Balancing Act


A coworker, who is several years younger than I am, made the comment to me the other night that she didn’t know how I balanced everything. Between school, working part-time, and a new relationship, she was struggling to fit everything in. She couldn’t imagine even more time constraints with working full-time, having a child, spending time with a partner, maintaining a household, and attempting to have a social life.

I responded that it was a very delicate balancing act, and some weeks I got it wrong.

As if on cue, that night, my son was up sick for 2 and a half hours; then went to my mom’s and threw up all over her because I don’t have paid time off yet and had to go to work on 4 hours of sleep because money.

Other weeks, particularly at my last job, I would be so miserable because of my work environment and a woman on my staff in particular who put her heart and soul into making me miserable and a director who would not back me up, I couldn’t give what my son needed. I needed time to myself, and those weeks my son suffered.

Sometimes, I would put my family and my son first, and my director would chastise me for not putting my department first (while she and the other two managers got to take time off for their families without any push back…it was a very toxic work environment to say the least).

Sometimes, I would get the balance right between work, child, husband, and child, only to have a relative or friend complain that it’s been forever since they’ve heard from me.

Frankly, the balancing act sucks. You can look online for tips on how to balance being a working mom, but I don’t find any of that information useful. It’s idealistic and it doesn’t really tackle the reality of how hard it is to do it all. Something always has to give, and I find that it’s either me who’s stretched thin, or my son or husband gets the short end of the stick. I used to think I needed to drop part-time to make this all work well, and I know part of that was because I was quite unhappy at the last place I was working. I’m happy where I’m at now and not really interested in giving that up. So what do?

Some of the things I’ve learned to make things easier on myself are:

1. Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep! I eat my breakfast and lunch at work, so I make all of that ahead of time, put everything into containers, and save space in my refrigerator to keep everything. It makes far more sense to make scrambled eggs once than five separate times, no? It makes far more sense to get all the salad stuff out once than five separate times? To cook and shred chicken once? Trust me, it makes more sense this way.

2. Crock pot freezer dinners: I swear by the crock pot because it maximizes my evening family time, which is only about 2 hours before my son goes to bed, and I want to make sure he and I have quality play time because he’s missed me all day. Sometimes stuff turns out too mushy in the crock pot, I’m still learning how long to cook things before setting it to warm. I’m getting there. I try to prep these too ahead of time in freezer bags that I can store. I can easily throw together chili, stir fry, fajitas, chicken parmesan, etc.

3. I had to pay for a cleaning service. I was getting so pissed off and upset that my personal time was being spent cleaning that my husband and I were having blow outs over it. They came every other week and it helped me relax more. They don’t pick up after you, you still have to do that. You also still need to clean your own litter boxes, do your dishes, do your laundry, and mow your own lawn. But knowing I don’t have to do the rest was a big weight off my shoulders. I realize this isn’t a viable option for everybody, and for a while it wasn’t for us either. We tried dedicating an evening to cleaning the house and whatever we didn’t get done, we’d tackle first the following week.

4. Multi-task: I don’t mean answering emails or playing games on your phone while you’re supposed to be playing with your kid. I mean reading while you’re on the Elliptical or taking a bath; taking the longer route and jogging your kid to the park; folding laundry while watching Grey’s Anatomy. These are things I do to fit everything in without feeling like I’m falling short somewhere.

5. Set a date night you and your partner can look forward to. You don’t have to go out anywhere. Until recently, my husband and I lived two hours away from the nearest relative. No one was watching our kid for us. And our extra money went to a cleaning service so that I’d stop having meltdowns. We would buy popcorn, decide on a movie to watch on Netflix, buy a cheap bottle of wine, put the kid to bed, and spend time with each other. It’s nice, you and your partner need that.

Some other things I’ve learned:

*Set boundaries with relatives. If you only have time for people one day a week because you both work full-time, then make that clear that you need at least one day to prepare for the week and the other day will be rotated.

*I also lay my clothes out for the week on Sunday night. I also make sure my son’s diaper bag is ready to go, his cup of milk is in the fridge, my coffee mug is at the Keurig, and my alarms are set. It’s better this way.

*If you’re miserable at your job, that makes this balancing act so much harder because you’re stressed. If there’s nothing you can do to change your job situation, at least make a goal for why you’re riding it out. I stayed at my toxic work environment because I wanted to reach my certification and once I reached that, we were going to move back closer to family. That happened a year sooner than we were planning and I’m much happier where I’m at now, but knowing why I was sticking it out and having that to work toward gave me something else to focus on when things really sucked.

*You’re going to get it wrong some weeks. Some weeks, you’re not going to be able to give what you should to your partner. Some weeks, you’re going to go to work on 4 hours of sleep even though your son is sick because money. Some weeks, you’re going to realize it’s been 9 months since you last talked with your best man (whoops). It’s going to happen. Forgive yourself, because you’re trying and this balancing act it not easy.


You Are What You Read

My husband and I have very different tastes in books. He’s pretty solidly a Sci-Fi fan, though he enjoys Stephen King’s horrors as well. He likes books with a lot of detail so he can fully explore that world and what could be. He loves series because he finds that he doesn’t want to leave the world when a book is done, he wants to stick around and learn more about what that author has created.

I like to bounce around. I love historical fiction, but I cannot stay in that universe forever because a lot of those stories are pretty heavy. I like chick-lit and YA, but I can’t stay there either because then every story starts to sound the same. I can’t stand books where the story keeps getting interrupted for 20 pages worth of description about a chocolate cake or the weather or some other mundane detail. And I’m really not a fan of series. At best I can do trilogies but really, after about 500 pages, I’m ready to explore a different universe.

My husband and I have had many conversations about our book tastes because he’d really like it if I could enjoy just one book that he has enjoyed. I’ve basically accepted that’s not going to happen and that’s okay. Recently, we were discussing the evolution of my reading tastes. When I’m stressed out or have just read something dense, I need something light and funny, which is where chick-lit or YA come into play.

I asked my husband if he generally looked down on people who read books without any so-called depth? It’s a valid questions because how many times did we snicker at the adults gobbling up the Twilight series? How many times did we roll our eyes at the buzz of the 50 Shades of Grey series? How many times have we seen someone reading only Amish fiction and wondered what the appeal was? How many times have we seen on Reddit someone claiming to read only classics and you assume they’re lying to impress the Internet. We judge people based on what they read all the time.

My husband is a voracious reader when he wants to be. He read a lot when he was a child, and he typically reads a lot in the summer, when we’re enjoying time up north. He’s a much faster reader than I am (I might not like series, but when I commit to a book, I don’t want to miss anything because I read too quickly, if that makes sense). He read many of the classics in high school (my high school didn’t require it so now I’m playing catch up). But he’s a dude, so chick-lit isn’t going to appeal to him anyway.

When I posed the question to him, I happened to be reading My Not-So-Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, an author whose books I really enjoy. He noticed I was zooming through the book and asked if it was that good or just an easy read. I had just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, so I needed something light before I started my next heavy story.

So I posed the question and my husband said, “No, not really. I guess if that’s all you’re reading, I might wonder if you’re just doing it for the book count.”

I said, “I find that because I don’t watch TV, reading is my form of escapism. Obviously I do enjoy the historical fiction and classics and literature, but sometimes I just need to read something light and funny that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. Especially when I’ve just finished something that was long and dense.”

He said, “It’s like watching a rom-com?”

I said, “Basically.”

He said, “I can understand that.”

A lot of librarians say that all that matters is that people are reading. But inwardly, we don’t actually believe that. We don’t appreciate the role urban fiction has in the community. We gripe about having to use our limited budgets to replace 50 Shades of Grey FOR THE FIFTH TIME. We get annoyed when we have to do a shelf shift because James Patterson had 15 books come out on the same day again. We look at the waiting list for Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts and think why? We see a self-published book and assume it’s total crap. We see someone checking out only Austen or Tolkein or Hugo and think about how pretentious that person must be. We judge people for what they read all the time. Maybe because we want to feel secure that our choices are superior. Maybe because we believe that genre isn’t high quality. Maybe because we think the author doesn’t deserve the success he/she has received.

But reading anything has a number of benefits. According Lifehack, some of those benefits include mental stimulation, vocabulary expansion, memory improvement, and better writing skills. Every book has something to offer. I might not care much for the Sci-Fi world, but these books aren’t being published for just my husband. And chick-lit is not being published just for me. These books are being written, not just because the publisher wants a profit, but because 1. The author believes he/she has something valuable to add to society by telling this story, and 2. The readers learn something about themselves and the world around them from reading that book.

I won’t pretend that some books aren’t better than others because something is always going to be better than something else. But we shouldn’t be looking down on what others are reading either. What if that book opened the door to a life-long love of reading for that teen? What if that book helped a person recognize that he/she needs to make changers in his/her life? What if that person would rather read a silly book than watch a silly movie? What if that person had a loved one who was a police officer and now he/she lives vicariously through crime novels because it helps him/her understand the loved one more? If anything, we should try to understand why a person likes a certain book/series/genre, and try to understand the value that has in enriching a community.

Unless that person is claiming on Reddit that he’s read Infinite Jest 654 times, because that person is a lying liar who lies.

My husband doesn’t have to like chick-lit, but I appreciate him trying to understand why I do.

Since I went on about how I enjoy chick-lit, if you’re also a chick-lit fan, here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

1. One Day by David Nicholls
2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
3. Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella
4. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
5. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

Happy reading!