"OK, kiddo," I said to my toddler. "When we get to school, Momma won't have any hands, so she needs you to hold onto her pocket when we cross the street. OK? Can you be a big boy and hold onto my pocket?"
My older son, "The Boy," arched his eyebrow. He is skeptical of any big brother talk since his little brother's arrival two months before. He pulled his blanky from his mouth.
"You have two hands."
Yeah, that's what I was afraid of.
With my second baby, going back to work didn't scare me. I knew, after watching his older brother grow into a well-adjusted, Momma-loving toddler while attending daycare, my baby wouldn't forget me or be scarred for life. The logistics of getting us all up and out of the house--and back in and fed--every day frightened me. It just seemed like an impossibility. Everyone would need something at once. I wouldn't have enough hands. I would never be on time again. We would have to subsist on snack packs and frozen pizzas.
Surprisingly, none of that has happened.
Here's what has happened:
We have arrived promptly at school and work every morning. We all have breakfast and lunches and a hot, home-cooked supper. We're as well-rested as a family with a 2-month old can be.
And here's how we're doing it:
- Getting up early.
As a parent, you probably already are waking at an hour many people don't realize exists. But sometimes even 15 extra minutes can make things run more smoothly. Figure out how much time you need to get everyone up, fed and dressed, then set your alarm for 15 minutes before that. That time is a cushion. On a good morning, it means 15 minutes to play together or savor your coffee. On a bad morning, it means you're only five minutes behind schedule.
- Making everyone help.
My husband packs lunches every night. Even if he doesn't always hit all the major food groups, it's packed and ready, and that's what matters. My toddler carries his lunch bag into school, even if it means we walk a little slower. Even the baby is asked to "hang tight" for five minutes in the evenings while I get a snack for his brother and put away the breast milk I pumped at work.
I shower while the husband gets breakfast for the toddler. He showers while I nurse the baby. The husband holds the baby while I fix the toddler's dinner plate. He scrubs the dishes while I scrub the boys.
- Encouraging independence.
If you have a toddler, you have a child old enough to follow simple directions. My oldest son likes to put away his shoes and climb into his car seat. It isn't always as fast as I would like, but it frees me up to take care of the kid who can't help himself. He also is great entertainment for the baby, provided I can keep one eye on them and am within yelling distance to say, "EASY! You have to be gentle with your brother."
- Using our appliances.
Our slow cooker has taken up permanent residence on our counter. Between frozen leftovers from extra-large weekend meals and breastmilk, our freezer has never been this full. But with a little extra prep work and help from modern technology, I've managed to put a home-cooked dinner on the table even on the nights the baby needs to eat as soon as we get home.
- Putting everything in place.
Nothing throws off a schedule faster than lost keys or a missing blanky. All bags are packed the night before and put in their respective homes --lunches and bottles in the fridge; pump on the counter, purse and diaper bag in the bedroom. In the morning, while the toddler eats and before the baby is up, I gather everything but my purse--which is my last-minute dumping ground --into the car so it can't be left in the out-the-door whirlwind.
- Giving two-minute warnings.
Kids handle transitions from one thing to the next better when they know what's coming. By giving our toddler a steady countdown to time to go or time for dinner, the husband and I also keep ourselves on track.
- Making every minute count.
Quality time is any time you and your kids are in the same place. Rushing from home to work and back again, it's easy to feel like you have no time with your kids. But you do, if you just take the time to notice it. We sing songs in the car and play I-spy to practice colors. The husband and I flirt over the boys' heads at the supper table.
Back to that first morning in the car, when my older son couldn't understand why I wanted him to hold my pocket, I just let the idea drop. Arguing with a 2-year-old is pointless. So, we got to daycare and I hung the bags on my left arm and handed my son his lunchbox. I scooped the baby up on my left shoulder and found my son was right.
I had two hands and somehow, some way, I managed to have a hand for both my kiddos. It took careful balancing, it probably looked precarious to someone else and it required a bit of help.
But it was possible.