Now that I’ve been back at work for a little over 2 months, we’ve learned the routines and tips that help keep us afloat and sane. I think it goes without saying that these are just the things that work for us – they might not work for everyone. And we’re always happy to hear other tips as well! Lay ’em on us!
Hire the best help you can afford. We are very fortunate that we can afford a nannyshare. S’s family lives about 2 hours away, which is great for weekend visits – not great for having them watch Mabel regularly. In an ideal world, S’s mom would live nearby and watch Mabel during the week. Sigh. So here we are. Mabel shares her nanny with one other baby who is 5 weeks younger than her. We’re barely making ends meet each month, but it is worth every.single.penny. M, the nanny, is great with the babies. Mabel lights up every morning when M walks through our front door. And she has cried when M left at the end of the day. This makes it so much easier to leave in the morning, knowing Mabel feels loved while we’re gone. M also washes whatever bottles Mabel uses during the day and does Mabel’s laundry each week. Worth every single penny.
Meal planning. We have a giant whiteboard calendar on a wall of our kitchen. Each month, I wipe it clean and start planning our monthly menu and notating it on there. We’re trying to lower our grocery bills (see nanny costs above), so we’re just buying what we need and planning our meals ahead of times. We typically cook a meal on Monday, have the leftovers on Tuesday, cook a meal on Wednesday, leftovers on Thursday. And Friday is our “date night” so we treat ourselves to take out and watch a movie once the kiddo is asleep. It’s nice to look ahead at what’s for dinner. And we haven’t gotten sick of leftovers yet, which is nice. We also always have a spare “emergency dinner” on hand – for nights when things go haywire and it’s suddenly 9pm and we’re starving and haven’t done any dinner prep. These are usually frozen meals like Newmans Own brand – where you just open the bag and dump everything into a skillet for 10 minutes. Not the healthiest, but better than a bowl of cereal. Advice about meal planning: pay attention to the weather. When planning our September meals, I got carried away with fall comfort foods, but the weather was still stuck in summer mode. So mid-september, I followed the meal plan and made soup one day in the crock pot, not thinking about the weather. Turned out to be unseasonably warm that day, in the 80s! and there we were eating hot soup and sweating.
Food Prep is everything. Meal planning doesn’t help much if you don’t prep beforehand. Making a stir fry is much harder if you’re trying to chop veggies AND cook it. All while wrangling a kid. Or if you wait til the kid is asleep to start, it’s 9:30 before you even get to sit down to eat. Therefore, I carve out an hour or two each Sunday to prep for the week. This includes prepping my lunches. I might bake a few potatoes and make some mason jar salads. Or cook a big batch of quinoa and roasted veggies. I’ll chop veggies for all our weekday dinners. Then when it’s time to make dinner later that week, I just have to dump the ingredients into a pan and not waste time chopping. Or I’ll make a meal and freeze it Sunday, if it’s something that freezes nicely. Now that it’s cozy fall season, I’ve taken to baking on Sundays too. Pumpkin bread, corn muffins, and banana bread are quick and easy. And make our house smell lovely.
Crock Pot. I love our crock pot. We never really used it much until I went back to work. But it’s so easy! We’ve made veggie chili in it. Potato and corn chowder. I have butternut squash soup planned for next week. The crock pot is a must. I’m trying to explore beyond soups, so throw any cool recipes my way. It’s very satisfying to just throw a bunch of stuff in it and turn it on. And then come home to a nice-smelling home and a hot meal.
Night prep. I get up between 5:30-6:00 each morning. I’m pretty much a zombie until I leave the house for work. If I had to make my lunch, set up the coffee machine, pick out my clothes, or pack my work bag, I would be late to work every single day. It’s absolutely necessary for me to get everything picked out and ready to go the night before. It’s not fun. The last thing I want to do when I’m tired at the end of the day is get the coffee machine prepped and ready. Or pack my breakfast and lunch. Or lay out my clothes. But I so appreciate it when I can just throw my lunch in my bag. Or walk into the kitchen and immediately pour myself coffee. It’s made my mornings much, much easier.
Splitting the night shift. There’s no way I could pull night shift all by myself with Mabel and then go to work and function. So S and I take turns. Each evening is split into two shifts. One from 10pm-2am. And one from 2am-6am. We don’t always switch over at 2. We keep it pretty loose, based on how Mabel’s doing. But the important thing is that no one is expected to pull the night shift by themselves.
Syncing our calendars. I’m usually the one rushing home at5pm to relieve the nanny, but working in events means there are a few days a month that I have evening events. So we’ve found that me sending S calendar appts for those days really helps keep us on the same page. I went through and sent her appointments for all the evenings I have to work late until the end of the year. We also discuss it’s home of course, but now S gets a notification a few hours before she has to be home as a gentle reminder to leave work earlier than usual. So far it’s working and we’ve only had one snafu where the nanny had to stay 30 min late.
Routine. Routine. Routine. I know babies love routine, but I do as well. M has been great about getting Mabel on a schedule during the day. We care less about following the clock exactly than about making sure Mabel’s days follow a certain pattern. So her schedule might vary by an hour or so from day to day, but the pattern always stays the same – wake, eat, play, nap and repeat. This helps us as well. We know what to expect and because I know she’ll go down for her final nap right after I get home, I can squeeze in a few extra work emails during that time. Or start dinner. Or just zone out on the couch if it’s been a stressful day. Routine is our friend these days. I know the routine will change as she grows, but I think all 3 of us benefit from having a predictable pattern to our days.