Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A day in the life of a Sci-Mom

by Kim Cobb

Upon hearing that I have four kids ages 5-8 and a job as a climate scientist and Professor at Georgia Tech, people often ask me "How on Earth do you manage it all?"

There are many ways of answering that, including the following stock responses that I often rotate through:
1) I don't. It's a complete mess all the time but somehow everyone has survived thus far.
2) I have a great husband and we share our parental duties 50:50.
3) I spend lots and lots of money on childcare and support at home.

All true, but too vague to be of much use.

So here's a random weekday in my life - in this case, Monday February 8, 2016. To make it interesting, my husband split for Texas early that morning (he's a scientist too).

5:30am - wakeup
I usually beat my alarm to the punch, and spend 30min or so getting a jump on the day. I review my day's schedule, check e-mail and social media, and if I'm lucky, read the headlines of the New York Times.

6:00-6:30am - get dressed
I take this part of my day very seriously, as I like to dress up for work. I put on jewelry, makeup, and perfume every day. By the time I'm done I feel invincible, and ready for anything the day might throw at me.

6:30am-7:30am - morning routine for kids
In order to wake up the house, I blast some female pop-power-songs beginning at 6:30am (Katy Perry, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, etc), and call to the kids to get up and dressed. Nobody is allowed at the breakfast table without clothes and shoes on, and they have to do it all by themselves (our systems are resilient to a 1-parent model as one of us is traveling ~50% of the time). During this time I make breakfast for everyone, and then while they eat it I'm making lunches for the big kids, combing/braiding hair for everyone, and feeding the dogs.

7:30am - everyone out the door to school
This is probably the most chaotic point of my day, unavoidably so. Nobody ever wants to wear a proper jacket, hats and gloves are scattered, the ballet bag isn't packed with the favorite outfit, it's "Bring-A-3-Eyed-Zebra-Toy-to-School Day" in one of the kid's class - you get the picture. And the clock is ticking.

8:30am - to coffee shop for warm-up exercises
Most days I enjoy a buffer between the kid drop-offs and my office, and a donut and coffee hit the spot. This morning I was frantically finishing lecture prep for my 10am class.

9:30am - park minivan and bike across campus to class (much faster than campus shuttles)

9:45am - meet prospective undergraduate research assistant (she was great!)

10am - "Sustainable Communities" class begins
Sit through a very intriguing and substantive guided discussion exercise by my co-instructor, which ends up running into my time and bumping my lecture to a later date. Lost sleep of previous night internally labelled collateral damage.

11am - bike back and enjoy 30 min in office
Work on NSF budget, stress about high costs of my funding request relative to coPIs. Update crowdfunding campaign. Feel guilty for not tweeting enough as @realscientists curator this week.

11:45am - postdoc and graduate student meet to discuss coral project
We review science strategies for new coral radiocarbon dates for postdoc's project. Decide we need more undergraduate research assistants in the lab asap to help her prepare samples.

12:45pm - chat with another postdoc about stalagmite project
Review science strategies for getting a thin section of our stalagmite across the horizon of the Toba super-eruption, hoping to find the petrographic signature of the ash layer.

1:30pm - meet with engineering undergrad who wants to add an Energy Minor to his degree
Talk about GT's offerings in the Energy space, including the two classes I teach, as well as the Energy on the Hill internship program that I direct.

2-2:45 - prep lecture for Energy, the Environment, and Society course

3-4:30pm - teach class on climate change science (probably my favorite topic)

4:30pm - surrounded by 5 eager young women who would like to join my lab, after I announce that we're looking for new undergraduate research assistants

4:45pm - leave to pick up 5-yr-old twins at on-campus daycare

5pm - drop twins at house with nanny, who helps them with their preK homework (really???)

5:15pm - pick up 6-yr-old son at aftercare

5:30pm - pick up 8-yr-old daughter at aftercare

5:45pm - finally home
House is spotless because I have my cleaning lady come twice per week, and she came today. Check dinner progress (nanny cooked a vegan meal of fried tofu, coconut rice, and roasted veggies), check mail, check homework for kids, argue with oldest daughter about the merits of a timed computer-based reading comprehension assignment she has to do (we agree it's pretty useless, but homework is homework...)  Son is playing math games on computer, and twins are wrecking havoc around the house.

6:30pm - family dinner
Partly in response to aforementioned foot dragging, I introduce the Cupcake Party Incentive Plan, whereby those who do their homework each night for the entire week get a fancy, over-the-top cupcake with a  50:50 frosting-to-cupcake ratio the following weekend.

7:00pm - bath night commences
I bathe twins while nanny cleans kitchen. Then twins get PJs on & brush teeth while I bathe my son. Eldest is lost in a spontaneous urge to make valentines cards for my entire extended family.

7:30pm - read to twins; twins 'read' to me
I read two books to the twins, and then they read their books to me and we practice sight words for the week. This is the longest phase of the evening routine (~30min), because there are two of them in this phase.

8pm - read to son, son reads to me; nanny leaves after reviewing plan for tomorrow
I silently curse the inventor of the Valentine's Day school tradition that has me overseeing the preparation of >100 Valentines by Thursday morning.

8:30pm - root through garbage because cleaning lady threw away makeshift envelope with my son's first lost tooth in it. Mission impossible. And pretty revolting. Aborted after 5min, with apologies to tooth fairy. He actually does OK - go figure.

8:45pm - spend a few minutes chatting with my eldest while she settles down with her Kindle in bed.

9pm - I head to bed, where I knock off small but urgent work items for a couple hours.

11pm - I try to sleep, unsuccessfully. Write blog post on my day instead.

Overview of support structures:

1) full-time nanny/house manager
hours worked:  M-Th 3-8pm; F 7:30-5:30pm; and one 4-hr weekend slot/date night
duties: run errands, go food shopping, menu plan, cook 2-3 times/week, homeschool 1 day/week, kid transportation, and most importantly, take care of the laundry from start to finish (I went on a permanent laundry strike about 2yrs ago now).

2) part-time house-keeper (comes Monday or Tuesday for 5hrs, and 10hrs on Fridays)

3) all kids in aftercare/daycare until 5:30pm

So there you have it. How do I make it work? All of the above, with a good husband and a good salary especially critical.

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