The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Some things I miss.

It’s safe to say that in the last four months, we have completely changed our lives. We’ve gone from an Engineer and a Stay at Home Parent in a small town/expat community in Brunei to a team of Campground Managers in a tourist village in rural New Zealand.  The Engineer’s Baby has changed from a little baby 2 year old to a full sentences and complex ideas full on Campground Kid. We have a new house, a new routine, new habits, new everything.

Overall, we’re really happy with the change. Working as a team for a common goal suits our little family, even though it’s occasionally pretty full on.  We love love love New Zealand, and the climate, and being back home. We’re doing well at the job, learning new things, meeting new people, and getting a whole new set of experiences for our toolkit.

But as with any change, even the positive ones, there are things I miss.

One of the big ones is my toddler/parent groups and all the great friends we met in Brunei. We had a great routine going, and having a more-than-full-time job really interferes with my ability to find anything similar here. I miss hanging out with my friends watching my kid play with her friends. I miss having the time to see our friends so very often.  I miss coffee mornings and play dates and the whole full-time parenting deal.

Our last time at The Jungle House

Our last time at The Jungle House

In the stay-at-home parent vein, I also miss just hanging out with The Campground Kid one-on-one. We still spend a lot of time together, and we still have a great relationship, but it’s just not the same as being the one at home with her all the time. In many ways, I wasn’t a great stay-at-home mum, and in many ways I enjoy this relationship more (not to mention I love that she gets more time with her Papa), but I still miss the little adventures. I miss moseying off to a playground, wandering around town holding hands, and our random little chats. We had a little coffee date last week while Campground Papa was doing some shopping, and it was a good reminder about how much fun one-on-one time can be. (Goal 1: do this more often).

Visiting the kittens at our favourite Brunei food stalls/playground.

Visiting the kittens at our favourite Brunei food stalls/playground.

I also miss having a housekeeper. We went from all the time in the world (apart from the whole toddler thing) and someone to clean twice a week to no time at all and no help around the house. Our house is small and the chores are pretty manageable, but boy was it nice to not have to worry about them!

And speaking of no time at all, I miss my afternoons off. In Brunei, The Engineer (now Campground Papa) had Friday afternoons off work, and that was always my time. I used to write or read or watch crappy TV or go out for a coffee or get a pedicure or a massage. It was a few hours a week, but it was a really important few hours a week. With the change in pace, adjusting to new things, and a busy holiday season, it just hasn’t quite found a place in our new routine. But I miss it a lot. (Goal 2: do this more often too).

Afternoon off; writing, coffeeing.

Afternoon off; writing, coffeeing.

One more: I miss predictable weather. I didn’t like the weather in Brunei much, but I really really liked it being the same every day. I didn’t have to wonder what to wear each day, or how to dress The Campground Kid. I always knew that it would be too hot, and the only variable was how much it would rain (which didn’t make too much of a difference to most of our decisions). Here, the weather is all over the map. Hot, cold, wet, dry, all in one day. I change clothes and shoes in the middle of the day, I have to carry layers, and I’m just a bit confused by the whole thing after three season-less years.

I’m not writing any of this to moan. Life is good, and we feel very lucky to be here. But writing this list has made me realise a few things that I really want to get into our routine as soon as possible. And in fact, the two goals mentioned above are perfectly covered by a tip that I heard on an old episode of  World’s Okayest Moms (which, as an aside, is great;  you should definitely have a listen, especially if you’re a mum)  The tip was to have a day or two a month, planned in advance, where each parent has half a day off, and half a day alone with the kid(s). This is not rocket science, I know. In fact, it’s just basic family routine stuff. But it’s family routine stuff that I think would be great for us all. Some time hanging with The Campground Kid without distractions; and some time for me to be me outside of work and parenting. Win win win.

Conclusion: change is hard. The grass really was greener over here for us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss that slightly-less-green Brunei grass and the lifestyle that went with it.

PS – I also miss roti and year round watermelon and iced coffee without all the trimmings and cheap takeaways. But I definitely don’t miss humid heat.