An ongoing series about the juggling the challenges of library school as a parent.
When I first wrote about being grad school as a new parent, many of the challenges were of the existential kind: What does it mean to be a parent now that I have a new little life I am responsible for 24/7? How will this impact my career? Am I “staying up” enough on my work skills since I have been off work for several months? I was fortunate to have the luxury to spend a lot of time with my son in the first few months, delight in all his changes, and get used to my new identity as a parent.
Now that I am four weeks back into the semester with a full-time class load, part-time work (working in a public library and teaching several yoga classes), and an infant on the verge of crawling, the challenges look very different. The biggest one being the fact that there are only 24 hours in the day and I need at least six of them, usually more, to function. The first week of school hit me hard with extensive reading assignments, a sick baby, childcare logistics, and getting back into the swing of things at work. In between naptimes, I started digging into the course outlines and assignment schedule with a growing sense of dread:
How am I going to manage it all? How does any working parent manage to do this? I only have one kid and don’t even work full-time and have a great partner to lean on.
And so went my mental dialogue. I went as far as considering whether or not to drop a class, but opted to stick to my class load as planned, knowing that doing so would get me that much closer to graduation this fall. I reminded myself that even before parenting, grad school was a constant roller coaster, vacillating between feeling like I had everything managed just fine to the careening stress of impending assignment due dates.
As I adjust to the ups and downs of a new routine, I am reminded of a saying that I have heard attributed to several sources, from Buddhism to Craig Ferguson:
Does it need to be said?
Does it need to be said by me?
Does it need to be said by me now?
I decided to adapt to these three questions to strategies I can use to juggle my new reality and find some semblance of balance. I share these in the hopes that these are helpful to all of you who are seeking balance amidst busyness:
Does it need to be done?
Does it need to be done by me?
Does it need to be done by me now?
Does it need to be done?
I love to-do lists, and sometimes just the act of writing them down helps relieve the anxiety of having my task list spinning through my head. So I write the epic to-do list. Then I look at it closer and question what really needs to get done. Do I really need to stay on numerous library email and event lists and see piles of unread messages or events that I can’t attend? Or can I unsubscribe from most of them and just pick a few key sources to receive? “I can always subscribe again. I can always read more in the future”, I told myself, my sense of calm increasing with each “unsubscribe”. Purposely giving myself less digital input helps focus my attention more on what I really DO need to do.
For now, I’ve had to accept that my yoga practice is not going to be ideal. Which is tough for me as an instructor wanting to keep up a fairly advanced practice. Minimal might be a more apt description of what my current practice. Accepting this and taking off the pressure off myself to log a certain amount of time on the mat has helped take another load off my time.
My calendar also seems to be an ever-changing logic puzzle of trying to fit in family events and other social engagements. I’ve had to accept that for right now, I can’t do everything I want to do. There have been invites I’ve had to decline, and I’m sure there will be more in the months ahead. I continually remind myself that the semester is only temporary. I can’t do it all, and for right now, I have to focus on my priorities.
Does it need to be done now?
I belong to the brand of procrastinators that are extremely productive at getting other things done that are not actually the thing that needs to get done. That was one thing when I had the luxury of time not interrupted by a baby waking up from a nap. Now if I spend that hour scrolling through blogs and clearing out my email inbox, that’s an hour of school work that I didn’t get done, which means carving time out of somewhere else (usually sleep). Focusing becomes a necessity.
Another piece is taking only the amount of time a task should take. Yes, I am one of those students that tries to read everything and agonizes endlessly over the details of a paper. “Done is better than perfect” has become my new mantra. I’m trying to work smarter, rather than harder by putting the bulk of my time and effort into the major assignments and settling for adequate and complete on the less important tasks.
Does it need to be done by me?
Delegate, delegate, delegate. On my work/school days, I hand over the reins on the majority of baby duty. I find sometimes that means parking myself in a cafe after my work and treating it like an extension of my work shift. When it comes to chores, I’ve been happy to let my husband take over most of the grocery shopping and primary cooking duties. Laundry and dish washing fall into my domain and I find these activities that don’t require a lot of brain power to be helpful for taking a break from the computer or figure out the next paragraph when I’m in a writing rut.
I also am taking full advantage of modern conveniences like pre-cut vegetables, protein bars, and bulk shopping. We’ve been putting our freezer to use by making some dishes in advance – and sometimes even portioning them out for easy thaw and re-heat on those nights when I’m shoveling in dinner behind my laptop screen. I’ve also taken to keeping a bag of spare diapers, wipes, and formula in my car for those inevitable moments where I’ve forgotten to re-stock the diaper bag.
Most of all, I am making it a point to give myself time each day to savor the great parts of my new reality. Connecting with my students, delighting in the crisp air and sunshine, attending storytime with my son, and enjoying his baby babble and latest new achievements remind me that life is good. I look forward to being on the other side of this semester. In the meantime, life is busy, but life is still good.