Pregnancy, childbirth and now sleep deprivation have done something crazy to my brain this time around. I forget things at the grocery store, lose track of time, have trouble recalling names of people or places, or derail my train of thought in the middle of a story I'm telling. So I've made lists of everything I need to get done at night and in the morning. Between pumping at work for an infant that's still nursing, getting the kids' stuff ready to go each day, finding my way to a brand new bus route, and taking care of the house, I haven't even given a moment's thought to actual work once I get back.
(I do have the baby brag book ready to go, though, chock full of pictures. I already feel sorry for people who make the mistake of asking me about Alice & Helen this week. "Here are 25 pictures of my baby! Please fawn profusely over all of them.")
Honestly, what worries me more is getting home in the evening. After a full day at daycare, Helen is a HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPO and if I don't have dinner on the table within 20 seconds of the front door opening, I have to throw snacks at her for about 30 minutes straight while we hurry around putting a meal together. (Yes, they feed my daughter at daycare. But animal crackers and juice at 4 pm doesn't cut it. And then snacks right before dinner - well, you know what your mother always told you. Turns out it's true! So we're stuck between a rock and that other inflexibly rigid spot known as Terrible Threes.)
We have tried getting her to help us cook. That hasn't stopped the whining, but only serves to distract her for a few minutes until she remembers she's hungry again.
Before I went on maternity leave, Brian & I had a system. Without a lot of room for food storage at our place, we maintain a "just in time" inventory of food. I'm not one of those people who could cook dinner with just anything in my pantry. Most of that stuff is there for show, to cover a one-time use, or to help with the baking every year at Thanksgiving. So each night, via cell phone, Brian & I hammered out a dinner plan on our way home from work.
This meant when I picked up Helen at daycare, I already knew what I needed to get from the store. Our grocery store is great at handing out samples, and one little thing would usually tide Helen over until I could get her meal ready, instead of the 3 things she wanted at home. As long as I explained the plan to Helen ("We're going to the store, and Daddy is going to cook burgers on the grill, and then we'll eat dinner"), she could generally manage the "long" wait with just a cup of milk.
With 2 kids, one of which is still nursing like a champion, I don't think I'll be able to have this little luxury of stopping at the store each night. Maybe the baby will have a bottle just before I pick her up. But she's not on that schedule yet, and knowing my luck, they'll hand her over and she'll need one as I'm getting home.
So I've decided to become one of those mothers who plans menus and cooks ahead and freezes things. I might even spend the weekend baking goodies, too. Who knows? This could be a good thing for our family, even if I don't do it all the time.
My first foray into this experimental lifestyle is crockpot cooking. So rather than collapsing in front of the TV at night, I'll cut up some things, throw the mess into a crockpot, turn it on in the morning and come home at night to the aroma of dinner, completed. It sounds like the most perfect thing in the world.
Tonight we're trying a meatloaf. In the crockpot, you ask? Yep! I found a recipe online. Prep the loaf of beef, line your pot in foil, put the loaf in it and pour the sauce on top. Set to high or low, depending on when you want it to be done, and wow, does your house smell good in a few hours flat.
I'm adding green beans and sourdough bread on the side. That should be enough to tame even the hungriest of toddlers.
Tomorrow, I'm trying a whole chicken. Wish me luck.
And feel free to share your own time-saving tips for meals in the comments. I have a feeling I'm gonna need it.