Fleeting

Dinner is due and there’s still things left to be done in the kitchen. But I feel compelled to write, even if just a bit.

Today has been such a mixed bag of emotions. Jamie and I went to visit another potential preschool today. It didn’t go too badly, but the experience made me realise how much growing up is expected of children these days, even while they are still at a tender age.

It is marvellous to be able to witness a child capable of so much at so early on in their life, but is it necessary? Are we in fact curbing their freedom to just be a child and savour the world as-is by demanding that they are able to meet supposedly age appropriate abilities? How does it feel for a child who isn’t able to comply at the time it is expected of them?

The other thought that occurred to me today is how limited my time alone with Jamie every day is becoming. For what seemed like an eternity, it felt like things would remain the way they are now for a long time more to come, but the reality is these days of being at home with me 24/7 will end soon. Surely there will be exciting times ahead thereafter, just that I wonder have I done enough to equip him for this upcoming next phase.

Here is the startling realisation I have come to after having been at home with Jamie for just about three years: It’s not necessarily enough to just be at home with your child. Being available and being physically present are two different things. I regret to say that often times, I am only one of those two things and not both. It is a sad sort of feeling when you become aware of this. I still have no useful enough remedy to overcome this problem.

It’s true what they say that we have such a short time with our kids before they move on in life. I already feel the weight of this reality. I can only hope that my husband and I are preparing Jamie well enough for whatever is ahead of him despite the limitations we have in terms of time, money and other resources.

Because essentially, I guess that’s what parenting is about: Helping them find their feet and equipping them to be able to handle whatever life throws their way. Building resilience. Shaping character. Leaving them with enough strength to go on, even when the time comes that we can no longer accompany them.

Insights and idiocy

Parenting has its fair share of online content these days.

Everyone and their dog has advice to dish out, promising you a better outcome for this or that issue you are facing with your child.

Then there are those who craft these almost poetic, contemplative pieces that seek to motivate you and inspire you and move you to tears as you reflect on your role as a parent or on the specific details of your child’s life as paralleled in their writing.

Not forgetting too those comedically relayed tales, guaranteed to elicit at least a chuckle, if not belly deep outbursts due to how uncannily similar its depiction is to something you experience on a regular basis.

So much has been said, but sometimes it feels like it’s the shiny, polished version. In retrospect, I often think of particular topics I’d wished someone would have addressed in order to have made it a little smoother of a transition for me into the various phases of parenting that I have experienced so far.

Maybe this identification of gaps in parental discussion is a cue for me to add my own thoughts to the World Wide Mix of Parental Confusion. Perhaps it will bring Parental Clarity. Or I could just be disillusioned in thinking I am any wiser than the next Mum.

Reality check: The Work-At-Home life

Stuffed animals in disarray.
What my life feels like right now.

Greetings from the home front! Weekly routine has resumed, after much disruption and unusual activity in late December due to Christmas and my husband being on leave, etc.

As the caption above clearly states, this is how I feel about my current state of affairs right now. Everything is in disarray and all muddled, with unfinished business piled up high into one huge To Do mountain (the word “list” seemed too mild a word to describe the mayhem heh).

But I’m not really here to complain. We have enough negativity online, don’t we? To the contrary, I’m just here to share some candid stories with you.

If it’s your first time here, let me just give you little background by saying that I am a mother to a 2+ year old son and I maintain a home based career as a freelance writer while managing my child on my own during the daytime (until my husband returns from work at the end of the day, that is). That’s most of what you need to know, really.

Alright, let’s get on with it. Here’s what this post is essentially all about:

Working at home and its wonky consequences

Part of the reason that I started this blog was so that I could encourage you, my dear reader, through tales from my own life. This is one of my attempts to do just that.

Right now, my current lifestyle involves being homebound so let’s talk about that.

In particular, if you’re someone who’s contemplating whether the Work-At-Home arrangement is suitable for you, perhaps what I am about to say will help.

Let’s talk about what working at home really looks like, shall we?
For starters, there is no such thing as a typical day at home. Ironically. Haha.
However, I can share with you some regular features in my daily and weekly routine. Here are some of them:

1. Scrounging for time to work wherever I can. This is usually during my toddler’s nap times, after he has gone to bed at night or while he is absorbed in some play activity all by himself. The pockets of time that I normally manage to seize range from 5 minutes to perhaps 45 minutes. Anything block of uninterrupted time of a duration close to an hour or beyond is very rare indeed.

2. Multitasking: The unavoidable, lesser evil. For example, this morning, I had to prepare my invoice which I needed to send out to my client while nursing my still sleepy and slightly grumpy son at the same time. This meant balancing him on my lap while trying to type at the keyboard. Other examples of feats I have had to perform include cooking with multiple interruptions from my son or having to pause to check whether he has gotten up to anything mischievous while doing my best not to burn any food. Also stuff like eating lunch while standing or moving around the home doing chores (such as hanging out the laundry) at the same time.

3. Staying available on the phone to reply work related messages. I often settle work related conversations via WhatsApp which means sometimes offering divided attention to my son. What this looks like in reality: We would be eating lunch and as I coax him to keep feeding himself and keep a conversation going with him, I’ll also be hashing out ideas to a client about what content to put up on their Facebook posts.

4. Working in odd circumstances or conditions. Basically, not being fussy about when or where or how you work. When I’m desperate, I’ll write social media copy while relieving myself in the toilet or in bed when I get up in the middle of the night and realise I’ve unfinished work that’s soon due. Sometimes, I also write while sitting at the back of the car as my husband drives us to our destination.

5. We don’t cook as often as I’d like to. We manage only 3 homecooked meals weekly, and we eat 2 dinners each week at my parent’s place where my Mum would cook. Although we only cook several times a week, we somehow manage to salvage enough leftovers to cover lunch times on weekdays. So most days, Jamie and I eat leftovers for lunch in the daytime. Whichever other meals that are not homecooked or eaten at my parent’s are store bought.

6. The first thing to be neglected is usually chores. Since my time is divided between house chores, freelance work and minding Jamie, this is how things often gets prioritised. If you are the kind that cannot stand physical mess, this will likely irk you as it does me. I can tolerate a certain degree of untidiness, but what we experience over here often exceeds my threshold. But I have to live with it. Because being at home and working only on a freelance basis means we don’t have much extra cash to play with so hiring paid help to handle household chores is highly unlikely.

7. Child minding takes up most of my time. This is especially so if you have a toddler. They haven’t really learned patience yet. And they are almost always needing you or clinging to you. So if you can’t stand someone always being in your face, maybe leave childcare to a babysitter and keep that full time job so you can afford the corresponding fees. A win-win for you, since you will not go crazy dealing with the demands of a young child. Trust me, there’s a lot involved.

8. Lack of personal time. This is probably the pessimistic part of me speaking, but more often than not, you will not have any time to yourself. Even glancing through the notifications on your mobile device is a luxury. Being able to eat whenever you’re hungry is another thing you might need to sacrifice. Hobbies? Sure, but normally that’s only once all the necessaries have been dealt with, eg everyone in the family has been fed, essential chores are out of the way, no client is waiting for any deliverables from you.

9. Be prepared for interruptions anytime. This means that you will often have multiple tasks at various stages of completion at any one time. The interruption I am talking about is the kind that comes from your child. The sort of interference that you wanted to be at home for in the first place: To be there when your child needs you. But this also implies that other things will need to be set aside in favour of that. Tasks that might take only a few minutes can end up requiring double or triple the time to get done because of the said interruption.

Does all of that sound mighty gloomy to you? Well, it shouldn’t because being at home with your child has its generous share of blessings too.

Here are some of them:

1. I did not miss a single developmental milestone for my son. In fact, most times, I was the one who was right there to see him do something for the first time. The one I remember most vividly was when he sat up on his own for the first time. I couldn’t imagine how he might learn how to do it and was stumped on how to encourage him to achieve it. Then one day, while he was playing and rolling around on a mat which I had set up on the living room floor, he suddenly did it. The look of surprise and pride on his face when he had just realised what he had done was priceless. As was the memory of that incident which I hold to this day.

2. I was there whenever my son needed me. Being at the tender age of two that he is, he often seeks me out for all sorts of reasons: For comfort, to share with me a thought or feeling, to invite me to play, to ask for a hug or to be held. Although I cannot always meet his needs right away, I am available and near him and hopefully this helps him to grow up with a deep sense of security and confidence.

3. Because we are around each other 24/7, I get to observe his behaviour all the time and hence, am aware of tiny nuances of change in him. Children grow up so fast. Nearly every week or every few days, something potentially changes for Jamie. His preferences for food. The vocabulary that he uses. His thought processes. His physical skills and inclinations. I am also more likely to notice when he is about to fall sick or if anything is bothering him eg he is not sleeping well or has any insect bites or injuries.

4. A closeness that cannot be obtained any other way. I like the fact that Jamie is closest to me, and prefers me for most things. This isn’t always a good thing, and I still need him to be able to accept my husband handling him as well whenever I am not able to, but it’s a privilege that I enjoy immensely. That special connection that can only come from my son being around me 24/7.

5. Freedom from the superficiality of the corporate work environment and avoidance of time wasters like epic traffic jams. All because I am at home and can be more selective of who I work with and when I choose to be out and about (not during rush hour, as much as I can help it).

Alright, duty calls so I have to scoot. Hope you read all the way to the end. And that it has been eye opening. Hehe. See you again soon!

A year full

We’re off into 2018 already, but it doesn’t entirely feel like a Happy New Year to me.

Well, I suppose it could be worse, but nevertheless, I feel somewhat reticent about another beginning.

I sometimes wonder why we measure time this way, breaking it up into days, months, years, etc. Why not just keep going as if life is just one continuous story? These time markers sort of give you the false illusion of a fresh start when, in all honesty, you really are just the same person that you were yesterday.

So after all the celebrations of another New Year, what do we really hope to get out of it? Are loftier ambitions really worth the effort? Or is the mere determination to “keep on keeping on” more than enough?

I do not know what this year holds for me, or for us as a family. I’m not entirely sure I want to find out. Perhaps it’s a certain degree of jadedness that comes with having weathered a few decades of living. Whatever the cause might be, that dreadful cloak of melancholy has come to envelope me once more.

The only thing that is maybe pushing me onwards is that I need to be strong for my little boy. That I need to give him an example to follow, a guide to help him on his way in life. That if I do right, point him towards God, implant those precious virtues into his soul, someday he will become someone significant in this world.

If I can live just to see that day, I think I will die happy.

For now, my work is far from done though so I guess there’s nothing to do except soldier on.

Mum Mishaps #1: Unholy water

I think I shall start this mini series about silly things that befall me at home. Here’s the first one…

Disaster description: Had toiletbowl water splashed up nicely onto my nose due to being overzealous in cleaning Jamie’s potty.

Lesson learned: Slow and steady is a better bet when emptying human waste from one smaller receptacle into a larger one.

Paint and potatoes

Here’s what Jamie and I did on Tuesday evening… 

One of these papers bears my artwork. Guess which one?

What happened was we had a bunch of potatoes that were turning green. I remembered reading somewhere that this wasn’t a good sign when it comes to consuming them, so I thought why not do something else with them instead of just throwing them out. 

I watched a YouTube video (I’ll embed the video below) on how to make stamps out of potatoes, and found that it was really simple to do. So I went ahead and did it. 🙂 

All you need is potatoes, a kitchen knife and some cookie cutters.
Here’s the full collection I made that day.

Here is Jamie really excited just after we’d finish setting up and before the activity had actually begun… 

It was the first time Jamie was using stamps, so he didn’t really get the concept of pressing it onto a paper and lifting it up and repeating the same actions in a different spot on the paper. 

After showing him how it should be done a few times, I finally gave up and let him have fun with the paint in whatever manner he preferred. 

Letting Jamie create artwork with paint as he pleases.

Here’s the thing about art & craft activities with toddlers: Sometimes you can’t really foresee how they might want to do the activity. Most times, they want to do things their own way, and this means they may sometimes do it differently or wrongly (from our adult point of view). 

But I guess part of the fun is letting them explore and try things out in whatever ways they want to in order to satisfy their curiosity. Indirectly, I guess they’re learning something there. 

The challenge for me is being gracious enough to let things be and suppressing the desire to intervene or influence how he experiences it. Also, that disdain for messiness which may actually be necessary for them to grow and learn. 

A side note: Jamie has this really cute way of pronouncing “potato”. It comes out sounding like “pee-tay-toh”. I think it’s absolutely adorable. Heh. 😍

And I shall leave you now with the YouTube video below. 

Drop me a comment if you have done something similar too? I’d be curious how it went, especially if you did it with a toddler like I did. 😊

Choosing to be a Work-At-Home Mum

I could be wrong, but I personally feel that only a really small percentage of people out there truly understand what it means to be a work-at-home parent.

Say that you are in full time employment, describe the main responsibilities of your job in a few sentences, and you will have others nodding their heads. They can imagine how you pass your days. They conclude that you are living your life productively.

Or tell people you are a stay-at-home parent, and they will envision house chores and self managed childcare. They might still make wrong assumptions about what your daily routine is like, and may overestimate the actual amount of free time you have, but they will at least have a somewhat concrete idea of what you would possibly be doing on a day-to-day basis.

But tell someone that you are a Work-At-Home Mum (WAHM) and I believe they can’t really reconcile what it is that you do at all. The concept eludes them. You are either a plain vanilla housewife, or you work like the rest of them and usher in hard earned money that’s needed to keep your family alive. But WAHM? How does that even work?

What’s horrible about this is that I often feel the need to justify what I do. While in conversation with others about my WAHM status, I often tend to emphasise the fact that I do work, even while caring for my son at home. They may not have actually asked about this, but I will be anxious to point it out, as though it is terribly idle of me to only be focussing on house chores and being available to my son. This feels like a terribly wrong thing to happen. But it keeps turning out this way.

Let me illustrate my point. Here’s an example or two of how a chat with a friend might go:

Friend : So, you’re taking care of your son at home full time now?

Me : Err yeah… and I also do freelance writing too.

Or this…

Friend : So, what do you do every day nowadays?

Me : Well, I am at home, taking care of my son… and I try to work at the same time too.

I got asked a similar kind of question again recently. So I figured maybe it’s about time I wrote about this. Maybe it will lend some clarity to my thoughts so that next time, I can explain it all much better to someone else.

And perhaps it may benefit you, my reader, in ways I cannot yet comprehend. It might somehow be useful to you to know what a WAHM does, or why a woman might become one in the first place. Who am I to know?

So, without further ado, let me tell you about why I am a WAHM and what this means for my life.

Our reasons

While waiting for the arrival of our son into the world, my husband and I had many good chats about what we would like our family life to be like. We talked about childcare options, hit some dead ends, and concluded that, based on the options we had and our personal sentiments towards it all, that me becoming a WAHM would be a feasible choice.

One of our main reasons for arriving at this conclusion is that we felt uneasy about sending our son to a daycare or to hire a babysitter to look after him. Babies are incapable of communicating to you whether they have been well cared for or whether there has been an abuse of some form taking place, so rather than have to worry about all that, we felt we would rather that one of us be at home to take care of him.

Another reason why we went with this WAHM decision was that we wanted to be available to our son. That when he reaches out for help or wants company or any other need he may face at this early stages of his life, we would be the ones there to meet those needs. Sure, any other adult whom we appoint could stand in and do the same thing for us in the daytime, leaving us free to carry on with our jobs as before, but it would not be the same as if it were us, his very own parents, being there for him.

And just so you know, my husband and I are the type that evenly shares out responsibilities such as house chores. We also make a lot of decisions together rather than dividing up tasks and managing them independent of one another. So the process of pregnancy, delivery and child raising has always been something we were both actively involved in, as it has been for other aspects of our life together.

The decision that it should be me quitting my job and not him was mostly because he earns a better salary than I do. Also, the nature of my career lends itself to better freelance work options than his.

So that is what we went for and our rationale for it.

Another thing to add here is that we are not rich. Surviving on a single income as a family is scary, given the economic situation of our country at the moment. In some ways, I felt that it would help compensate for my loss of full time employment to a certain extent if I at least were to try and work on a part time or freelance basis. I also wanted a backup in case somewhere along the line my husband is unable to work or cannot secure a job.

Work arrangements

To give you some background, prior to becoming a mother and quitting my full time job, I was a journalist. So, when I transitioned to freelance work, I naturally wanted to take on writing jobs. Which I did.

Initially, I managed to get some journo gigs too; not just for my former employer, but also for other publications. It felt good, because I thought I would not be totally giving up on my skills and earning power.

But as time went on, I found it was getting harder to do journalism work while having my son in tow. For one, I doubt most interviewees would fancy a bubbly little toddler frequently interrupting their conversation with me. Being on time for appointments would also be a challenge with a tiny tot around. Then there was the arduous task of transcribing which would require a significant amount of time and focus; something I do not have enough of most days. And this is not even taking into account the actual writing process yet.

So I resorted to changing things up a bit and only accepting certain types of writing work.

Currently, this means only taking up copywriting or PR related work. In some ways, the returns are better than journalism assignments actually. But the nature of the writing involved is rather dull. So, in other words, it’s mostly about making the moola and little else.

Daily duties

Before I end off this post, a little on what I do every day.

Just like your average SAHM, I have my lion’s share of house chores and childcare related tasks to tackle all the time. I think you can roughly imagine what that might involve: Laundry, doing dishes, making meals, tidying up after my child, bathing, feeding, etc.

And then there’s the ongoing demands of my toddler to manage too. Like when he wants me to play with him. Or he wants to engage me in conversation. Or he has lost a random toy that he absolutely cannot do without. The thing about a young child is they do not understand the concept of waiting too well so they will likely want a response from you straight away. And to top it all off, they have no inkling of whether the current activity you are doing is urgent or otherwise, so they will just interrupt you anytime they need you. Which means your attention gets divided a lot and things you are working on often get abandoned halfway.

Many times, I’ll have a few tasks running and at various stages of completion during any given time of the day. It’s a bit maddening and takes some getting used to. The fact that your priority list has to keep getting adjusted to suit the demands of the hour. Consider it like a job which requires you to do a lot of ad-hoc tasks. Or one where you could be on call at any hour of the day.

Then comes the actual paid work bit. As with any other form of work, there are clients to please. This means deadlines and promises to keep. A certain degree of discipline to get work tasks done, regardless of whatever else is happening in the realms of house chores and your child’s wants and needs.

Oh, and I think it’s worth mentioning too that since these are freelance gigs, you will very often be dealing with new clients. And with every new one, there’s that long, arduous task of getting acquainted, familiarising with their communication and work styles, and negotiating the entire work agreement. This is in itself VERY TIRING and the part I am least excited about when it comes to freelancing.

Now, what does working at home look like?

Having my tablet or handphone always close by, and keeping an eye out for any messages or emails coming in which are about work. Replying them within a 24 hour timeframe (this is a work ethic I set for myself).

Planning ahead to finish work with some buffer in terms of time, because you can never tell when something unexpected will happen at home that will knock your work schedule off its course. Example: Child/spouse/yourself falling sick.

Working at any time of the day and at any corner of the home (toilet included), no matter how ridiculous it might be, as long as it’s a span of time which is fairly uninterrupted so that you can actually think properly and produce relatively good quality work. This also sometimes requires staying up when you want to sleep. Foregoing naps you desperately need. Ignoring the child in the background who keeps inviting you to play. Putting off your own meals till later and then (potentially) suffering gastric from the folly of your actions.

I hope this gives you a glimpse into what my life is like as a WAHM. If it is beneficial for you, I will attempt to talk about this experience more in future posts. Let me know what you’d like to know more about and I’ll do my best to put it into words to help you out.

Perhaps you are considering going down a similar path. Or would like to better understand your neighbour, relative or friend who dons the WAHM label. If something I have already been through would be useful for you to learn from, I’d be happy to share.

Anyway, I really glad to have had you stop by, and hope you enjoyed reading this.