Wednesday, 27 April 2016

a day in my life

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



23 comments:

  1. Oh Christina! I only had to juggle with three but I do remember those full on timetabled days where you more or less knew what you had to do at a certain time of day. You must appreciate your little get always like your Amsterdam trip. What your post does say is that you clearly have a loving family who all do their bit. So important. Loved the woodpecker. B x

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  2. You are amazing to me, and very organized. I have to say your busy life makes my head spin. I'did not work as much when my older children were young, I now wish I had, it would have been good for all of us. Little Buddy is quite happy with his sitter two times a week when I work late. And I had to laugh about the dust on the vent, I always notice those things especially in a Doctor's office, I can't believe they never see it!
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  3. It sounds like a wonderful family to be part of. You work well together, even if there's a bit of yelling.

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  4. The best thing is you are all part of a family that help and nurture each other it works well for you and for that you should all be proud. Take care.

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  5. It looks like you have a very full and rewarding life. How nice to start your day off with your dear family and end it with them. But, my you are busy and must have lots of energy! I so enjoyed reading your lovely post.

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  6. I loved reading this Christina... You sound like you have a lovely busy family life with your priorities clearly sorted out. Of course it's not perfect, nothing is, but it sounds pretty good. It is also reassuring because people often say to me that they don't know how I fit everything in but I think we find time to do the important stuff and don't waste time!

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  7. This is a wonderful write up of your day. You are right, family first and everything else will follow along won't it. I think that it is easy to forget that. Also they say ask a busy person to do something and they will do it, I think it is because they actually get on with stuff and do it. You rule to stop "working" at 8pm is a good one and I am sure that it stands you in good stead. Sounds as though you have a pretty good balance that works for you and your family and as long as you are all happy that is all that matters!

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  8. I too loved reading about your day, complete with a sing-a-long and ikea meatballs which I thought was perfectly fitting as your day was a wonderful example of how good you are at juggling all those balls and not once did you appear to be covered in tomato sauce!! You have wonderful variety in your busy day and to top it all you finally got your Woodpecker video - Yay!
    Wren x

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  9. Your life is so beautifully organised, and it sounds as if you are all happy and enjoying it to the full. It's great how your older children help the younger ones, it'll be so beneficial to them later on in life I'm sure. Fantastic film of the woodpecker. CJ xx

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  10. I'm sitting here full of admiration for you and your family, Christina. It sounds as though you and your husband are brilliant examples to your children - you both work and run the house, and your kids help. (I'm going to show your post to my family - they think that because I'm home all day I can do everything.) Thank you for sharing this insight into your life, I've really enjoyed reading it. I wish we could meet up for a cuppa and a chat! Sam x

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  11. I too am full of admiration :). We each find what works for us within our circumstance and means and it sounds like you have it fully sorted. Your family is at the heart of you and your husbands lives and this shines through this beautiful post in spades. Thank you for taking the time to share.

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  12. I love to hear about a person's and the subtleties of their life. Such great co-operation within your family. I do love your posts. xx

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  13. I really loved reading this, Christina - you write beautifully and make the everyday seem both down to earth-real and poetic - the two things are not always the same but they can be and it's a gift to see ordinary life like that. I especially loved your phrase about living intensely - that is wonderful and how it should be I think. Wishing you and your family a super weekend doing whatever you will be doing. E xx

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  14. Hats off to you for finding a rhythm. I completely agree that not everything has to be a big deal, our living rooms and airing cupboards, cakes and dinners don't have to be Instagram perfect. A friend of mine sometimes resorts to using paper plates. Her kids tell everyone they're always having picnics.

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  15. What a good idea to write your day out. I often reach the end of the day and wonder to myself 'What have I actually done today?' and can't remember half of it, so I may try this too. I completely agree with stopping chores at 8pm, I have the same rule here. xxx

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  16. What a brilliant post, Christina. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about your day. You've got your priorities right. And I love your woodpecker video. We usually have a woodpecker visiting our birdfeeder at this time of year but haven't seen it much this year.

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  17. What a well written and fascinating post! It is a snapshot of your life and reflects also the life of many other working mums. I loved reading about your day. You all pull together as a family which is lovely. Derek and I have very polarised roles, because he runs his business and works long hours, often 6 days a week, and I am at home full time. I do ALL the home stuff, cooking, cleaning, laundry, dog walking, homework, everything. In common with you Christina I also need a creative outlet; I need to read my books, do a bit of baking, sewing and attend my yoga class (running was also wonderful but is currently curtailed due to foot problems) otherwise the drudgery would really wear me down. I am sometimes sad that my 'professional' life is over, as I loved my job, but mostly I am happy and contented with my lot. X

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  18. All very similar here and retrospectively exhausting now that the children have been finished with school for several years. The only difference is totally non-flexible work schedules. Those of us who work in professional services in universities envy our academic colleagues hugely. We have no leeway to arrange our own work schedules, no possibility of putting 'not in', or similarly hermetic entries in our diaries (what does 'not in' actually mean?? Is it 'I am actively working at home/at the dentist/providing childcare/taking annual leave'?). I know from my own experience and my colleagues' that it puts a huge strain on parental stamina, especially when there is no family around who can help out. Apart from a little time off to see a Nativity play or attend parents' evening, or accompany a child to a medical appointment, we are expected to take annual leave for any time not actually at our desks. If we are working from home it is for a pre-agreed task which needs particular concentration and cannot be combined with childcare. There is of course a family leave policy, but that is meant for unforeseen emergencies such a child illness, and we are expected to make other arrangements for childcare as soon as possible. Having said all that I'm really glad I've had the career I've had in a university, and would have gone rather bonkers at home. There's a big change coming up for me however - I hope to blog about it this weekend. Meantime congratulations on keeping it all hanging together!

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  19. Thank you for that glimpse into your day it sounds exhausting but you seem to have it all together. As my boys have got older activities have dropped off or with my older son (he is 16 and skates) he gets there on his own. This is one thing that has got easier. However now in 6 form with a part time job he seems to wear everything he owns every week! School uniform was less work. I agree homes don't need to be show homes just clean and tidy enough, I often have books about the place, washing is sometimes over radiators, we need to live here not just admire the place. You are doing a great job. xx

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  20. Brilliant post following the rhythm of your day. A life in the day of Christina and your family recorded here. I loved reading about your family working so well together and your healthy attitude to housework. Good job Christina.

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  21. Your accounting of you day reminded me of the season of my life when our four children were home and I was working as a teaching assistant in my daughters' elementary school. It is rather amazing to look back and see that in spite of some major challenges in health and behavior we managed to not only survive, but thrive. We did not have family living nearby and child tending was tough to arrange. I enjoyed hanging out our laundry to dry. One day when out for a walk I saw a Pileated Woodpecker but no camera to record the moment, just a vivid memory! Thanks for letting us in on your day, Christina. xx

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  22. love your day, very impressed by your achievements and your honesty x

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  23. I loved reading about your family and work life, Christina, so I've just posted a day in my life! You all work so well together as a team, something that my kids sometimes struggle with. Thank you for sharing xx

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Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx