The daily schedule
My husband is up and out of the house by 6 a.m. That means the morning shift is all mine. On a school day, I have to get up and showered first.
My daughter, the early riser, bounces into the bathroom while I’m getting ready and perches on the countertop as I get ready.
We head downstairs, shaking the boys awake but leaving the toddler snoozing, so I can start packing school lunches and making breakfast.
The boys finally come downstairs, grumbling but dressed, and they eat before my oldest two start getting their school stuff ready: homework folders, backpacks, lunches, shoes, anything they need before we head out. When I’m really thinking, I have them toss their after-school activity stuff (martial arts gear bags, gymnastics leotard, whatever) in the back of the car so I’m not scrambling to pack everything before pick-up time.
We’re out the door, either walking to school or driving to the drop-off if I’m in a hurry, and then we head home so I can organize my work day.
My daily to-do list has anywhere from seven to 10 items. I try to include everything on this list — pieces I need to write, emails I need to send, phone calls I have to make. It’s a work list, yes, but I include mom stuff too: orthodontist and dentist appointments, extracurricular reminders, all of it.
While I write my list and prioritize what comes first, my 4- and 2-year-old usually find some way to entertain themselves. But this never lasts long. Between 9:45 and 10:15 a.m.: Someone needs something: food, help in the bathroom, a clean diaper, to be entertained. It’s always something.
When I’m close to deadline on a project, I turn to the digital babysitter. I’ll hand the 2-year-old my phone or a tablet so she can scroll through pictures or move letters around on an alphabet train, and I’ll let my 5-year-old pick a television show.
My clock started ticking 30 minutes ago, and I’ve been working feverishly. But around this time, my 2-year-old will tire of her phone or tablet. I can usually keep her busy as I write by asking her to bring me tea and cookies from her play kitchen. That usually buys me another few minutes, at least.
Around now, it’s time for a snack or full-blown lunch, or help in the bathroom again. Or some other interruption that is part of mothering young children.
1 p.m. to around 2:30 p.m.:
When I’m exceptionally lucky, my 2-year-old (the one who doesn’t nap) sleeps for an hour in the afternoon before we have to leave to pick up our two oldest. Then I set up my 4-year-old in the play room with a mountain of little cars, or a few puzzles, or something to keep him busy.
I work quickly, and sometimes I’m really productive. I finish a piece and put it aside for a final read-through that evening, or I send out all the emails I have to write, or I sneak downstairs and out back for a quick phone call.
I hustle to pack snacks and, if I wasn’t organized enough that morning, all the after-school activity gear and uniforms, and then we head out. I answer emails on my phone as we walk to school, or if we’re sitting in the car in the pick-up line.
4 to 6 p.m.:
I ferry kids to their after-school activities — soccer practice, gymnastics, martial arts — where my husband catches up with us, before we all head home to start dinner.
6:30ish to about 8 p.m.:
Our evenings are a blur of dinner, tidying up, laundry, bath and shower time, and then bedtime.
After the kids are in bed, I go back to my laptop. My husband will unwind with some television next to me, and I write for another hour (or two, or sometimes three).
The day comes to a close
On good days, I check off everything on my list (and boy, do I savor that!). On not-so-productive days, I move things to my list for tomorrow, and I remind myself that I wouldn’t trade this busy, messy, unpredictable working mom life of mine for anything.
One day, when everyone’s in school, my schedule will magically open. That stretch of time during the day that I so wish I had right now? I’ll have it five days a week. So when I’m being interrupted for the seventh time, right when I hit my stride on some project, that’s what I try to remember.
Almost a decade ago, I made the decision to work from home. I don’t regret it. I am humbled and grateful that we’re in a position to even allow for the possibility. I love the flexibility, the sense of pride I get from enjoying my moderate success, and the fact that I’ve been here with my children for every milestone.
But after nearly a decade of working from home, I can say this. It’s not easy. The hardest part is finding some kind of balance between my work life and my home life, because there really is no separation.
I make my own schedule, and that means I work whenever I find the time. I work from bed in the wee hours of the morning. I work on weekends and through lunch and in the car. Some days, I’m up burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines or so we can take off for the lake the following day.
Making a schedule when there’s no routine
The struggle is in trying to establish some kind of work schedule, because my kids, especially my 2-year-old, don’t understand. It doesn’t matter to my littlest if I’m on deadline. She wants to snuggle up for a nap, or she needs a diaper change, or her water bottle, or something to eat, or just my full attention right this second.
People ask how I manage to get anything done from home with four kids. There’s no big secret. I just make it work. Sometimes that means filling the tub with bubbles to keep my two little ones happy so I can sit tub-side with my laptop and finish a project.
Sometimes it means dropping all the kids with my mom so I can hunker down in a coffee shop for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. Sometimes it means sending everyone to the grocery store with daddy so I can work.
There’s no routine, and that keeps things interesting, for sure. But it makes life unpredictable, too.
When I worked in an office
Sometimes, I really envy my mom friends who work in actual places outside their homes.
Before I had my first son, I worked as a writer at an advertising agency. We had dogs running around the office, beer Fridays, lunches ordered in, leisurely lunches out, happy hours, and, oh, actual work, too: high-profile accounts, collaborative brainstorming sessions, award ceremonies, and lots of general merriment.
Fast forward nine years, during which time I've been running my own little freelance business off the couch, and here’s what I can tell you. I don’t miss the office dogs (I have two of those underfoot as it is) or the beer Fridays (because it doesn’t have to be Friday if I need a glass of wine).
What I really miss is eight or so hours of uninterrupted work time. I miss adult interaction, and having a reason to wear something besides pajamas — without the very good chance that someone will wipe their yogurt-smeared face on my shoulder or thigh at some point during the day.
I try to actually enjoy these interruptions by little people who just want a cuddle or story time. It doesn’t last, and I’m grateful that I can prioritize them when it matters. It’s not perfect, but it works. And I think that’s what really matters.