Meet Brooks Nash Clark, my seven and a half-month-old son. He has red hair, which people love to point out to me, a big gummy smile, and is the cutest little man I’ve ever met, also the messiest person. How can a 22-pound person make such a mess?
I’m a first-time mom and a 7th-year high school English teacher. Late last December, I had my son and spent nine weeks at home learning how to take care of my favorite new little friend. I returned to school right before Spring Break, leaving Brooks with my mom. While I love him so much, I looked forward to getting back into my school routine and finishing the year strong with my students.
Those nine weeks of school flew by. Between preparing for state testing, grading end of year projects, and watching our seniors graduate, I only had time to call my mom a couple of times. Okay, like four times a day to check-in. While I missed him during the day, I knew summer break was just around the corner with more than eight weeks to spend together.
Summer break allowed me to love on Brooks and spend every moment looking into his huge brown eyes and change more diapers than I care to count. We went to the bookstore and library for baby songs and stories, took swimming lessons, and survived two plane rides with minimal screaming and no blowouts. It was the perfect summer break for a new mom.
Then August 5th snuck up on me and suddenly it was time to welcome 150 new faces into my classroom. I woke up at 5 am and quietly kissed Brooks and handed him over to my mom. When I got into my car there was a twinge of sadness as I thought about the next eight hours away from him.
I tried to concentrate on the day before me and thank goodness it was action-packed. But every time I looked over at my desk or glanced at my phone filled with pictures (printed by my mom because I can’t manage to print any), I missed Brooks a little more.
Finally, at 3:30 pm, I felt exhausted and ready to jump in my car and race home to him. I missed him. Walking in to see his chubby cheek face light up was the best feeling in the entire world.
Learning to be a working mom feels like running backward in high heels. One second you think you have a handle on it. I wake up extra early to get ready so I can give Brooks a bottle before I leave and hope I don’t get peed or puked on. I try to use every second of my prep time to make copies, grade, and plan. The next second, I am juggling teacher duties with mommy duties and asking my family and friends to watch him, feeling like I am not doing a stellar job at either.
I want to be the best mom and teacher I can be. But is that possible? Can we do both? Can we be great parents and great teachers? I believe we can and I believe we are. Learning to balance both is like learning a new language. At first, it’s awkward and foreign, but with practice, it gets easier and more familiar.
As I write this blog, Brooks is soundly asleep, at least until an Amazon delivery shows up ringing the doorbell turning our house into chaos as the dog barks. And as I reflect on the last seven and a half months as both a mom and a teacher, I’ve created a list of tips for anyone trying to juggle the demands of life, regardless of whether you are a parent or not.
Tip #1: Accept help and ask for help
When someone offers to make your copies, take them up on the offer. Or if a friend offers to do something for you, pull out your to-do list and check something off. There is NO shame in asking for help or taking it. Although my husband is super helpful, I have him convinced I don’t know how to change the diaper genie. This small bit of help goes a long way in keeping my nose happy.
We are not islands. I guarantee the helpers have been in your place and are just returning the favor.
Tip #2: Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
I have never been a great meal planner. My husband would probably say I am the queen of Trader Joe’s frozen aisle. The stress of deciding what to cook and eat every night stinks. I decided to sign up for a meal delivery service. Every week three meals show up, and all I have to do is chop and follow the recipe. I would rather spend 5 minutes selecting the meals then an hour wandering around the grocery store. The time I save from meal planning and shopping, I spend playing on the floor stacking plastic blocks with Brooks. And we are actually saving money because we aren’t wasting food or eating out seven nights a week.
Ask yourself, what is important to me? What takes up time I would rather spend doing something else I actually enjoy? I bet there is a way to save time on that yucky task. The internet is amazing at offering services to streamline tasks.
In my classroom, I find ways to grade assignments and still give feedback without sweating every little detail. I use rubrics when I can. I use writing conferences to give feedback before students turn in final drafts, making grading so much easier and faster.
Tip #3: Routines are Our Friends
After seven years, I finally figured this one out. This helps keep the house chores from becoming overwhelming and just plain annoying. I complete the same few tidying tasks every night before bed. This has helped so much with the morning dash to get out the door all in one piece.
In my classroom, I try to stick to a fairly consistent routine. On Monday we learn new vocabulary; on Tuesday we learn new grammar concepts; Fridays are for quizzes. This has helped cut down on the planning. I also tackle my teacher prep tasks in the same order every day. First, I put in grades from the previous day. Next, I make copies. Third, I answer emails. And finally, I tackle new grading and planning. I also force myself to leave every day at 3:30 pm. Whatever I didn’t complete today can wait until tomorrow. Brooks is at home waiting for his momma.
Let me say, I am not an expert nor do I have all the answers. And I am beyond grateful to my mom and family and friends who help watch Brooks Nash. These are just a few ideas working for me. I would love to hear how you balance your commitments. What do you do that helps keep your work life from taking over your home? Or vice versa? Please share below! We are all in this together! Cheers to a new year!