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I Don’t Know How She Does It: Jessica S.

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series I Don't Know How She Does It

This popular series continues today, with a new post from contributor Jessica Santina. We hope you’re enjoying getting to know our contributors through this series as much as we are!

-Jenny & Annie

What’s really funny about my doing a “I Don’t Know How She Does It” post is that I’m going on a full month of insomnia. As in, I haven’t fallen asleep and remained asleep, on my own (without the help of some Ambien that my doctor prescribed for me a couple weeks ago) since last month. So you wanna know how I do it? Without sleeping, that’s how.

Truly, the thing I’m learning about myself, just now that I’m in my 40s, is that I have a tendency to internalize my stress, and it manifests in very pronounced, physical ways. (Yeah, I know. “Duh.”) So when it comes to owning a freelance writing and editing business, teaching two evening classes at UNR, raising a four-year-old daughter, and trying to keep this house from falling down around our ears, I manage beautifully as long as I just don’t sleep.

I’m half kidding, of course. But my point is that I don’t really think any of us thinks we’re “doing it.” We aren’t self-aware enough to acknowledge that we’re “doing it,” and it doesn’t occur to us that others might think we’re “doing it.” We just do it.

I know that I’m luckier than most, in that I get to do what I love for a living–work for myself from home as a writer and editor. My daughter is healthy; goes to a great school with loving, attentive teachers; and is very well-behaved. And I consider it a blessing that I have never spent any time on Pinterest, and therefore don’t torture myself about the crafts I’m not doing with my daughter, or about the cute, animal-shaped cupcakes I’m not baking.

But I also suffer the same problems that most moms do. I compare myself to others way too often. I worry all the time, about everyone and everything. I find myself not being “present” with my kid enough, and then beat myself up about. Dammit, I wish I could be “present” more. I wish I made more money – can we get all the bills paid next month? What should I make us for dinner Saturday night? Do we eat pasta way too much? I need to exercise more. I pay to belong to a gym and I don’t use it. Should I quit the gym?

So that’s pretty much how I do it. Here’s a peek at my day-to-day:

What’s your work schedule like?

I am extremely fortunate that I get to manage my own schedule. I tend to take a walk around my neighborhood most mornings, from about 8:30-9:15. Then I make myself a smoothie for breakfast, check my email, and sit down to actually get some work done around 10:00 or 10:30. I eat lunch at my desk, usually, working straight through until the end of the workday (although I usually take a break about once an hour to get a drink or something). I teach two English classes at UNR this semester, so on Mondays, I call it a day around 3:00, get my makeup on, gather my things, and head to campus, where I teach from 4:00-5:00. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I leave home about 4:30 and teach from 5:00-7:00.

And here’s the little secret that self-employed people know: I’m lucky that I can take a Wednesday off if I want. But on the other hand, I often work evenings and pretty much every weekend. I actually haven’t taken a full weekend off, without working for at least an hour on something, since August. I have to force myself to make a standardized work schedule, to avoid that trap of working on what should be my days off.

How do you handle childcare?

My daughter goes to preschool five days a week, from about 8:00 or 8:15 until we pick her up, which may be 4:00 (if I feel like cutting out early) or may be 6:00, if it’s a tough workday. But she loves it. She goes to a small, family-owned school that is very homey and attentive to my daughter. We’re thrilled to have found it, and she’s made great friends there.

Where do you work during the day?

I have an office in the front room of our house. However, I actually work in my office about three days a week. The other days, I’ve taken to packing up my computer and heading to the Spanish Springs Library, where I get a TON more writing done because I’m not distracted by the stuff in my house that needs to be cleaned or the various calls I need to make. And sometimes I go sit at our big kitchen island, on one of the stools placed there, just for a change of scene. In truth, much of the time my desk is merely a place to pile my stuff.

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What do you like best about your current set-up?

The room that I call my office was probably intended to be a formal dining room or sitting room, but is now the perfect place for me to contemplate my writing as I watch out the front window the goings-on of the neighborhood, or to invite in the occasional client without traipsing them through our filthy house. As I write this, I’m occasionally glancing up at the big tree whose leaves have turned yellow in the front yard across the street. But I also love that I have a laptop computer, and therefore my office can be wherever I want it to be, depending on my mood.

What do you find so-so/tricky/hilariously bad about your current set-up? What would you change if you had a magic wand?

If we’re talking magic wand time, I’d hire myself an organizational specialist for the stupid amounts of paper piles now covering my desk. I would make it possible to hire a housekeeper to stay on top of the enormous amounts of dust that have accumulated all over this house, and the toilets that seem to never be clean enough. I go to other people’s houses and see these smart, organized, streamlined, decorative organizational systems – baskets and beautiful lidded boxes, neat shelves and refurbished armoires. My husband and I are not, nor have we ever been, crafty or handy in any way. Hence, the piles.

Do you have any time for yourself?

I make time. I’m selfish about my “me time” and am never willing to give that up, which I think comes from being an older mom. I think that I’m a better mom and wife when I have taken time for myself. I get my nails done every two weeks, I have writing days with my sister-in-law, I go to movies or dinner or shopping with girlfriends…and I’m the luckiest wife in the world that my husband not only supports that, but he encourages it and gladly gives me the time whenever he senses I need it. And each morning, when I take a two- or three-mile walk around my neighborhood while listening to my audiobooks, I am deeply restored. I recommend it highly.

How do you and your husband fit marriage into the balance?

We have two great babysitters that have been watching Olivia since she was two, not to mention my husband’s wonderful sister who lives close by and whom my daughter worships! So we try to go out on our own at least once a month, if not more, although lately it’s been tough because of my school schedule and my husband’s various work commitments that have taken him away on weekends and evenings. Honestly, this is an area where we could always improve, but I do think we make a great tag team in the crunch times.

Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Have you talked to other women about it?

Yeah, I have a good friend who has a 12-year-old son, and we talk often about how we don’t know how people with more than one child handle it. How do they afford daycare, or Christmas, or airline tickets? How do they have the energy for that much play, or to devote to the needs of more than one? I’m impressed by it, but can’t imagine it for myself.

Meanwhile, my best friend lives in Atlanta and is an attorney, so she works ridiculously long hours. I marvel at how she manages to do that every week, and how exhausted she must be. But we have the conversation all the time about how much we compare ourselves to others, and how that’s the surest way to be unhappy. I envy her financial security, and she envies those like me who have more time at home. I don’t think anyone “manages the juggle,” at least not without sacrificing, often in painful ways.

What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, obviously! But I would say that balance is essential to happiness. Because I’ve been so busy lately – with school and paper-grading, and my husband and I looking a lot like ships passing in the night – I’m off kilter, and it’s affecting me deeply. Life is too short to do work you don’t love or care about, especially when it eats up your days. And it’s too short to miss out on time with your loved ones. Find work you love, make time for your family, and make time for yourself, at every opportunity. I think that’s about the best you can do.

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About Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina
Jessica Santina’s love for writing started the summer when she was 11. She and her father created their own hand-bound book of poetry that they’d written together, which they called “Pop & Kid: Collected Writings.” It’s this love of the written word that fuels Jessica’s business today as a freelance writer, editor and university instructor, as well as spending countless hours sharing beloved books with four-year-old daughter, Olivia. When she has a few minutes to herself – a rare gem – Jessica loves to cook, read chick-lit novels, watch cooking shows, and take long, leisurely walks that allow her to come up with blog ideas. Check out her blog for words of wisdom on writing and more.

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