lot to do with the very early differences in the amount of time we each spent parenting.  Interestingly, I do feel like DH (dear husband) and I started out on very equal footing.  Which is to say we were both completely clueless when it came to parenting.  I swear to you, when we brought our son home from the hospital we did not own a package of wipes.  (Trust me, I remember this accurately.  If you have ever tried to clean up meconium without wipes, you would remember too.)  We laughed and cried and tried to learn everything together, as an equal partnership.  That lasted for about 10 days, and then DH left for a work trip for over three weeks.  Needless to say by the time he returned, I was the parenting ‘expert’.  And the difference in skill level only continued to snowball from there.  Once one person is better at changing diapers, for example, it’s easier for that person to just do it, rather than force the weaker parent to catch up, so to speak.

Now, our case was a bit extreme, and it was 100% our fault, since we made the decision to try for a baby knowing what DH’s work schedule would be.  However, part of why we were foolish enough to have a baby so close to his work trip was because of the message sent to us by society.  How much paternity leave do most men take? According to this article, the median amount is ONE WEEK. Clearly this is a huge part of the problem, and MEN need to be the ones pushing for this to change. Men need to be brave and trust that if they push for flexible work policies, as their female counterparts have been doing for DECADES, they will not get fired. Okay, I can’t actually promise that they won’t get fired, but I can promise that this fight is worth fighting. Men should want this. It’s baffling to me how rarely you see men come forward and say, “Actually, we’ve never ‘had it all,’ because so many of us have worked our butts off to make it to the C-suite and sacrificed our relationships with our children, and it wasn’t worth it.”

Law-mom’s response: All great points, EM! Yes, we will have to discuss some of the finer points buried in this week’s post in the future. Thank you for tackling so much here!