Deb Perelman writes the mouthwatering blog Smitten Kitchen, featuring delicious recipes and heartfelt, funny thoughts on food and life. Happily for us, she’s also finishing up a cookbook! She lives in the East Village with her husband and toddler son. Here, she tells us how she attempts to juggle everything...
1. What's your work schedule?
My husband and I switch off nights/mornings with Jacob, but lately he's had to leave for work before Jacob is done chatting animatedly with the stuffed aardvark in his crib, so I'm on morning duty. Not that I terribly mind. I get him dressed, make and help him eat his oatmeal, read some books with him, then get myself ready to start my day (I work from home but insist that I'm showered, dressed and able to be seen by the world, or at least a barista, by 9 a.m.). Once the babysitter arrives, it's off to the races -- literally, because I have soooo much more to squeeze in than I can ever finish in the day.
2. How do you handle childcare?
I work three full days and two half days a week. We have the best babysitter in the entire world. When I take him to the park or library, almost every time a complete stranger will come up to me to gush over how they've seen them out together and how great she is with my kid. It never gets old.
3. Where do you work during the day?
In the kitchen or holed up in my bedroom, the room I've been talking about buying a desk for for almost 20 months. Instead, I sit on the bed with a nest of papers, camera, camera cord, phone, external hard drive, etc. all around me. It's both ridiculous as a work environment and also pretty cozy.
If I just need to work on my laptop for a few hours, I'll occasionally go to a coffee shop but it's not my favorite environment -- I find chattering around me distracting and feel so pressed for time that it's stressful if I can't find a seat.
4. What do you like best about your current set-up?
That I get to see my kid all day. That he gets a hug from mama anytime he wants, and vice-versa. That I make all of his meals, which is definitely a hard thing to routinely stop my day to prepare but as someone who more or less cooks for a living, is nice to be able to provide for my kid. Even though space is tight, even though I know I get much less work done than I would if he were at daycare, I know this would be living the dream for most parents, to be able to have a career and not miss out on anything at home.
5. What do you find so-so/tricky/hilariously bad about your current set-up? What would you love to change if you had a magic wand?
Here is the question I ask myself every single day of the week: Why didn't we get a 3-bedroom (instead of the 2-bedroom that we have) so one bedroom could have been my office? My own space to do my job, with a desk and a door? What was I thinking? Was I too prone to self-sacrifice? ("I can work anywhere!") Did I not take my work seriously enough? ("Oh, I'll just squeeze it in with a few hours of babysitting a week!" Ha.) Was I five months pregnant when we were apartment hunting and fell too quickly for the affordable place with the giant living room perfect for baby play? Probably a little of all of it, I think. Believe me, I've had a lot of time to consider how exactly this went down as I've tried to attend phone meetings burrowed in my bedroom while trying to block out the meltdown down the hall. Oof!
6. What's your favorite part of your work?
Waking up and cooking whatever I feel like that day.
7. What's your favorite part of your home life?
Watching my husband and kid try to have a conversation. "Jacob, how was your day?" "Mewww! Bladeek bah de la baka dah dah... BAO."
8. How do you and your husband fit your marriage to the balance?
We are ridiculously, ridiculously spoiled in that we have both sets of grandparents live an hour or less away and are always eager to help out. My in-laws come over one weekday night a week and send us out. Once a week! And usually right on Wednesday, when a beer and burger nicely gets you over the mid-week hump. And, when our friends can give us a few days warning we are more than happy to get a babysitter for Saturday night so they can tease us when we nod off at 10:30p.m.
9. Do you have time for yourself?
I don't. I'm working on it. Every few months, however, I will hit my work wall and take a mental health day that usually involves Laura Mercier products, an overpriced pedicure, a long walk in the city by myself and probably a chocolate sable from Balthazar.
10. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?
The less time you spend trying to figure out why things aren't in balance, the clearer your head will be. Life will not neatly balance. My mother always says to me, "What if you had had twins? Triplets?" as in, "Wouldn't it just be impossible to manage?" and I'm like "Mom, you would just do whatever needed to be done. One foot in front of the other. You would have zero expectations that anything would easily fall into place." And yet I totally forget that whatever is consuming us today -- needing diapers, running out of milk, signing up for swim classes and why the tot refused the raisins in his oatmeal this morning -- will not matter one iota a little bit down the road so it's okay to treat it as a little less than life-altering.
11. Do you have a role model when it comes to being a working mom, or other working moms who inspire you?
I don't know a lot of WAHMs -- I blame the solitary way that we work -- but would love to meet more. I bet we could talk for DAYS.
12. Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Have you talked to other women about it?
It is my hunch that nobody really feels like they're juggling effectively or efficiently. That it's less of an achievement and more of a process where it is hoped that whatever got stiffed last week -- sleep or eating takeout for dinner again or hitting the gym -- gets a more of fair shake this week.
13. Do you think people are open about it?
I feel like the conversation is often set up as SAHM versus "Career Women" and it's a limiting way to look at things. It occludes the bigger issues of why it's a "versus" thing at all, all the shades of gray in between that flow from how hard it is to find flexible work arrangements and affordable childcare, and how these issues nudge women in one direction or the other.
14. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than for men? If so, why?
Yes, but mostly because women are often the ones presumed, or perhaps expected, to be doing the juggling. Really, nobody ever asks a man how he juggles work and having a family.