Warning: You are about to get an unexaggerated peek inside a few hours in the life of this writing mother of three.
7:30 am: Abruptly awakened by my two preschoolers arguing over the Peppermint Bark that I left on the counter at midnight. Oops. Hubby is in the shower, and I’m nursing three-month-old Mia, so I’m helpless as the demands rain down on me: “Can you open my banana?” “Mom, can I have an English muffin?” “Mom, I want to wear my princess dress to school!”
I’m grumpy. I stayed up past midnight working. I finally extricate myself from bed and set up the kids with breakfast.
8:00 am: Door slams, preschoolers off to school with Dad, leaving a trail of Rice Krispies and paper bits in their wake (putting their new scissors to good use).
8:30 am: Jump in shower. Arrange diapers, wipes, blankets, pacifier and rattles in preparation for nanny to arrive at 9. Squeeze in some playtime with baby. Sweep up paper bits, while muttering about how those scissors are off-limits, so help me God. Find lullaby CD for nanny.
9:00 am: No nanny. Check email hastily while bouncing baby on knee. Reply quickly to editor.
9:10 am: Still no nanny. Phone rings. She’s running late, traffic’s bad. I put Mia down for her first nap.
9:13 am: Nanny arrives. Answer door in robe. We discuss some baby-related details and the importance of her being on time, since I often have interviews set up. This is a new arrangement, and we’re both still getting in our grooves.
9:15 am: Microwave coffee for the fourth time in an hour. Get dressed, grabbing clean clothes still piled in laundry basket. Finally, I sit down in front of my computer with three hours of paid nanny time at my disposal. Where to begin? Write my blog post, or start chipping away at the feature that’s due Friday? Curious George tunes waft in from the living room. I sift through more emails and quickly scan the news. I open up a fresh Word document, determined to bang out a rough draft. Of something.
9:51 am: Baby squeaks. My writing brain abruptly shifts into mommy gear: Should I nurse her, or have the nanny give her the bottle? (The latter still requires that I stop to pump.) Oh never mind, false alarm, baby is still sleeping. Well, time to reheat the coffee anyway.
Although balancing my career and life with two children wasn’t exactly easy, it had been humming along relatively smoothly. But now, I’m figuring out the logistics of working from home with my new baby somewhat by the seat of my pants.
Along the way, I’m breaking some of my own rules. In The Science Writers’ Handbook, I wrote the chapter on the messy business of parenting and writing. In it, I laid out a few ground rules …errrr suggestions, for how to maintain your sanity as a writer and parent of very young children.
Always have childcare while working, especially when conducting interviews (aside from rare, unavoidable exceptions).
In December, I returned to work seven weeks after baby Mia was born. Ideally, I’d have taken a few months off. And ideally, I’d have lined up part-time childcare well in advance. But I wanted to pay for as little childcare as possible until she was a bit older and the money began flowing again. So I hired a nanny for a few 2-3 hour blocks of time, mainly to cover some interviews for upcoming deadlines.
But inevitably a source had to reschedule or was not available during those windows, so I had to ‘wing it’ a few times and do an interview while the baby was napping. I always let the source know, lest the baby wake up mid-interview. I consider it paramount to maintain clear professional boundaries. But when it comes to parenting and writing, things sometimes get messy and, shall we say, sub-optimal.
Even with the nanny present, occasionally I could hear the distant cry of my baby. Hearing your baby cry in someone else’s care while you are conducting a phone interview is a bit like someone slowly sawing your arm off. Meanwhile, you have to remain engrossed in what the person on the other end of the line is saying.
Which brings me to another rule:
Take bite-size assignments when returning from maternity ‘time off.’
On top of the feature I was reporting in December, I had a rather hefty technical writing assignment that should have been wrapped up prior to Mia’s arrival, but got delayed until after my leave. That assignment, a synthesis of the links between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and neurodevelopment, was anything but “bite size.” Wrapping my brain around writing a scientific paper on such a dense subject, with limited sleep, holiday distractions, and a new-mommy brain was torturous at times. Somehow, I managed to turn it in ‘on time’ around 5:30 pm on New Year’s Eve.
On this day, I’m happy to report that I wrote a rough draft of my blog post during the sitter’s stay and scheduled some interviews, AND that Mia was happy and content. Rather than cries, I heard coos and giggles from across the house. So maybe I’m not exactly following my own rules, but I’m taking it one baby step at a time. The work is somehow getting done, and my kids are thriving.
Writing and parenting can be a lot like a rodeo, I’ve noticed. As in, you know, a bronc ride. Just hang on tight, and enjoy the show.