Since transitioning from full-time professional to full-time SAHM, I've received the "so, what do you do?" question multiple times. Coming from friends and family, it's not offensive - mostly curious, I hope - but it is tricky to answer. Mostly because there are days when I reflect briefly on the day gone by and wonder the same thing. So, here's my comparison for the "working" world.
I no longer set an alarm clock. I have a living, breathing, screaming person to wake me up at her whim. And there is no snooze button. She only gets louder. This is OK when she's happy and cooing and exploring; this is miserable when she is awake at 4 AM and crying. Loudly.
I no longer have meetings and scheduled blocks of time. The minute she wakes me up, I need to stay at least a half hour ahead of her to avoid a meltdown. I take one minute for the only "alone" bathroom time I will have until Hubby gets home around 6 PM. While I prepare her breakfast (warming a bottle, wetting a dish cloth, pouring rice cereal, and opening a package of fruit or veggies), I am running through possible eat/nap/play schedules in my head and scanning for any potential distractions/interruptions/problems throughout the day and generating Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for what needs to get done and when it might work for her.
Now, let me pause here to insert the emotionally draining part of it all because everyone has one with whatever job they do. Think of one person in your office who you love to see, love to talk to, and never tire of being around. Now, think of the one person in your office who has earned the "most annoying," "most irritable," and "most needy" superlatives. These two people are with me. Always. And I'm in charge of teaching language and manners to both versions of her - from 5 AM forward.
We put the day in motion. Her attention span is getting longer, but it still would only compare to a gnat. She moves now, which is great fun (and amazing!) and great danger. She plays - I'm responsible for crisis aversion. One step ahead with plugs, fireplace hearth, drapes, cords, cleaning supplies, dirt, friffles, toy parts, and exhaustion. I'm also Entertainment Coordinator. When she tires of scooting and crawling, we move to the walker, or Jenny Jump, or stand-and-play, or into a different room.
I'm still not dressed, nor is she.
We move to the bathroom so I can brush my teeth and wash my face (my shower is relegated to the evening so I can have peace of mind) while she plays in a "new" location. She is with me when I go to the bathroom so I can keep an eye on her. Occasionally this combination creates awkward moments of attempting to steer her from trouble and not messing the floor. All in a day's work. When I'm moving about the house doing chores, she's with me then too - just in a heart-stopping, ear-grating, melody of whine.
Nap time. Diaper change (complete with a small fight until we bust out our stuffed "llama, llama, diaper drama toy") and anywhere from 15-45 minutes of fighting (can be shorter on days when I just leave her to cry it out - rare, but necessary some days). Monitor is on and now goes with me everywhere. I have no idea if this will be a 45-minute nap, an hour-and-a-half, or longer so everything must be done in manageable chunks and always at a stopping point.
We "schedule" out-of-house time every day whether its for a walk, grocery shopping, lunch with a friend, story time at the library, or a playmate. This entails, dressing self and child. Where I used to spend at least half an hour coordinating an outfit and accessories, I can now pick an outfit from my uniform (jeans and a t-shirt) and be dressed in under 2-minutes (that's about how long it takes for her to go from seated on my side of the bed to out the door. Dressing her takes at least 10 minutes - at least. Now that she's proficient in rolling over (good luck with the diaper), grabbing things (good luck with the shirt), kicking her legs wildly with unrestrained glee (good luck with the pants - and keeping a straight face), and taking off her socks (good luck with...ok, you get the point).
In order to go somewhere I must be sure to carry with me at all times: diapers, wipes, extra outfit, changing pad, hand wipes, boogie wipes, pacifier wipes, pacifiers, a couple toys, her sippy cup, a snack, an extra bottle and clean nipple for her and pens, coupons, phone, keys and wallet for me. Anything I do I must plan for doing with one hand or coordinating so that she's in the car seat (potentially another struggle) this includes: grabbing Starbucks, taking or picking up the dry cleaning, and parking next to a shopping cart dispenser when we visit stores. Consider also, that she is with me for all appointments. So far, Little E has visited my dentist, a dermatologist, my gynecologist, and my general care physician. She will eventually join me at the eye doctor as well. I had my teeth cleaned while she sat on my stomach. Remember those two people you thought of from your office: contact and connectivity is constant.
I am also required to correctly identify and manage questionable smells. This has led to her being changed in the usual suspect places: Target, Moes, gas stations on road trips, etc. This has led me to revert to my 12-year-old self and giggle in Verizon when the unmistakable odor of a giant poopy diaper wafted right up to my nostrils and nearly planted me on my back side. When moth balls roll for cover, it's bad. My most creative change has been while she was actually in the car seat in the stroller and we were in a bathroom stall. She was practically in a V-formation for the entire undoing and not happy about it....oh, of course it was a blow-out, too, so no resting her tushy down to grab more wipes - hold the baby up, wipe, dispose of wipe, get more wipes, keep clothes and baby from touching diaper, wipes, dispose of wipe, get more wipes, remove diaper (put it where?), still holding baby, wipe some more, get more wipes, put a fresh diaper under her so she can relax...let's see, that's one, two, three, at least four hands needed. Oh, it was fun. These are the most common smells but certainly there are others - urine, vomit, old baby formula, old baby food, anything rubbed on her face from crawling on the floor, etc.
And we're not even at noon. Want me to continue? I haven't even started the run-down of household chores.
The question is not insulting, but it is hard to explain. Everything takes 2.5 times longer, requires 2.5 times more stuff (which you have to lug around), and there are at least 2.5 more things to be concerned about.
Still, I have it good. My husband is supportive. We know each others' limits and can support, laugh, and remind each other to enjoy each phase while looking forward to the excitement of the next. I love to see Little E light up when daddy comes home. I'm the lucky one.
And, despite a momentary meltdown Sunday afternoon (which was triggered by a neighbor's dog that might end up at the pound if he/she doesn't learn to ZIP IT), it's a lot of fun. But don't ever make the mistake that I did before I had a kid and assume that its a reasonable amount of independent free time. There is never a vacation and never a sick day. And in these early years you don't get to see too much if it really matters - you have to be the long-term CEO strategist as well as the Steady Eddie doing the details. There's a lot of faith and trust and humility involved. In the end, the greatest rewards are watching a little person go from no clue about what's going on to impacting her world; and watching you and your spouse develop as parents and realize that together you can do a lot more than you realized and you really do have it good.