So I'm back at work.
I got my daughters daycare sorter and I put it out to the universe that I was ready to go back to work, on a freelance basis.
It was late November so I was expecting (as one would in the world of production), that it was all starting to wind down for the year. I’ve had a couple of years with quiet November and December’s and I was okay with that prospect. The two days a week in daycare gave me a bit of time to update my CV, finish my showreel and work on my website. Maybe I could do a bit of networking and try and pick up a couple of smaller jobs to tide me over until everything starts up again in January.
That plan worked for me. I was happy with it.
I got a message about a one day shoot. Low key, helping out a production company I’ve worked with before as a PM on their music video shoot. It was a Saturday so that was perfect for me. Daddy daycare. I said yes.
Then on my daughters second day at daycare, I got a text from a Producer friend to say she’s been asked to do a job but she wasn’t available so she recommended me. Less than 48 hours later, I was driving to Sydney on my way to a 4 day gig for a production company I knew of but had never worked with before.
It didn’t stop there. That afternoon I got another call. Another recommendation from a different Producer friend. This one was needing a Fixer for an overseas crew coming in to Sydney. Unfortunately the days clashed so I had to say no. It sounded like a bit of a handful production. I’m glad circumstances meant I had to turn it down.
But clearly the universe had other plans for me and my child free, pre Christmas downtime.
I knew that the juggle is real. And I hadn’t stopped to think what it meant. How do we juggle daycare drop off and pick up with us both working in Sydney? How do we juggle only having one car with a car seat? How do we juggle the days she isn’t at daycare but I have to work? How do I emotionally deal with the fact that I am spending so much time away from my baby? (Even though it’s only temporary).
The first day was the absolute worst. I was stressed and anxious all day. I cried on the train to the city. I called my husband every 5 minutes (or so it seemed) from 3pm until he left the office to pick her up at 4pm. I cried when I heard he was late picking her up from daycare because the Friday afternoon traffic on the M1 was atrocious. I didn’t cry but I came close when I had to catch two trains and it took me nearly three hours to get home because the strong winds had blown a tree branch onto the tracks at Hawkesbury River.
By the time I got home I was anxious, upset and feeling my first real case of the Mum guilts. I poured a big glass of wine (she’d already had her formula and was in bed so no worries there) and ate toast for dinner.
But after a goodnight sleep, and on the drive to the music video shoot the next morning, I formulated a plan to make this juggle work. Yes, the gig is only temporary but I’m a planner, I’m all about logistics (I’m a Production Manager after all) and this was a problem I could solve.
Here’s how I did it:
Step 1: Find your village
The old saying “it takes a village” is so true but these days we’re so insulated and so focused on trying to be supermum and super employee that we often don’t think to ask for help and instead try to juggle it all ourselves.
In my case, my village came in the form of the grandparents. We were really lucky that we could co-opt the in laws into a day with PJ. They traveled up to stay the night before so we could take off early in the morning. And they were there when we got home the next evening. I found some time to pre-cook a dinner so my mother in law didn’t have too much extra to do (other than put on some rice). And it was fortunate that the second night was my husbands birthday so not only did we have an excuse for takeaway, they also got to spend his birthday evening with him.
Don’t be afraid to ask Grandparents to help. Chances are they may be at a loose end and itching for the chance to look after the baby. Same goes for older siblings and aunties and uncles.
And I’m not against the idea when PJ is a bit older, of seeing if any of the Mums group or daycare Mums want to do the occasional child swap. Who knows? Maybe their Tuesday off is what could get me out of a bind and my Friday off saves them from missing a deadline?
Step 2: Be Prepared
Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep. That was my second part of the plan and my first weekend back at work I took a few hours out of Sunday afternoon to cook some food to at least start off the week.
I made 3 lots of lunches for me, cooked a meal for the night my in laws arrived and slow cooked 1kg of bolognaise sauce which I split up into 3 batches for freezing (and have since turned into a savoury mince, a shepherds pie and a lasagne).
Our social life and weekend schedule doesn’t always allow for this but this time it did so we made it work in our favour.
Step 3: Throw money at the problem
Hubby and I worked out about two days in that the car juggle and swapping depending on who was doing drop off and pick up wasn’t really working for us.
So we invested in a car seat for the second car. It was going to happen eventually but my going back to work brought the timeline forward a little.
What it’s managed to do is take the pressure off who has which car. Now if we both need to drive for some reason, it doesn’t matter which vehicle we’re in. It also means if one is on the train and one is in the car, if there’s some kind of major issue on the roads, and someone can’t make it to daycare in time via the motorway, we can still get there as we will have a car with a functioning car seat at the end of the train line.
Both of these things are a big weight off our minds going forward.
Step 4: It doesn’t hurt to ask
When I enrolled my daughter in daycare, the enrolment officer mentioned something about casual days to me. I paid little to no attention but suddenly when I was offered work in her first week there, casual days seemed very attractive.
So I asked if they could accommodate us that first day. And they could.
Of course it helps that the days I’ve generally needed extra care have been later in the week when they’re not as busy but for the past three weeks, our little two day a week daycare goer has been going three days.
It also doesn’t hurt to ask work if they have some flexibility. After my initial few days, I was asked if I could extend until the Christmas break. I said yes but when I actually had to sit down and work out how we could manage this in and around daycare, grandparent availability and follow up doctors appointments for PJ, it seemed too hard.
I was torn between not wanting to let the job down but also not being able to make everything work and also, more importantly, needing to put my daughters health follow ups first. So I asked if there was any flexibility with it being full time and it turns out there was.
So what this has meant is I’ve been able to do 3-4 days per week for a few weeks (with the occasional phone call from home) and with my Mum about to come down for Christmas as well, I can give another full 5 day week.
But if I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten.
So the juggle is real and it doesn’t always fall into place the moment you want it to. I foresee teething problems every contract I take for now into the foreseeable future. But hopefully I’ll learn something new every time and adapt our habits and routines accordingly.
Photo Credit: Me – Behind the Scenes of the Music Video I worked on with Filthy Look Films