I sometimes get asked how I find the time to make soap, sew or whatever, when I have four children and a full time job. The short answer I am a robot. The long answer is way down at the end of this lengthy post. To help me answer the question, I have been noting down how I experienced April 26th 2016. It has helped me to think about how we manage a busy life.
The alarm goes off as usual at a quarter to seven. I turn around and get out of bed straight away. It is my turn in the shower. By the time I am washed and fully awake, I can smell coffee. I drink my coffee in bed and catch up with the news. Today James and Alistair are up early and eager to get ready. They have lots of questions and I do try my best not to be annoyed. Yes, I do promise to get a fresh plaster for Alistair's bashed chin and I'll also find a clean school jumper for James. The first coffee is essential. By 7:15 it is time to get ready properly. I open the window, smooth out the bed sheets, do the same in the little creatures bedroom. I step on something plastic, a chewed up piece of lego it turns out. Like a litter picker, I collect stuff wherever I go, a pair of pants here, a sock there. Cat sick sometimes. Downstairs I put a bagel in the toaster, get a snack ready for James and Alistair, demand water bottles to be brought for a refill, and ask James for his purse to put dinner money in. Alistair still enjoys free school lunches. I usually woolfe down breakfast on the go, or grab a banana to take to work and eat there with a bowl of muesli. I stumble over a bag of laundry. Clean but not folded away. I decide there is time to fold it up before starting work. I am working at home for the first 90 minutes or so to finish a recording I have been working on for weeks.
At 7:50 Richard rounds up James and Alistair and the dog to walk down to breakfast club. Breakfast club is a blessing for working parents. Recently the prices increased by 100%, which is annoying. By 8:10 he is back with the dog, the laundry is folded and is now awaiting transport and distribution in a blue Ikea bag. It may remain where it is for a couple of days.
At 8:15 I am reading my work emails and responding to them where appropriate. In the background Sam and Annie are getting ready for school. They make their own breakfast and prefer to be left alone. Their lunch money is ready. Sam is in a rush as always, eating a bowl of cereals whilst at the same time ironing a school shirt. Who said men can't multitask? Annie is organised and probably has a list on which she ticks off as she goes through her morning routine. I lift my head when I hear Sam swear. He accidentally ironed one of his sisters shirts. No time to iron another one as teeth need to be cleaned and the hair-do needs attention. I take pity and iron a shirt for him.
By 8:45 all is quiet. I have dealt with all my emails. I setup my microphone, open the script, make some amendments and start recording two very short segments for a how-to video. It is painful to hear myself talk. Whilst some magic file conversion runs I make myself a coffee. I have just enough time to edit the first segment but then have to dash off. It is going to be an easy day at work, I am attending a one day conference on emerging themes in resistance biology and all I need to do is be there, and maybe not fall asleep in the darkened lecture theatre. I may also need to do some networking. I remember to refill the dog's water bowl, notice a splash of something orange on the under sink cupboard. This will have to wait. I also notice mop and bucket in a corner, it has been there since Sunday. It'll have to wait. I check the back door, cooker and iron. They are locked and switched off respectively. I check if I have tickets for James' sing- along concert. I do. All ok to go. I briefly wonder if sing-along means what I think it does. I pack up my laptop, check the weather forecast. It is for rain when I am supposed to be cycling.
I remember to also pack my camera and cycle off to work. I have been trying to take a photo of a beautiful woodpecker on my commute. It has been teasing me for days, maybe weeks. It pecks away happily until I approach, then waves good bye and is off. Today I am lucky. I can hear it from a distance, it is on its usual tree, drilling holes. The grub must be more interesting than I am scary, it remains in place. I make a short film and feel elated. I also see a chaffink and hear many other birds. It is going to be a good day.
I spend too much time admiring birds and have to cycle fast to get to the meeting in time. The talks are interesting, but my thoughts wander sometimes and I catch myself staring at the ventilation shaft cover, wondering if all the dust caught in it has ever been cleaned. One speaker overruns, as he always does and has to be cut short. Coffee, far too much coffee. I also eat too many biscuits. The second session of the morning is taken up by a single talk with a speaker from Switzerland. I can't decide if he has a hint of a Swiss accent because he lives there. Richard insists his accent is Mancunian. The usual University standard lunch is provided. Sandwiches that may well have been prepared in January, then frozen until today. I chat to old colleagues, thinking that I am so far removed from this interesting field of research that I don't know why I am even attending the meeting. Then I notice it is time to make my excuses and go to see James' sing-along.
I leave 10 minutes before Richard but arrive more or less at the same time. It is frustrating. The sing-along is indeed a sing-along. I am not so good at singing on command, with only coffee to fuel me and I choose to listen instead. James is singing Mamma Mia. I feel a rush of happiness seeing him happy and singing out loud. I also like the Living on a Prayer, particularly the 'guitar solo' by one P5 boy. We bump into our architect and briefly catch up. The builder has given us a quote not quite double of what he initially said and we decide to get additional quotes.
Back to the conference. Richard was of course quicker. I don't dare walking into the last talk of the early afternoon session and decide to wait for coffee, and rejoin the meeting for the panel discussion after. At 4:30 I text Sam and Annie with instructions to preheat the oven, grate some cheese and put it on Nigella's maccharoni cheese, which Richard cooked last night. Tuesday is one of two days when Sam looks after his little brothers. I also text my friend to check if she is still happy to give James a lift to cubs. I leave the discussion early, just after 5, cycle home to find the house in an advanced state of chaos but it appears superficial only and we quickly clear up. There is some dispute over who has eaten the strawberries I was looking forward to eating myself. I have a nice chat with the children, cook some peas to eat with the pasta. We sit down to a nice meal, only Sam complains about the newfangled maccharoni cheese recipe. He doesn't embrace change easily. Richard joins us halfway through, having left the conference when it finished. This is unusual, normally we wait to eat until everybody is back but for the next seven weeks, Tuesday is the day I go to sewing class and I need to leave by 6:10.
Before I know it is time to leave for my sewing class. It starts at 6:30. Last minute instructions to children and husband are issued. Richard is going cycling for a wee hour. I thank my older children for an hour of babysitting. James is ready for cubs. At the class, I am learning about body shapes (we don't do fruit shapes, phew). We get our photos back and determine our own body shapes. I am a triangle of sorts. I feel relaxed and happy. I know the children are ok, the day has passed without a hiccup and I am not a barrel shape, as I had feared.
The class finishes just after 9, by 9:30 I am comfortably settled in my yellow chair. I am thinking back over the day. The news in on in the background and I wonder why I am seeing the weather forecast for Africa. But I don't really care. It has bee a good day. I am tired, very tired actually. By 22:30 I am in bed, listening to a radio program on the consequences of the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815. The consequences were amazingly far reaching but I fall asleep before the program finishes and can't give you any details.
So, that was my day (it is now the day after). It was a busy day with regards to commitments but not so much with regards to workload. I didn't get to spend as much time with my family as I would have liked but I'll catch up today, it is my turn to meet James and Alistair at school and Sam and Annie will be home, too. Our days are often busy until quite late but I insist on stopping all chores around 8 pm, no matter. I don't habitually go out in the evening but some weeks, there are multiple commitments book group, PTA etc. Although we keep children's extracurricular activities to a minimum, there is something on most evenings. It adds up with four children. I have weeks when I am barely scraping through, but mostly, I am ok. Here is why:
I am not alone. Richard and I both work full time and we share our family duties more or less equally (I complain more). He does all the shopping. I do the laundry. He cooks most dinners, I clean the bathrooms..... It is essential that we do share and I really appreciate that we do. I know it is not the same for all working mothers. Our children know they have to help. We couldn't do it without. That doesn't mean they love it and we often argue about chores, and the fact that other children don't seem to have chores (I don't believe this for a minute). Both Sam and Annie contribute significantly to our family life. Sam childminds James and Alistair two days a week, takes them to the park or whatever, does homework and the lot (we have a childminder for two further days and take turns picking the little ones up for the remaining day). Annie chips in where needed and helps with homework and dinner. Together they babysit so that Richard and I can go out sometimes. We do reward them generously. All children know how to set a table, empty the dishwasher and use the hoover. They are expected to tidy their own bedrooms and change their bedlinen when necessary (when 'necessary' is is an ongoing debate). The little ones need help and get help of course. We don't have family here but we do have amazing friends. I know I can call them anytime if life spirals out of control. It does, believe me, it does.
Our house is not a show home. We live here, and we live intensely. It is sometimes messy although we are quite good at keeping the mess under control (see above). We don't have pressed bedlinen (I wish we did), there are sometimes dishes piled up in the kitchen sink. The walls need painting. I am not adverse to stepping over a teddy if I don't have time to tidy it up. But it is quite astonishing what can be achieved in a half hour blitz through the house. I boldly state here that our house is ok and if you came to visit spontaneously today you wouldn't faint with disgust, get sick or call Kim and Aggie to the rescue.
Work is accommodating. Both Richard and I have very flexible and stretchy working hours. We have a very short commute, 15 minutes. Schools are a five minute walk from home. We work together and can arrange meetings and whatnot to fit around our family commitments. We take turns doing the school runs in the morning, we make use of the breakfast club a couple of times a week (we do absolutely not make packed lunches, the children eat a school dinner). We are able to pop home to walk Jack (but we have a dog walker on two days). We can also work from home.
Multitasking. It is possible to clean teeth and fill up the cat's water bowl at the same time, or sponge the sink. Items are shifted through the house on the go and eventually reach their destination.
I am low maintenance. My beauty routine is minimal. Hair dries naturally, mine is wavy and sits nicely no matter. If I want it smooth, I put on a hat, which is more natural than hair straighteners and very time efficient. I only use mascara and I don't have to dress for work. I wear jeans and a top most days and have a selection of trainers.
We always prioritise family. I have never experienced a situation when I couldn't stay home with a sick child and we manage to go to school shows and parent nights. Somehow it always works out. I guess we are lucky, this is not the case for many working parents whose workplaces are less accommodating.
On the whole, I am disciplined, organised and time efficient. Richard is, too. I am not a robot, nor is Richard. If you know me personally, you know I am not. We have bad days and we get stressed. We argue and shout. Ok, I argue and shout, Richard doesn't. We prioritise (others may say we neglect stuff). We are not guilt ridden because we feed the family Ikea meatballs for their dinner and I don't think screen time is going to turn my children into sociopaths. We try to have fun. Fun is essential. I need a creative outlet, Richard needs to cycle. We function. Somehow. Having said all that, I do look forward to a time in the future when I'll be able to work part time again. Life is not perfect but it is pretty good, on the whole.
Anyway, you must be exhausted after this long long post. As a thank you for staying with me, here a short video of 'my' woodpecker. It is an amazingly noisy clip, the woodpecker's tree is less than 100 metres from the dump (the recycling facility) and you can hear a truck reversing. Nature in the middle of the city at its best. Have a lovely day. x