What Do You Do All Day (Now You’re Not Working)?

A Typical Day in the Life of Mrs W

When I tell people that Little W (15 months old) has now happily settled in at the childminder and is there six hours a day, four days a week, I mostly get asked the question above (with the bit in brackets not actually voiced, but rather implied by the incredulous tone of voice). Mostly I reply, “Oh, you know, I just paint my nails, drink coffee and watch daytime TV.” Because I think that’s what some people genuinely think I do. I bet a lot of “stay-at-home mums” as we seem to be called these days get the same reaction. And I bet it drives most of them crazy. So for all those people out there who’re mystified as to how we fill those long days at home, here’s a walk through a typical day in the life of me. Take yesterday, for example:

7:00am: Get woken up by Little W, who’s been grumbling for a while but has now decided enough is enough and drastic measures are called for if he’s ever going to get his morning milk. So he crawls onto my head and stays there until I give in and get up to make his bottle.

7:00am-8:45am: With Little W installed on the sofa happily glugging back his milk, it’s time for me to get Miss W’s porridge ready and get the coffee on for me and Mr W before Miss W comes padding into the kitchen in her pyjamas demanding porridge and “clothes off”. (She doesn’t like her pyjamas. Not one bit.) Then it’s a whirlwind of porridge, coffee, feeding kids, changing kids, dressing kids, getting the kids’ stuff ready for going to nursery and the childminder, until finally at 8:45am it’s time to leave. I’m very lucky that Mr W helps me out on all this (albeit reluctantly and sleepily at first – he perks up a bit once he’s had his coffee). We also get in a bit of time on the sofa drinking coffee and watching the news while the kids play and generally get into their stride for the new day.

8:45am-9:15am: Take one of the kids to nursery or the childminder. We split it up so that each of us takes one kid. It saves time and the whole process goes a lot more smoothly if there’s only one kid to focus on. Drop-off is at around 9:00am, then it takes about 15 minutes to get back home.

9:15am-10:00am: Gym time! This is only three days a week – any more would be excessive. I keep the workout short and intense in the hope that it’ll have more of an effect than spending hours on the treadmill. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

10:00am-11:00am: Get home and realise I still haven’t had breakfast. Remedy the situation. Talk to Mr W about what food he wants me to get when I go shopping later. Plan the meals for the next few days and make a shopping list. Lately our food spending has been getting out of control and I’m currently on a mission to get it back on track. I google “meals for under €1 per serving” and find a broccoli chicken thing that looks promising.

11:00am-11:30am: Put on my janitor’s hat (figuratively speaking) and go out to clean the stairwell of our building and rake the leaves outside. Most people with a university degree would turn up their noses at this kind of work. It’s beneath them. But answer me this: what hourly rate are you getting in your high-powered corporate job? Is it €154? No? Well that’s my hourly rate for cleaning the stairwell. I smile the whole time I’m cleaning. This is just one of the tricks we’ve found to optimise our earnings while minimising our spending. We’ll have a more detailed post about that coming up.

11:30am-12:30pm: Come back home and do housework. I don’t do housework at the weekends as a rule because a) it’s impossible to do when the kids are home (can you hoover with a toddler hanging off your leg and a three-year-old loudly demanding apple juice RIGHT NOW? If so send me an e-mail, I’d love to know your secret), and b) the kids do such a great job of making everything dirty and messy that five minutes after I finish cleaning, the flat looks like a bombsite again. I don’t manage to clean the whole flat in an hour, not by a long way. My principle is: “If one of my friends was to come over spontaneously, which particular mess would I be most ashamed of.” I find it helps to really focus me on the stuff that matters. Apparently the time it takes to do a task expands to fill the time you have available to do it (I read that somewhere, not sure where…). That’s why I intentionally limit the time I spend on housework. Otherwise it would probably take over my life and I’d never get round to anything else, like writing this article for example.

12:30pm-1:30pm: Have lunch with Mr W on our balcony. We eat leftovers from the day before and talk about our respective mornings. We enjoy the sunshine and the fact that we can have lunch together in peace and quiet. After lunch we make coffee and go through our calendar for the week so we have a rough idea of what’s going on and who’s looking after which kid when. We need to plan our week in such a way that each of us can fit in three gym sessions and has time to work on our own projects. If one or both of us is tired, stressed about something we need to do but haven’t yet got round to, or feeling guilty about missing a workout, we tend to get grumpy and snap at each other or the kids and we don’t have the energy and patience it takes to engage with the kids properly.

1:30pm-2:45pm: Gather up all the rubbish and recycling and take it out, then go food shopping, bring the food home and unpack it. Quickly squeeze another bit of housework into the extra 15 minutes I have before I need to leave to get Little W from the childminder.

2:45pm-3:45pm: Pick up Little W and bring him home. Let him play on his own a little to come back down to earth after his busy day playing with the other kids at the childminder’s house, then give him a snack, change his nappy and spend some proper time with him.

3:45pm-4:15pm: Mr W arrives home from nursery with Miss W (by bike btw. – we don’t own a car). His gym is in the same street as her nursery and he picks her up on his way home. Talk to Miss W about how her day was and explain to her that we’re going to go and see the dentist lady today.

4:15pm-5:00pm: Take the kids to the dentist. Hope that Miss W behaves and lets the dentist look at her teeth. Breathe a sigh of relief when she does and everything’s ok. This is Mr W’s time to have a shower and do anything else he urgently needs to do before the kids come home.

5:00pm-6:30pm: Take the kids home, deliver them into the capable hands of Mr W for some lego tower building, shut the door to their bedroom and start making dinner. We’re having friends over with their four-year-old son and I’m making pizza and salad to keep things quick and easy. Miss W gets bored of lego towers and comes to help me put the toppings on the pizza. She then proceeds to eat the toppings off the pizza while I make the salad. Once the pizza is in the oven, Miss W asks every five minutes whether it’s ready. This goes on for 30 minutes.

6:30pm-6:45pm: Our friends arrive. Miss W can’t contain her excitement at seeing her friend and does a widdle in her Peppa Pig pants. Take Miss W to the toilet and change her pants.

6:45pm-7:30pm: Sit down to eat. Our friend’s son announces he’s not hungry and Miss W throws her pizza on the floor. The kids play while the grownups try to eat and chat. It sort of works for a while.  Little W gets grumpy and screamy so I put him to bed. Fortunately he’s so tired he goes out like a light, not to be heard from again until late in the night.

7:30pm-9:00pm: The older kids are getting grumpy and tired now as well. They ask for ice cream. They’re told to eat some pizza first. They eat one bite each then refuse to eat any more. We give in and give them the ice cream. We’re bad parents. We put on a DVD in the hope that they’ll calm down a bit. We’re really bad parents.  By 8.30pm, Miss W is ready for bed and she doesn’t even protest when I put her pyjamas on and brush her teeth. We have one quick story then I turn out the light and leave her room. We don’t hear from her again until the morning. Our friends’ son is getting really annoyed now and keeps demanding to go home. Our friends finally give up and get ready to leave. We talk about how we used to be able to go out for dinner uninterrupted and speculate about when we’ll be able to do that again. Probably not for about 10 years. Life is different now.

9:00pm-9:30pm: Once our friends go home I get a break to drink a glass of wine and read a book while Mr W clears up the dinner.

9:30pm-11:00pm: Mr W and I sit down together and enjoy the silence. We talk about our day and watch some stuff on YouTube since most of the stuff on TV these days is utter drivel.

11:00pm: Go to bed tired but not exhausted and go to sleep so I have the energy to repeat it all again the next day.

Obviously not every day is exactly like that. Some days I don’t go to the gym or the shops and I focus on creative projects or do some actual paid work (shock horror!) like translate or correct a text for a website or scientific conference. Some days I focus on admin stuff like Mr W’s accounting and doing all those little tasks that accumulate day-to-day (answering e-mails, dealing with mail etc.). The main thing is that while my days are full, they tend not to be stressful and I manage to get everything done that needs doing while keeping my sanity. It doesn’t always work. I’m not perfect. There are still loads of things I need to optimise and work out. Weekends for example. There’s a lot of room for improvement there. I see it as a game though. My goal is to become some kind of ninja mum who can juggle everything without getting stressed and burned out and being carted off to the lunatic asylum. I’ll probably never attain actual ninja mum status, but I can always try, and have fun trying. If any of you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them. Especially if you’ve already reached the holy grail of ninja mum!