Today is Library Day

I decided Monday (or maybe Tuesday; this week’s already been at least two weeks long) that Wednesdays would henceforth be Library Days. Because I want there to be a Library Day this summer. Monday is Art Class Day and Tuesday is T-Ball Day, so Wednesday it is. Thursday has been Laundry Day for years now, and Friday is alternatively Cleaning Day and Fun Day (when it’s not just a regular old Work Day).

It would be easy to say “I have too much work to do; let’s put off Library Day.” (It’s true; I do. This week is trying very hard to make up for my lack of work these past few months.) But I cannot put off art class or t-ball, and I think the library deserves that same level of dedication. So here we go.

See, this is why I don’t understand why people say “Mommy _____” with such derision. “Mommy jobs” and “mommy bloggers” and “mompreneur” and the like. Because at the same time I am making the executive decision to put my children’s literacy above my workload, thus guaranteeing me a couple of short sleep days as I scramble to make up the time, I am also managing cleaning and laundry and shopping for essentials, contacting the landlord about the rotten deck and pest control about the wasps in the garage, checking in on my parents, and ensuring my kids (one of whom got up at 4:30 this morning, so of course I have Apple Jacks ground into my living room rug already) are safe, happy, fed, and don’t burn the house down while I’m on a call. As a freelancer, I’m juggling four different jobs (this week; I have more) while all this goes down.

Scheduling and organization are key. Having a time and a place for everything, and keeping everything in its place. I have to-do lists of to-do lists.

I thought I was an organized multitasker before I had kids. I did not know what it meant to multitask back then. I could clean the house and it stayed clean. Now I scrub the kitchen floor three times a day.

Moms work hard; moms that work from home work even harder. There is no window of time during which everyone is out of the house and someone else is caring for the kids, so the chaos is literally neverending. I never have nothing to do, ever.

So yes, I am a mompreneur. A mommylancer. A work-at-home mom. If I mention my kids in context of work, I’m not telling you that I will need lots of flexibility or sick days (though let’s be honest, I will). I’m telling you that I can put out fires with a watering can and make s’mores from the embers. Your project will therefore be no problem.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go change a poopy diaper and get back to work. I only have a few hours before we leave for the library.



Settling into the new normal

House listings are my porn. I have accounts on Trulia, Zillow, and RedFin, and visit HotPads from time to time. I have saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of listings. Any time I see a for-sale sign in a neighborhood I’m interested in, I grab my phone and search for the realtor listing. How many bedrooms? Is there a garage? Separate laundry room? What unfortunate color scheme would I have to paint over?

I’m not buying a house anytime soon. I’m too far in debt to even consider it. Nor are we moving away in the foreseeable future; my parents’ health is waning, and they are beginning to truly need our help. Even if that were not the case, my kids enjoy living close to them too much to leave right now.

No, my house shopping is just a dream. But it’s pretty much a harmless one, so I indulge myself.

The other day, I learned that I did get one of the jobs I’d applied for, a part-time contract gig. It’s flexible enough that I can do most of my work before the kids even wake up in the morning, and squeeze in my other freelancing while Kai naps and after R gets home from work. Which leaves me the rest of the day to take care of the kids and help my parents out.

This is not how I’d pictured my days. I was anticipating having to decide between a daycare and a babysitter — a decision I’ve fought since I became pregnant with Anya. Now I’m the daycare. It’s the goal I aspired to before I had kids. I didn’t expect it to feel this scary, though.

If I bust my hump and the work stays steady, with this new job I will be making close to what I made when I was laid off…but without benefits. If we manage to get married later this year, come tax time next year R’s tax return will offset my tax payment…but we may just barely break even. The security of the job I didn’t get was so great that I admit I’m having trouble seeing the bright spots in how things turned out.

But if I am to be honest about it, I think things turned out just as they needed to.

My mother, while not as bad off as we had feared this time last week, is very ill, and recovery is going to take at least a year. My father has health issues of his own that he’s been putting off treating until Mom gets well — and the time has come that he can no longer do that. They need me to help them out.

My kids need me, too. My daughter, while she thinks she is grown, is still little enough to want to spend time with me. And I’d be a fool to regret having the time with my son that I missed with her because I was working so much.

My debt is at times utterly overwhelming to me. Because we had to rely on credit during both of my maternity leaves, my current debt is roughly half my annual income. The first thing I’d intended to do once I started receiving a steady paycheck was to use my freelancing income (because of course I’d intended to continue freelancing, at least for a while) to start paying down my debt. So I could eventually pay back what I took from the kids’ savings accounts and our down payment savings account.

Now it’s going to be a while before all that happens. Years, perhaps. And unless I do return to work full time, the down payment account may never come back at all. My house hunting will remain a pretty dream.

But I’ll hang on to that dream just a little while longer.


I am doing 43 things

Two posts in two days. Imagine that.

Actually, I’m cross-posting this from 43t; I don’t have that much free time today. And I wanted to get this stuff down so I can think about it, and write about it, and hopefully even do it.

As I think I mentioned somewhere, I want to do 43 things in my 43rd year. I’m adding the caveat that they can’t be boring things, like “spring clean my house!” or “purge my closet!” that I’ve done time and again and simply feel like I should do them to be a good person or whatever. These are things I want to do to say I’ve done them (projects), or because doing them will help me progress in other goals (challenges), or because establishing that routine will have a lasting impact on my life (habits), or simply because I want to do something nice for myself once in a while.

Some of these list items require explanation, and I’ll provide that in later posts. Which means I have plenty of fodder to help me achieve #31.

My overall goal with this list is not just to do 43 things for the sake of doing them, but to look back over this year next May and see that I’ve made progress instead of simply keeping the plates spinning. I have no illusions that this is going to be hard; as much as the kids have been sick this past year, at times everything has fallen apart, and I have had zero time and energy left over for extras. But I don’t want to look back on my life and see that I spent my time cleaning and shopping and watching TV. I want to do as much as I can with the time I’ve been given, and nurture the blessings in my life rather than squander them.

In that spirit, here’s my list of 43 things.

1 Complete an ab month
2 Complete a meditation month
3 Complete 43 things in my 43rd year

4 Be able to run a mile
5 Meditate every day
6 Exercise 30 minutes per day
7 Cook a meal using ingredients I grew myself
8 Have family dinners 4+ nights a week
9 Discover 10 healthy meal recipes the kids will eat

10 Read to the kids for 20 minutes each day
11 Help Anya with her speech 5 minutes each day
12 Work with Kai on letters, numbers, and word sounds 5 minutes a day
13 Have art time with the kids once a week
14 Introduce my kids to the library
15 Start a family heirloom collection
16 Have a weekly family game night
17 Make time for R (a monthly date night would be ideal)
18 Resume monthly family outings
19 Get married
20 Have an awesome familymoon

21 Improve my home’s curb appeal
22 Clean out the garage
23 Tidy up the deck (and nag the landlord about getting it replaced)
24 Complete my 2017 scrapbook
25 Rip my CD collection and reclaim that shelf
26 Finish Anya’s blanket
27 Complete a Duolingo course
28 Put together photos for photo books

New Habits
29 Fine-tune our morning and bedtime routines
30 Refine and expand our recycling routine

31 Blog regularly
32 Finish my NaNoWriMo book
33 Create 10 drawings I’m proud of

34 Brush up on my ID/PS/IL skills
35 Identify and take classes that will help with my career
36 Piece together sufficient freelance work/obtain full-time employment
37 Stabilize my finances
38 Put the same name on all of my credit cards
39 Put together a portfolio website

Foster Joy
40 Read one book a month
41 Grow flowers
42 Make time for friends
43 Have one do-nothing day per month

I heart my phone

I’m not ashamed to say I am tied to my phone.

I know, I know…that’s a controversial standpoint these days. I am supposed to lament the fact that I spend so much time looking at it. It’s literally the first thing I touch in the morning and the last at night. I use it as an alarm clock. Pedometer. Calendar. Calculator. It’s my business office — I check email, edit documents, take phone calls, and research questions from it…I’ve even signed documents and printed a copy for my files from my phone. It’s my game console. Television. Bookcase. Music player. Filing cabinet. Cookbook. Note pad. Camera and video recorder. Social life. When I say my whole life is in this phone…I’m not really exaggerating.

This one small piece of technology allows me to have all of those things and more in the back pocket of my jeans. And I freaking love it.

Ever tried to read a book while nursing a squirmy toddler? It’s pretty much impossible. Out comes the phone.

Hop in the car and start Spotify. Why settle for only 6 CDs?

Kids acting up in the restaurant? Show them cool how-to videos on YouTube to distract them.

What did I need from the store? I have the list right here.

What shall we have for dinner? Google recipes, then buy the ingredients. Save the recipe to Google Drive.

Oh, it looks like I have an email. New work project? Time to head home.

It used to take an entire backpack to hold all of the stuff I carry with me on this electronic device. I really wish I’d had something like this in college. Life would have been a lot easier.

“Oh, but people used to talk to each other! Now they just look at their phones!” Honestly, I didn’t talk to people before I had a phone. Years ago, perhaps, but not since high school. Nobody calls me. Nobody drops by my house. And vice versa. I talk to people more now that I have social media at my fingertips. Not in person, but I wasn’t talking to anyone in person before. I have a support network I never had before. So you won’t hear me fussing at people for looking at their phones instead of the people they’re sitting with.

I’m slightly baffled at the people who go on and on about technology and progress. Would you really go back to the way things were? I wouldn’t. My life is infinitely easier now. I am especially amused by the people who rant about these things on social media. So you’d prefer life as it was in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s? Well, put down the phone and walk away. It’s that easy. Participation in Facebook is not mandatory.

For me, well, I’m looking at buying a new tablet. Because with my phone and a tablet at hand, I can work literally anywhere. In the doctor’s office. At the park. In the car on the way somewhere. I’m not tied to an office, a schedule. I can manage my job, my home, and my life while playing with my kids.

Technology is awesome.

Like it’s my job

Yesterday morning, my computer would not boot. It would get to a certain point in the process, then stop. I’ve been through this dance more than once, so at first I was calm. I turned it off and turned it back on.

A few times.

I stuffed down the first bubbles of panic and called in R. He built it. He could fix it, surely.

It wouldn’t boot for him, either.

The bubbles brought friends. But all was not lost. I could always work from the laptop.

The laptop no longer has a valid copy of Word. My current version of Word is Office 365. Which is only good on one device: the tower. I have the Word app on my phone, but I am not editing 16 pages on my phone. Plus I have PDFs I need to look at and mark up. Argh.

The panic began to fizz. In to Best Buy.

Talk with a Geek Squad guy who was just a little condescending (just because I didn’t build it doesn’t mean I’m clueless about computers, dude). The computer boots for him.

Bring it home, plug it back in: Bootage.

Also, backupage. Backing up of backups. Hello OneDrive, my new friend. Let’s get acquainted.

My irreplaceable memories, my photos and videos and writing about the kids, are all in the cloud. (Not that I don’t need to back those up, too; I do. It’s on the list.) Nothing I would have lost, had I lost this hard drive, would have broken me. But it would have made life very difficult for several months. Everything is in this box. EVERYTHING. All my work files and my accounting files, my resume, my records, my personal organization files, my Christmas card address list (because when else do I actually mail things to people?)…it’s all in here.

I’m a freelancer now. Full stop. This is my work computer. Time to start treating it as such.

So once I catch up on what I didn’t get done this morning, I will go get a new hard drive. (GeekSquad guy says mine is geriatric. He’s not wrong. My “extra” money has been going to frivolous things like food and electricity and baby diapers.) I will get my own dedicated external hard drive for backups. And a new tablet, so I have something to fall back on in case of future system failure. Because let’s be honest: There will be a future system failure. It’s a testament to R’s computer skills that I’ve gone this long without one, but there is no way to prevent them entirely.

And work, like progress, and time, and dust, waits for no one.

Local candidates only

I have learned a lot about reading between the lines in job postings this year. In years past, I would send out resume after resume, and be crushed when I got no response or a rejection email. My confidence crumbled a little more after each one, even as my skills and experience grew. I tried again. And was rebuffed again. What do I lack? I wondered. What do those other candidates have that I don’t?

My guess? Geographic proximity.

I did not pick the most popular vocation for my area. So many of the jobs I have applied for are hours, states away. Most are clear across the country. And, I see now, most employers simply do not want to mess with interviewing a candidate who would have to move to accept the position. Not when they have qualified local candidates.

This time around, I am specifically looking for remote work. But still my job searches return jobs that are not remote. They don’t always say that outright in the post, but I’m beginning to learn the clues. Unless remote work is explicitly mentioned in the posting, I consider these items to be red flags:

  • Explicit mention of office location
  • Any talk about office culture or office environment or coworkers
  • Reference to hard copy resources or specific software requirements
  • A list of in-office perks or local attractions
  • Managing freelancers or working with customers listed under job duties
  • Any talk of a required work schedule

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve come to accept that I am a full-time freelancer now. I can no longer claim unemployment because I consistently make too much to get paid. (I am making too much today to get paid this week.) So I am no longer applying for every job I am qualified for, but selecting only those I feel are the best fit. I would refuse any job offer that required me to work in an office, or travel, on anything like a regular basis. I may one day return to the office, but not at this point in my life.

So I scan the job postings carefully. If none of the above things are mentioned, and if they do not specifically state “no telecommuting” or “on-site only” or “telecommuting allowed X days per week” or “local candidates only,” I apply. Sometimes I even get interviews.

It still stings when I get rejected. But at least I get rejected less often now.

The costs of parenthood

As a member of Gen X, I’m almost required to be a helicopter parent. But even if my generation didn’t feel this way, I would. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t planning ahead to when I would become a mom. I was stressing out about it at 17. I spent an entire year at 35 trying to get and stay pregnant, and half of one at 39. I quit my job of 12 years for a part-time job that allowed me to work at home so I could have more time with my kids. And now, while facing financial ruination, I am holding out for another job that will allow me to work from home. Because money < time.

I live in a country that, inexplicably, does not provide paid maternity leave. Even though I took out a short-term disability insurance policy, the three months I took off with each of my newborns were largely unpaid. Forget the cost of diapers. Simply spending my children’s first three months of life with them (two-thirds of which I was medically required to take off as I recovered from my cesareans) cost me more than $20,000 in lost wages. I promise you that diapers are nowhere near that expensive. I could have purchased a car with the money I lost by not working those months.

I would not have traded that time for the world, though. Nor am I itching to get back to the office. When I returned to work after my daughter was born, my days looked like this:

5:00 a.m.: Get up. Slap on makeup, fix hair, get dressed.

5:15: Gather gear for work (bag, lunch, travel mug, phone).

5:20: Change the baby. Take her to my parents’ house. Snuggle her for a few moments.

5:45: Head to work. Cry the whole way there.

7-11:00: Work. Take frequent bathroom breaks to cry.

11:00-11:30: Spend lunch buying baby things in Target to assuage the guilt of being away from her all day.

11:30-3:00 p.m.: Work. And cry, quietly, claiming allergies if someone asked why I was sniffling.

3:00: Head home. Cry more.

4:15-6:00: Hug my baby, chat with my parents, eat dinner.

6:00-7:00: Hug my baby. Chat with R.

7:00: Shower; start preparing to do it all again tomorrow.

I didn’t have a kid to spend just a handful of hours with her per day. And now that I have two kids, my time is even more precious.

I don’t want them to remember me as constantly working. I want to go on field trips, be involved in the PTO, take them to museums and parks, watch sunsets and shooting stars. I want to cook them dinner, bake them cookies, play board games with them. I don’t want to be exhausted all the time. I don’t want to have to outsource household tasks just to maintain my sanity.

How much is all that worth? Can you put a price on family time?

So no, I am not eager to take up my commute again. I’m not chomping at the bit to return to the cubicle. I want to be here for my kids while they’re kids. They don’t care if we have a nice car or live in a huge house. They care that they have their mommy on tap, whenever they may need her. So that’s my main priority. I owe them that much. The rest I’ll deal with best I can.