Most nights I come home with big expectations for myself that typically don't get met. I tell myself as a drive home that after my son goes to bed and I clean things up, I will run five miles on the treadmill, take a hot shower then work for two hours on the computer. Yep. Nope. Instead I wrestle with him past his bedtime, shut his door as he sits up to play in his bed, I tip toe around the house to clean the dishes, pack my breakfast lunch and snack, move around laundry and pick up his toys. Now he is finally snoring so I change into my workout clothes. Hey I am tired let me just sit down for ten minutes on this couch. Ten minutes turns into two hours and as I make my way to bed, I vow to do better tomorrow night.
Creating elaborate expectations for me during the work week after my son goes to bed is something that I must stop. They depress me. I can’t live up to them. It’s not that I am lazy, but I have simply expended my allotted units of energy for the day. I must at least leave enough to brush my teeth and put myself into bed. And yes, sometimes I forgot to do that and slept in my work clothes on the couch for half the night because I cannot walk twenty feet down the hall and take my clothes off.
Eventually you learn. You learn what you can and cannot do and plan accordingly. For instance, running errands on the weekends is now vital because doing them after work takes convincing my over-tired, hungry toddler that he can wait 15 more minutes while his mom pushes him around in a grocery cart running to the milk aisle.
You have to let yourself be bad at this for a while to learn from your mistakes. Then, you plan better and things move more efficiently. Two months later after enjoying from your planning, your child changes and has different demands so your strategy must be reinvented. That’s OK. Once you go through this cycle around five times, you learn that you can’t be cocky about knowing what to expect. Toddler sense cockiness. Warning, confidence can trigger your child’s milestones to appear out of nowhere.
Sometimes the lessons of others can help you or at least give you some ideas. So let me share some of my strategies that I have learned along the way.
Lesson One - Your relationship with your job will change.
Before my son appeared in my life, I was not completely happy at my job. The stress levels were out of this world and I blamed them for years for contributing to my lack of ability to stay pregnant. Part of the stress was that I put every ounce of my energy into it. I rarely gave myself the luxury of downtime. While driving to work, I thought about work. While running in my neighborhood before my shower, I thought about an upcoming meeting at work. If you asked me how I was doing, the majority of my answer centered around work.
Becoming a parent made me love my job more. It's not nearly as important in my head as before but now it takes on another vital role in my life - upright time with adults where I don't have someone pulling on my leg or asking me for milk. Everyone's buggers are their own. I don't have to attack with them with a wipe.
Long story short, I enjoy my job more because it’s not as important as I once made it out to be. I am quite capable of living work and my work thoughts there on most days. I am still a good employee since my son forces me to hit the reset button and live in his world everyday. I return to my office refreshed and ready to be a contributing adult again.
Lesson Two - Redefine clean.
Clean sheets every night takes a lot of work. Sometimes it just not worth it. Crumbs and wetness never killed anyone. My son loves graham crackers before he goes to bed. No matter what I do, he will cover himself and the floor with his crumbs. So, I let them happen. Once he is asleep, then I can sweep. My house is the cleanest when we are asleep.
Before my son arrived, my house was immaculate. Beds were made, dishes were always washed, the floor was cleaned several times a week and my bathroom was spotless. I was a neat freak, but since he arrived, the neat freak has been evicted. I could not maintain that mindset and live in peace in my house. Sometimes things are in their place when I return home. Sometimes, they are not. I can’t change that fact, I can only adapt.
Lesson Three - How I dress for the day reflects my chores for that evening.
I decide if I should wear heels not based on my outfit or who I will see that day, but what I need to do after work while carrying my child. If I are going straight home after my pickup your child, I wear heels. If I need milk, I wear flats. If I need diapers or something more elaborate, I consider putting tennis shoes in your car. Too many times I have found myself carrying a 25-pound toddler in 3-inch heels at the end of a busy day trying to carry a gallon of milk in my other hand. It’s just milk, but it’s also just the tipping point for a major loss in energy.
Lesson Four - Be ready at ANY moment to clean up a major situation.
Snot happens any time in any place with or without a cold. Any second can lead to a snot explosion. This means snot will leave that nose and dangle from your child's chin while you are driving on the highway. Keep wipes everywhere. Consider always buying the miniature packs that they have in the store and keep them in the car and your purse.
My son uses sign language to request specific songs for me to sing in the car on the 20-minute drive to work. One moment, I am singing about a peanut on the train track, the next my son sneezes and snot strings appear dangling from his nose down to his shirt. He looks at me to see what I will do. I typically pray for the next traffic light to be red so that I can put the car into park, lean back and attack his face with wipe. He will fight me, turning his head side to side. The end result will not be complete. I am just trying to keep it from getting on his clothes and inside his mouth.
Lesson Five - It’s no longer my plate and his plate. It’s his plate and his plate.
When I was a kid, my parents made sure that all of us ate dinner together at the same time. We talked about our day and enjoyed small talk. It’s one of the traditions that I plan to continue with my son so now is the time to get this into motion. So when I come home from work, I immediately start making his dinner, put him in his high chair and let him begin to eat. Then, I make my dinner which is typically the same thing my son is eating. I sit down, turn his high chair towards me and we eat dinner.
Like most toddlers, my son goes from not eating to non-stop eating. During those non-stop eating episodes, my son clears his tray before I sit down. Now he can see my plate and he points to the food there that he wants to try. Of course, I share my food and then eagerly try to take my own bites so that I get some sort of dinner in the process. I have learned the hard way that putting food that he cannot have on my plate is not worth it. He will have a fit to try everything. So, most meals at home that I eat consist of toddler-friendly foods. Thank goodness my son likes chicken like me.
These are just some of the recent lessons I have learned as a single parent. Next week, there will be more lessons to learn. My son is training me well.