Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Balance, or Lack Thereof

People have been asking me lately how I do it. "How do you write, and work, and take care of the kids?" "How do you balance everything?"

Actually, it's all just a clever facade. As Fred Astaire once said, I'm not dancing; I'm bamboozling you with my hands. (I'm quoting Dick Button quoting Fred Astaire here, so I could be misquoting. Just FYI.)

I'm not sure I feel very balanced lately. I feel a tremendous amount of mother-guilt every time I fire up the computer instead of playing with the kids, or every time I turn on Dora the Explorer yet AGAIN to entertain Maggie so I can take a work-related phone call. I'm a horrible mother. I don't have enough time for the girls. Their little brains are rotting away because I'm working instead of teaching them sign language or baby yoga or quantum physics for toddlers. You know, nobody told me motherhood was going to be the Biggest. Guilt trip. Ever.

Don't get me wrong--I love this new phase of my life. Yes, trying to juggle everything can be stressful, but basically life went from black-and-white Kansas to technicolor Oz when these two little beings came into it. But that's a whole other guilt trip--the time I'll have with them seems to short, it goes so quickly, so I sometimes feel like I should be wholly present, mindful of every moment we have together--which is, of course, ridiculously impossible.

I'm getting better. Someday, I might even get over myself. But in the meantime, the mother-guilt is definitely a real kick in the head.

So instead of asking how I balance everything, the proper question should probably be, how do you manage to write, work, and take care of the kids without your head exploding?

First of all, I'm very lucky to work for a nonprofit that is extremely parent-friendly. I started telecommuting before I had Maggie--I tried to quit because of the move, and my boss made me an offer I couldn't refuse. When I had Maggie, I went down to part-time. So, I work part-time (although that fluctuates week to week because I'm an editor and there are deadlines) and from home. Maggie only goes to day care part-time, and Marin will stay with me until she's about a year old, at which point she will join Maggie at the most expensive day care known to humankind (However, it has a privacy fence and an excellent security system (including monitors and a thumb scanner) to keep out the hordes of Floridian sexual predators you hear about on TV. Very important. And the teachers have been excellent.)

The fluctuating schedule allows me to sneak in some writing time while Maggie is at day care, on those weeks were work is slow and I'm actually working part-time hours instead of full-time (which is still part-time, really, because my office has a 32-hour workweek). If I had to balance a full-time job, kids, and writing, I think the writing would probably have to go on the back burner for awhile. In fact, it did while I was pregnant and a single mom last year, worrying about Jose in Iraq.

The other ways I manage to keep my head slightly above water are:

* Recognizing that clean is relative: My house pretty much constantly looks like a laundry basket and a toy box had a vomiting contest all over it. As long as it's not dirty/germy, there is no dried food anywhere, and the health department wouldn't condemn the place, I'm pretty Zen about the general state of disarray around here. Sure, you SAY my beds won't make themselves, but how can miracles happen when you don't set the stage for them?

* When in doubt, act like a fishwife: My husband is not the cleanest dude on the planet. However, he has learned that a happy home is one in which he picks up his own dirty socks, cleans his own coffee rings off the furniture, puts away his own giant piles of laundry, does the dishes after I cook, and takes care of our cute-but-mentally-deficient dog. Because when Tracy gets upset about his messy ways, his coffee cups, clothing, and other clutter (not the dog) all goes in garbage bags by the side of the road, and that just gets expensive. Not to mention it's bad for the environment.

* Dinner in a bag: Did you know that the Schwan's representative can bring you great dinners-in-a-bag that you can prepare in 15 minutes just by dumping them in a pan and turning on a burner? Bertolli's has some great pasta dinners-in-a-bag, too, that operate in much the same way. So if you loathe cooking with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand suns like I do, maybe some of that extra money you're making by working AND writing can support your local Schwan's man/woman. Because, really, s/he has to eat, too.

* Taking time for moi: I meet up with some writer friends once a week to critique, eat, gossip, eat, and, uh, eat. Before I get there, I usually stop in at Barnes & Noble on the way, just for the sheer pleasure of walking around a bookstore without trying to lug around a shrieking two-year-old and a squirmy baby, bless their cute little selves. Just those few hours of quiet and adult conversation are enough to keep me sane for the week. And, once again, a happy home is one in which mommy isn't compelled to sweep up everything on the floor and donate it to the nearest Goodwill.

* Luck: Fortunately, I have the easiest baby (who apparently is perpetually happy) on the planet to take care of, and my two-year-old--though she can definitely act like a two-year-old--is also very sweet. They make my job as a mother easy. Relatively speaking. Because the guilt and the balancing act and all of that other stressful stuff really has very little to do with THEM, doesn't it?

Anyone else have any advice? How do you balance life, work, kids if you have them, pets, etc. and keep your head from exploding?


Jen said...

OMG can I relate. My four year old is so patient with me when I'm at the computer. I don't have a part time job (but I have a husband that wouldn't deal with dinner in a bag.)
I think I'm the worst Mom in the world. And the worst housekeeper. My cooking good though.
That "me" time is so important. I'd go crazy if I didn't have it..and I don't get much of it.
Can't wait to read your book.

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen, I knew you must be a great cook when you said your dh wouldn't like dinner-in-a-bag. My dh knows that dinner-in-a-bag or dinner I've attempted to cook myself are pretty much interchangeable. I'm awful in the kitchen. (We both are, so we trade off cooking and dish duties.)

I know you're not the worst mother in the world because you THINK you're the worst mother in the world. My new theory is that if we care that much, we must be doing something right, hey?

I finally got my lazy booty to the post office last week, so your book should arrive any day now.

Jen said...

After reading your blog, "Lazy" is not a word I'd use. Glad you made it to the post office. I wasn't fishing, BTW. No really!
I went back and read some of your previous blogs, which made me want to read your book.
I think you're right. The fact that I think I'm the worst Mom must mean I care. Your blog did drive me to spend some time with the four year old today.

Paula said...

I don't have kids. I do, however, have a full time job and I live with my mom, my sister and her kids, plus a small zoo. I miss out on the guilt part but the distraction part is still there. Plus the day job and a daily 40-60 minute round trip commute (depending on traffic).

I'd be happy to tell you how I balanced it. Only I don't think I do. :) The hardest part for me is finding writing time when I'm not half-asleep or half-dead from the stress of my day job.

The Queen-a Athena said...

Um, sweet pea, who says all the heads HAVEN'T exploded?

I'm convinced my life tipped forever out of my grasp when we had the third kid. That point when the ankle-biters outnumber the adults seems to be the ticket. After that, you (the adults) know you're screwed and just roll with whatever happens.

And seriously - this is why I don't have a paying job, other than occasional PT/temporary training gigs I pick up from my former employer. Because I figured out a long time ago that I personally CAN'T do it all - I'm just not that competant or capable. It's a matter of choices, and making the ones that best suit you and your family - which it seems is exactly what you are doing.

Tracy Montoya said...

Paula, your commute sounds horrifying. I highly recommend satellite radio if you don't have it--Sirius has a Court TV station that does lots of Forensic Files broadcasts.

And yeah, I remember those days--I think when you don't have kids, all that overachieverness goes to the job. It's great that you've managed to write anyway.

Tracy Montoya said...

Chris, I didn't know you even worked PT. Wow, no wonder your head exploded. And did I tell you that two kids is doing me in? I love them to pieces, but one was SOOOOO cake compared to two. Can't even wrap my head around four. I start twitching whenever Jose even mentions a third, because dude, I only have two arms.

Mariann said...

Thanks for writing on this topic! I'm working full-time away from home, plus I've got my teaching gig each semsester... it's really hard to find time for cooking a healthy meal, let alone write. I could probably find the time if I got up earlier than six or skipped lunch, or maybe stopped watching some of my TV shows on the weekend, but the Selfish Side kicks in and says, "Hey! Sleep! Eat! Zone! What's this writing nonsense?!?"

Having said that, I'm planning to take advantage of a mostly quiet summer. Boy, I hope I didn't jinx myself by stating that out loud.

MaryF said...

Tracy, balance has been my goal this year, and I'm failing miserably!! And my son is almost 15!

Anonymous said...


Guilt is only something you make up after you start believing what other people write or say.

I'm up at 5am M-F, walk 1.5 miles to the bus stop, ride the bus for 50-60 minute, walk another 1 mile to work, back on the bus at noon, and then at my own business until 9pm or 11 pm. My wife studies in the morning, gets the 4 year old off to school and then works with me until 9pm or 11pm. Our son joins us at our business and then is off to piano, violin, and Tae Kwon Do classes. We do NOT feel guilty because we are healthy, smile, and actually spend time together. We do what we like and that means spending time together....this negates any guilt...although we don't have that feeling anyway. TOUGH it out woman. You work at home and have time with the kids. STOP believing the other crap.

Tracy Montoya said...

Mariann, I didn't realize you were teaching on TOP of a full-time job. I don't blame you for wanting to just relax when you have free time! I've never been able to get up earlier than I have to to write (SO not a morning person), so you'll never catch me telling other people to do that. May your summer be relaxing yet productive....

Tracy Montoya said...

Look at you and your cute new picture, Mary! Only a few more weeks, and hopefully you can have a nice balanced summer.

Tracy Montoya said...

Actually, Anonymous, I'm pretty good about not feeling I have to conform to what other people say is the "right" way. My guilt is rooted in some very personal stuff that I won't bore you with--and, if you read that entry a little more closely, I'm well aware that much of that guilt is absurd. Glad you and your family found what works for you.

P.S. I'd much rather you call me Tracy than "woman."

Amie Stuart said...

Surfed in from Marys!

I thank God I have no husband to glare at me or sigh if I don't feel like cooking (not that all of them DO but...) and that my kids LOVE to eat out/eat stuff like pizza. I get off early one day a week and I make it a point then to cook (and on Saturday or Sunday) a decent meal (something that doesn't have Helper on the package *g*) and I get two weekends a month with no kids to write to my heart's content.

Housework is just a no (unless I start tripping over stuff then it goes in the trash. The kids hate that). LOL and Doing yardwork keeps me sane and gets me outside =)

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks for stopping by, CeCe! I, too, am a faithful supporter of foods with "Helper" on the package. : D I WISH yardwork were something I looked forward to, but plants hate me, so it's just not.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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