What does a for-real, warts-and-all, workday look like for me? I get the question all the time: how do you actually do it? Run a business, practice law, and be mama to two active boys. In honor of Mother’s Day 2021 (and in honor of this being my 300th Mindful Return blog post!!), I’m going to be 100% open and honest, peel back some layers, and give you the minute-by-minute play-by-play of an entire work-day chez moi.
How did I pick the day I’d do this? I usually write my weekly blog post on Monday or Tuesday. So when I had the idea on Monday morning for what I wanted to share this week, I just dove in and started writing things down in the notes app on my phone. I didn’t over-think it and didn’t pre-plan which day it would be. (Though, as you’ll see below, I over-think plenty of other things!)
This accounting is told in intentionally excruciating detail. Why? (1) I’m hoping you’ll find the level of detail helpful, or at the very least, humorous; and (2) on the theory of “do it right the first time,” I’m hoping never to be asked to do this again!
So here it is. A true and honest day in my life. Last Monday, May 3, 2021, to be precise.
A Day in the Life of This Particular Working Mama (Lori Mihalich-Levin)
6:15am: My alarm went off, and I rolled out of bed, wrinkling my brow a bit at the recognition I’d been having a bad dream. Something involving being in college and having some sort of health problem. Determined not to stay in this “ugh” and anxious state, I did a few deep centering breaths (count of 4 in, and count of 6 out) before getting into the shower.
In the shower, I shaved my legs, mostly because my 8-year old had felt them the day before and advised me they were scratchy. I contemplated not shaving, because why should I be taking advice from my 8 year old on this subject? And why are women expected to shave our legs anyway? But I caved and did it all the same. Figured my son was an equal opportunity and gender-neutral critic, as he routinely advises my husband to shave the stubble that appears on his face over the weekends. I ended my shower with my ritual 30-seconds of cold water (more detail here in my list of COVID practices I refuse to give up), and felt much more clear-headed.
6:34am: I started drying off, getting dressed, and reflecting on how much I had calmed myself down since waking, when my 10-year old walked into the bathroom. He was bleary-eyed and dressed in a Minecraft robe, and declared that he was stressed out about an American Revolution Power Point project about Paul Revere and a book he needed to read, both of which were due on Thursday, and neither of which he had worked on over the weekend. I sat him down and talked about breaking each project up into little pieces. For the Power Point presentation, I told him to “just do the next slide.” He headed off to work on it.
6:48am: I went back to getting ready, putting on some makeup for Zoom calls, when my 10-year old came back again. He was stuck on a sentence on “that next slide.” We talked through it, and he ran off. Back to the makeup. As I was putting on mascara, I realized that I hadn’t set my intention for the day, as I usually do in the shower. I paused and decided my intention was to remind myself that “interruptions are a normal part of life.”
As I finished getting ready and the to-do list for my day started swirling around in my mind, I reflected that one of the reasons the list seemed particularly daunting today was that I took a day off for my birthday last week. I consciously reminded myself to be grateful for that time off and then paused to look at some photos from that day. (There’s one at the top of this post, of me on a bridge.)
7:05am: Oops. Forgot to wake my 8-year old at 7am as I usually do. Attempted to wake the 8-year old, and then realized my husband was still asleep. Woke him, too.
7:08am: Went downstairs for some water and took Zyrtec for my out-of-control spring allergies and an anxiety medicine that many years and panic attacks ago began to save my sanity. Began feeling anxious about sharing with the world (through this blog post) that I struggle with anxiety and contemplated leaving that part out of this narrative. Thought better of it, as I wanted to be transparent, a leader, and someone who celebrates the fact that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Train of thought got interrupted by the sight of a very large bug crawling up our recycling bag. Screamed and promptly removed the bug by shaking the bag outside.
7:16am: Started my daily morning yoga practice out on our screened-in porch, my favorite spot in the house. InsightTimer, which I use for yoga music, told me it was consecutive day # 561 of using the app. Felt good about that and started settling into yoga.
7:21am: Yoga was interrupted by my 10-year old, seeking advice on the Paul Revere Power Point Project. Kept doing yoga while advising on same. Noticed pollen on the porch and resolved to do something about it another day. Noticed how much lighter green the brand new leaves were on a tree outside of our house, versus those that came in a few weeks ago. Admired my own mulching job in the front yard.
7:30am: Rolled up my yoga mat, and went upstairs to wake my 8-year old again, who informed me he “forgot to wake up the first time.”
7:35am: Signed daily school forms certifying that my children haven’t been in contact with anyone who has COVID and aren’t showing any symptoms themselves. Put water bottles and snacks in the kids’ backpacks and debated about whether to fetch their Chromebooks for them or to instill responsibility (while simultaneously being late to start my day) and require them to do it themselves. Caved and got the Chromebooks, but compromised with myself by requiring them to get their own power cords.
7:47am: Sat down to eat breakfast prepared by hubby while I was doing yoga. Remembered with a start that we needed to send flowers to school for Teacher Appreciation Week. Finished eating and ran outside to clip some azaleas from our bush outside. (They count as flowers, right?) Wrapped the ends in a wet paper towel and some tinfoil.
8:08am: Recognized that although we intended to leave at 8am, the fetching of masks, socks, shoes, hats, and flowers set us back by 8 minutes. Headed out the door with my kids to walk them to school, because my husband and I take turns doing this, and this was my day.
8:20am: Kids have been temperature screened and admitted to school for the day (hallelujah, thank you teachers, school, and all forms of childcare). So I turned around to head home, intentionally not stopping to talk to any parents despite craving some conversation, because it was starting to rain and I didn’t bring an umbrella. Upon leaving the school, I ran into the judge I clerked for after law school and his wife, and I just-as-intentionally scrapped my plan not to talk to anyone. I hadn’t seen them in so long that the rain didn’t matter anymore.
8:33am: Arrived back at my house and discovered a ditch in the front yard that my 8-year old son apparently dug during unsupervised water play the prior day. Oops. Attempted to put mud back into hole to fill it in. Gave up and went inside.
8:37am: Sat down to at my home office desk to work, turning first to the items I flagged in an Outlook appointment set from 8-9am as being the most important things to take care of that day. They included getting a document over to a legal client, paying my graphic designer, and writing out Mother’s Day cards. The cards reminded me of two upcoming May birthdays I wanted to recognize, so I wrote out those two cards. This gave me the idea that I could batch birthday card writing on a monthly basis. Decided I might try that. Maybe. Didn’t commit.
Next, I typed out my time entries from Friday to submit to my assistant at the law firm where I work, and started working on some slide presentations. One was for a legal talk I’m giving and recording in advance of a virtual conference. The other was for a Mindful Return talk I’m giving on Friday to a group of ob/gyn residents. I reflected on the convergence of my two worlds, given my legal work is all about Medicare funding for graduate medical education, and here I was preparing Mindful Return slides about how to go back to work after parental leave to speak to a bunch of residents.
In addition to the slides, I reviewed the upcoming week’s social media plan that my social media manager had sent over, set up a few upcoming Clubhouse rooms, checked in on my own financial data / revenue for my law firm, and negotiated a deadline for a guest article I’d been asked to write. Moved from one task to the next quickly and efficiently, knowing my morning work was going to end at 11am.
10:33am: Scraped the last tablespoon out of a Skippy peanut butter jar as a morning snack. Then continued working on the above-mentioned Power Point Presentations.
11:00am: Began a 75-minute 1:1 yoga session with my amazing teacher Jen, something I started going 2x/month for my own sanity during the pandemic. Watched my mind go from gratitude to guilt, to “what will the people reading this think I do during the workday,” to “I’m modeling self-care,” to justifications like “I’m going to be working the split-shift tonight,” and “it is lawyer well-being week after all,” to finally settling on: “This is me, being healthy, thank you.”
12:20pm: Caught up on e-mail for 10 minutes, then headed downstairs to get lunch. Lunch was leftover soy-glazed tofu (a recipe from my amazing friend Jodi of Red Lentil Consulting, and some leftover elbow noodles in pesto sauce.
12:30pm: I ate at my desk in my home office while starting to dig into the pre-publication copy of a book I promised to write a review of for the author. While eating, I got food stains on the envelope with the money for my graphic designer. Oops.
1:07pm: My Outlook inbox dinged at me with an incoming legal client request, so I addressed that until my next call.
1:30pm: My hubby and I convened for a 30-minute parenting-related call. Details intentionally omitted to protect my kids’ privacy.
2:00pm: Had a peer-to-peer mentoring call with another founder in the FamTech space. She and I are in a small group together but had both missed our group’s last meeting, so we decided to meet via Zoom to get our monthly coaching fix in anyway.
3:00pm: Had a call with a legal client about a new conundrum they are facing. After the call, I started conducting research on their issue.
4:00pm: World’s shortest Zoom meeting, a tech-check for my upcoming presentation to the ob/gyn resident group. 12 minutes start to finish.
4:12pm: Kept working on the legal research for that same client.
5:15pm: Spent a few minutes preparing for my evening Mindful Return Alumni call, and then answered a few interview questions from a reporter about Mindful Return. Attempted to shut down at 5:30pm. Successfully pried myself from my computer at 5:34.
5:34pm: Headed downstairs to relieve our babysitter, who had walked the kids home from school and was playing with my youngest. Oldest had already headed out with my husband to baseball practice. Our babysitter’s Allen Stone concert t-shirt inspired me to turn on one of his albums while I cooked a Sunbasket meal of Turkey Bolognese. Singing and cooking led to a more distracted state, in which I forgot to add the garlic herb spices that came with the ingredients into the pan on the stove. Dinner turned out bland. Boo. I didn’t eat as much of it as I should have. (See 9:36pm below.)
6:30pm: Dinner was ready, but half my family was still at baseball practice, so I decided to dig into the breakfast and lunch dishes that were piled up in the sink, while my little guy had a bit more “reward time” (read: watching Wild Kratts and playing Sim City).
6:45pm: I was hungry and gave up on waiting for the other two, so 8-year-old and I sat down for dinner. I discoverd the spice error, my son says “yuck” and ate only the noodles, leaving some zucchini and turkey. But he downed his cucumbers with joy and didn’t complain about his sweet potato puree. I considered that victory.
7:00pm: The other half of “Team Red” (or so we call ourselves, given we are 4 redheads) come home from practice (grumpy). I decided not to get involved in the grump and sat down with my 8-year old to help him with piano. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been the boys’ piano teacher, and I do really enjoy this part of my day. Each boy has to learn 2 new measures per day, which seems to allow them to make progress while not complaining too much.
7:20pm: Having finished dinner, my oldest joined me at the piano to play his song. He won’t turn on the metronome but insisted I snap to keep the beat. I gladly oblige, as the snapping has previously annoyed him but now, for some reason, it doesn’t. Upon completing piano, he shed more tears about the Paul Revere project, and we snuggled up on the couch with his Chromebook to work through a few of the slides together. I began to despise Paul Revere. Though I did have a new awareness that the word “lieutenant” must come from French, because in debating how to spell it, I’ve figured out that it’s simply “lieu” (the French word for “place”) combined with “tenant” (the French word for holding). I learned that Paul revere was a lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War, and the whole “placeholder” thing makes sense, given his military service was not very distinguished. My oldest and I had a good laugh at how the word “colonel” doesn’t sound anything like how it sounds.
8:00pm: My boys and I headed upstairs for bath and stories, while my husband washed dishes and cleaned up from dinner. Both new sneakers and a set of 8-pound dumbbells had arrived in packages for me, so my boys enjoyed opening these boxes and playing with the new weights. My youngest was first for bath (they alternate every night), and while he took a bath, my oldest and I worked on a 1,000 piece puzzle of a scene on the Mediterranean (we’re almost done!) and held one another’s feet for our evening sit-up challenge. We add one new sit-up per night, and last night we were up to 15.
When my oldest got into the bath, I read stories with my youngest. He’s required to read me the first paragraph, and I read him the rest. (Right now, we’re reading Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots. The language is a bit dated, but it’s funny enough. Personally, I preferred Dory Fantasmagory, but sadly we already finished that series.)
8:40pm: My husband took over the bath/bed routine, so I could go downstairs to set up for my monthly Mindful Return alumni “Call for Calm,” which I take from our basement so as to not disturb my kids’ efforts to fall asleep.
8:50pm: I led a great conversation with some awesome Mindful Return mamas about returning to the office and the future of flexibility. We’re all in similar boats, not sure yet when we’re going back, how much flexibility will be allowed in the future, and having mixed feelings about the return.
9:35pm: After finishing my call, I put a load of laundry into the washing machine and headed upstairs to dig into my “split shift” of work. Before sitting back down at my laptop, though, I contemplated whether I was hungry, decided I was and that the botched dinner was to blame (damn Allen Stone!), and then poured myself a bowl of Cheerios and milk with blueberries on top. I munched away while starting to look at the introduction posts of the new mamas who had just joined the May session of Mindful Return.
9:50pm: Moved myself (and my laptop) from the kitchen table to the living room sofa to get comfy. Responded to posts within the Mindful Return course platform until 10:30pm, my drop dead shut-down time. My husband had come down to the couch at this point, and we both shut down our work to reconnect a bit and to do our nightly meditation together using the InsightTimer app. Usually, we’ll settle into a meditation calmly, but this time every guided meditation we selected cracked us up, and we couldn’t stop laughing. We gave up after a few tries and were satisfied with having been amused by some strange voices and wacky music.
10:54pm: Went upstairs and attempted to get ready for bed, but remembered that I had forgotten to move what was in the washing machine into the drier, so headed to the basement to take care of that. Contemplated not doing it until the morning, but all of the kids’ *!@^# face masks were in there and they needed them for school the next day.
10:59pm: Went back upstairs and re-attempted my nightly tooth-brushing, face-washing routine.
11:05pm: Crawled into bed and got cozy with Tana French’s novel, The Searcher.
11:15pm: Lights out.
Rinse. Repeat daily. Roughly, more or less. Except on Wednesdays, when the kids are still home…
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave