Okay Working Parents, Let’s Triage This

Our society tells us that we must be perfect parents.  Both spouses are expected to work full time, shuttle the kids between after-school enrichment activities, help with homework, read bedtime stories, smile through it all, and then fall exhausted into an overwhelmed stupor called sleep each night.  Then we must rise at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.  Sound familiar?  Wait, that was life before COVID-19.    

One month into our state’s stay-at-home order, which happens to coincide with a cold and dreary Connecticut spring, I was ready to pull my hair out.  I still had to do all the above, much of it as a “Zoom cameraman,” AND teach elementary school, AND tend to the emotional needs of children who desperately miss their friends . . .  F**k that.  

Rather than yanking out large clumps of hair and going bald, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it is impossible to do everything – those who say that they are on Facebook are LIARS – and I went into working-parent triage mode.     

Take care of the gunshot wounds first

Triage happens when you visit the emergency room—a sadly apt analogy these days.  Those who have gunshot wounds see the doctor right away; those who need a couple of stitches can wait for hours on a busy day.  Take care of life’s gunshot wounds now; the stitches can wait. 

Everyone will have a different calculus, but for most people the “gunshot wounds” are doing a good enough job at work to remain employed (if you’re lucky enough to be working these days). Taking care of your kids’ and—this is important—your own emotional needs is also at the top.  Submitting completed assignments to teachers in Google classroom is secondary, particularly if the process creates extra work for parents without a countervailing educational benefit for the student.  At the very bottom of the list is folding laundry. Your pet doesn’t care if your clothes are wrinkled.  If it makes life easier, eat all your meals off disposable dinnerware to cut down on chores.  In short, cut any and all non-essential corners that you can.  Lastly, I’d put obsessively watching the news at the bottom of the triage list—stay informed, but limit it, or you might curl yourself into a ball and stay in bed until there’s a vaccine.  

Keep happiness in the mix

During this time of sadness, depravation, and isolation, it’s easy to feel guilty about having fun.  Don’t. While we are in a time of mourning for sure, making ourselves and our families as happy as possible keeps us sane and allows us to endure this seemingly endless marathon. Keeping our spirits up will also allow us to be kind and supportive of our families, friends, and communities.  

I love being outdoors, so if it is a beautiful day outside, my kids and I go off the lesson plan and take a field trip to a nature trail, or we collect shells on the beach and I “teach” biology.  When the weather warms up, I look forward to boating and spending even more time outdoors.

The vacation may have been cancelled, but don’t cancel your time off

For spring break, we had planned to go to Disney World and had rented a beach condo and (of course) a boat in Florida. It was a long-awaited splurge after several difficult years.  Obviously, it didn’t happen.  Many families just cancelled their trips and slogged through April break working from home without doing anything fun as a consolation prize.  We still took time off, which has been a game-changer.  We took long drives and spent every possible moment in nature (albeit far from other people). We cooked ourselves decadent meals, watched movies, and tuned out work, school, and the news.  Life felt somewhat . . . normal.  Moments of normalcy are so rare now. Grab them whenever you can.

So, these are my two cents as a veteran far-from-perfect working parent.  Take care of yourselves, stay safe and healthy, and grab moments of joy when you can.  We’ll all get through this together.             

The Daily Daycare Dash

You’re stuck in traffic running way behind schedule.  Your palms start to sweat, your heart is pounding.  Is it because:

  • (a) You’re late for your best friend’s surprise birthday party—the surprise will be long over by the time you get there?
  • (b) You’re late for a flight at a busy international airport with massive security lines?
  • (c) You’re late for an important court hearing (you’re the lawyer or the litigant)? or
  • (d) You’re late for daycare pickup?

For most working parents, the correct answer is (d).  

  • Your best friend will forgive you; you’ll laugh about it together one day.  
  • I’ve cajoled my way to the front of TSA lines at airports—most fellow travelers and TSA agents will take pity on you in those circumstances.  
  • And, despite the formidable black robes, most judges will exercise leniency so long as you have a decent excuse and don’t make a habit of it.  

But daycare providers?  Forget it. They are merciless.  Many daycare contracts state that you will be charged $5 to $10 per minute  for late pickups, no exceptions.  And then there’s the guilt factor.  You walk in to find your sweetie-pie sitting in the director’s office looking forlorn.  “Mommy, did you forget me?”  

And, joy of joys, there’s an opportunity for working parents to experience this road-rage-and-parental-guilt-inducing stress Monday through Friday most weeks of the year. 

What’s a frazzled working parent to do?

For parents with long commutes, try finding a daycare close to your workplace.  That removes the traffic/commuting-time variable, although you may be forced to listen to the Paw Patrol theme song repeatedly while driving in traffic, which is its own form of torture.  

You can also hire one of your child’s daycare teachers, put her on the sign out list, and pay her to sign out your kid and play with him outside on days when you’re running late.  It will cost much less than $5 to $10 per minute.  

If you have family members near your daycare who are willing to help in a pinch, you truly are blessed—thank them profusely.  

And when, despite your best efforts and a few creative interpretations of how long that light was yellow, you arrive ten minutes late, do what your child does when she’s in trouble.  The sad eyes. The apology and explanation. The promise, “I’m usually so good about picking her up on time. This won’t keep happening.”   

Sometimes even daycare providers will relent.

Easier Thanksgiving Apple Pie

In my family, Thanksgiving and apple pie go hand-in-hand.  As the family baker, my job is to get dessert on the table for the big meal.  (When I retire from the law, I’ll open a bakery called the Torte Lawyer, featuring . . . you guessed it, “appeal pie.”  We’ll also feature subpoenaed brittle . . .)

All joking aside, however, I’ve developed some techniques that make apple pie baking go as quickly and smoothly as possible, which is crucial if you’re juggling kids, work, and holiday travel.  The first trick is this marvelous contraption:

It cores, peels and slices the apples in one easy step, and the kids get a kick out of turning the handle and collecting the apple skin ribbons that it produces.  Mine was manufactured by “Back to Basics,” but any heavy duty cast iron/stainless steel device will work.

My second trick works for all types of pies and tarts.  Roll out your pie dough on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper.  That way, you skip having to scrub down the countertop before and after you roll out your dough.  Plus, when it’s time to transfer the dough to your pie dish, you can simply pick up the paper and flip it upside down into the dish.

And, yes, technically the photo is of a tart, not a pie, but the same concepts apply either way.

Have a happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving!


Combine and Conquer Those Snow Days

Cooler weather inevitably leads to the dreaded snow day.  I’m not talking about those Nor’easters when everything shuts down and the whole family gets to curl up at home with hot chocolate and a roaring fire.  I’m talking about those days when school shuts down (or is delayed) for 2” of snow, you have a 9:00 AM meeting with a client, and your spouse has a meeting at the exact same time.  In other words, those days that send two-career families into a frantic frenzy of rescheduling, lining up child care, and arguing over whose meeting is more important—all before that first cup of coffee.

Here’s one trick that saved us time, money, and sanity.  We banded together with a small group of parents, and we switch off watching our collective group of kids when school is cancelled.  One parent watches all the kids while the other parents work, and on the next snow day, a different parent has kid duty.  Each parent misses one day of work for every six snow days, and because the kids play together, the parent who is on kid duty can usually work from home.  Plus, with six parents in the mix, it is unlikely that everyone will have an important 9:00 AM meeting.

Not only does this arrangement save our collective sanity, it also allows each parent to conserve his or her vacation time/PTO.   Snow days and sick kids used to eat up all my time off.  Now I can use my PTO for fun activities—such as vacation days or . . .  you guessed it, boating.

To give credit where credit is due, this plan is the brainchild of our friend who is a game theorist—thank you, Alex!

Semi-Takeout for Dinner

I prefer to serve home-cooked meals to my family, as opposed to take-out.  It’s generally healthier and it tastes better.  It’s also a huge money-saver.  Buying prepared foods on a regular basis will eat into your budget (no pun intended).

But—come on—no working parent has time to cook a balanced meal every night!  This is especially true when you know that you will walk in the door to the sights and sounds of hangry children.  That always turns cooking dinner into an episode of Chopped: “5 minutes remaining on the clock” . . . until the toddler melts down, which is much worse than taking a drubbing from top-rated chefs.

So, some evenings, I compromise and get semi-takeout. You can cook the protein at home and get take-out for the veggies and carbs.  This works especially well with Chinese food.  I’ll stop by my local Chinese take-out restaurant and order a large rice for $2.00 and a veggie side-dish.  Then all I need to do at home is make the main dish, and I don’t have to clean the rice cooker—another huge time-saver.

Time Saver: It’s Kind of, Sort of, a Business

My husband and I joke that running our household is a second job.  But it really is, and we run our home like a business.  We keep a calendar with all the family events and nights when one of us needs to work late.  We send each other Outlook appointments.  We try to sit down and plan for the following week each weekend—each night’s meals, who is picking up the kids after work, what we need to buy for the following week.

We function as co-CEOs (although my husband would claim otherwise).  He is the family CFO, as his real job involves budgeting and working with numbers.  We both handle HR, which mostly entails dealing with cranky, disgruntled children (“Mom, why can’t I have the last Klondike Bar”). I handle procurement, and I also serve as the family’s General Counsel—that role is not always necessary, but it’s good to have one on board, just in case.

It sounds silly, but by dividing up tasks and areas of responsibility between us and doing a little advance planning, things run much more smoothly, which saves both time and money in the end.

Time Saver: Outsource the Upkeep (Part 2)

Most two-career families can’t pay someone else to do everything for them.  We’d go broke.  I try to outsource strategically.  Shopping online for kids’ clothes, kitchen equipment, and gifts, instead of wasting a Saturday or Sunday running from store to store, is usually free. During the week, when I realize we need something, I note it in my iPhone.  Every so often, I order it all on Amazon instead of spending my weekend running to three different stores with a toddler in tow.

When deciding what to outsource, I do a quick time/cost/aggravation analysis.  We enjoy cooking so we don’t spend a lot of money eating out.   When I garden, however, I invariably contract poison ivy . . .   And cleaning the house?  A friend once said, “I could pay for marriage counseling, or I could pay for a housecleaner; I’d rather have a clean house.”  I’d have to agree on that one.

In any event, find out what works best for you, and don’t try to do everything yourself.

Time Saver: Outsource the Upkeep (Part I)

I listed this as a time-saving tip, but I’ve been told by friends who own boats that it also is a money-saver.  I’ve always loved boat rides, and for several summers now I’ve broached the subject of buying one.  Last summer, we inched forward from “are you kidding me?” to “maybe kayaks” – it was progress, but not quite what I had in mind.

Last fall, after we returned from a wonderful trip with friends to Martha’s Vineyard, I set my mind to solving this little problem.  I did some internet research and discovered something ingenious:  Carefree Boat Club.  We’re members of the Southern Connecticut branch.

It’s essentially Zipcars, but for power boats.  You reserve a boat online, show up and go, and hand back the keys when you return to the dock, without having to clean or fuel the boat when you’re done.  Although we’d never operated boats before, the club took care of that too—“Boater’s-ed” was included.  And we can use boats all over the country when we travel.  We took a boat out of Fort Pierce, Florida this spring, and I can’t wait to try the Seattle location in August.

This summer, I’ve tried to go boating at least once a week.  Some days it’s my “me time,” other days we go as a family to explore new places.  When the Long Island Sound is calm, it is serene; when there are waves, it’s an endorphin-rush of a roller coaster ride. Because they get you in and out fast, I’ve managed to go boating even on days when I’ve had only two to three hours to spare.  That’s the same amount of time it takes to see a movie, and I’ve wasted longer amounts of time on social media/the internet (including on blogs like this one- but, seriously, thank you for reading this).  I’ll post more outsourcing tips later, but this one definitely is a keeper.