Wednesday, March 7, 2012

MOWM 3: The IWD feMOMhist Carnival Edition -- Balance? What Balance?

*This is my entry for  feMOMhist's International Women's Day carnival, intended to inspire girls to 'have it all' -- both a career and a family life.*

When people ask me "How do you do it all?" I usually answer "Very poorly." Having kids and a career is not for people who can't relinquish control. Chaos is inherent to having young kids, and if you ask me that's one of their best qualities. You just have to embrace it.

My best friend from grad school is half of a dual-income-no-kids (DINK) couple. He and his wife both have big salaries, raise several dogs, travel to exotic places. They are living the life I would love for my Dear Husband (DH) and me... Once we turn 60.

Having both a career and a family is certainly possible, don't let anyone tell you differently. But there is no work-family or work-life "balance"; balance is a boring word anyway, implies that things are static, immobile  -- think balanced scales or a well-balanced meal (booooring!). If I do have balance, it is only over months or years. On the timescales of days or weeks, my life is often profoundly out of balance. There are the sick-kid days, where that's all that consumes your life. Then there are the grant proposal deadlines and travel-for-work or hosting-a-visitor days, where it is decidedly all about work.

I have a full, colorful, wonderful life. There is incredible joy and incredible frustration.
Over months or years, when I look back upon my life, I feel happy and I feel like I have a good amount of time with the kids as well as to devote to work. I do not feel ecstatic all the time; I get joyful and giddy and tired and pissed and excited and disappointed and everything else that humans get.

Life with kids and a demanding career is many things, but NEVER BORING.

I was going for a long and profound post, but I happen to be extremely sleepy, so I will leave you with a small glimpse into DH's and my daily schedule. As you'll see, it's nothing spectacular. We do go to bed relatively late and forgo the lengthy morning routine (which seems to be common) in favor of a before-bedtime one.

This year is a bit unusual as I am on sabbatical + have an 8-month-old Baby:
During the night, I nurse Baby once (when I am lucky) or twice. Eldest Boy (EB) gets up at 6:30, leaves for the bus at 7:05. DH gets up with him to give him breakfast etc., then DH proceeds to nap in my ultracomfy office chair. (DH is not a morning person. He has been doing the early morning this year as a courtesy to my zombified sleep-deprived breastfeeding self; next school year, after I am done nursing, I will do the 6:30 wake-up). Middle Boy (MB) gets up anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30, Baby and I get up at 7:30 (if Baby's not already awake due to being hungry/wet or sick). I nurse Baby, get ready for kickboxing class while he crawls and plays on the floor around me. DH may take Middle Boy to daycare, I take Baby, or I take both; if the latter, I am done dropping them off around 8:40. I eat a banana in my car, check/answer  email on the phone, go to kickboxing class 9-9:45 (close to home). Shower then pump  breastmilk (around 10:30), then start working. Since I am on sabbatical, I either work in my home office or go to work for meetings; at 4 it's time to pick up Baby, who then gets nursed and takes an hour-long nap before dinner. Between 10:30 am and 4 pm, I pump once more (around 1:30), Eldest Boy comes back from middle school around 3, sometimes goes to a friend's, sometimes friends come over, so I may have to stop work to feed hungry preteens snacks or chauffeur them around. Twice a week Eldest and Middle Boy have swimming (1 hr for EB, 30 min for MB) circa 5:45. DH picks up Middle Boy between 5:15 and 5:45, early on days when they go swimming. On one (but not both) of the swimming days, DH and the two older boys go to the food court at a nearby mall for a junky dinner. While Baby naps I start dinner, we usually eat around 6:30, depending on the day and how elaborate the meal is. Older kids play video games or watch TV or we all play with Baby till about 8, when I put Baby to sleep (bath, nursing, bedtime). DH puts Middle Boy to bed next, around 8:30, except on Mon and Thu, when DH, an avid World of Warcraft player, has scheduled raids. On those days I try to put Middle Boy to bed. Eldest Boy does his own bedtime routine (which involves showering, as well as nasal sprays and asthma inhalers) and should be asleep by 9:30 (ideally).

DH and I stay up late. On the nights he raids with his WoW buddies, I work 9-12 or till 1. On other nights we may see a show, it depends on how much work I have to do; DH goofs around on the web or plays WoW or watches something on his own (he avoids working at home). I go to bed around midnight. DH and I have our grooming routines (showers, shaving etc) at night, which I guess is relatively unusual from what I have read. But it saves us time in the morning and enables us to pull off later wake-up times and later bedtimes and we get more quality time with the kids in the evening.

On Saturdays and Sundays, DH sleeps in quite late, while I am up with the kids; the older two are good about getting up and entertaining themselves with electronic gadgets before I get up with Baby. DH does the laundry, I do the grocery shopping, usually with Baby in tow, and usually Sunday afternoon. EB has a drama class Saturday afternoon, DH and MB take him and wait for him while having coffee at a nearby downtown coffee shop; during that time, Baby and I are at home, Baby sleeps and I can get some work done. I also work on Saturday and Sunday nights after the kids' bedtimes, although I might skip one and spend some time watching a movie with DH. EB has of late started asking to stay later on Fri and Sat, which cuts into DH's and my grownup time... I make all the lunches for DH and EB on Sunday for the whole week -- that's a lot of sandwiches, but saves a lot of time during the week.

The next academic year will be the first year with 3 kids and teaching, we'll see how it goes.  After I am done nursing (plan to wean Baby over this summer), I will likely be the one to get up at 6:30 with EB, then do a bit of work before everyone else gets up. The 9 am kickboxing will no longer be feasible as I actually have to go to the office and teach and attend meetings, so the plan is to go to work around 8:30 after kid drop-off, then come back a bit early to the kickboxing at 4:30, get home at 5:15 to shower and shortly thereafter start dinner. The rest should be more or less unchanged, but I guess we'll see...


feMOMhist said...

I LOVE the part about ceding control and balance being a "boring" word because it implies stasis. I struggled for so long with the control part and have finally been able to move toward embracing the ever changing nature of parenting. I'm sad to lose my sabbatical schedule. I'm trying not to think about it yet

Zenmoo said...

I wouldn't mind having my shower at night - but my hair is of the type that kinks madly if even slightly damp. So, it's better for my professional self image if I wash & blow dry on work mornings. Otherwise, I look like I just haven't brushed my hair.

rented life said...

I have the same problem as Zenmoo with the hair. Though I think a good haircut might fix that.

I love that you said balance is boring. My life gets crazy at moments and calm at moments, but I really don't think I'd want it to always run like clockwork.

moose said...

This sounds lovely. Busy, but lovely. At the moment I'm a child-less grad student (hope that changes someday), but this reminds me of the dynamic of my family when I was growing up. It's nice to hear about it from the perspective of one of the adults.
I've enjoyed your whole MOWM series.

Anonymous said...

One of my female mentors had really good advice - When you make a decision to go to work, you are making the decision to leave your family so it better be worth it. A corollary I would add is that when you make the decision to have a child, you are making the decision to take some time off work, so that better be worth it.

To summarize: Make sure that every minute you spend, every sacrifice you make, is worth it to YOU. You seem to have found a way to do that, here's to hoping every woman (and man too) finds the life that means to most to them.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds very chaotic indeed, I am not sure if I could handle that. We have (I like to believe) a more regular schedule, which is probably mainly due to our kids all going to the same place/school/nursery. So, we get up at 7, shower, get dressed, have all breakfast together. We leave the house around 8-ish, nursery's open from 8:30 onwards, and school has a breakfast club, where the oldest goes. Then work until 5, when we pick them up again, we share picking up/dropping off duties depending on for whom it's easiest/who has stuff to do/visiting seminar speaker ect. I often get some extra groceries on the way home. We make a point of cooking proper dinner at least 4 working days, so it's often a late dinner 6:30-7 pm. Then bed-time routine, in order of ascending age. That's done around 9-ish, when both of us work until 12-ish or even later. I find it very helpful that the schedule is so regular, which seems to make it easier to cope with it. Weekends we have activities (swimming, dancing lessons ect.) and the big groceries, which I usually do.

It's great to read that you cope with an academic career and three kids, we are on the way to do the same! It is incredibly important to have good role models, even if it's in the blogosphere! Thank you!

GMP said...

Thanks everyone for the comments!

Re washing hair -- I would love to have a morning routine, but my husband is impossibly grumpy in the morning and won't get up a minute before he absolutely must, so my preferred morning routine went out the window because I woke him up etc etc. I hear you on sleeping with damp hair; it's not ideal, but I have long straight hair and, as long as I don't put any products on it before turning in, it looks decent in the morning after I style it ...

Btw, having morning and evening showers for as long as I like is one of my guilty pleasures when I travel.

Anon on March 10, 1:39 -- my schedule was pretty much like yours until this year (everyone leaving together at 8, coming home at 5:50ish, our (then two) kids dropped off/picked up on the way to/from work). This year, EB started middle school which starts at 7:30 (an hour before his elementary school used to), ends at 2:40. He no longer has after school care/activities and, while I am perfectly fine with him being alone at home for a few hours, he often has friends over after school or goes to friend's homes or the weather is bad so they can't walk back home from school -- so there is often a need to chauffeur kids around in the afternoon... All this does screw up the schedule a fair bit. And then we also had a new baby (think lots of sick-kid days off...). So yes, the schedule is more chaotic than in the past several years, but these are just annoyances. In the grand scheme of things it's all good.