James and I have settled into the non-routine of parenting a toddler.
We wake up during the night. We wake up early in the morning. We sit on the big potty and read books to our inquisitive little one sitting across from us on her little potty. (repeat several times over). We dress ourselves. We dress our child. We try to pack her up for day care without rushing her along through those activities that unfold very slowly when one is a toddler and interested in things like how that lotion that goes on her face squeezes out of little tube and how that lid to the pot still fits the second and third and fourth times she puts it on.
We go to work.
We rush home with high expectations to spend two hours with our child. We feed her. We read to her. We play with her. We bathe her. And we try to remind ourselves that too much of a good thing means she’s late to bed and then a meltdown will happen. So we try to keep to a schedule.
And once we get through that ever-lengthening nighttime circus called bedtime, we clean up the kitchen. We prepare for the next day. Inevitably, we have The Conversation. It mostly sounds the same, packaged in a different form, depending on the day. I’m usually the initiator.
Is this all there is? I ask. I mean people can’t live entire lives like this, can they? Only seeing their child two hours per day. Spending their evenings scrubbing dishes.
The Conversation then normally shifts to our budget, which is already at the bare bones of spending. We are frugal people.
Could we live on one income? That way I can spend more time with her. Prepare dinner before James gets home so that we aren’t scrambling to get something on the table for her or spending our only time together in the kitchen once she goes to bed.
It inevitably meanders to We are paying way too much for a city we aren’t even taking advantage of. Where else can we live that’s cheaper? Should we move further out? I don’t think I could be happy living outside of the Beltway. If we are that far away, shouldn’t we just move to a new city?
What city would we go to?
Should we just order more take out so we spend less time cooking? Hire a cleaning person? That still doesn’t solve the problem of seeing our daughter for only those precious 120 minutes before bedtime.
I ran into a former colleague of mine at a party a few months ago. When I asked how work is going, she told me she’s consulting now and sometimes its busy, but sometimes its slow. She said it works well because it allows for more time with her adolescent daughters than a regular 9-5. When I told her I’m struggling with all the time I’m missing seeing my own daughter, the advice she offered was to work now and save money. Then work toward a more flexible job in the future. She said in 10 years my daughter will need me so much more than she does now, as she navigates social development, changes in body, needing help with homework and a host of other challenges.
I’ve been digesting that ever since, and thinking about what we can do as a family that makes sense for everyone. Leaving my job is not a move I consider lightly, nor missing my daughter’s tiny, beautiful changes each day right now.
What’a a responsible, loving parent to do?
As we get into bed for the evening, we remind ourselves these are first world problems. We have solid jobs, health insurance, a home, a healthy, thriving child. We shrug our shoulders and onward we slog.
Until tomorrow. When The Conversation arises again and we know its time to make some decisions.