As soon as Penny started school, I began to get the familiar sensation of weeks just passing by. For me, routine has always made time more seamless. School beginning also meant Harper and I had pockets of time to fill for just us two, and we’ve been busy creating our own routines.
A large part of my daily routine has always been exercise. What works best for our family now is that when Penny hops on the school bus, I head to the gym. Jonah hangs out with Harper. This will never stop feeling like a gift. Child free time to exercise is a game changer for my mental and physical well-being. Crossfit is also a great way to join a community. I unfortunately can only make it to established class times over the weekend right now, but on weekdays I take advantage of the open gym space. That said, the staff there is awesome and I’m beginning to sort out all the names and faces.
I’ve also finally nailed down a meditation practice by stacking it on top of my exercise habit. I always felt like meditation and me just weren’t compatible. It’s very difficult for me to slow my thoughts down. I tried a Headspace subscription, but guided meditation just put me to sleep. That said, as early as college I noticed that after a sweat session I possessed a mental clarity that came close to a zen-like state. It’s scientifically proven that exercise is a mood booster, but I’ve only recently discovered that this post-exercise influx of neurotransmitters is the optimal time for me to sit and reflect.
My practice is adapted from the mindright framework. For roughly a minute, I circle through things I’m grateful for. With the next minute, I picture someone dear to my heart and visualize all the things I want for them. With the third minute, I try and define what success would look like for me today. And in the final minute, I just let my mind wander, seeing if there is any message the universe wants to send me. I have a song I play that’s the perfect length. I can do this eyes closed sitting on the gym floor, but I’ve also taken myself outside to a bench and watched the wind flutter the leaves. I never would have believed that four minutes could have such an indelible impact on the rest of my day, but I’ve found this practice invaluable. Occasionally I’ll share details of what I hope for with the person I’m lifting up in my mind and that aids connection in a time when I’m physically far from many I love.
When I get home, shower and feed Harper, we still get at least two hours together to move at baby speed. She loves a good stroller walk, but is also really into cruising around our house and pulling up on everything. She’s a speed crawler and expert climber and I know she’ll be walking before the holidays roll around.
Screenshot of the monthly newsletter announcing my bookish blog post (link below).
We’ve found two groups to join that keep us just busy enough and serve all our interests. The first is NMSG, a support group for those new to mothering or new to being a mom in Singapore. Dads are welcome too. I stepped up to host the play session for babies at Penny’s school once a month. They have a beautiful infant drop-in space and it lets me check in with her teachers at same time. As a board member, I attend monthly meetings with Harper in tow and I wrote a piece on libraries for their blog. They have almost daily free or discounted events you can attend and many of them are appropriate for Penny too. We’ve also made some awesome friends from the group.
Together in song. Hidden from view? The stroller with a sleeping Harper that I’m jostling back and forth with my right arm.
The second activity we discovered together is Numama, a women’s choir that welcomes babies and kids. The spin on traditional baby classes here is that the moms get to collaborate and work towards a concert, while the enrichment for the kids is limited to listening to the singing and playing together. I’m a thoroughly mediocre singer, but there’s something beautiful about the communal nature of a choir, where my ability to roughly stay on note is transformed into something worth listening to because of all the other voices. Numama has been around for ten years, which means that members ages vary broadly and it’s been a great opportunity to meet amazing women.
The final community we’ve been drawing from is that of our condo. Between the pool and the two playgrounds on the property, getting outside “downstairs” is a part of our daily routine. Our closest condo friends happen to live one floor up in the adjacent building, which means our porches face one another. Though their children are a bit older, Penny is enamored with them and loves to scream “HELLO!” as loud as she can when she spots them across the way. It reminds me of something out of a children’s book and is a delightful perk of apartment living.
Penny threw a mini-birthday party for our condo buddy, who turned eight a while back. She spent hours decorating cards and party hats and we had to introduce them to a Jones tradition – the birthday chair.
In all honestly, something that appealed to me about relocating was parsing down the quantity of things in each day. Before kids, I loved my long days that began with a five am workout and contained twelve hours at work between classroom duties and running extracurricular activities. I’d drive students home and even watched the occasional tv show before sleeping like the dead from 8-4 so I was ready to do it all again the next day.
But when Penny was born, the hours in each day felt woefully insufficient. If I went to the gym, it meant I missed a morning hour with her. If I stayed for XC practice, it meant she was logging up to twelve hours a day at daycare. I clung to my Wednesdays off, our Penny-Mommy days, as a life raft, a way to navigate with the frantic pace of Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays without drowning. All the while, I knew I was so lucky to have an employer willing to give me that flexibility and the financial security to take a commensurate pay cut. As far as working moms go, I was incredibly lucky and unspeakably overwhelmed.
I noticed my colleagues all approaching the second kid milestone with trepidation. Even as well-paid teachers, day care costs can swallow up most of take home pay. Some people had a spouse who worked evenings. Some people chose to leave the workforce. Some waited till their first child hit kindergarten before having a second. All grappled with the same tangle of tension where work and life never ever actually feel balanced.
So in many ways, coming here felt like a way to press pause in lieu of solving that particular problem. When we return in two years, Penny will get to attend a wonderful public kindergarten. Sure, we’ll have to navigate multiple drop offs and pick ups, look into before and after care, sort out the same mundane logistics as countless American families. But I won’t have to add up the astronomical cost of two kids in daycare and subtract that from my take home pay and ask myself if I love my job enough to justify being away from both my kids all day for minimal monetary gain.
Here, Penny can be a part of a great school community and have open afternoons to spend with her sister and me. Here, we can allow for serendipity. Here, nobody expects you to do even this without support in the form of another person helping you tangibly. I swear, the first time Jonah took Harper so I could sit down at our table and eat an actual meal, my eyes filled with tears. I was used to a rushed dinner of whatever was edible in the fridge while standing at the kitchen counter. Feeding myself definitely wound up on the list of things I could get away with half-assing when so many others felt too important to do so poorly. Like many teacher-parents, I found ways to take short-cuts with myself so that my children and my students still got what they deserved from me. But this wasn’t a sustainable bargain indefinitely.
Humans tend to be far too adaptable for our own good. While this protects us in hard times, it can also allow us to habituate quickly to the good shifts in life. That hasn’t happened for me here yet. Maybe it’s because in my daily mediation, I’m constantly thankful for this time with my children, I’m constantly defining success each day as finding ways to connect with them in the way I can only when I’m also taking care of myself.
Our “solution” to the two kid, two working parent problem is hardly replicable. I am aware the opportunity we have is fairly extraordinary. But if there is one thing that I can confidently say to all the families with small children making it work in the states, it’s this: if you feel overwhelmed it’s not because you are failing or falling short. Its because you don’t have sufficient support. Now I can already hear the protests – “but I chose to stay at home so we can’t afford to get help” or “my family already helps by taking the kids two days a week” or countless other particulars that seem to suffice in America as proof that you’re lucky and shouldn’t yearn for more. But the truth is that we will always be yearning if we haven’t found a way to meet our own needs, our professional obligations, and our responsibilities to our kids. And I just want to tell you that there are places in the world where that yearning is solved systemically instead of thrown back into the faces of exhausted moms and dads as their burden to bear alone.