Working Mom Diaries: Power Hour

One of my favorite things to do lately is have a power hour. I know that for some people, power hour is when they accomplish all of the nagging professional tasks that have built up over the course of the past week: answering backlogged emails, listening to voicemail, maybe going to the post office. For me, power hour is when I catch up on the household tasks that I just don’t have time for when I’m at home with one or both kids.

Once or twice a week, I come home either for an hour at lunch time, or an hour early at the end of the day. I choose days when both kids are at daycare, so I’m the only person in the house. Here’s what happens during power hour:

  1. Dishes. I empty the dishwasher, load the leftover breakfast stuff from the morning, and hand-wash bottles, pump parts, and other baby items that need special care.
  2. Fridge. I go through the fridge and throw away any older leftovers, then rinse and load the Pyrex containers into the dishwasher. I also throw away any older leftover produce or dairy items, and every week I choose a condiment or two to say goodbye to, since we seem to accumulate them at a crazy rate.
  3. Laundry. We have laundry going pretty much all of the time, because I prefer to do lots of small loads of laundry rather than a few huge batches. I de-wrinkle whatever is left in the dryer, fold it, put it away, and start drying whatever is left in the washing machine. I start a new load of laundry if any of the baskets are even halfway full (aside from my husband’s–he does his own laundry).
  4. Pick up. There are always clothes, toys, and other random pieces of crud lying on the floors after even one weekday morning, much less two or three. I go through the whole house and get everything off the floors and put away.
  5. Beds. I make the beds. I try to do this every day, not just on power hour days, but it’s especially convenient when I’m by myself.
  6. Floors. This is the most important aspect of power hour, because when you have two little kids and a dog, you can only really get the floors done when no one is home. I vacuum the living room, kitchen, and dining room thoroughly, and sometimes I run the dustbuster on the living room furniture too.
  7. Mail. Finally, I handle any mail that has built up. I throw away stuff we don’t need, write and stamp any checks that need to be sent, and set aside anything that my husband needs to handle.
  8. Bath. The best part of power hour! I end it with a soak on the tub, since the house is empty for once.

So far this is the best hack I’ve found for keeping the house livable during a busy week. It just can’t all be done without finding a way to add another hour or two to the week!

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Working Mom Diaries: The (First) Week From Hell

Last Wednesday afternoon, now a full week ago, our toddler had had a regular old toddler cold for several days. It had just reached the “hacking cough” stage, and my husband was out of town overnight. When I walked in the door of his daycare facility, I heard the ominous words, “We were just about to call you.” He was running a 101.6 fever and was clearly miserable.

If you know me as a parent, then you know that my most crippling fear is that my kids will get sick as really small babies. So being solo with a feverish toddler and a 10-week-old brought me close to a panic attack: my hands went numb, I started sweating, and I knew I’d need help. I called my husband and told him he needed to come home first thing in the morning, no waiting for the weather to warm up.

In the middle of the night I woke to another ominous sound: my newborn coughing.

That kicked off several days of doctors’ appointments and anxiety so bad that I’m sure it took years off of my life. To make a long story short, our toddler developed an ear infection (his first) that’s being treated with antibiotics and responding well, and our baby apparently caught the original cold virus despite our absolutely fanatical hand-washing, disinfecting, and keeping-the-toddler-away measures. Everyone is now on the mend: the newborn is still coughing and while it sounds absolutely terrible, it’s not harmful and he’s now probably out of the woods. He was seen three times in the past week to have his oxygen saturation and lungs checked, and everything was fine every time, so at this point it’s expected that he is fighting off this virus without help.

I learned a few things from this episode:

  1. Having two sick kids home with you for four full days is awful.
  2. Parents of chronically ill and/or seriously ill children are heroes and I don’t know how they do it.
  3. I need to work on my anxiety about this stuff, because this will not be the last time this same scenario plays out in our house.

With two little kids who will both soon be in daycare (one full-time, one part-time), we’re going to get our fair share of illnesses, and I can’t keep reacting this way. Based on a friend’s recommendation, I ordered an anxiety and phobia workbook and am going to start sorting through my issues with this. On the one hand, I won’t deal with a sick newborn again because he’ll be twelve weeks old in two days! On the other hand, he very well might become ill again before he is six months old. He might become seriously ill at some point, for all we know. And I need to be able to handle any of those scenarios without becoming a total anxious wreck. My mom and husband were more worried about me than about the baby: that’s how bad it was.

We were also really lucky. It wasn’t the flu (knock on wood), it wasn’t RSV (knock on wood), and both of our kids are extremely healthy and therefore able to recover from this type of thing. We’re also lucky enough that we both took two full days off of work to care for our kids. We didn’t lose any money (although we may have earned some gray hairs). We were able to take our kids to the doctor three times without worrying about the cost, how we would get there, or how we would make time for the appointments.

I have so much to be thankful for. I want to reframe this kind of thing that way, and try not to indulge my anxieties too much.

Working Mom Diaries: Let’s Begin Here

This week, one of the very few outspoken, “normal” (not involved in an extremely high-powered or extremely high-earning career), visible-online, relatable working moms that I am aware of announced that she had quit her job to stay home with her children.

I don’t begrudge anyone this privilege or opportunity or choice. In fact, if it was important to me, I could also be a stay-at-home parent. But I couldn’t help feeling a wave of disappointment at the loss of one of the few online voices of working moms like me: moms who work because they prefer to, who aren’t trauma surgeons whose work is “heroic,” who are professionals but who aren’t earning super impressive $300k salaries, who don’t trudge to work longing to spend more time with their kids, who aren’t made miserable by their dual role as breadwinner and parent.

Laying in bed last night, I thought, “I may just have one tiny little corner of the Internet to write about this, but why not put it out there? I know there are moms just like me who might stumble upon what I have to say and feel a helpful, supportive connection.” So I’m starting this series about being a working mom, and my only hope is that it helps one other woman feel like she’s perfectly normal and not at all alone.

After all, we shouldn’t feel alone! Almost half of all American mothers are full-time working mothers. But see the rest of that article? We also get a lot of feedback that tells us that we shouldn’t be working full-time, that working full-time is bad for our children and our marriages, and perhaps most importantly, that we shouldn’t want to or enjoy working full-time. When I returned to work after my son was born, people made a lot of assumptions about me. I heard, “It must be so hard to be away from him,” “It must have been tough to come back,” and even, “You must be saving for something.” None of those were true for me. I was thrilled to return to work. Of course, I am lucky enough to have an employer that understands that it’s a process: I returned to work full-time immediately, but I worked from home three days, then two days, and now one day per week.

It’s easy to feel like something is wrong with you when you’re a mother of young children who wants to work full-time, enjoys working full-time, and doesn’t long to be with her kids while at work. But why is any of that considered unusual? Men are expected to work full-time, to enjoy it, and to be satisfied with the amount of time they spend with their children. So why not women, too?

know that I’m a great mother, but it took me a while to fully believe that in the face of feedback that told me that great mothers are with their kids 24/7 and don’t care about having careers.

For me, being a full-time working mother has more benefits than downsides. Here are the three biggest pluses:

  • More money. This is a simple one. It’s important to me to be able to go out for dinner, cook high-quality meals, entertain friends, dress well, improve my home, save for retirement, and go on vacations. With two incomes, all of these things are much easier to achieve, yes, even with the cost of childcare.
  • Higher-quality time. I’m not, have never been, and probably never will be someone who’s crazy for babies and toddlers. I love my child and I love spending time with him, but I get more out of that time when it isn’t 24/7. I enjoy my kid-time more when I also get time to not think about kid stuff at all and focus entirely on an editing project, producing a great piece of writing, or interpreting a tech white paper.
  • Changes for my child. We live in a small home, and we can only buy so many toys and travel to so many parks. When he’s at childcare, my kid gets a change of scene, some playmates, and caretakers who sing him different songs, talk about different items and activities, and play different games. This wasn’t very important when he was a baby, but as he grows older it’s really helpful. He’s excited to go to care and excited to be home.

And of course there are downsides:

  • Career limits. I feel limited both geographically and time-wise while I have very young children. Luckily I have a job that suits me perfectly, but if I lost it, I would not want to switch to a super long commute or to a position that might demand a lot of overtime or cause a lot of stress right now. Those options will have to wait a few more years.
  • The daily grind. Waking up and getting a kid ready for childcare in the mornings is definitely a chore! It takes a lot of planning and a very stable routine to get everyone out the door smoothly without forgetting anything vital.
  • Costs. Childcare costs money. So does having someone else clean my house and so do the occasional takeout meals, convenience food items, and lunches out that are necessities when both parents work. Luckily, at least where we live, those costs don’t come close to outweighing the financial benefit of two working spouses.

Let’s begin there. In my next post, I want to talk about some of the online working mom role models and inspirations I’ve found so far, and how they’ve helped me navigate this role.