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There’s a First and Second Shift for Working Mums

Walk This Way, Ottawa, May 2015

When I’m tired, my brain goes on overdrive. Details that shouldn’t matter suddenly bother me—why is it so dusty under the couch? I should vacuum here or better, move the furniture, change the vacuum’s belt and maybe the filter too. We need to buy a new carpet anyway. Fuck, I have a zit on my chin. And I need to pluck my eyebrows. And wax my legs.

What? It’s 10 p.m.? Yeah, I know, and…?

The logical thing would be to shrug off my brilliant ideas—or at least shelve them for later—and rest, but I’m obsessed with fixing stuff and clearing my plate. I’m the kind of person who needs a real sense of completion to finally relax. My clients love me because I tend to deliver projects way before the deadline. The issue is, there is always something to do.

So I’m constantly doing stuff.

“Aren’t you busy today?” I ask Feng, who is watching TV.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “Tons of work. But I’m tired. I need to rest.”

This attitude drives me crazy… mostly because I’m envious. He isn’t a slacker. He knows how to manage his workload and time. If he is tired, he rests and he will be more productive later.


I’m not.

I read an article recently about the “5 things you shouldn’t do when you are tired”. It was 6 p.m., we were at Chapters and Mark was jamming Thomas the Train into the tunnel. I was very open to suggestions—I was sipping my second cup of black coffee of the day. The tips? Don’t tackle work projects, take a break from your kids and don’t do social media (presumably because you may end up sharing something silly and regret it later).

Ah. Well, let me tell you, without Mark and without work, I wouldn’t be as tired. Unfortunately, pausing life isn’t as easy as it seems.

Now that Mark is in daycare, I have been introduced to the concept of “second shift”. For the first part of the day, Mark is at school and I work, run errands or do whatever needs to be done. Then, when we pick Mark up, another shift starts—playtime, snack, dinner, laundry, lunch box for the next day, bath time, and the endless bedtime routine. This intense part of the day is the scene of much drama because Mark is tired and so am I.

I multitask, like millions of parents around the world. I take the garbage out while the eggs are cooking, I go up the stairs with Mark’s dirty clothes and come down with the basket of laundry, I cut my nails while Mark is in the bathtub, I plug my phone into the charger and fuck, an email from work—Mark, how about you eat a chocolate egg while mommy is working for a second? No, I’m not unwrapping the foil, you do it, yes, slowly, I really have to reply to this email.

Part of it is my fault. Yes, I tend to do too much. I’m not humble-bragging—I actually wish I could let it go more and relax. I’m slowly learning to pick my battles but Mark is still in the “need a lot of attention” phase and freelancing means embracing short deadlines and a heavy workload at times.

I relax best once items on my to-do list are ticked off. It’s just the way it is.

It’s also true that I hate emptiness. It scares me. I enjoy down time but even then, I’m doing something—reading while sipping coffee, listening to podcasts, drafting articles in my head, polishing my nails or making lists. Let’s just say that I was never really good at savasana in yoga, where you can’t let your mind wander and have to pause your thoughts. Usually, I was thinking of what I was going to do after the class, which totally defies the purpose of the exercise and yes, I was feeling bad about it as if the instructor could read my thoughts (which she wouldn’t have done because presumably, she was enjoying complete relaxation).

“I’m tired!” I whine—this is my French side, Feng claims, I complain instead of finding a solution.

“Rest, then.”

Right. That.

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