The work-life balancing act

When we moved back to Michigan, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to take my job with me and transition to working from home full-time. It was a huge part of why we were able to move in the first place, and it was the tipping point that led us to fully commit to Kalamazoo. Kristin actually secured a job during the week that we came to search for a house, which was quicker than we’d expected her to find one, but being able to bring my NY job with us was a big deal. Because I work from home, and K has to leave for work no later than 7:00 a.m. (and because our day care doesn’t open till 7:30) I handle the entire morning routine with the kids. Lately it’s been a struggle for me to keep my cool and still get everyone out the door at a reasonable hour. I always start off with good intentions of doing zero yelling and creating a peaceful start to the day that sends the kids off to preschool feeling loved and supported. One of the main problems is that my definition of a peaceful morning involves a slow, unscheduled breakfast (we’re big breakfast eaters in this house) and one of the key ingredients to getting kids out the door on time (or so I hear) is lots of rigidity: rules about what happens in what order, lots of pre-planning and prep the night before, charts with pictures and stickers to indicate the order of things, kitchen timers etc. None of that jives with my idea of a peaceful morning, so I know that I’m really the problem here. My attitude probably encourages them to drag their feet and follow their whims.

Here’s how the morning usually plays out: Kristin wakes me up at about 6:45 before she leaves for work. Sometimes one or both of the twins are awake, lately no one is (probably because of the “spring forward” that happened recently). I head for the kitchen and start cooking breakfast (this is probably another mistake); I insist on making them a hot breakfast every morning. Normally that’s pancakes (one mashed banana, two scrambled eggs, a splash of milk, a tablespoon or so of ground flax seed, a tablespoon or so of shredded coconut, and a sprinkle of cinnamon) or sometimes French toast or oatmeal. They also eat enough raisin bread to keep the industry afloat. Everyone wakes up on their own shortly thereafter (usually) and comes to the counter to eat. I recently tried to switch to the rule “you must get dressed before eating” but then I forgot and we all went back to breakfast in pjs. They take forever to eat and take a lot of breaks to play with toys, and I spend a lot of time saying, “Are you done with breakfast? You need to get dressed.” It’s usually between breakfast and getting dressed that I begin making threats and eventually start to yell because we’re late again. Eventually I wrestle everyone into clothes, change the twins’ diapers, and get myself dressed in something semi-presentable, sans shower. I shout for everyone to move to the mud room for shoes and coats, that whole exercise takes awhile because it’s winter and we have to find all of the things (I know that I should find all of it and lay it out the night before, and sometimes I do but sometimes I just don’t feel like it). I let them out the door and they all wander into the driveway looking for neighborhood cats and I nag them to get into the car. Buckling three carseats really deserves its own step in the process, and just as I’m about to back out of the driveway the song requests usually start pouring in from the back. Sometimes I’m a grouch and tell them no, we’re too late for me to fiddle with Spotify, but most of the time I pull up the playlist of their faves and let them each make a request.

By the time I drop them all off at school (which isn’t quick, but again that’s probably on me – I like to talk to teachers to keep tabs on what’s going on), I’m racing home to jump in the shower and start work by 9:00, which is always a stretch. Working from home is such a weird, weird thing. One of my colleagues asked me early on if I now have tons of time back that I lost on a 1.25 hour (each way) commute in New York. I told her that honestly? I have less, at least if we’re talking about time for me. In New York that 1.25 hours each way allowed me to read, listen to podcasts or music, or even sleep on the train. After my workday I knew that I had that length of time to decompress before walking in the door and having to be “on” as mom. Working from home, I rush straight from dropping them all off into whatever work project is pressing in the morning, and then when Kristin heads out to pick them up around 5:00 I’m rushing to complete as much work as I can in my last hour before the kids burst in and need my undivided attention. That doesn’t mean that I would trade it, a big part of the reason why we moved was to lose our commutes and be able to give that time back to our family, and I do love that we have more of our evenings together.

I remember chatting with another mom of three in the months after the twins were born. She had twin boys Jonah’s age (we were in the same birthing class), and her daughter was born around the same time as the twins. I asked her how things were going with three under three and she said that most days they were in a routine, but if someone got sick the wheels were off the bus. I know exactly what she means. This winter seems to have been a particularly rough one for illness, and K and I have had to do some juggling to figure out who could stay home with a sick kid most easily, depending on the day and week. Because I have more PTO days available and more flexibility in taking them, most of the time that’s me (although she’s more than fair about staying home whenever it’s necessary).

This week has felt like one of those “wheels are off the bus” weeks. On Monday, K left for work before the kids were up and when I woke Jude up I noticed that one of his eyes was pretty crusty. We’d received an email from preschool last week saying that pink eye was going around at school, so I’d known it was a possibility but hadn’t given it a ton of thought. I knew right away that he should stay home, and figured I’d take Vivi and Jonah and then run Jude to urgent care before heading back home to start my work day. Despite some evidence to the contrary I still expect that with only one sick kid I should be able to get work done more or less as usual. By the time we got to preschool and I went to unbuckle V from her car seat it was clear that she too had crusty eyes. I told her that she had to stay with me and she was mad as hell (they love school). When her teacher came out to take a quick peek and give me instructions, V wouldn’t even look at either of us. I dropped Jonah with his teacher and headed across town to urgent care with the twins. At this point I still thought that maybe I could just wrap this up quickly and get in a full work day. I let my boss know what I was up to and she gave me the go-ahead (fortunately I also work for a very flexible and very family-friendly organization). Urgent care wasn’t busy at all, but things like this still take way more time than I ever anticipate. Every person there was entirely charmed by Jude and Vivi (it’s actually kind of fun because at pediatric offices kids are no big thing, but when you go to urgent care they’re the favorite patients of the day). They noticed one of those coat hooks that has a rounded top and two curved hooks and excitedly showed me the “octofish,” and Vivi pointed to the light they use to examine eyes and ears and said “that robot check my ears” (we’re really into robots around here lately).

Despite my stress over my day being derailed, I tried hard to stay in the moment and really notice the cute stuff and the way that everyone else appreciated their presence. I knew that I was lucky to be with them, but it was also tough not to think about work. Because I have the privilege of working from home unsupervised, I feel a huge responsibility to demonstrate my reliability and punctuality and to deliver results in noticeable ways. I know that being a mom has a huge impact on the guilt factor as well; I never want my colleagues to assume that because I have children (and because they get sick and things come up unexpectedly) I may deliver less than others or not show up the way that I’m expected to. Being a mom who also works from home (with colleagues who, by and large, do not work from home) is a tremendous blessing but also a consistent source of guilt and anxiety.

With their prescriptions in hand (pink-eye confirmed – fortunately Vivi loves “raindrops” and asks for them regularly, the boys have to be pinned down for eyedrops) I headed out to fill them. Vivi started asking for mac and cheese, so I decided to fill the prescription at the grocery store on the way. I dropped it at the pharmacy and was told that it would take 20 or 30 minutes, so, wearing Vivi and pushing Jude in the cart, I went after the shopping list that Kristin left with me that morning (she’d fully intended to do the shopping on her way home from work, but since I had 20 minutes to kill anyway…). Once I was back at the pharmacy and the prescription still wasn’t ready, I thought a lot about how much easier this must all feel if you’re a stay-at-home mom. That’s probably an incorrect and unfair assessment, and I’m sure an actual SAHM would have lots to say on the matter – dealing with sick kids isn’t easy for anyone, but knowing that I was supposed to be at work and wondering what my boss and my colleagues might think of this situation just made the whole thing harder. I imagined what it might be like to know that all day long I was supposed to be with the kids, meeting their needs, shopping for dinner groceries etc. How much more in-the-moment might I be?


Jude making a call on my wireless mouse while I give up on getting any work done

By the time I got home it was almost noon. The twins needed lunch and a nap and I knew that the chance of me getting more than two hours of work done was absurd at best. I let my boss know that I was logging the whole day as a sick day and apologized for the chaos. What made the whole thing worse was that the following day, Jonah had an appointment with a new pediatrician for a pre-surgery physical because on Friday he’s having his top two front teeth pulled under anesthesia. The Tuesday appointment was another one that I’d hoped would be in-and-out, but instead it took 90 minutes, and Friday I knew I’d be missing at least a half-day if not a full-day of work for the dental surgery. I’m compulsively honest about this stuff, so I made sure to get a few hours of work in while the twins napped on Monday to make up for the time I might miss on Tuesday, and entered Friday into our HR system well in advance, but this week has still been psychologically overwhelming as I’ve felt pulled in two opposing directions. The fact that I could potentially fly under the radar while all of this goes on in the background somehow feels even worse than just not showing up at the office in an obvious way.

Add all of this to the fact that dealing with medical professionals has a tendency to completely undo me as it is (another post for another time) and I’ve been unraveling a little bit this week. Send us good thoughts as we head into dental surgery tomorrow morning.





One thought on “The work-life balancing act

  1. Jeezo beezo, lady. This reads like a disaster movie. It’s like, ‘What catastrophe is going to befall our heroine next!’ My favorite line of the whole entry: “By the time we got to preschool and I went to unbuckle V from her car seat it was clear that she too had crusty eyes. I told her that she had to stay with me and she was mad as hell (they love school). When her teacher came out to take a quick peek and give me instructions, V wouldn’t even look at either of us.”

    Keep your head up! You’re an inspiration.


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