On June 13th 2008, I worked my last 9 to 5er at my employer, and went on mat leave and began Baby Watch ’08. With a due date of June 26th, we were sure we would have only a few short weeks of me at home before the baby came, and so I filled my first two weeks with fun activities around the house – lunch with friends, scrapbooking, baking, and generally moaning about how hugely pregnant I was. I remember thinking about the oodles all the time I would have to continue these leisurely activities after the baby was born. Along came Kale (two weeks late) and, as happens with kids, it’s suddenly September of 2009, my maternity leave is over, and we’ve made the decision that I’m staying home and the oodles of time is nothing but a pipe dream. I was recently asked by a friend “how we did it”.
Somehow kids engulf time not in a straight forward way, but exponentially, and with a voracious appetite I didn’t think possible. Something in my pre-kid life that was a quick 10 minutes, say, running up to the shoe cobbler to drop off my favorite sandals for a re-soling – is suddenly a 90 minute trip involving bags of goodies, a handful of toys, baby wrangling, side excursions to the playground and somewhere in there I just might remember to actually drop off the sandals. I’m not complaining, but as a person who was known for always being on time or early, I find myself calling people to let them know we are running “a little late” far too often for my liking and it’s hard to adjust old habits.
There is a myth circulating that says that stay at home parents have all sorts of time to take on contract jobs. The myth is circulated primarly by women who plan on doing as such, fueled on by media reports and reality television that makes it look SO simple to do as much. This myth is so far from my reality of time management now that I have a busy little bee of a toddler, it’s laughable.
In order for me to be at home all day with Kale, I had to get creative with my employment. We’re not really millionaires over here, so it’s not like I couldn’t work. I stumbled into a dream job at the beginning of June as the market manager for the Royal City Farmers Market, a job allows me the freedom to work from home. One day a week (Thursdays from 3-7 – you should come if you haven’t already!) I spend a day outside, socializing and meeting and greeting people at Tipperary Park during the market. With the blessing of his employer, Ross comes home early from work and has a boys’ day with Kale, a benefit in it’s own right. My job is an incredibly wonderful gig, and one that I’m extremely grateful to have been given.
I also work two evenings a week at my pre-pregnancy employer, working solo on a computer in a gray cubicle, creating complicated spreadsheets. It is as glamourous as one might think it is. Finally, starting this fall, I’ll be babysitting part time for a friend of mine who has to go back to work, and the benefit of having another child Kale’s age a few days a week is more than monetary compensation.
There is more than one sacrifice you have make to accomodate staying at home – creative working arrangements aside. Eating normally, for example. I’ve had many friends exclaim that I’ve done “such a great job of losing all the baby weight”. Let me set the record straight – I’ve lost weight because there are times when I am so busy working that I have no time for boredom-driven snacking, and I find myself eating plain, nutritious meals while Kale eats and not much else. Before, it was an easy habit to grab a bowl of ice cream while watching my favourite shows, or consuming high calorie margaritas with girlfriends on a patio.
I also have to carry a picture of my husband to remember who he is. After Kale’s in bed, I often cram in an hour or two of work while Ross watches TV or does work himself. We have to book in time for the family – time when cell phones are off to work calls, and we are out and about doing something that isn’t necessarily running an errand. A hike, perhaps, or even a simple stroll around the neighbourhood with the dog.
I’ve also learned that I have to set my own boundaries. No longer working a 9 to 5 shift, it’s far too easy to start working too much – to not give yourselves time off to relax, socialize, and see other humans. I’ve made a point of turning off the work cell phone and not getting on the computer a few days a week to ensure that I don’t burn out.
Crafts, baking, lunching with friends – those are activities I’ve given up, albeit temporarly. One day there will be enough hours in the day that some of the fun activities will trickle back in my life. And by then, it’s likely that new activities will have replaced some of my favourites list, activities more suited to sharing with Kale. The ones just for me will come back with patience.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I’ve learned to make hay while the sun shines. If I have even 20 minutes of time in between two activities – I do whatever I can to be as productive and efficient as possible – checking voice mails, alphabetizing vendor tags – whatever needs doing, I am getting better at turning on “Worker Bee” and turning off “Mommy” like a switch. It’s hard to switch gears so easily – back in the 9 to 5 days it would take a little while to get into work mode and I needed you know, my tea, and a certain radio station, and all the other trappings of office life – but now I find it comes more quickly and effortlessly, and I find my work output more efficient and accurate.
Making the decision to stay at home has been one of the hardest ones we’ve ever made. Financial uncertainty can be stressful and cause it’s own set of problems. But we weighed the benefits and rewards of both staying home or going back, and found the list for staying home was considerably longer. Not all families can do this – and not being able to doesn’t indicate a lack of parenting skills. But we’ve been lucky, thought outside the box, and put our priorities in a certain order and the result is a return to the stay at home mom. I never in a million years thought I’d be here, but I love it.