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Five to Nine

September 1, 2008

Every morning, we get up before 6 a.m., put the coffee on and get ready for the workday before dropping Jack next door at Big Mama’s House (that’s L’s mother, our full-time childcare provider) and driving 30 miles in opposite directions to jobs at two different Universities. After working eight hours, we scramble to get home, grab the baby, and get started on the rest of the day — dinner, paying attention to each other, and whatever else we can squeeze in — that is this blog’s namesake.

Quality Time is a tricky charge to tackle, and it’s our family business. We’re trying to pack as much as we can into an ever-shrinking time slot (weeknights at home) — maximizing production without minimizing quality.

Even before we became a trio, and we drove together each day to the same building on the same campus, we lived weekend-to-weekend. As habitants of a place that almost deserves a spot on Extreme Home Makeover, our “projects” involve plumbing, electrical wiring, large-scale landscaping, and plans for an addition. So with those quickies on the to-do list, after the commute to and from work and the push to get dinner on the table, most weekdays felt like a wash. We considered food, dishes and conversation to be a full plate.

Of all the awakenings we’ve had recently, finding even more time for homemaking in our new double-lives as already-busy go-to-work parents has been the rudest. We’re perpetually behind, on things that must be done — on the dishes, the laundry, the recycling, the mail sorting, the grocery run — and on taking it easy, which we also need to prioritize.

We excel at doing neither well. Instead, we polarize our goals. We tend toward frantically trying to accomplish too much —

D: Okay: Tonight, I’ll run by the store and go for a quick run right when I get home. Then I’ll mow some of the yard, and be inside in time to play with the baby and help with dinner. I’ll do the dishes, and I’ll pay the bills before we go to bed.
L: I’ll pick up the baby, feed him, wash the diapers and a load of clothes, get stuff ready for dinner, and iron everything I want to wear this week while he plays.

— then, true to form, accepting defeat and accomplishing about 2 percent of our goals. (A realistic set would need to accommodate my daily, lengthy chat with my mother; D’s Corona; our respective babytalks with Jack; his fits and diaper changes; my thumb-through of whatever catalogs arrived in the mail; D’s channel surfing/Web browsing; the many breaks we take to smile at and play with and coo at and hold the baby; and the long, low sighs and blank stares we both use to assess what’s left to do.)

These typical nights are often topped off by guilt and disappointment; on better days, we’re optimistic (read: naive) about Tomorrow.

Part of the challenge is that we have very different ideas about how best to tackle the world of housekeeping. D prefers to kick the evening out with a cold beer and some quality time with Wilco or the latest issue of Esquire. (If he chooses to play the guitar instead, let the record show that there will be no complaints from me: Jack loves to listen while I get some things done around the house, and I like to think of the acoustic-jam-dad effect as similar to Mozart’s) I, on the other hand, need to work first/relax later in order to maintain whatever momentum I’ve gathered from the day.

We’re hoping that a year-and-a-half from now, when we have a whole house with room for things, that having a dishwasher and being able to put things away will revolutionize our housekeeping. But I know we’ll always be looking for ways to keep it under control. For now, we’d just like it not to be out of control (there is a difference).

Suggestions are welcome, as are incantations, miracles, and other working phenom unexplained by nature.

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