We had two weeks out of routine this month. My partner and I swapped places in the first week – currently he works (and lives) away for most of the week while I hold fort at home. But he took holiday from work while I went away for a few days to study, meet colleagues, conduct research, visit the London Book Fair, and facilitate a translators’ network meeting. He stepped into my shoes of running the household – the usual rinse-and-repeat routine of meals, laundry, washing up, nursery runs, waking up early, and so on. I had a brilliantly productive week and created a bunch more work for myself to get on with! While we as parents swapped, the kids were not out of routine and everything went smoothly. Then we went and lived elsewhere for a week in order to visit family.
I won’t call it a “holiday” in hindsight, although I appreciate that sounds unfair – it rained almost solidly, Kid Two spent half the week oozing snot from his nose, eyes, and ears (impressive) and Kid One was a treated to a 24 hour upset tummy (possibly from the on-site restaurant where food was served perturbingly quickly). Most pertinently, Kid Two regressed to waking a couple of times a night and then at 5am for the day, in turn waking both parents and Kid One who is usually an excellent sleeper (they were sharing a room) and on top of that I’m a terrible sleeper at the best of times and had two insomniac nights lying utterly awake. Yes, I’m ungrateful to complain and sound terribly privileged. But it was exhausting. So far, so typical of any trip with preschool-aged children, I guess.
Because of our usual living/working/studying arrangements, my partner exclusively uses holiday from work for me to [bugger off and] do my PhD work. A friend remarked beforehand how unusual and perhaps lovely it would be to actually see each other while he was on annual leave! (Perhaps the first time in a couple of years?!) This hadn’t crossed my mind for long enough to dwell, thankfully, as the luxury of time together for a week was immediately muddied as we both bumbled around in survival mode and used evenings to try and top up our sleep.
I freely admit I hated losing PhD time after such a busy productive week mere days earlier. The change of pace was challenging. I didn’t officially schedule a “week off”. I was fantastically thrilled for the full day I got child-free for transcription, and the snatched hours on a couple of other occasions.
Our week “off” brought into focus that the kids and I have really been thriving on our weekly routine this calendar year so far. In fact, maybe I’ve been more productive than ever: drafting and redrafting three chapters since Christmas. I’ve managed trips to London, library time, supervision meetings, and research interviews with various professionals for my research, and had two conference paper proposals for later in the year accepted (woot!). My weeks have fallen into a pattern of two days full childcare (combination of nursery and grandparent help), plus every other Friday as a PhD day (when my partner has his flexible working day “off” ie with the kids) and usually a few hours – occasionally a full day if necessary – at the weekend. I feel like I’m on the right trajectory. It’s all rather invisible from the outside though as evidenced by someone recently asking me whether I was still studying. I’m able to say yes, despite appearances while at playgroup or the park.
It is perhaps the busiest we’ve been though, both fitting in full-time work – however you define that – around the equally full-time job of looking after kids, without full-time childcare arrangements. The pace has really picked up for me. And I feel this desperate pressure that we need to keep up the pace to ensure that I actually submit my thesis on schedule. Back to normal again this week and I’m finding it hard to hit the ground running. Trying to kick myself out of feeling paralysed by the pressure and instead glad to be back on track. The routine is in place and I need more weeks on than off!