Sunday, December 28, 2008

Working Mom, Crazy Mom? Part Two: When It's Time to Change, You've Got to Rearrange

Every new mom is a sleep-deprived mom. If you find one who tells you she doesn't feel groggy most of the day, she's either lying to you or she has round-the-clock nanny service.

Part of the problem is that infants don't really have a set routine, no matter how much you try to create one for them. Their sleep patterns can change from week to week or even day to day; they become more active with each passing hour; and you never know what's going to set them off and have them crying and in need of their mothers' arms.

In short, your life is not your own when you're a mom.

When my first child turned six months old, I decided to devote my days to her. Outside of her nap time and the hour she spent in the babysitting room at the YMCA while I worked out, she was my constant companion, and her needs dictated almost every move I made. I still intended to write, but there wasn't time in the day for that, so it was time to make a few adjustments.

The beauty of working from home is that you can do it anytime you like and in whatever clothes you choose. As long as you make your deadlines, you could be working at 3 in the morning in a bunny suit and your employers wouldn't care.

So my workday became my work night. At 10:30 p.m., once the baby and my husband were safely in bed, I would slip into my pajamas and start my writing assignments. Those were my younger days, when there was no internal clock telling me it was way past my bedtime. I would simply work until the work got done.

Some evenings I wrote from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. At other times, when I was faced with more than one deadline at a time, my work night was much, much longer. I distinctly remember several occasions when I dragged my exhausted body to bed, only to hear my husband's alarm sound off five minutes later. Luckily, the baby was past getting up in the middle of the night, and because we put her to bed late, she usually didn't stir until at least 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning.

The work got done, my child's needs were being met, and all seemed right with the world. Except for one thing: If I didn't get more than five hours of sleep in a night, I was...well, I guess you could say mean. Or moody. Or forgetful. Or crazed. Or all of the above. In short, as I look back, I was a mess several days out of the week.

At the time, I certainly didn't see myself as a sleep-deprived lunatic. I was just doing what I thought was natural: taking care of a house and a child during the day and working all night. That sounds completely natural and doable, doesn't it?

My husband appreciated the extra money I was bringing in, but not the extra doses of mania and hormonal imbalances. "No one asked you to stay up all night writing," he said to me on more than one occasion after I had ranted and raved about how tired I was. Well, no, but I had to stay up to get the work done, didn't I?

Who knows. Before we saw just how crazy I could become from my nutty schedule, the situation changed. Another baby plopped into our lives. And then another. And soon I found myself with three children under the age of four, a big house to care for, a husband to keep relatively happy and a workload that would have been doable if I didn't also have the full-time career of motherhood.

Instead of throwing in the writing towel and choosing to focus on the ultimately more important, albeit less financially rewarding, job of being a housewife, I changed my schedule again. And again. And again. Each time a new child arrived or one child developed a new sleeping habit, I adjusted my work schedule to accommodate.

The process worked, for the most part. I made sacrifices in a lot of areas, missing a deadline to care for a sick child, or worse, missing the opportunity to play "Simon Says" with my children so I could complete a project. No matter how I rearranged, I couldn't stay caught up with everything. One thing always managed to catch up with me, though: GUILT. Oh, the guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt.

But we'll save that story for next time.

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