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How My Work-at-Home Day Has Changed Since Both Boys Are in School All Day

When LittleBrother went off to Kindergarten this fall, my work-at-home day changed drastically. And not, all at the same time.

The first few weeks felt hard, mostly because I turned into a blubbering mess. I cry at coffee commercials, so it’s not hard to imagine that sending my baby off to school all day, everyday made me a bit sniffly — at best. The silence in the house, especially on days my husband worked, felt deafening. I learned quickly to turn on music, to make my own noise so as not to go batty by the sound of nothingness. Well, nothingness and the dog barking at the UPS man. And the mailman. And the newspaper delivery man. And dust floating in the air.

I eventually found my groove, somewhere between that first day and now. I didn’t even realize I found the groove until I was deep in it, enjoying myself and upping my productivity. Of course, that enjoyment made me feel a teensy bit guilty, but I stole some of their Halloween candy and got over that feeling right fast.

In all seriousness, some things changed — and some did not. Here’s how my days have (and have not) changed since the boys both attend school all day, everyday.

Working at Home with the Kids at School All Day

1. Productivity is up! Like whoa. No one rushes into my office and exclaims, “Mommy! I’m sorry!” For what? A mess. Or punching a brother. Or who knows what. When I walk into my office, I can stay in my office and not have to get a snack or clean up a spill or referee an argument or fix a toy. No one comes into my office to “read a book” near me, which is actually code for “ask you eleventy billion questions, mommy!” I do have to shut my door sometimes when my husband is home and I’m taking a conference call — or even sometimes when he’s not, simply to shut the dog out of the office. She doesn’t like that much.

But really, yes, having uninterrupted time to work has been great for both my everyday day job, my personal writing — both here on the blog and that one project I’m working on so slowly, and for the other job I accidentally picked up. I’m now also selling lia sophia jewelry. Why? I joke that it’s because I don’t like to be bored and I like shiny things. Both things are true, but basically I just wanted to try something new. (If you ever need to place an order, enter my name in the Hostess lookup; I always have a party open for sales.)

Directly related: My office is a mess.

2. I forget to eat lunch! This is not a good thing. Without LittleBrother as our regular, daily lunch buddy, I find myself forgetting to eat lunch at a normal time, especially if my husband is working. I’m thankful for this week’s Lunch Challenge which is forcing me not only to remember to eat but to be mindful and make good choices. Unlike last week when I just tossed some pretzels in a bowl and called it lunch… at 2:30 in the afternoon.

3. I can go places! For the past five years, preschool pickup fell at 11:30. I had approximately two hours in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to do what I wanted, but I had to be back to the school to pick up a child (or two) by that time. I could run approximately 3.5 errands. I could work at the library, but by the time I got there and situated, it was about time to go. I could go for coffee with my friends in a neighboring town, while simultaneously working, but I always had to cut and run before out work-friend-coffee date officially ended. Now? I can run all of the errands if need be. I can eat breakfast out with my husband — or lunch… or both! I can go to coffee and work and talk and drink all of the coffee that I paid for when I purchased the endless cup of coffee and really get my money’s worth. I can stay at the library all day, which is most cool when I score the most coveted work spot and get the evil eye from a lady I think is writing a murder mystery. I hope it’s not about me. I can volunteer at the school!

This freedom taught me a lot about balancing said freedom, of course. Just because I can go run all the errands with no small children under feet doesn’t mean that my work schedule allows for it. Sometimes I still have to work (at home, at the coffee shop, or at the library) and wait until after school to run errands with the boys. Sometimes I can’t work at the library or the coffee shop because I have all of the conference calls. Sometimes I can go to lunch with my husband and sometimes I have a conference call at that time. Sometimes I can fold a load of laundry and sometimes I have to meet an immediate deadline. Learning to read my schedule, to be productive when I can be productive, and enjoy the freedoms I do have has been an easy learning process, but an important one.

4. I can hang out with my husband! Whether we eat breakfast and lunch at home together or go out to eat or just end up sitting on the couch and watching the noon newscast with my laptop on my lap, the little bits of extra time together on his days off from the fire department are an added bonus to this whole Kids At School thing. Sometimes he comes into my office and just watches me work. I find that unnerving.

5. The house stays cleaner! For a little bit! Once I found my groove, I started picking up the extra clutter that makes its way into our home on a regular basis. I pick up the papers and junk that the boys carry into their room. I try to do a load of laundry each day, though my whole foot injury cramped that style this week. The living room looks neat and tidy. You know, until the boys get home from school with all of their papers and folders and backpacks and assorted mess, and so yes, the house gets cluttered by Friday. It does, I won’t lie. But I feel less stressed about it as it’s not as bad as it was with one kid home more than the other. And, you know, summer.

Directly related: All of the stuff I clean up around the rest of the house apparently lands itself in my office. This lack of clutter does not apply to my office. It remains a wreck.

6. I’m better at setting work and technology boundaries for myself. When the boys get home at 3:30, I try to shut down work. I start at 7:00 in the morning and sometimes a smidge earlier to get things done before they’re up and at ’em, so I should, in theory, be able to stop working at 3:30. It doesn’t always work that way, and sometimes I have to work a bit more, but I am trying to honor the time we have together as a family in those after school hours a bit more. Until recently with the dark and the cold, we used our after dinner time to go outside. Now we’re playing more games and hanging out inside with dance parties and other bits of togetherness. I’ve also learned the importance of my presence on weekends, though they also need some down time with their own technology that I limit severely on weekdays, so Saturday mornings find me reading all the blog posts I didn’t read all week. I’ve gotten much better at not checking email — personal or work — in order to devote myself to the non-stop questioning that comes from the boys. That said, I still struggle with it at times and almost sent a work email from breakfast with my husband on Sunday morning. Then I realized what I was doing, put my phone down, and got back to the task at hand: connecting with my family.

 

My days aren’t perfect. Sometimes I break my own work-at-home rule and stay in my jammies all day. I still fall behind on deadlines or get frustrated with work load, either self-imposed or day job related. I get lonely on the days my husband is at the fire department or busy with his own stuff. Sometimes I don’t leave the house except to let the dog out and get the boys on and off the bus for days at a time; I definitely need to work on that and make it a goal to fix as it’s been an even bigger problem since my foot injury. Related to that, the less interaction I have with real people in my real space? It begets a lack of desire to connect with real people in my real space. Of course, that was a challenge I faced even when LittleBrother was still at home, so apparently I need to work on that a bit more.

While my days aren’t perfect, I love my days. I love having found my groove and being ready to full on parent when the boys come bouncing in through the door at the end of their own busy school day. They exhaust me by the time bedtime rolls around, but I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work — or so I’m telling myself.

Categories
Parenting

Video Killed the Mommy Star

I take full blame.

We are the parents who allowed Santa Claus to bring our younger son a Nintendo DSi for Christmas. The rule for achieving and receiving a DS in our home has always been “when you learn to read,” and dang if that little bugger didn’t teach himself to read. We are also the parents who, in loving video games ourselves, bought the entire family a Nintendo Wii U for Christmas. The two of us adults figured it wouldn’t be a big issue. We’ve always been sticklers about technology and screen time. Why would this be any different?

It’s different.

It started on Christmas Day. Not only was the DS new and thus shiny, but we had a two hour drive to The Farm to celebrate with our family. So they both got to play on their hand-held games in the car. I am also lax with time limits on Christmas Day and other holiday events as I know how hard it is to sit around as a child and listen to the grown-ups delve into adult matters like politics and birth stories and whether or not three-layer-Jello-salad is really a salad or a dessert. And so, they got some more play time in during the day. Of course, we had four other Christmas celebrations after that initial one, so there was more playing, resulting in more screen time than usual during their Christmas break.

The most annoying part of all of this — but just by a little bit — was the new arguing that comes with the two boys owning the same hand-held gaming system. Previously, LittleBrother would game along on his own LeapFrog tablet (which, by the way, I hate; I am so glad to be a LeapFrog Free Home now!) and they would talk back and forth and that was that. Now? While there’s an occasional “I want to play that game and he is not sharing” whine. The real problem is when they connect via the DS and attempt to battle each other in whatever game is “it” at the moment. As BigBrother is well-versed at these games and LittleBrother is just learning, well, there’s some whining. And tattling. And complaining. And once a wrestling match. And a mom who wants to throw both DSi’s in the trash.

It’s not okay.

The second most annoying part — missing the other by a hair — is the constant pestering for screen time. We’re still strict about screen time, even though we were lax over the entire holiday break. Maybe that’s the problem, but I can’t go back and fix it now. The first question out of their mouths in the morning? “Can we play our DS?” No! Why on Earth would you be allowed to? The rule in our home has always and forever been “no technology before school,” so why would it suddenly not be the rule? It doesn’t end there. Throughout the day, all day, at every pause between everything and sometimes during other things: “Can we play our DS?” “Can we play the Wii U?” “Can we play the old Wii?” “Can I use my computer time? I’ll play an educational game!” “Can we watch TV?” “Can we watch a movie?” “Can I play with your phone?”

No! NO! NO!! NO (but nice try)!!! NOOO! NOOO!! And HECK NO!!!!

All of the frustration with the recent Technology Pestering came to a head this past weekend. I was off on my seven-mile run while my husband was cleaning up the house. BigBrother was enjoying some of his allowed DS time on the couch. Apparently the dog threw up right next to him and proceeded to lick it up. When my husband got back upstairs and saw what was taking place, he asked BigBrother why he didn’t say anything or come to get him. “I didn’t know.”

Tech zombies are not permitted in this house.

And so, the rest of the day was technology free.

I’ve written before how we have had TV free days and weeks and, over the years, I’ve added in technology in general — encompassing the computer and all video games. This summer, we had a Tech Free Week as well, and not just when our power was out for nine days. They’ve lost various forms of technology as punishment for offenses over the years, ranging from a day to a week. But I feel like we’re coming up on a Great Technology Purge of 2013, though I’ll be honest that it was much easier to do in the summer when I could just say, “Go outside! Do something!”

The boys have noticed that we’re a bit fed up with all of the Technology Pestering. I’ve been pretty darn hard and fast with time limits in the past few days. They’re once again remembering they have a house full of different things to do with their time. LittleBrother has taken to coloring me umpteen thousand pictures, which I adore. Yesterday for a two hour delay, BigBrother finished up a book he was reading and today, he decided to write a book. Yesterday evening, they played with cars; the cars made noise, but still. The other night, BigBrother called a Family Meeting and decided, since Tech Time was done for the day, that we should play pool as a family. We did.

I do, as I said in the beginning of this post, take the blame. It’s simply harder in the winter to not rely on screens to find things to do throughout the day. We’re home more. We’re inside the house instead of running and walking and playing in the yard (except when we are). With a wealth of screens to choose from, especially new ones, I understand why it’s hard for them to choose, to not pester the ever loving crud out of us. I feel strongly lead to start coming up with more things for us to do together to take up time after dinner. It’s that time in the middle of the day when LittleBrother is home and I’m trying to work that gives me the most problem.

We, as the parents, will continue to search for, find and achieve this balance. I think it’s important. I know that it involves me being more deliberate in how I approach the schedule of our day. I can only play the same board game so many times before I want to yell, “Okay! Let’s play video games!” We have been reading more, all crammed on the couch together — sometimes reading the same book, sometimes reading on our own. I have lots of creative ideas for games and fun things to do as a family, but the trick is actually planning for and making time to do those things without adding magical extra hours to my already very busy, very packed, very stressful workdays.

Couch Time

Oh, balance; you unachievable necessity.