It’s 2021 and there’s a new normal

Billions of women before me have returned to work after having a second kid. Millions upon millions of women are navigating pandemic-era working with different configurations of chilcare/school runs or no childcare.

I am not alone. I am not the first. But the struggle is mine/ours alone.

Baby, being born in July 2019, turned 18 months in early January and my 18-month mat leave declared back in 2019 came to an end. Somehow, my return to work date arrive. Sometimes I briefly imagine if I was returning to work after a 12-month mat leave, back in July 2020! Back then, we had been sheltering-in-place for three to four months and everyone at my company had smoothly transitioned to working from home. Starting in May, we started moving about. Daycare re-opened for Kiddo to return and Baby was accepted. Neither went because it wasn’t necessary given I was at home (and a big factor being the emergency funding daycare received to keep our spot although we were not attending or paying). We had family over for Baby’s first birthday and I think Kiddo’s birthday dinner was held at the in-laws. When Kiddo did return to daycare in mid-July when Baby was over one year old, half the kids had not. As we prepared for the school year to start, daycare with 25 kids in each room – a total of 75 kids at the center – felt so safe compared to the unknown of elementary school where the student population is several-fold larger and Kiddo is amongst the youngest kids.

Thus, in September, Baby started in daycare part-time. Emergency funding had ended and daycare felt safe. The “risk” was if the younger toddler room is safe given their inability to distance. She took to daycare pretty much immediately -whew!

Meanwhile, the school year started and in light of parents’ concerns about kids returning to schools who had “upgraded” questionably, there was a Transition Option wherein kids learned at home and there were entry points for them in October, November and January. When I signed Kiddo up for the Transition Option, my sights were set on November entry: January was too late as I would be returning to work, whatever work was at that point; but if he was just unmanageable at home, I could send him to in-person instruction at the October date!

From September until November, the first new normal was three days with Baby in daycare and Kiddo would get his homework done. I went to the school on Mondays to hand in his work and pick up a new pile of work. I wanted to go for adventures with Kiddo but he had become a homebody (relatively) and we went on few adventures. Tuesdays and Thursday were more gnarly with Baby added to the mix but my sister had move to Vancouver in August and my goal was to see her as often as possible before I returned to work. Tuesdays were particularly bad because of 4:00 pm Mandarin class via Zoom. I don’t feel like NPY is appropriately supportive of Kiddo’s Mandarin class (or homework) and it falls on him to keep Baby out of our hair during the 90-minute class. If he was in the office, basically all hell broke loose during class and woe is me and the class if for some reason our microphone was not on mute!

When Kiddo started school in early November, we came up to our second new normal.

As the SAHM, I did basically 100% of the school runs. When he was going to be working from home, NPY took Baby to daycare next door on daycare days while I dropped Kiddo off at school and on non-daycare days, sometimes I left her at home with NPY or if he was headed into the office or I was meeting my sister after drop-off, I would bring her. I appreciated having the ability to transition to this new schedule without work being a factor. Daycare drop-off is any time so this set schedule on a daily basis was new as Kiddo only ever went to part-time daycare. No matter what Baby was up to for the day, I was responsible for both kids, preparing breakfasts and lunches. It continues to be challenging because we co-sleep in that in the morning we’re all on the master bed and half the time when I get up, it wakes up Baby. NPY abhors daycare pick-up so I was often doing it. Hopefully I had dinner on the go already. I liked bringing Evan to visit his daycare to pick her up. It was SAHM to the hilt with the kids out of the house but just for 6 hours and the juggling and getting things done and small whiff of me-time. But it seems like I could only count the number of those days on one hand.

Then, as if without warning, January was coming up and part of me panicked and wondered if I should quit! But then I’d be on the hook for the top-up they provided me and I’d go broke for that reason. I could not run away from what I didn’t know – working with two kids, in Covid era. My colleagues transitioned to work-from-home so they were used to it doing it since March. It was shiny and new to me. It really was such good fortune (can you call it that) that I didn’t need to return to the office. We settled into the new schedule which is as follows and is as such because (1) we have one car (2) NPY goes to the office every other week with his cohort (3) Baby is in daycare part-time (MWF) and (4) I shifted my work hours from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Side note: we initially expected the grandparents to watch Baby when she wasn’t in daycare and she’d have company with a cousin just six months older than she is – however between observing the grandparents pressure the daughter living with them to keep her kids out of daycare and watch two kids under 5 full-time and the emergence of a more transmissible variants, NPY didn’t bother to talk to his parents about watching her Baby-who-goes-to-daycare. They may have expected the ask up until the last moment and then we didn’t. We don’t know exactly how many other people are working and watching a young (less independent) toddler but we figure we aren’t alone, that managers are understanding, and we are two WFH parents against one toddler.

NPY drives Kiddo to school every morning since it starts at 8:55 a.m. (it was 9:05 a.m. before the holiday break) since he can start work later and it would be disruptive for me to start work and then have to do the school run or – worse – delay my start until after the school run. As a consequence, I run Baby to daycare on MWF shortly after it opens at 8:00 a.m. and get back to start work at 8:30 a.m. I think my best time for leaving with her and getting back home has been nine minutes! I worked it out with my colleagues that I take my one-hour “lunch break” from 2:30-3:30 p.m. and I pick up Kiddo who gets off school at 2:55 p.m. If Baby is at daycare, NPY has to pick her up before it closes at 5:30 p.m. because I can’t take another break from work. Daycare pick-up usually takes longer because a cluster of people come after work at the same time and the elevator capacity is limited to four adults or two families.

Each day I endeavour to wake up at 7:00 a.m. and that would give me time to brush my teeth, wash my face, maybe even shower, prepare breakfast and lunch, and lay out some clothes. Ideally, the kids don’t wake up until 7:45 a.m. to give me peace and also for their sleep. If it’s a daycare day, Baby is hustled into clothes, have something to eat and out the door. NPY has to do his part and get Kiddo dressed, teeth brushed and sitting at the table for breakfast. Tuesdays and Thursdays feel more relaxed because Baby is just staying home and I can concentrate on getting Kiddo ready and take the burden off NPY.

The earlier dismissal at 2:55 p.m. has been helpful to make it back home for Mandarin class at 3:30 p.m. – that 10 extra minutes is all the difference. I feel bad that because of my schedule, Kiddo doesn’t hang out after school but he doesn’t really know what he’s missing, he’s in Kindergarten, and things are subject to change, somehow, over time. On dry days, he’s can hang out a little – 15 minutes – with his friends and I can still make it back home.

Tuesdays and Thursday, I approach with some anxiety, especially Tuesdays. Baby was a dream the first week but after that, you just don’t know which Baby will show up – the whiny, crying, needy one, or the cheerful one who can play independently. Our lunches when she’s around are super simple and kind of an extension of what she’s eating. Because it’s novel, we’ve been getting take-out lunches when we’re both WFH and I note to myself that we thus spend a lot of time together that wouldn’t otherwise happen. And when NPY is in the office, I have super simple lunch like vegetables and hummus.

On the weeks NPY goes to work, he has to drop Kiddo off at school and return home to drop off the car for me. He takes transit which is pretty quiet these days (he also takes the newer line, exclusively). It’s a bit of run-around and he has to leave in time to pick up Baby before daycare closes.

For the half a year before returning to work, I started being conscientious of dinner time such that I am floored by how late dinner is if it’s not ready until 6:30! 5:30 p.m. is my target and I’m squirreling away tricks to prep a thing or two now and then, picking recipes based on the prep and the kind of day it will be. It’s just about surviving the Covid area and this new stretch with kids in two places (the latter of which will last four years, their age gap) and neither of them being too helpful to me.

We have Baby on the waitlist for a full-time daycare spot but why should there be an opening in her current daycare room unless a full-time friend leaves the daycare? Kiddo, who is almost exactly four years older, moved from the youngest toddler room to the older toddler (still under three years old) room in May 2017 when kids start graduating rooms so I anticipate Baby might move to the older room in May as well. And when one full-time kid vacates the older toddler (under 3) room, she will get the full-time spot. When she’s a darling, I don’t necessarily want her to be at daycare full-time. I love and trust the daycare and all but it seems like too much time in their care and such words as “corrupt” run through my head and I only mean it in the sense of language (too much English, especially since she’s there like 90 minutes longer than Kiddo was there on a given day). Anticipating that she will get offered a full-time spot in the spring, we think she’ll go back to part-time when she graduates to the next room. Kiddo moved to the next room when he was over 2.5 years olds, in March 2018, so I anticipate the same for Baby around March 2022 and by then, things will be normal such that grandparents will watch her. Between my longer mat leave and Baby being in MWF daycare (Kiddo started with TR daycare for a long time) and the pandemic, Baby has spend far less time with grandparents than Kiddo did. And I’m personally glad we were self-sufficient in that way.

So, that’s the update! When’s the next shift??

On this day..