3 reasons why I still send my kids to daycare when I have a day off

During a typical work week my calendar is scheduled to the hour. I’m talking so jam-packed that I have to carve out time to use the bathroom. But once in awhile a day is suspiciously light. There aren’t meetings back-to-back (or better yet competing with each other) and perhaps the projects I’m working on don’t need immediate attention. Before any of those “free” hours can be snatched up, I’ll block my calendar and take the day off. Maybe I’ll even write my out of office message in all caps just to drive home the point that I WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE (just kidding, that would be rude).

The elusive spontaneous day off is a glorious thing. Usually my time off is purposefully scheduled—we might be preparing to head out of town for the weekend or maybe we’re expecting visitors. Other days off might be designated for family time, whether it’s vacation or staycation. Very rarely is a there a day off with nothing scheduled allowing me time to plow through a to-do list. What do I do on this rare occasion?

I still send my kids to daycare. The morning routine, while still taking no less than two hours, remains steady as rock. The only giveaway, as my three-year-old observes, is my attire. “Mommy, you not going to the office? You going to exercise?” she’ll ask noting my yoga pants, make-up free face and headband. The guilt used to hit me hard when asked this question— but I try to remember these three things:

#1 Routine is good for everyone

Our theme of the last year was “transition”. In May we welcomed Baby Sister. In August I went back to work and we moved from an in-home daycare to a preschool. In October my daughter turned three and graduated to a new class. It. Was. Rough. We are finally in such a groove that I have to make absolutely sure she knows school is an expectation. I always give a reason why going to school is positive, “You’ll miss your friends and teachers if you stay home with me” or “I’ll bet you’re going to have so much fun on the playground!” It’s usually enough motivation to keep her upbeat and accepting of the day ahead. I’m also a slave to sleep schedules and with a baby we’re still in the multiple-naps-a-day phase that allows approximately NOTHING to be accomplished outside of the house. Disrupting a nap to attempt an errand usually backfires, leaving me wondering if the errand was even worth it in the first place.

#2 Productivity

I love my little ones and I’ve long accepted that outings with them are infinitely more complicated than going alone. But when given the opportunity for eight uninterrupted hours, I will take it. No potty pit stops, no wardrobe changes due to diaper blowouts, no stopping for 27 snacks, no car naps that disrupt aforementioned sleep schedules, no strapping and unstrapping out of car seats. None of it. With the kids at daycare I can effectively navigate all my errands at a much faster rate. And a productive mom might even have energy leftover at the end of the day to whip up some banana bread with her little helpers.

#3 Self-care

Here’s where I make myself a deal. If I can get three errands or house tasks done that benefit the entire family (i.e. grocery shopping, Target run, laundry) then I also deserve some “me time.” I’ll block out an hour for a fitness class or schedule a facial at the spa. In order to be a better mom I have to take some time for myself. I’ve taken days off before and only made sure reasons #1 and #2 were covered and ended up feeling resentful. Sure, I knocked out some things, but did I sit down? Did I exercise or read a book or catch up on my DVR? If the answer is a resounding no, then I missed the boat. Self-care is essential to a productive day. Even an hour of peace can dramatically refuel my mom tank.

It might not work for everyone, but I’ve realized I feel more in control on days when I’m able to check things off my to-do list without children impeding my progress. It results in less multitasking once I’m home and I’m able to be present and enjoy the precious hours we have together. Is this all without guilt? Of course not. Do I feel the preschool teacher’s eyes boring into me when I show up in my athleisure wear, likely wondering what I’ve been doing all day? Absolutely. But during pickup there’s always at least one other mom who has a trace of exercise class still on her brow or who is carrying the telltale bulls-eye bag from a shopping run. As we pass in the hallway at school, trying to keep up with our bounding kids and their overflowing backpacks, I give her a knowing smile.

How to get a baby, a preschooler and a working mom out the door in 2 hours

“My personal best for getting out the door in the morning is 1 hour and 45 minutes,” I explained to my husband one day as I talked through my morning routine, looking for loopholes to save time. “And I think that was a fluke.”

My husband shook his head incredulously. “Can’t you just wake up earlier?”

My jaw tightened at this suggestion. He’s up at 5:30 and out the door by 6:00, right when my alarm is usually going off. Occasionally he has to do the morning routine when I’m out of town, but he doesn’t truly understand what it entails on a daily basis. He may have an early wake-up call, but his morning is all his. It’s quiet and uncomplicated, complete with a shower and a cup of coffee while the rest of us are still sleeping.

While my first reaction is to respond defensively—something I’m trying to work on, stay tuned—I do realize he’s only trying to help.

“Seriously,” he says more empathetically, “where do the wheels fall off? Let’s see what we can do.”

I remember the night before I went back to work after maternity leave, I had every detail mapped out. I would shower and pick out outfits the night before. I would pack lunches, prep bottles and set all our bags next to the door before I went to bed. Our mornings would be calm and organized. We’d be ready to go in record time.

Within two weeks, this plan unraveled. After getting the kids to bed, I realized that the last thing I felt like doing was thinking about the morning. As time went on, and even when I’d do as much prep as possible, it still didn’t account for all the curveballs that fly between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 a.m.

So, I took a deep breath and responded, “Here’s how I get the baby, the preschooler and myself out the door in two hours.”

6:00: Alarm goes off. Debate sleeping until 6:30 knowing that will only put me behind and start the day on the wrong foot. Ultimately trudge out of bed.

6:10-6:30: Give the breast pump a workout and eke out as much milk as I possibly can in 20 minutes. While the hands-free pump is doing its thing, I make a cup of coffee, prep the bottles, defrost frozen milk and use what’s left in the fridge from yesterday. I also let the dog outside, feed him then let him out again because God forbid he poops the first time around. If the neighbor’s dog is outside and riles him up, I have to go outside (yes, sometimes with the pump still attached) whisper yelling at him to get in the house so I don’t wake up the neighbors with my rage. If I have accomplished all of this by 6:30, we’re on track for a good morning.

6:30: Reheat coffee that I forgot was sitting on the counter. Quickly do some version of hair and makeup. The goal is to be ready by 7:00 so I can focus on the kids for the next hour. Curveball #1: Preschooler can wake up at any point. The sweet spot is about 6:45. This allows time for 30 minutes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and a few more minutes to myself.

7:00: Give 10-minute warning to preschooler that it’s almost time to get ready. Follow-up questions and comments could range here. Best-case scenario I get an agreeable, “OK.” Worst-case scenario is an immediate flop on the floor followed by whining.

7:15: The baby begins to stir. Preschooler demands to go “wake her up” and runs in her room. We spend anywhere from 2-5 minutes sweetly talking and making her smile before doing the diaper change/bottle feed. This is the part of the morning that stops me in my tracks. No matter what has happened before or what comes next, these are moments of pure love. By far my favorite part of the morning.

7:20: The baby lies on a pillow and takes her bottle. Luckily she is now old enough to hold the bottle herself and just watches us run around while she happily sucks. I spend the next 10 minutes in a hostage negotiation with the preschooler about what to wear to school. I’ve read all the articles. I know to give choices so she thinks she is in charge. It still doesn’t always work.

7:40: We’re now dressed and have brushed teeth and hair, hopefully with only minor tears about how I’m brushing too hard. “Gently, Mommy!” I’m often reminded.

7:50: I strap the baby in her car seat, while the preschooler yells from the other room, “Is it cold today? What coat do I need?” I’ll reply and she will decide no, she needs the other option then insists on putting it on and zipping it up only to take it off once we’re in the car.

7:55: Can it be? We’re running five minutes ahead of schedule? Just kidding! Curveball #2: The baby is red faced and grunting. This can only mean poop. I now have to unstrap and change her, which sets us back five to ten minutes, depending on the severity of the diaper contents.

8:10: “Do we have everything?” I’ll ask as we pull out of the driveway, regretting the question as soon as I ask it. Enter curveball #3: Preschooler reminds me that it is Share Day and that we forgot to bring a toy. I throw the car in park, run back inside and quickly grab what she asks for before finally leaving. I do a quick count and make sure we have all our bags: my work bag, my lunch, my breast pump, preschooler’s book bag, and baby’s bag.

8:15: We’re on our way.

After I catch my breath I conclude, “So, you see, any way you look at it there’s a challenge. Everyday there’s a slight plot twist. I’m always running behind schedule.”

My husband looks at me and replies, “I still think you should just wake up earlier.”

The (Other) F Word

I finally did it.

Last week, after months of quickly walking by the aisle in Target, refusing to make eye contact, I accepted the inevitable and bought it.

Formula.

Let me start by saying I really, truly know and understand there is nothing wrong with using formula and everyone has different reasons for how they feed their babies. But for me, this feels personal.

I’d always wanted to breastfeed. To me, it was part of the motherhood experience. My mom still talks about how wonderful it was for her and will recount how she held onto the nighttime feeding for so long because she didn’t want to give it up. I want that, I always thought.

My first baby and I did not get along on the breastfeeding front. She had a horrible latch and at six weeks old developed a hemangioma on her lower lip, which further complicated our struggles. She screamed and cried through feedings. I cried (and wanted to scream) through feedings. It wasn’t pretty. But three months into motherhood I was back to work and pumping most of the day anyway, so by the time my baby was five months old I made the switch to exclusively pumping. I felt defeated, but took solace in the fact that I was still her main food source. I was at least succeeding at that. Eventually my supply couldn’t keep up with my growing girl and I began supplementing with formula around nine months. Defeat crept back in yet again, but I continued to pump until my baby’s first birthday.

Baby Number Two was a completely different experience. She latched like a pro immediately and I finally understood what it meant to enjoy breastfeeding. While on maternity leave, I still pumped about once a day to build my freezer supply for when I went back to work. As the weeks went by, my husband began to gripe about the lack of freezer space. The more he complained, the more satisfied I felt. Look how much milk I was producing for my baby! At one point I suggested buying a separate freezer because where would all the milk go? It was such a point of pride. I was determined to make it the full year without having to supplement.

At the time of this original posting, Baby Number Two is nine months old and between working full time, having to occasionally travel and feeding my hungry girl, my freezer supply has taken quite a hit. I’m at the point—again— where I can’t keep up. And this time I’ve been in straight up denial.

This time it’s different. It’s not a feeling of failure, but rather frustration. When I’m home with my baby on weekends, I can nurse on demand and she’s completely satisfied. I’ve realized the breast pump doesn’t empty me in the same way she does. She’s far more efficient and can get more milk out on her own. Pumping multiple times a day just doesn’t have the same result. So I’m frustrated and conflicted.

Frustrated that being a working mother means being away all day and being unable to sufficiently feed my child, but conflicted because I want to work and provide for my family.

Frustrated that my body can’t produce the same amount with a breast pump, but conflicted because, how amazing that it knows the difference.

Frustrated that I have to now rely on an outside food source to nourish my child, but conflicted because how wonderful to have another option.

Underneath the frustration and conflict is also a tinge of sadness. This is most likely my last baby, which means it’s my last chance to enjoy breastfeeding. There is no next time.

Every month that we get closer to her first birthday I know breastfeeding will taper off and I’ll be moving into a new phase of life. The frustration, conflict and sadness will likely still be there, but I need to remember that everything I’ve done along the way is the best I can do for my child. She’s happy and thriving (and based on her delightful baby rolls, definitely not starving).

The other morning, when I was doing my bottle prep for the babysitter, I made two bottles from pumped breast milk and one bottle of formula. For the first morning in awhile, I didn’t have to dip into my freezer supply. I realized I built up this ridiculous anxiety around introducing formula to my daughter, because the emotion I actually felt in that moment was relief.

So, I have decided to not let formula define my breastfeeding experience, though it will be a constant reminder that being away during the day takes a toll. Formula isn’t the enemy and in fact, it has allowed me to take a little pressure off myself.

Maybe my next trip down that particular aisle at Target will be one of acceptance and appreciation. And then again maybe it won’t. But I’m going to do my best to move through each phase of parenting with a little more grace for myself and what I’ve been able to do as a mom.

“It’s not time for texting, Mommy. It’s time for lunch.”

A barking cough echoed over the baby monitor at 5:00 a.m. My eyes hadn’t even opened and in a hoarse morning voice I asked my husband, “You heard that too, right?” Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But he agreed and I groaned, knowing what my day, already planned to the hour, would now look like. My husband is a teacher with a hefty commute and not always a lot of flexibility, so things like sick kids, vet appointments and oil changes usually fall to me. While I’m thankful for a job that essentially allows me to work anywhere— like car dealership waiting areas, my kitchen table or even waiting in line at the grocery store (thanks, email app!)— I still flinch at any disruption from my usual schedule.

I knew the barking baby seal probably meant Croup and because my three-year-old had also been battling a nasty cough and cold, I made plans to take both kids to the doctor. Four hours of meetings scheduled? No problem. I’d make the kids appointments, change my in-person meetings to conference calls, get the kids comfortable with some PBS and pillows and get on with my day working from home.

Two doctors appointments, a breathing treatment (due to unforeseen wheezing) and a trip to the pharmacy later, the girls and I were back home. I had ten minutes to spare before a call with my manager. Barely breaking a sweat, I thought. Oh, the smug confidence.

I texted a quick update to my mom who’d asked how the girls were. Exasperated, my three-year-old began pacing in circles in the kitchen. She might have been sick, but somehow her energy never faltered. She gestured with frustration— her palms up and little fingers spread wide, “It’s not time for texting, Mommy. It’s time for lunch!”

Some people have the type of kids who get colds and melt into the couch for days. They sleep more than usual, they’re quieter and they are more than happy to zone out to a movie. I do not have such children.

But she was right. I apologized and sloppily slathered some peanut butter and honey on stale bread ends. Then added bread to the running grocery list.

Five minutes to spare.

As I served up a gourmet lunch, of PB&H and a juice box, I fumbled around to find the conference code when I heard the splat of baby barf hitting the floor— which it’s possible there is no worse sound.

“Mommy! Ew! She barfed!”

I made a mental note to talk to the toddler about using the word, ‘barf’.

My confident attitude about taking the day head on was now in a swift downward spiral. Sure, I could still join my meeting. I could half listen on mute and soothe the coughing baby with some gentle hip bouncing. But I’d likely have to answer a question and unmute myself, no doubt as the baby started crying again or the dog barked at a UPS truck. I could make it happen and later face my oldest asking why I’m always on the phone or always texting and never playing. Basically, I could make it work, but not work well.

So, here’s what I did.

I sent one final text to my manager that said, “Thought I could make today work, but can’t. Two sick kids. Need to reschedule.”

I then breathed a huge sigh of relief for making one decision and not trying to squeeze in 50 things. I was able to refocus my attention to the little people who actually needed me. My manager sympathetically— and genuinely— responded, mom job comes first.

My three-year-old doesn’t care that my inbox is full and my calendar is back-to-back. All she knows is when I’m home she wants to play. Just because I can work anywhere, doesn’t mean I should. I have to learn to stop making it work. Some days it just doesn’t work. I need the reminder to put the phone down. Close the laptop. Focus on what’s in front of me. Find a way to shut off the part of my brain that’s yelling and anxious about everything I need to do.

Slow down.

My career isn’t going to come to a screeching halt because I spent a few hours or even a few days with sick kids. But I’d like to think my kids will remember the times I spent snuggling and relaxing with them when they were sick. I’d rather they hold on to those memories than ones of me texting.

Yes, another mom blog. But here’s why:

At first glance, I know I seem like so many others.

I’m a married mom of two little girls. We have a dog, Dennis. My day job is in corporate marketing. I live in the suburban Midwest. Our two family cars are a station wagon (I swear, it’s technically a crossover) and a minivan (doesn’t get much more generic than that). My days consist of busy morning routines, powering through meetings, keeping personal relationships afloat and keeping my children happy, loved and fed.

But my first love is writing (my true loves didn’t come until much later). And here’s what I’ve come to realize:

I have a lot to say.

I have opinions, frustrations, reflections. And I want to share them. I want feedback. I want to start a dialogue. And I want to hold myself accountable to my first love. I want to write and I want to share my process with others. Over the last few years my life has evolved quite a bit as my husband and I plunged into the world of parenting. The hectic schedules were at one point a reason to put my writing on hold.

But I remember in first grade how it felt when I discovered writing. I joined a creative writing club and each time I began a story, I was giddy with the idea that I could create someone, something, some new world from scratch. I could give characters names! And choose how they dress, what they like to eat, decide whether or not they have curly hair. Do they have siblings? Pets? Friends? I loved to get lost in creating characters. My writing carried me through middle school as I joined a competitive writing team. Then in high school I continued creative writing as an elective. During college my practical side took over and I chose to pursue communications in hopes of landing an actual job upon graduation.

Enter the real world where creative writing would become my hobby, though in some ways, it helped guide my career path.

Now I go through phases where I find every reason to make writing a priority again. And then every excuse in the book to stop. Something always comes up.

I’ll start again when…

I tend to write in spurts and even when I’m on an upswing, I don’t share my drafts. They stay drafts, hidden in folders and thumb drives, and then I rework and rework until I fall into one of my inevitable lulls.

I recently read an interview with David Sedaris in which he said, “I feel like you either talk about writing or you stay home and write.” I was actually embarrassed when I read that sentence because of how accurately it described myself.

Starting a blog is a far cry from the fictional characters I created in first grade, but with new meaning and purpose in my life, evolving my writing feels right.

I’m done talking. I’m done waiting. I’m ready to jump in.

I hope you’ll join me as I draft, publish and begin conversations about family, parenting, working and trying to thrive in a chaotic world.