Life Update: Hanging On

Crikey. If there’s anyone else out there who’s been trying and failing to do the whole work-life-balance thing over the summer holidays, can they please make themselves known? That’s right, hold your hands up high: I need to do a full and accurate head count here. The more people the merrier. Anything to make me feel less bad about myself – less like a neurotic malfunctioning android. And more….well. More like a  human.

Yes, I’ve reached Basil Fawlty levels of stress and irritation and I’m not afraid to admit it – I feel as though I’m hanging on to my sanity by my fingernails and that normal life, if anything could be called normal these days, will be forever beyond my grasp. The many, many months of the “new routine” (ie trying to keep work going whilst also becoming a very shit version of a primary school and pre-school) have taken their toll.

I adore my kids. Obviously. They’re funny, they’re cute, they’re close enough in age that they play together for hours, they get excited about tiny things like going to a cafe or getting one of those extortionate magazines from the supermarket, the ones with useless plastic tat sellotaped to the front and a pull-out page of crap stickers. They give the best cuddles, the slimiest kisses that you have to surreptitiously wipe away when they’ve finished, they put their shoes on the wrong feet and they have tiny high voices that make them sound like they’ve been playing with helium balloons.

I love them unconditionally, which isn’t anything remarkable for a parent, but I feel it has to be said nevertheless, because it’s always a touchy subject when you talk about having to work or simply needing time to yourself. Never mind the fact that bills need to be paid, or that you need a little respite just to be. In this case both, although it’s definitely the work element for me that tends to send my stress levels soaring.

The worrying thing about how difficult it is to work through the summer holidays is this: the summer holidays happen every year! Six weeks! At least with lockdown you could console yourself that they were unprecedented times, everyone was in the same boat: there’s nothing unprecedented about the six week holidays. Suddenly you’re plunged from a relatively acceptable work-life situation (six-ish hours a day, five days a week in which to work or catch up on sleep or go to the toilet unaccompanied) into what can only be described as a childcare abyss. It’s like falling off the edge of a life cliff that you simply weren’t prepared for!

One week you’re calmly typing away on your laptop, getting on with your work from about ten until two, maybe with a cup of tea or even a lunchtime sandwich, radio playing downstairs and perhaps a little twenty minute power nap at your desk to look forward to; the next you can’t even find your laptop because the Barbies are using it as their drive-thru cinema.

Trying to work from home is the absolute singular worst thing you can do with children around. They sense it when you try to work. They sniff it out. You can be at your computer watching stupid kitten videos and they won’t disturb you for a full forty minutes, but open a desperately important Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (still can’t read or edit them and I’ve been trying since 1994) and they will be mountain-climbing your back within twenty-five seconds.

“Can I do some typing?”

“What does this button do?”

“Why doesn’t the screen work when I press it?”

“Play Optimus Prime!”

If you’re working from home then good luck trying to switch into professional-person work-mode when a small person is having a poo in the bathroom next door to your office. If you’re trying to conduct a Zoom meeting then pat yourself on the back if you manage to get through it without having to mute yourself to shout at one or more kids to stop them from eating plaster of Paris or snipping at the leaves of the houseplants with the fabric scissors. (“It’s a haircut.”)

The only way I can work from home is to shut off all noise and distraction, which means either wearing earplugs and locking the door in the daytime (and obviously having someone to supervise the kids!) or shifting the working day into the evening and forgoing any sort of relaxation or Netflix binge.

But none of this is particularly a bad thing – at least not for me. I have to say (ooh, big reveal) that the last few months have taught me to do something I’ve never managed to do successfully before, and that is to completely detach myself from work for longish periods of time. Consecutive days. A whole week, even. It’s a revelation. You immerse yourself fully into domestic life and suddenly everything slows down – you still fill the day with chores and looking after other people, but you’re just a bit more present when you do it. Rather than frantically going from task to task and seeing the day as some sort of giant, tickable to-do list, you just sort of deal with things as they are presented to you. When I try to do too much at once, every element of the day becomes a challenge – breakfast, getting dressed, answering the doorbell, but when I allow myself to just chill out (which doesn’t come naturally, I’ll admit) everything is suddenly a little bit easier. And a bit more fun.

So to cut a long story short, I’ve been really trying hard to be less rigid about what I need to get done on the work front. Or actually, that’s not accurate: I’ve been trying hard to be less rigid about when I get things done. This, I think, is going to have to be my mantra each and every school holiday from now on; go easy, set the bar reasonably low and be flexible with timings.

And with that pearl of wisdom to myself, I’m going to bed. It’s a quarter to eleven and I’ve already had my sleepy tea, which I have to say doesn’t do my writing any favours. It makes me quite soporific and my brain goes spongey and refuses to think of anything witty to say. I also know that the kids will be up at 6am – although they have started to do this amazing thing where they sneak off and play together for an hour before they wake us up. How incredible is that? The only thing is that they quite like to do a jumping game for the aforementioned hour and the room is directly above us, so the light in the ceiling shakes and all the glass bits jangle and it sounds like the entire roof is going to fall down on our heads.

Nothing like being woken up by what you initially think might be a serious earthquake. Keeps you on your toes. Who needs relaxation anyway?

Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash

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22 Comments

  1. D
    September 11, 2020 / 7:31 am

    Remember Tetris? The Nintendo gameboy in the nineties, little pieces coming down and you have to place them correctly and it gets faster and faster and the annoying soundtrack makes your palms sweat and you never “win”. The thousand tasks of being a mum make my brain go in to Tetris modus, trying my best to manage life while the soundtrack goes faster and faster.

    • September 11, 2020 / 11:55 am

      That’s such an accurate analogy!!

  2. September 9, 2020 / 4:07 pm

    Oh yes, barely hanging on, and with the numbers going up again I am not sure how long schools will actually stay open this time. I feel like I have aged ten years this year.

    Anne from Doctor Anne

  3. Lisey
    September 6, 2020 / 11:55 am

    Re the early morning play before you get up – when ours were just a little older than yours, we instituted a system whereby they could watch tv/videos when they got up on a Saturday/Sunday morning UNTIL mummy and daddy got up – then It’s time to switch off/have breakfast/get dressed. Hearing one of them say ‘I’m going to ask mummy where my parasaurolophus is’ and the other one saying ‘no! We’ll have to stop watching Digimon’ followed by silence for another half hour was absolute bliss..

  4. September 6, 2020 / 4:14 am

    I can really understand your situation! Gud luck to you!

  5. Deidra Atkin
    September 4, 2020 / 10:13 pm

    What is the lingerie brand you mentioned? I didn’t see link in your video. I’m very interested in the larger cup size bras. So impossible to find in the US. Love you, your precious family & your content.

  6. K.
    September 4, 2020 / 9:24 pm

    Oh my, yes! I don’t know a single parent who is really holding it together cheerfully and well. I’m worn down from my kids’ 3 month summer break. I’ve completely given in on screens. They get all the screens all the time and they *deserve* it. The pandemic restrictions (okay, not the legal ones because I’m in the US and basically you can do whatever you want in most places and hence the complete sh!t show…I’m talking about the pandemic restrictions that all reasonable people impose on themselves here: limited social interactions, face masks, no visits to crowded vacation spots, etc.)…sorry back to the point…the pandemic restrictions have left us all frazzled, isolated, and bored to death. Therefore I am all in for relaxing screens rules and figuring our what is really essential versus what is fluff. We’re in crisis management mode and that’s okay. Oh. Work? That’s crisis management mode too. This isn’t they year to be a superstar. Just keeping it reasonably together is more than enough. So yes. You are not alone and you are doing a brilliant job! <3

    • September 5, 2020 / 8:05 pm

      Thank you, that’s a good way of putting it – crisis management mode! x

  7. Chaoilfhionn
    September 4, 2020 / 8:47 pm

    What is sleepy tea?

  8. Teresa Cox
    September 4, 2020 / 1:25 pm

    Oooh, sleepy tea details please, desperate for something to turn me into a rag doll at night xx

      • Lisey
        September 6, 2020 / 11:45 am

        Also Celestial Sleepytime is great – you start yawning from the very moment you say the words …celestial sleepytime… before the kettle’s even on!

  9. Natalie McDermott
    September 4, 2020 / 10:59 am

    I feel like you just described my life for the past two years. I’ve been working from home doing a strict 9-5 with a baby (now 2 and a half) and then that carnage was amplified during lockdown with my 5 year old needing to be homeschooled whilst my boss was sending what seemed like a never ending task list. Until I was finally furloughed in May I sometimes felt like my brain was fizzing because I was so stressed and the Mammy guilt was unreal but I actually felt like finally everyone was in a similar boat. Hoping that things are going to be more civilised moving forward now childcare/ school is available but and I can completely relate to what you’ve described. Thanks for the glimpse into your situation making me feel more normal

    • September 4, 2020 / 9:22 pm

      Thank you Natalie. It has definitely been the worst time for mum guilt!

  10. Charlotte
    September 4, 2020 / 10:12 am

    I can totally put both hands up! “Hanging on” describes my life since March – full time stressful job, three kids at home (one two years old), no cleaner. Nappy changing and snack prep around teams meetings (note toddlers do not care if you speaking to the auditors, bananas have to be provided NOW!). There were days, to my shame, when I just lost it. Have just managed a week off to get my life in order – school uniform buying/labelling, appointment making, putting half the house in bin bags for the tip. I feel lighter in spirit but still exhausted. Who needs an actual holiday eh! I think we’ve been operating at a permanent level of stress even on the quiet days, but I was still a bit teary when they went off to school/nursery at the beginning of the week. It felt like the end of an era! I’m not sure I would want to do it again (roll on holiday club) but bizarrely I think I will look back and feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with the kids!

    • September 4, 2020 / 9:22 pm

      Permanent level of stress is the accurate description!

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