First Week Back

Imagine me taking a deep breath before writing this. Got that image? Good.

The first week back at work has been way tougher than I ever imagined it would be. I’m not sure how things conspired to make this so tough, but tough it is. Instead of the normal balance of two kids, two dogs, homeschool, and a job. I’m trying to balance all of those with an ongoing eye problem (I haven’t mentioned that yet, have I? More blog fodder, I guess), Peyton’s recurring nasty ear infection, and Sam BURNING herself on the power supply for my laptop. The only excuse for the last one is that she’s old and she sleeps like the dead. It’s the only thing that is shaped correctly, so it has to be how she did it and my only guess is that she laid down on it and then fell asleep. It clearly hurts like heck and we have no idea how many hair follicles were permanently destroyed by this little folly, but it requires twice a day medicine plus a cream in the evenings. So, more meds. Lovely.

School is actually going reasonably well for Ben. He is mostly willing to do his work and mostly willing to try even when he feels a little overwhelmed by the skills he’s learning. His handwriting is a little scary, but you can mostly figure out what he’s saying. We’re focused almost entirely on language arts right now (reading, writing, spelling, language development). We do science twice a week, but even that is stressful if there’s too much writing involved. He is getting better though and I’m proud of how far his handwriting has come since we started working on it.

But trying to balance all of that plus Katie, plus work? It’s getting a little frantic up in here. It never helps that after I’ve put a full day in with the kids, my husband will look at me and say, they seem to want some mom time tonight. Um, yeah. I’ll get right on that. So then I don’t even start work until 9p and work until 1 am to be awakened by my darling son at 7am. And we wonder why my fuse is already short.

Part of it is trying to get back into a rhythm. Now, one could argue (and I surely would) that while they’re engrossed in the movie that they’re watching, I should be doing some work rather than writing a blog post complaining about how overwhelmed I am. But the thing is if I don’t let off a little steam right now, I’m going to explode, so blogging wins in order to help me keep my sanity.

Deep breathing. That’s what I need to do. Deep breathing. How do you cope when it all gets to be too much? I really want to know.

Realizations

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and not nearly so much writing, lately. Ben started his first ever week of camp this past Monday and holy moly was I productive that day. A lot of work accomplished. I worked out for the first time in a while, and I sat down and made this hugely ambitious list of things I wanted to do by the end of the week. Here we are on Wednesday, and I’m not nearly through the list. I went on a small Amazon buying spree. I slugged out yesterday and didn’t try the class I wanted to try at the gym. And actually, yesterday, if there were bad parenting awards, I would have definitely been up for the grand prize. I completely sucked as a parent.

I’m better today and I was better Monday. The common theme. Got up. Got breakfast for all human types. Went to the gym. And I think that’s the key . . . the going to the gym part. I think I’m a better parent if I work out. If I take a little time and work through things and listen to my music and make heavy things move or swim or whatever floats my boat that day.

But hot on the heels of that revelation was my sincere panic. How am I supposed to do the million other things I want to do or need to do if I’m taking about two hours to go work out from the morning. Even if I get up with the birds, I still have to drive to the gym, get the kids settled, work out, and then do the reverse of all of that. And that’s when it hit me. I can do this.

I can make the gym my priority for a while and that’s what it is. My priority, but, and this is the big part, if the gym is my priority, then that means that other things aren’t my priority and they, very likely, aren’t going to get done. I think part of this came as I was considering the Blogging the Bible in 90 days challenge that’s coming up (it starts July 5th; if you haven’t signed up go to: Mom’s Toolbox and follow the relevant links. It’s a rewarding thing to do. And that’s it. I got a lot out of it the last time. I’m mentoring this time. I really felt that I should be reading along, too. And then I realized that, right now, I can’t do that. I want to do that the same way I want to be able to make quilts and cross-stitch and knit and take pictures and and and . . . but I can’t do it all.

I’m not one of those people who is now going to say that the feminists sold us a bill of goods and that no one can have it all or that no one can have it all at one time or some other nonsense like that. If you really believe that, then you don’t understand the feminist movement AT ALL. And that’s an argument that I’d love to have with you . . . on another day.

Today, I’m trying to make sure I remember this feeling. I have this moment of perfect clarity right now. I understand. I can be a good parent if I do the things that support ME in being a good parent. That doesn’t mean read every relevant (or irrelevant) book on parenting out there. That doesn’t mean try on different parenting philosophies like I’m in the dressing room at Nordstrom’s. It means playing to my specific strengths and doing what I know works for me and for my kids. For me, that means getting some exercise on a regular basis AWAY from my kids, trying to eat just a little better, and taking a little time to do things that I enjoy. It means letting go of caring about what other people think about how I do things, how I care for my kids, how I relate to our extended families or other people. It means accepting that not everyone is going to like me. Hell, most people are probably not going to like me.

It also means, since I’m homeschooling, working on expanding my comfort zones a bit. It means letting the kids paint and use play dough of varying kinds and scraping the stuff off my floors, walls, and dogs without fighting it. It means sometimes abandoning school in the morning and doing it in the afternoon. And sometimes it means doing school in ways that I almost don’t recognize as school, and you know what? That’s okay, too.

I wrote a post a while ago about my priorities for this year, and I realized recently that I’ve lost sight of them. I need to find a better balance where work isn’t absorbing every free minute I have. I cannot honestly say that at end of my life I want to look back and realize that I spent time that should have been with my kids, my dogs, my spouse, with students and with my computer.

So, there may be some scaling back. There may be some talk about changes in my work/life/home balance. It doesn’t mean I’m going away or that I won’t be back, but I have to decide what matters most and I have to start living like what I say is most important truly is. Otherwise, I’ll have a lifetime of regrets and no one wants that. Especially not me.

Making Work Work

I’ve drifted a bit lately from my larger purpose of talking about how work-at-home and full-time parenting work together and what things I’m learning.

One thing I’ve learned these last few days is that when a kid is sick the work has to be fit in around the kid. Ben has been feverish and generally just ill for the last couple of days. Right now, he and I are cozied up in a recliner in the way that he wants while I set up to evaluate some papers. Of course, I stopped to blog first because, well, I wanted to.

The notable thing, of course, is that the work doesn’t stop just because I’m at home or he’s sick. So, I work with what he’s willing to accept. Right now, I’m typing one-handed and holding onto him with the other. Would he prefer I put the computer down? Probably. Does he understand that sometimes this is the best he can have at this moment? I think so. We’ve worked on connecting my work to things he likes. You get X special thing because Mom works. If Mom didn’t work, you wouldn’t be able to have the special things.

I know some would say that what he needs most is undivided attention. I don’t essentially agree. He gets a great deal of attention, even with a baby sister. He’s started going on errands with me on the weekends, and he’s learned that it’s okay not to get to go every time. He gets to go sometimes and that seems to be enough.

Work is steady and I can’t complain. There are times when it seems like a lot of things all pile on at once. I’ve been moving back toward my “full” load slowly. I teach less than many people I know, but I’m juggling different things than others are. I know many work-at-home types are advocates for having a set work day, turning off the computer, hiring someone to watch the child, and so on.

For me, that defeats the purpose of working from home. I want to be with my kids as much as I can for as long as they want me. If they get a little less attention because I’m working while I’m with them, then I think that’s okay. Ben is most relaxed if I’m there to see things when he’s done with them.

While he’s been in the sickbed, he’s been doing a lot of building with his duplo blocks. Yesterday, he build a staircase. It was wonderful. He didn’t talk to me or really pay attention to anything but his blocks for a bit. Then said, “MomMom, look.” I looked, complimented his work, and he went back to what he was doing. He needed me in that moment, but not for the moments around them.

I do have the luxury of figuring out where and how I want to get the work down around specific deadlines. Grading is challenging, but doesn’t necessarily require the extreme concentration that some other professions may require (numbers and the IRS come to mind). I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have a job that a love in an industry that’s stable that allows me to spend my time as I choose (at least to a degree).

There are times when I have to work and I have to lock myself in my office and let my husband handle our kids. And there are times when I’m desperate for an adult conversation. But, contrast that to this morning when I put Katie down for her nap and I get to hear Ben call, “See you later, Sunshine.” I’ll trade the adult conversation for that.