Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Having it all

Here's the thing about the so called "balance" all women are supposedly seeking to find in their personal, professional, and family lives: It is precarious and if one little thing goes wrong--a sick child, canceled dinner plans, a poorly timed nap for the two-year old--it all comes crashing down and the result is stress, frustration, and really awful nutritional choices for the whole family.

This morning was bad. Very bad. James has been sick for a week (RSV!) so I have gotten nothing, NOTHING done around the house. He was miserable, poor thing, and really, honestly needed to be held about twenty hours out of each day. That, combined with my recent trip, has made the laundry situation completely unmanageable. I did three loads yesterday and still had to face down the huge pile of shame on my closet floor this morning. Today I am wearing a pair of pants that is so wrinkly it kind of looks like they're meant to be that way. I was having a nervous breakdown in my closet when I noticed it was time for Ryan to leave for work so I grabbed them out of the hamper, threw them on, then stomped down the stairs with an armful of dirty clothes, yelling about how fat I am. I was angrily stuffing the clothes into the washing machine when Ryan appeared in the laundry room door to tell me that our babysitter had arrived and was sitting in the living room looking very uncomfortable. I apologized but she was effusive in her offers to help in some way.

Before you suggest that I ask Ryan to help more, let me assure you, he is doing everything he possibly can, AND MORE. Yesterday when he came home from work I handed him a baby and a tube of raw ground beef and let him make dinner for himself and the boys while I took a shower and ran out the door for a church meeting. And then I made him promise, PROMISE PINKY SWEAR, that he would not clean up the house and kitchen while I was gone, because he also has to work at home every night just to stay afloat, and was already handling bedtime for three kids solo. But the house was immaculate when I came home. GUILT.

And then there's my class. The grading pile is starting to resemble my laundry pile. And I just collected a short writing assignment that I have NO IDEA how I'm going to grade because how do you do that, non-quantitative people? Grade writing? DUMB. SO DUMB. I came home from my meeting last night at nine thirty then jumped right into pumping and then finishing my lecture for today, which didn't work because I couldn't keep my eyes open. After the fifth time I had to delete a paragraph of gibberish from my notes I gave up and went to bed. Around eleven. I fed James at 12:30 and 5:30. I'm starting to understand why I was such a psycho this morning.

The thing is, when you are only failing in one area, you can nobly declare it to be at the expense of the other thing. Like, "That lecture went poorly, but it's because I am also running a household and doing a darn good job of it." But what if you are failing in every area? What if it's "That lecture went poorly, I have no clean underpants, and my kids ate spaghetti for dinner four times last week." I have mentally searched for inefficiencies in my schedule countless times and I can honestly tell you that without pulling all-nighters, which has crossed my mind several times but I realize doing so would only make the problem worse in the long term, that I am doing the best I can. And Ryan is doing the best he can. And we have a babysitter and lots of family help when we need it. And and and. It's not enough.

I'm afraid that the only solution is to white-knuckle through the rest of the semester (which is mercifully only a couple of months away) then regroup in the summer, when I will no doubt complain about having nothing to do.


Leslie said...

Oh Becca, I am sure you ARE doing the best you can and admirably so. I know that this probably goes against your nature but is it at all possible to find money in the budget to hire a cleaning person to come once a week? Maybe even do a couple loads of laundry while she (or he!) is there? Heck, maybe one of your students would do it for cheap. Anyway, that's my only suggestion since I don't see how any of those other duties can be farmed out. Unless the babysitter could start dinner once in a while? Courage, dear! (and you're not fat, btw)

Christina said...

De-lurking to say that when it comes to grading writing assignments in a subject where students typically aren't graded on writing, I grab the papers written by my top five or so students and see what they've come up with. That usually helps me figure out what the grading scale is going to be and how the rest of the class should be critiqued. But it's no where near as fast as grading problem sets.

When I've had mornings like that, I hate it when people say "it'll get better" so I won't say that :) I'll simply wish you brownies, healthy babies and a magic laundry fairy or two to give you a hand.

Sarah said...

Okay, listen. You wrote and defended a dissertation with 2 babies. You are prepping and delivering a brand new class with three. You are amazing, and when you are on the other side of this semester, you are going to do all of this AND write a book and apply for 6 grants, and you'll be like, "Why did I think last semester was hard?"

Totally agree with Christina about reading your best students' work first.

Totally agree with Leslie about the cleaning person.

Okay, laundry is my specialty. You just have to get caught up (no easy task, I get that) and then do/ put away a single load everyday. I swear to you, you will NEVER have a laundry pile again, and you will NEVER spend more than 20 minutes of your life in a row on laundry again. Sometimes, we do 2 loads like when we have an excess of whites in addition to our normal stuff, and every couple of days, a load of towels is thrown in the mix, but I swear to you this works. I have been mocked in blog comments for this strategy before, though, so I know it's not popular :)

LL said...

First of all I second everything Sarah said in her first paragarph, because it's true. And then I have to say with regard to laundry, I also do what Sarah does. Once you get on top of it (a large task, I know), we throw in a load every night, usually before dinner. We switch it after dinner while one person is doing dishes, etc. Then we fold it when the kids go to bed. With one load, this seriously takes about 10 minutes. I never sort (I use one of those color catching sheets- they're awesome) and use a "free" detergent so I can wash Claire's and our stuff all together. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes it feels good to be on top of one thing. (And sometimes we skip nights if there really isn't much, but with four of us now, there's usually enough for a load).

Also, is a cleaning person a possibility? Everytime I look to cutting expenses in our life I look to our maid, but then I know that would be a huge mistake. It's a $75/visit for us (we have a pretty big house), and we do it 2x a week. It makes such a difference. She does the heavy work- the mopping, vacuuming every room and the stairs, the polishing of the countertops, dusting everything (I detest dusting), etc. My friend also has hers do the laundry, but I haven't yet since I have my system.

Anyway, it's something to think about. I know it's an extra expense, but when I walk in the door on that every other Wednesady, I feel like my stress level has dropped 10 places just b/c everything is so clean and shiny. And that feeling lasts, even as the clean and shiny fades.

Oh, and one other thing (sorry, this is so terribly disjointed, I'm supposed to be working on something due at 2, but felt like I MUST respond, b/c you are awesome and needed to be reminded)-- but, I also find that when things are going well, they are going well in pretty much everything (not perfect, but good), and when things are not going well, I am failing at Everything. And that really does suck. Try to give yourself a break though- things don't fail that often, and because everything is so precariously held in balance, of course everything else would come crashing down with it. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it works when two parents are working.

I hope you catch a break soon (from yourself and the universe) and that James feels better!

LL said...

Correction: our cleaning person comes 2x a month. 2x a week would probably be pretty awesome though...

Leslie said...

One more quick suggestion- this is for getting on top of the laundry. Saturday, drop the big kids off with your parents or friends and haul everything to a launrdromat and do 10 loads at once. While the laundry is going, work on grading! You and Ryan can call it a laundry date (we used to have those)

Rima said...

I'm so sorry you are going through a rough time. That has GOT to be frustrating. But I have to say spaghetti 4x a week is better than Spam, right? And I know for a fact that's what my husband and his brothers ate at least 3x a week in the 70s, plus they washed it down with Fanta.

You are still a rock star. It will get better.

Jen P. said...

Hang in there! Your posts are all exactly what I feel like I am going through right now. The third kid has put me over the edge! He is almost 6 months old now and it is getting easier. I don't have to hold him 20 hours a day anymore. My house is still trashed. I can't keep up with that. You are doing great. Keep it up!

Danny said...

Not to make it about me, but I can tell you that the first six months or so of having three kids was one of the very hardest times of our life, in many of the same ways you're describing. There were moments where I seriously daydreamed about plural marriage, just so there'd be another person around to help us, but then I realized that would probably just result in more babies.

Whenever I see pictures of your boys on the blog, they are smiling real smiles, and that means you're succeeding. And to echo Leslie, you are most definitely not fat. With all respect to Ryan, and I promise I'm not making this up, when I saw the picture of you in your Sunday dress in your last blog entry, my first thought was, "Becca just had a baby? Man, she's rockin' it!"

Love and strength to you!

Steph said...

I say just put checkmarks on the top of the writing assignment, give them credit for having completed it, and hand them back. It sounds like there are plenty of other homework assignments that count toward their grade.

You are doing awesome! You will make it!

AJU5's Mom said...

For the writing assignments - make a little rubric. Have some points for basic grammar and spelling (points off for things a future employer would notice and hate), ease of reading, and answering the questions. Then, as the others said, start with the ones you think will have done a good job to set the standard. Once you get going, it shouldn't take long to grade them. And of course you can grade a few just for completion - if they did it, they get credit.

Hang in there. Spring Break is coming up, and that will give you a week to play catch-up and hopefully de-stress!

Phoenix Rising said...

I'm going to guess that most of your standards and guilt are self-imposed because you seem to be a freaking awesome woman and probably nobody really even notices that your pants are wrinkly because we're all worried YOU'RE going to notice the fact that WE'VE been wearing the same pair of jeans for 5 days now and also the laundry pile at our house? Um, it's okay that the baby sleeps on a beach towel if I tuck it tight in the sides of the crib, right? Also, you have an awesome man in your life who wants to help you because he loves you, so let him. Awesome men love to feel awesome and they feel awesome by helping you feel awesome. Enjoy it. Oh, and also, sometimes I forget to put on deodorant and I just choose to stand further away from people at work. I've perfect this particular "balance."

GradBaby said...

(Delurking here)I so completely understand you--I'm now on the baby train-pregnant with my first-and juggling the last of my PhD coursework, teaching, a business I run with my husband and I'm going through an exhausting 1st trimester. I manage to feed us every day, but dishes never get done, the recycling has taken over the kitchen, and don't mention laundry. Or grading. Or completing any course work. I don't know if it is a relief or a tragedy that this will be my life for years to come. It's hard to balance the guilt, but I try to tell myself that despite it all I'm growing a healthy baby.

Kim said...

Hey Becca,

I'm so sorry things are so overwhelming right now. I have never approximately close to your shoes since I only have two kids, but I do think something my mom told me repeatedly when Zoe was little and I was struggling keeping it together is relevant here too. She always said sometimes you just have to let things go and it's okay. For example, let the house get dirty or get takeout or frozen food. What matters is taking care of your family first and keeping up with your job responsibilities. You have been doing a good job caring for your family even though everything is so crazy -- you said you held James when he needed it (and really, what is more important than that?) and the other commenter was totally right when he said everyone in pictures has real smiles - they are all happy!

If you are worried about dinners and such, what about some good frozen foods? Do you have Trader Joes near you? I always have about half my fridge stocked with frozen prepared food for the nights where I am just lazy. Also, I bet the boys don't mind eating the same thing -- if I give Aidan a choice, he'd pick the same food EVERY day!

To get on top of the laundry, you could also check in with a laundromat or dry cleaners and see if they have drop-off services. When I travel with my family for work, I often drop off our laundry and pay to have them wash and fold it for me. It's really nice not to have to sit in a laundromat if you just don't have time.

Hang in there -- you really are doing a marvelous job! And, you do look fantastic!!


Candy Masters said...

Your friends are awesome and they are RIGHT! Listen to their wise words! You are awesome too, and in four short months you'll have a six month old, it'll be summertime and a trip to Boothbay will be beckoning. Yay! Hang in there. xoxox Candy and David

Alyssa said...

You're getting lots of great advice and support. So, I'll just add a "hang in there" and send tons of hugs!!

Brooke said...

Oh, honey. Here's how you grade a writing assignment. Check, check plus, check minus. You put a check mark at the top of the page. You skim the writing. If it's good, you add a plus sign after the check mark. If it's meh, you leave the check. If they put forth no effort, you put a minus after check mark.

Also: Plz do not tell anyone that I am sharing the secrets of the humanities with the hard sciences.

Hang in there... The semester is 1/3 of the way over!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget, you are your worst critic. Just coming off the RSV train with all 3 kids, I feel your pain, too. James will feel better soon & life will become more normal soon! Every day that passes, you develop more of a routine, too. If it makes you feel any better, you know I stay home & I still don't have a picture perfect home, or have all the dishes and laundry done. It's like a revolving door...there will always be something waiting to be done. Keep your head up and make sure you do something nice for yourself every now and then! Jenny N.

Meika said...

I had to delurk like everyone else to remind you that you're doing great, too. :) You. Have. A. Newborn. A beautiful, delightful, sweet, cuddly, soul-sucking newborn, in addition to two additional young children, a marriage, a job, and a home. And presumably some other things, too. Embrace the spaghetti, and find the money for some help for whatever is making you most crazy - Kim just mentioned having a laundry do your clothes, which I'd forgotten about but have done myself (my place charged by the pound) - and remember that this is just survival time. A few months, a year, two years down the road and things will be completely different. We're rooting for you, Becca!

Amy said...

I couldn't hack it when Maeve was this age and I didn't have a job (although I did have a stupid traveling husband, so perhaps it's a wash). So I know, I KNOW, everything you are feeling. And it sucks. But, I am here to testify it will get better.

Once James gets on the three-nap schedule, it will become more predictable. And then once he goes to two naps, you will have yourself a pretty good thing going. But now? It is going to suck. I constantly felt like I was drowning and like you, I was looking for time and energy levels that just weren't there. You have to cut yourself some slack. You're raising three kids under 5 -- it's hard! But you're doing awesome. As I like to say, someday when they're 10, 8 and 6 and they can wake up and get their own cereal and watch TV until you get up later, this will all be a distant memory.

And kudos to Ryan for the help. Thank goodness he can pitch in as much as he does.

We'll get some drinks in a few weeks and pretend we don't have any kids and it will be AWESOME!

Chiconky said...

I'm beginning to think none of us is holding on by much more than a thread. Try to see where you ARE succeeding and give yourself permission to occasionally fall a little short. Hang in there. You're a rockstar.

Hanah said...

I haven't read all the other comments yet, but I just wanted to point out that sleep deprivation makes everything else 1000 times harder. If you can find a way to get yourself one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep (hint: hotel room alone), you will be amazed at the difference.

Kyla said...

I know. I have one oess kid than you (but KayTar counts for 2...maybe 3 some days) and I'm taking classes instead of teaching them...but EVERYONE who has to play the balance game has days or weeks like these. You're doing great...nothing is perfect all the time, no matter how good we are at "having it all"!

Magnifique Mama said...

I might have figured out the laundry problem. Laundry is like a Gremlin, it comes with rules:

1. do one load per day, never more, occasionally less

2. throw in a few Shout Color Catcher sheets and you never have to sort by color

3. put everything back the way it came to you (inside out, backwards, unbuttoned, etc.)

4. banish everything that needs ironed