My morning routine

The previous evening sets us up for the day ahead. I described extensively what I do on a typical evening here, and now I’ll talk about my mornings.

The funny thing is that my morning routine is much shorter than the evening routine. The latter is elaborate, with many moving parts, while the former is rather straightforward. Anyway, I’ll walk you through it.

Wake up 30 minutes before my son

This has been key. I used to wake up at the same time as William, and that felt stressful even though I didn’t realize it so explicitly. I was trying to take care of his needs while also taking care of my own, which often led to frustration on both sides: he wanted me to cuddle him, but I just wanted to pee!

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My evening routine

A good evening routine would set me up for a restful night of sleep and a good next day.

I wanted to create a realistic and stress-free (as much as possible) evening routine, so I had to leave enough time for everything I wanted and needed to do. I hate to be pressed for time in the evening when I’m tired and trying to wind down! Sometimes it still happens, and it’s oh-so annoying.

My evening routine starts early

I figured out that the evening routine starts as early as 17:00 (5 pm) when I leave to pick up William from daycare. I could pick him up anytime before 18:00 (6 pm), but if I leave later than 17:00 (5 pm), I just end up being too late for everything else, and I then have to rush. So I do my best to finish up my work, get ready, and leave on time.

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Your morning routine starts the night before

Ah, this is so true! How your morning goes depends to a large extent on what your evening looks like.

Do you go to bed at a time which allows you to get enough sleep?

Have you prepared yourself for the next day (e.g., clothes, food, backpack, living space)?

Have you made a plan for the next day?

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Clear priorities -> Flexibility

Nothing requires flexibility like an ill child. I may have a great plan laid out for my day, and yet if William gets ill, I immediately switch it all around.

This used to really bother me, and while I don’t love changing all my plans around, I don’t find it as disruptive anymore. First of all, I’ve become used to the fact that William gets ill once in a while. I can’t predict when it’s going to happen, but I can be sure that it will happen at some point. By now I know what I need to do in response to different symptoms and situations, and if I’m not sure what to do, I know where to find help.

So, in a sense, while I don’t know when he’ll get ill and what I’ll need to do exactly, I know we’ll be able to handle it and we’ll figure out what to do. This allows me not to worry in advance about his getting ill.

What happens to my schedule?

This is where it’s really important to talk about priorities and not a set schedule. Sure, a set schedule is useful under ideal circumstances, and I use it on many occasions. But when the day’s planning needs to be adapted, it’s not as simple as throwing out the schedule.

Instead, I look at what really needs to get done today, what would be nice to get done today, and what can wait until another day. Having identified my priorities ahead of time, I’m ready to move things around in order to fit in the most important things. I don’t waste time figuring out what needs to get done, only to worry that I might be forgetting something crucial.

An example from this week

This past week, William got ill on Tuesday evening and had to stay home on Wednesday when he’s usually in daycare. Jacob works with patients on Wednesday afternoon, meaning he’s not available then. Therefore, we split it up, so that Jacob took care of William in the morning and I worked during that time, while I took care of William in the afternoon and Jacob saw patients then.

Okay, so I had the morning (about three hours) of uninterrupted time. I looked over the tasks for the day (arranged in sequence as they’d usually happen throughout the day):

  • Prepare slides for presentation
  • Practice presentation
  • Email and admin
  • Exercise
  • Cook chicken
  • Cook cauliflower
  • Walk

The first two tasks were certainly the most demanding in terms of concentration, and they were time-sensitive (I was giving that presentation the following week). So I spent about 2.25 hours preparing my presentation and practicing it. If I’d had the whole day as I had planned, I’d have worked on it for longer, but given the situation, this was good. After that, I quickly changed into my sports clothes and exercised for 30 minutes. It wasn’t ideal because I would have preferred to exercise for 45-60 minutes, but it was better than nothing. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Then, I took over caring for William. We had lunch, and then I put him down for a nap. (To be honest, I took a brief nap with him.) Afterwards, I tackled email and admin tasks: they required some concentration, but they were much easier to do than preparing my presentation.

I got through most of the admin tasks when I heard William calling me. He usually naps for 1.5-2 hours, but this time it had only been 50 minutes. No surprises, when he’s ill, he tends to wake more. I went and cuddled him, trying to help him get back to sleep. This sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t; today it didn’t work. William wanted to get up, so we got up. I left a couple of admin tasks for tomorrow–not my favorite thing to do, but it happens, oh well.

Now, the question became how to cook given that William only wanted to cuddle. I pulled up a chair for him in the kitchen with me and let him watch. I had an elaborate recipe planned for the chicken, but instead I went for a very simple one. We’ll still get to eat, and that’s what matters now. I also cooked the cauliflower mash, which fortunately is rather simple and one of William’s favorites to observe since it involves using the handheld mixer.

Next up on my list was going for a walk, which I usually combine with picking up William from daycare. Since I obviously wasn’t picking him up today, this was a difficult one. Also, he had a fever and it was quite cold outside, so I didn’t feel like taking him out in the stroller. I decided to skip the walk today; not everything can get done, and that’s okay. I already got some movement in in the form of exercise, so that’s good.

We had about an hour left before dinner, and William and I played together. He didn’t have a lot of energy, so we did quiet activities such as reading books (so many books about tractors), drawing (so many trains), and building puzzles (with both tractors and trains!). We don’t usually have a whole hour to play, so I enjoyed this. Extra William time!

After this, William and I had dinner and went through the bedtime routine, after which he fell asleep. He was in bed one hour earlier than usual–he was so tired from being ill. This meant I had an extra hour to myself! Jacob came home from work (tonight was a late evening for him), and we spent some time together. We went to bed a little bit early because who knows what the night ahead will bring! An ill child is certainly unpredictable, and we wanted to be ready to respond if necessary.

Flexibility with priorities

I was able to adapt my planning for the day because I knew clearly what my priorities were. I also knew where I could get some uninterrupted time (e.g., while Jacob was taking care of William), some semi-productive time (e.g., cooking with William next to me), and some time that had to be dedicated to him (e.g., extra cuddles, dinner, play).

Note that this day turned out pretty well given that we had an ill child at home. Sometimes, this isn’t possible if the child is very ill or if you don’t have another caretaker at home. That has been the case for us as well sometimes, and it just is what it is. Fortunately, it passes–everything is a phase, right? If you’re in that phase right now, I feel for you, and I’m sure I’ll be there at some point again.

Not every day can be made moderately productive, but the point is that we can have awareness of our priorities, opportunities, and possibilities, so we can make use of an opportunity when it comes our way.

Without my men for the first time

Up until a week ago, I’d never been away from my son William for more than a day. For two years and three months, I’d always woken up in the morning and found him there, either next to me or in the other room, as he got “older.”

This probably wouldn’t have been the case if it weren’t for Covid. William was born four months before Covid started, so his two years of life have been affected by the changes. I’d have gone to several conferences already, but they all got canceled. I didn’t go on any non-family trips, and when we visited Bulgaria (twice for the last two years), William came with me, so we were always together.

Shall we travel to South Africa?

Recently, the restrictions for traveling to and from South Africa were lifted. Jacob is from South Africa and his family lives there, so he was enthusiastic to go there after not having visited them for four years. It would also be a great experience for William to visit his grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, and to meet his cousin. Also, it’s summer right now in South Africa, giving him the opportunity to soak up the sun, play in the little pool, and eat exotic (for me) fruit – what a dream!

My heart tightened as I realized I wouldn’t be able to go with them. For visa-related reasons, I wouldn’t be able to travel with them. Could I really let William go so far away from me for ten days? I wanted to let them go in order to have this amazing experience. Yet, I didn’t know if I could bear missing them so much.

Saying goodbye

We bought their plane tickets one week before their departure date (crazy!), and we packed their bags. The anticipation was the worst part for me. I was wondering how the flight would go and how William would adjust to being there. At the same time, I know he’s crazy about his dad (in fact, papa is currently the preferred parent, and mama is taken for granted a bit, but I’m okay with that and I’m taking it as a sign of secure attachment), so he’d be happy to be with his dad all day for ten days. And Jacob’s family in South Africa would be overjoyed to have William there and would take care of him all the time. Thus, I wasn’t too worried about them.

Saying goodbye was tough. I drove with them to the airport and went with them to the check-in desk to help with William and with the luggage. When they were ready to head to the gate, we said goodbye, and that was the hardest moment for me. William didn’t quite understand why I was saying bye bye to him, and he had a confused look on his face as they walked away, Jacob holding him in his arms. He didn’t cry, but he just kept looking at me over his father’s shoulder until they disappeared from view into the crowd.

I walked back to where we had parked the car. It was strange, almost eerie. I was now a single woman walking down the airport hallways, just as I had been ten years ago traveling back and forth to the US two-three times per year. Almost every time I traveled to or from Bulgaria to the US, I flew via Amsterdam, so I knew Schiphol airport so well. It was a weird throwback to be walking here again now first with my husband and son and then without them. Ten years ago, I had been a young woman walking down those corridors full of ambition, enthusiasm, and a desire to prove myself, while also full of fear. Today, I was there again, more confident and secure in myself, my husband, and my son, but also felt sad to have let them go and felt emptiness in the place of enthusiasm.

Fun, but strange

The first few days were tough. I missed them terribly–there’s no other way to put it. But I was also really excited about having time for myself! It had been forever since I had ten days for myself, and I was going to make the most out of them. I allowed myself to be sad when I felt sad, but I also did lots of fun things.

During that first weekend by myself, I went out to dinner with a friend, I did a tutorial for no-heat overnight curls (totally didn’t work for me, my hair was straight again within 2 hours), went for a hike in the sunny forest, and even went to the sauna (spa center) for a day! How cool is that?! I was supposed to go with a friend, but she got ill the night before (so unfortunate!). I still ended up having an amazing time! I spent eight hours going into saunas and swimming pools, attending meditation “classes” in the sauna, having an amazing dinner there, and reading my book in the relax area. I have to say it was a little bit lonely because Jacob and I used to go to saunas together and I missed him, but it was still wonderful.

As nice as my fun experiences were, I felt a bit lost. I felt like I was constantly forgetting something important, or that something was not quite right. I think it was an adjustment, and I needed some time to get used to the new situation.

Weekdays by myself

Monday came along, and I focused on work. Now that we’re allowed to physically go to work, I used the opportunity to be there in person. I got myself to get up on time, promptly get ready, and be at work by 9:00. This gave me a good three hours of focused work where I read papers and wrote parts of my PhD thesis. Frankly, I was amazed at the progress I was able to make in a week.

I realized why I was able to make this happen. When William is around, I get him dressed, give him breakfast, and bring him to daycare. As much as I love my time with him, this simply takes time: time that I was now able to use to write. Simple, but I’m glad I was able to harness this to make the most out of my time by myself.

Then, I had lunch with colleagues every workday. I’d forgotten how much fun that was! When working from home, I’d just keep reading papers or answering emails while I ate lunch. Now, I actually went down to the canteen and talked to people. Ah, the perks of ordinary life!

After some more work in the afternoon, I’d go home and exercise or cook–whatever was on the schedule for that day. Then, at the time when I’d usually pick up William from daycare, I went for a walk to the Goffert park. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous this past week, so these walks were lovely. I did feel a pang of sadness when I saw parents pushing their children in a stroller, but at that moment I was doing my own thing and enjoying it.

In the evenings, I’d have dinner, watch a TV series (how decadent!), shower, and read. Watching an episode of a series felt super luxurious to me because I don’t often do that. It was just something fun I did because I wanted to. I usually spend time with William in the evenings, playing with his cars, building puzzles, reading to him, and putting him to bed. I will be happy when he’s back and we can do those things together, but I also enjoyed the me-time I had now.

It was also nice to take uninterrupted showers. Usually, William comes in five times while I’m showering because he can open and close the door now, and he loves doing it. Then, we end up playing peek-a-boo since he thinks I’m hiding behind the shower curtain. That’s adorable, and I miss his little face! But it is also meditative to be able to take a shower uninterrupted, all by myself.

I should also say that I spoke to the men several times every day. They were doing excellent, and it was great to see how much fun they were having. I didn’t have to worry about them at all, and my mind was at ease.

It’s funny that this combination of simple routine and decadent me-time (watching Netflix) worked so well for me. A weekend packed with fun and relaxation was nice, but it was so out of the ordinary that I didn’t feel grounded and felt like I was forgetting something important the entire time. While on the days when I combined work, fun, and self-care, I felt the best. This just goes to say that we don’t need our days to be extraordinary; we just need them to contain the right ingredients to create the lives that we want to live according to our own design.

The last few days

I have my last weekend alone now (the men are coming back on Sunday morning). I have four social activities planned in three days, and I’m very much looking forward to them! At the same time, I’m looking forward to the arrival of my men. I can’t wait to drive to the airport on Sunday morning and pick them up! I’ll enjoy my me-time now, and then I’ll enjoy being with them when they’re here. And then I’ll get interrupted the whole time by “mama, mama, mama,” but that’s quite alright.