Work/life balance? Going great, thanks.

When we left off, I was beside myself about hiring a babysitter. Remember that? I was sure that 12 hours a week would give me enough time to get going again on freelance work, get some time to myself, etc. It seems fitting, then, that I would end my three-month blog-writing drought with a post about how it all worked out.

It’s harder than I thought.

Babysitter is and was great. But by the time she got here, I was typically so behind schedule that I’d spend the first hour extricating myself from the kids and taking a shower. Then, I’d have three hours left to return emails, make phone calls and write. Still, there was always, always a hiccup of some sorts. I did not budget in time for hiccups, like the cat vomiting on the carpet, or that midday physical therapy appointment that I’d forgotten about or a clogged toilet or the lack of food in the refrigerator. I often feel, at the end of the day, like I’ve barely outrun a pack of wolves.

And don’t even get me started on sleep. That’s a whole other post. What I’ll say is that pre-Evan, I used to do a lot of writing in the evening. But now, because Evan strongly believes that 5:30 a.m. is “good morning time,” Steve and I both stagger to bed like zombies at around 10:30. We don’t sit downstairs and binge on Netflix shows anymore. We do chores and then I try to switch gears and work for an hour but I usually end up staring into space or folding laundry.

I didn’t do any freelance work from mid-March to June. And I’m glad I didn’t. I was physically and mentally drained by the end of each day, just trying to adjust to having two active boys. But once Bini got out of school and I hired our sitter, I started saying yes to things. Just one story assignment at first. Then two. Then, I had to start saying no to things. Right now, I’m juggling three assignments and one that’s due in early December that I don’t even consider a thing yet.

I could always say no to everything and go back to being totally focused on my boys. But I can’t. I have to work. I am fortunate that I don’t necessarily “have” to work, but I need to. I love being a mom. I also love being a professional and using the talents I worked so hard to develop. I won’t give up working. Not ever.

And so, that work/life balance remains elusive. As a freelancer, I fear that if I say no, the work will dry up. On the other hand, I’m stressed and snappish and I’m not as patient with my kids as I’d like. I’ve also agreed to be a room mother for Bini’s classroom. (Oh, shut up.) It’s been a tough year for him, with lots of changes, and I want to prove to him that I’ll be there. That I’ll show up.

I can’t cut back on anything, not right now. My work ethic demands that I finish the assignments I’ve agreed to. My maternal love demands that I put the time in with my kids — watching the martial arts classes and ferrying Evan to speech therapy and practicing spelling words with Bini. My OCD demands that my house be somewhat clean at the end of each day. My need for personal time demands that I do some sort of exercise. I haven’t budgeted in any time for relaxation. It’ll just have to wait.

We hired a babysitter!

We did not hire Mary Poppins. But we did hire someone great.
We did not hire Mary Poppins.

Last week, I hired a babysitter.

You might be puzzled about why something so ordinary would merit a blog post. I’ll tell you why. My search for a babysitter was only slightly less difficult than keeping track of all the characters on “Game of Thrones.” (What about that season finale? Sheesh. Didn’t see that coming.)

Our longtime babysitter, Anna, came to us through a babysitting agency. She’s seen Bini through toddlerhood and into primary school, and she’s genuinely fond of him. She seemed like the obvious choice to get me some free time and Steve and I some much-needed date nights. But when I called the agency last month, they told me Anna was in Poland, and they weren’t sure when she was getting back.

I panicked, but then threw myself into the babysitter-search process. If you’ve never done it, you just don’t know. You just DON’T KNOW. It’s a nightmare.

I spent the next month asking friends for recommendations and posting on local websites and even signing up for Care.com. I refined my job description to include 10-12 hours of weekday child-minding, since Evan was doing so well and I’m sort of dying to start working a little bit.

I had plenty of prospective sitters come on like gangbusters: I’m super-excited about the opportunity, you seem like such a nice family and I really LOVE boys, etc. But most were ultimately flaky, and gave me references that were out of date, or blamed a “family emergency” for missing our meet-and-greet date. Others just weren’t a great fit, either because they seemed ill at ease, or because they hadn’t figured a babysitting job would require actual work.

We did find a fantastic young woman, but she was looking for full time hours. When the final candidate vanished into thin air, not returning calls or emails, I was in despair. It looked like a long, hot summer with no free time and no work for Mama.

It’s said that the darkest hour is just before dawn. Last Tuesday, I was moping about when the phone rang. It was Anna.

“Hi there!” I said hopefully. “Are you back?”

“I am back!” she sang. “I hear you might need me this summer?” I hired her on the spot.

Now, our happy ending isn’t the only reason I bring this up. Adoptive parents reading this post probably know The Rule about leaving your newly adopted child with a caregiver: Don’t. Not for six months.

I remember being at an all-day training last year and the facilitator (a social worker) talking about the importance of hunkering down and allowing everyone to bond. She further advised that it was best if one parent could take six months off to assist in that process.

In the same breath, this facilitator also told us that we must find time to take care of ourselves — get enough exercise and sleep, and to nurture our marriages. One brave soul raised her hand and asked the question we were all thinking: “How do we do that and not leave our kids with a babysitter?”

“It’s difficult, I know,” was the maddeningly vague reply.

I broke The Rule with Bini, leaving him with a sitter for four hours a week so I could run errands and drive by myself in the car. I didn’t end up in Parenting Jail, but I’ve always felt bad about leaving him after just two months. Did it affect our bonding process?

I do think that I’m a better mother if I have a little time to myself each day — to walk the dogs, get some exercise or go to the grocery store without two kids begging me for Gatorade and Pop Tarts. I come back refreshed and more focused, which is good for everyone involved.

Now, if Evan (or Bini, for that matter) had been fearful or inconsolable whenever Steve or I left the room, we wouldn’t have even considered a babysitter. We’re not barbarians. Lots of newly adopted kids are understandably terrified of new people or new environments, and in those cases it’s crucial that families keep their child’s world simple and small.

But my kids aren’t like that. Bini was always a sunny, engaging and happy child. Evan is joyful and easygoing, delighted by new things and new people. The only thing that scares him is our coffee grinder.

I asked Evan’s pediatrician in early April how he felt the bonding was going. “I think you know best how it’s going,” he replied. “He seems to be attaching really well, but you’re an experienced parent. What do you think?”

I got a similar response from the social worker at Children’s in Seattle, when we had our initial visit with the cleft team. Evan had blown away the audiologist, the speech pathologist, the geneticist and the pediatrician with his intelligence and rapid language development, so the social worker said the same thing: trust yourself.

It took a visit from our agency’s social worker to convince me that I wasn’t a horrible, selfish person to need some alone time. He came to observe and talk with us for our first post-placement report, and Evan alternated between sitting on our laps and running off to play Duplo.

“That’s the gold standard, what he’s doing,” the social worker said. “See how he brings you a Lego, and then runs off to play with it? That’s attachment. And that’s exactly what you want.”

So I hired a babysitter. She starts next week.