Cooking and working out were always my go-to activities. It was “me time.” These were the things in the world of crazy kids, demanding work schedules, and ever-encroaching deadlines that I felt I could definitively control. Stirring a soup, seasoning a dish, sauteing vegetables — with every chop, sprinkle, and pour my anxiety would ease, my breath would slow, and my mind would clear. Working out was the same — with every mile came calm, every weight hoisted was another mental weight melting from my shoulders.
These things weren’t chores, they were escapes into my own little world. When I was channeling all of my energy into a dish or activity, suddenly all of my other worries and fears were gone — it was just the mission at hand.
Working out in the mornings was my time. Meal prepping was my time.
Now — I can’t even pinpoint where the exhaustion is coming from. I’m getting sleep thanks to breastfeeding while co-sleeping, but whereas I used to be a die-hard morning person I now struggle to get up each morning. We try to put all of the kids down by nine each night — so why the constant state of drowsiness?
I should be used to this and acclimated to the new baby by now, right? Who has time to cook each evening when there are multiple little people needing things that only you can give?
Each day I come home from a full day of working with other people’s children and my nerves are fried. If only I could go for a run, or get into my kitchen to bake — but the demands on my time are ALWAYS THERE.
The feeling of my brain being scrambled and fried is one that I just can’t seem to shake.
I can do it. I have done it before. I’ve got this…
But I don’t. Not really. I find myself looking back on the “before,” struggling with our new reality of parenting three boys versus two. I’m able to accomplish what I need to, but it seems so much more difficult here, in the “after,” to juggle everything like I did before.
By nature, I’m a busy body. The constant moving and rushing are normally comforting to me. I feel like I have a purpose. But the brain fog and lack of drive due to exhaustion is something new.
In my mind, I know it will never be like it was, and I lament that fact until my heart pipes up and says, “hold on — let’s re-evaluate this, shall we?”
Morning Schedule: Before Kids
5 a.m. – CrossFit: I went without fail. Dedicated to the cause, I was the fittest, and strongest I had ever been. This former asthmatic, clumsy girl had logged 3 half marathons and dozens of smaller races. I felt I could accomplish anything. Every once in a while if one of my boys were to wake up I would cancel my workout plans and bask in the glow of a good cuddle, but it was rare. I loved it — the next day it was off to my sweat session as usual. Working out was my time.
Morning Schedule: After Kids
4 a.m. — pump: This MUST always happen, lest the ladies spray unsuspecting bystanders while getting ready, or soak through multiple breast pads and potentially end up with an embarrassing situation at work… This must also always be done for at least 20 minutes to fully drain, as my new nickname is Bessie the MOOOmmy. (Just kidding, kinda…)
5 a.m. — work out: No more CrossFit. I often oversleep and don’t start pumping until 4:30 a.m., which doesn’t leave enough time for me to arrive to school on time. Who am I kidding: work out?! It rarely happens now. I run when I can, even if it’s only for 30 minutes but lately, I’ve been too tired to even do that. Snuggled with my little guy, feeling him nestled against me guzzling down milk fires off all the Oxytocin in my brain and without fail my eyes begin to droop and my mouth goes slack. Even while pumping, the hormone-induced coma starts to nod its sleepy head.
My mornings are now almost completely devoted to these cuddles with the baby, or conversations with my husband. With three little ones we rarely speak about anything other than logistics regarding the kids unless we purposefully put aside time apart from the kids to mentally reconnect.
What was once just my time is now our time.
Sunday Schedule: Before Kids
Meal Prep: Meals were crafted, carefully planned and presented. I loved the artistry. I used to painstakingly plan my meals. I would play with flavors and textures. How could I make my own version of this dish? How could I make this healthier? Let’s find a way to incorporate more veggies in a tasty way! I would take time to chop, saute, and baste, carefully matching my entrees to two different side dishes. Excitement coursed through me as I wrote down my creations and watched my family enjoy their meals. Meal prepping was my time.
Sunday Schedule: After Kids
Meal Prep, Kid Prep, Mom Prep: No longer can I take my time crafting and perfecting meals. Now it is all about efficiency — white rice cooked in the microwave for 90 seconds is still white rice, without the 20-minute stovetop process. I still get to be creative, but it’s more like: “How can I transform one main dish into at least three in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort?” The boys are curious about cooking now, too. Many times they’ll ask me what I’m making and give their own commentary on my choices. (Chicken? Yum! Why did you put trees in there??)
I’m also learning how to make use of my Crock-Pot more often. I don’t get to write down my recipes as much anymore, but most of the time I seem to remember what I’ve done in the past. If I can’t remember, the boys and my husband are always ready to make requests. The bottom line is, I’m still able to get my meals done. There is not as much pageantry, but they are still tasty and done!
Kid prep is a new thing for me. I have learned to live by this. If my meals don’t happen that’s a bummer, but I’ll survive. If kid prep doesn’t happen our house descends into the deepest reaches of an anxiety-fueled, frantic, paranoia. It’s like a crazed disaster. It seems like a small thing, but getting all the boy’s clothes (as well as my own!) set out for the week with the help of my trusty weather app makes ALL the difference.
The boys get involved in it too, and we spend time together figuring out specific superhero shirts (they can be picky), or onesies (for baby brother) that will be worn throughout the week. The boys have also stepped up their game in letting me know their opinions on my clothing choices as well. (Sparkles, Spidergirl!)
What was once just my time is now our time.
Sometimes it’s easy to romanticize that space in time that was the “before,” especially those times when chaos begins to reign in the “after.”
It’s a trap.
Yes, you could do so many things before having kids (or having lots of kids)! But just because you can’t seem to keep up with your idealized view of the “before” doesn’t mean that you are failing in the “after.” I have to tell myself this almost daily. Don’t let your pride burn the beautiful masterpiece that you are still creating. Look at all the great things you have made happen in the “after!”
The Feast is Just Beginning
Take off the rose-colored glasses, (those are so yesterday!) and look at what you’ve cooked up for the “now!” In a pinch of time, you’ve seasoned your life with so much more rich flavor. This is not a 30-minute meal — this is a meal that spans courses — you’re barely on the appetizer!
Temper the burning heat of a frenzied morning with the cool, smooth, softness of a new baby’s toothless smile.
Balance the salty tears of frustration with the sweet, airy mirth of your children’s laughter.
Cleanse your palate of the scrambled mess of those inevitable moments where nothing seems to be going right with the bubbly champagne sorbet of moments where all seems to magically be going right.