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#Chronic Illness, #Toddlers, and the #WAHM – Five Ways to Make it Work

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Every chronic illness has its flare ups, those moments when it gets worse and stays worse for days, weeks, or months on end. Some are brought on by potent triggers. Some are seasonable. Mine is a combination of both, and the last two weeks have been particularly bad. Toddlers, however, don’t care about the triggers, the season, or our illness. They just want mommy to play.

This makes things difficult.

Coping with a bad flare up by yourself is hard. Coping with it while working is even harder. Coping while working and raising a toddler may be one of the hardest tasks of all. Thankfully, there are a few ways to make it easier:

  1. Call on your family and/or friends for help. Do you have an older child in the house? Assign babysitting duty, even if you’re in the same room. (In fact, sometimes this works best if you ARE in the same room.) Ask your spouse or significant other to make dinner and/or take care of the nightly toddler tasks (bath, story, bed). Have you watched your neighbor or friend’s kid once or twice when they needed it? Now is the time to call in that favor.
  2. Simplify. Take a look at last month’s post on this for pointers.
  3. Take advantage of games and activities that require little movement on your part. My 19-month-old son, for example, loves to bounce – on pillows, on stuffed animals, on the couch, and on me. As long as I’m coherent enough to squeeze my ab muscles, I love this game. It requires little of me other than laying there and giggling at the right moments. Duplos, puzzles, cars/trucks, and story books are other good activities for days I don’t feel well.
  4. Nap when your child naps. It’s age-old advice for parents of newborns, and it applies equally well when you’re ill. You need the rest. Take it. Resist the urge to use this time to catch up on work. By resting now, you’ll up your productivity later. Guaranteed.
  5. Take serious advantage of your internal clock and natural rhythms. If you’re like me, this may mean waking up at the crack of dawn to make the most of your peak energy levels. If you’re like my husband, this may mean staying up into the wee hours of the night. Regardless, find the time of day when your illness is at its most manageable and you are at your most productive, and commit to showing up and working during that time. Even if it’s only for 45 minutes at 3 a.m.

Achieving the Elusive #MomVacation

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Mamas rarely get vacations. Even when we’re on vacation, we’re working. Whether we’re in Honolulu, Paris, the Bahamas, or Argentina, someone still has to get up with the kids. Someone still has to arrange dinner, and coordinate everyone’s plans. There are still diapers to be changed, young butts to wipe, sibling scuffles to referee, and various anatomy parts to prep for adult-time fun. More often than not, these tasks fall to the mom.

The only way to get an actual vacation as a mother is to go alone.

Yes, I can hear you laughing. But, I’m serious. We all need a break, especially us mothers, for whom every waking minute is lived in response to someone else’s needs.

But how do we get that break?

Planning. Planning. And more planning.

Last weekend I went on my first vacation in over two years. (It was a writer’s retreat, so it was actually a working vacation, but it was a vacation nonetheless.) I was a nervous wreck, but my family (including my still nursing 17-month-old son) did surprisingly well in my (49 hour) absence. While my husband is a wonderful father and all-around marvelous man, I attribute much of the weekend’s success to the level of effort I took in making sure everyone and everything was completely prepared.

For those of you who, like me, dream of regaining your sanity and reintroducing your self to yourself, here’s what I did:

  • Arranged for my in-laws to come stay and help my husband while I was away. (My son has only just learned to sleep through the night, and since he is still nursing to sleep I was concerned my husband may not be able to get him down. I figured having additional adults there would ensure he – my husband – got some sleep no matter what.)
  • Printed out a daily schedule for my son, complete with approximate nap and snack times.
  • Prepared and printed a toddler-wrangling handbook that included all the little tips and helpful hints I’ve figured out from being at home all day, every day with my kids. (Such tips included the details of the bedtime routine, including the specific wording of the vitally important bedtime song, how to tell when nap time should commence, what snacks the baby will actually eat, what to do – and how to tell – if he’s teething, and the proper dosage and timing for any necessary medications.)
  • Baked my son’s favorite muffins, so my husband would have plenty of easily prepared, toddler-approved breakfast foods. (Making food pre-coffee is HARD, y’all.)
  • Washed, dried, and put away all the laundry in the house (so my son’s pajamas and towels would actually be where the handbook said they were).
  • Cleaned the entire house so my husband wouldn’t feel any need to focus on anything except our son.
  • Packed the freezer with easy-to-heat dinner foods, in case everyone was too exhausted to cook.
  • Ensured we had plenty of diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, and other toddler necessities.
  • Left the address of the retreat on the fridge along with the phone number of the closet neighbor to where I’d be staying. (The retreat was at a farmhouse where there was no internet access and limited cell phone service.)

All that work might seem like overkill, but I can assure you it made it significantly easier to leave. It also made it much easier for my husband to handle life without me, and you know what that means: I’ll likely be able to leave again in the near future.

Score.