As my Jason nears his third birthday, I've spent a lot of time thinking about those last few months before we became parents. I already knew I would take a year off of work, and I knew I would most likely not return to my engineering career very soon, but I had no idea what to expect from stay-at-home-motherhood. Oh, the assumptions I made!
Sitting at my desk at work, I'd daydream about being able to cook the healthy dinners that my work schedule didn't allow. I imagined all the cleaning and organizing I would finally tackle. I imagined getting outside every day to take walks and water the garden. Nice ideas, but far from my reality.
To be fair, some of my assumptions were not proven utterly ill informed: we were happy to use cloth diapers, and the majority of the babyfood was homemade. Grocery shopping was an easy chore for me, with one baby or two, until Jackson reached 15 months, at which point he refused to sit in a sling or cart, or even walk in the same direction as the rest of the family.
As the boys have grown, I've learned much more about having realistic expectations: what I can accomplish on a good day or a bad day, and what has to be done every day. For us, it is laundry, dishes, and food prep. Any time it is left or forgotten, it piles on and makes the next day more difficult. I don't like to make breakfast in a wreck of a kitchen. I really don't enjoy playing in a room lined with baskets and piles of clean laundry. I may not like cleaning, but I've learned it is better than the alternative. I can thank Fly Lady for a lot of that.
I have never been a particularly neat or high energy person. So long as food stays in the kitchen, I tend to let clutter accumulate around the house while I drool over Unclutterer stories. The boys are taught to put away some toys before getting out others ("We need to make room to play!"), but they aren't reprimanded for pulling all their books off the shelves to look at them. As soon as the window crayon drawings are washed away (I love the Magic Eraser!), they want to draw more. In other words, we spend far more time playing and reading than cleaning.
I long ago realized that these chores could not be put off, regardless of how much I despised them. What makes all of them a little easier? I listen to podcasts like This American Life and Stuff You Missed In History Class or audio books or Prairie Home Companion. It MUST be through headphones for me to get distracted enough to not notice the time go by. Most of my kitchen cleaning happens when the boys are asleep and I'm entranced by This American Life. Similarly, I get the most laundry folding done when I am watching a movie I've seen a million times- Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Paint Your Wagon.
I am currently following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to deal with some digestion problems, and I have to cook nearly every meal at home. Even the quick and easy meals require preparation ahead of time. Since I now spend a lot of time cooking, thankful that the boys can now entertain each other for short periods of time, I have to balance getting food prepared with their schedules. I used to be afraid to spend time dealing with raw meat, since I may have to immediately diffuse some of the boys' tension or help someone whose body or feelings are hurt, and I didn't like the idea of doing so with raw meat on my hands. One of my lovely friends suggested using disposable gloves, and it has worked perfectly! I am often able to get through the prep without interruption, but when falls or fights happen, they are easy to pull off. Such a great solution that had never occurred to me.
Meal planning can be difficult even without allergies or dietary restrictions. Meal planning is an amazing tool: when done regularly, it can lower your grocery cost, streamline your schedule, and keep you from throwing away unused food. That said, I have never been successful making meal plans long term. You can find more support in books and all over the internet. I subscribe to the Grain Free Meal Plan, and it has been an amazing addition to our routine. It is written by a mother working at home with two kids, so it fits with our lifestyle.
I hope to eventually write about our schedule in more detail. I've found plenty of support for the emotional aspect of spending all day with toddlers, but I'm still looking for something that answers my pressing questions, like: how can I shower?
I quickly learned that life, as a mother, would not be much like I expected. Everyone, hopefully, finds their balance point, and learns what is necessary, and what can wait. What have you learned that helps in your day-to-day life?