lost in the possibilities, or, when my daughters went to school

My older daughter is 11; my younger is 5. For the last 11 years I have, for the most part, been at home with one or both of them. This summer, both girls went to two weeks of full day camp. It was the first time in 11 years that I had such an expansive amount of childcare. I was giddy and elated and I painted furniture and went to Goodwill a lot. It was summer. Most of my clients were quiet and there were very few pressing deadlines. I played a bit, though I never lost the sensation of being in a huge hurry — the kiddos will be back any minute! gotta get this done!

Today, they both went to full-day school. As I drove away after dropping them off, I laughed and I cried.

I laughed because I was filled with joy. The school aligns with our values in some of the most vital ways. It will challenge them. And, it’s safe. They feel at home.

I cried because, as the girls’ father said, “It’s a big deal moment. Out of the first nest.”

I also cried with relief. It’s been a difficult journey over the last several years. Their father provides substantial support, far above the legal requirements. But, it’s still been difficult and part of that is because being at home with our daughters has been a priority for us. Time is always scarce; I always feel in a hurry. With so much to do and so little time, I have to go-go-go or I might collapse.

Today, I am caught between collapsing—something I do a bit of each time the girls go to their father’s house—and getting things done. I’m in shock, truly in disbelief, at the amount of time I now have available to me. Not only will I be able to grow my business, but I will be able to… fold the laundry, cook meals, pay bills, complete paperwork, make and keep appointments, go for walks, grocery shop, sleep, and be emotionally and physically available to my daughters when they get home from school.

As my business grows, of course, I will have less personal time. Everything’s relative, though. Going from just two mornings and a day each week to five days a week is the lottery of time, and I’ve won it. For now, I need to learn how to breathe and believe it’s really true.

what I rarely admit about how I parent

When my children have a lot of screen time, we all feel cluttered and cranky. I can’t talk about this much, though, because it’s a loaded topic. In the past, I’ve brought up my preference that our children don’t spend much time in front of screens (television, computer, other) and I’ve found people defensive. More than defensive, I find people want to tell me I “shouldn’t feel so bad about it” if I let the girls have screen time so I can take a break for myself.

People really want me to feel less bad about it. That probably comes from good intentions. But, it misses the point. I feel gross when they have a lot of screen time because we all feel gross. I feel bad about it because the effects are heavy. I don’t feel bad because I’m some kind of monster as a parent. I simply feel bad that I’ve come to a point where the easier answer is screen time, knowing the consequences will be more hyper-stress energy than if I wait it out and we stay screen time free.

What “a lot of screen time” means for me is more than an hour and/or two days or more in a row. When we have the screen going for more than an hour or two, our home feels crowded, tired, and too busy and loud. When that happens for a couple days in a row, we might as well’ve had no sleep the night before. It’s a mess.

All that said, tonight the girls watched Frosty the Snowman, and Curious George’s Very Monkey Christmas. (More than two hours.) And, we had screen time last night (the 2nd half of Rudolph and, for the older one, the American Girl holiday movie (Samantha?)). It’s fine, yes, yes, I know it’s fine. But, it also leaves me feeling like we’ve got a layer of sediment coating our lives that won’t clear way until we’ve had several days in a row where they don’t zone out in front of the screen.

When our older daughter was little, she had zero screen time. We used to leave restaurants if there were televisions being forced on us. I appreciate our zealous commitment to the value of simplicity through limited screen time. When we started adding screen time into her life, it was limited almost exclusively to nature programs and some preschool programming (Franklin the Turtle, Little Bear) even though she was four and five years old. Life is different now. The electronic childcare option is a reality for me. Plus, my daughters aren’t always with me (so their time in front of screens isn’t up to me).

It’s difficult talking about not using much screen time in our lives. It’s telling to me that the topic is so fraught with judgments and misunderstandings. It would be nice if I felt I could say “I feel gross and awful when I let the girls watch show after show…” without people trying to tell me to relax about it. We seem to be in such a minority that my distaste for screen time feels more comfortable as a secret than as something I would discuss freely in a casual social context.

Y’know, except for writing about it on the Internet.

advantages.

Helping my older daughter with her math homework, I was struck by what an advantage she has. I’ve always enjoyed math, so learning how it’s taught these days has been fun. (It’s taught differently than when I was a child.) I thought about families where the parents don’t have the time or energy or motivation to get involved in the math homework. Even more than that, I thought of the families where the parents want to help but simply don’t have the skills.

My daughter has parents who are involved and academically skilled. Combine that with her luck at being born with a brain that works very well, and she will probably have continued success in school. Children who need help (what child doesn’t?) with parents who aren’t able to help their children with math homework will have a harder time. If they don’t catch up later in life, they will probably become parents who can’t help as well, etc. Advantages and disadvantages. What a cycle.

$75/hour and on food stamps?

Coming “out of the closet” about my financial situation’s dire state turned out to be a good move. People have flooded me with what feels like genuine hugs and applause.

After that post, a friend asked me how much I charge for my work. When I told her, I felt the smothering feeling of shame again. Yes. On the grantwinners.net website I note our typical fee is $75/hour. How can someone who charges that rate possibly require assistance from the government?

As I said earlier, I’m antsy about having gone public with my situation because I believe it could hurt my business. Because I’m not “hiding” here, I considered posting on doinggoodbetter.org (the blog for grantwinners.net) but I believe these thoughts belong here.

How can someone who charges $75/hour possibly require assistance from the government?

Working as a consultant means no benefits, no paid time off, nothing provided by someone else (office, computer, supplies, phone, website), and carries with it loads of expenses that many of us are terrible about tracking (marketing, admin). The fees we charge need to take these things into account. The client doesn’t pay all the overhead, of course, but the real costs of doing business need to be included when the fees are estimated. That said, with contracts or when we work using a “by the project” fee structure, the rates are typically lower than $75/hr.

No matter what rates are charged, however, I don’t see most of the money. This is how grantwinners.net works (clients know about this process): Initially, I work with new clients directly. Soon after the work begins, I find a good match from among the grantwinners.net team members (independent consultants) and I subcontract work to them. Thankfully the group I’ve got are very talented and dependable professionals. But, I don’t take much “off the top” of the fees the client pays. I learned in the last couple years that I usually don’t take enough. Finding people who do the job very well but will accept what is essentially a “below market” rate can be very challenging. A couple of my best subcontractors are executive directors of non-profit agencies doing work on the side (not depending on the work to survive). I have a few very bright women I’ve been training who have had very little experience winning grants. They are quick learners, but it takes more of my time to process their work because I need to be sure our clients are getting what they are paying for. People trying to make a living as grant writers generally need to be paid what I need to be paid, not less than that.

The time required to nurture relationships that might blossom into professional partnerships is time I haven’t had available based on my choice to focus on my children. I also tend to shoot myself in the foot (“don’t hire me”) because I believe so sincerely that most nonprofit organizations should be winning their own grants, not hiring consultants. Because I don’t think I offer (through the grantwinners.net team) some kind of magic potion that will get grants for organizations, I can’t in good conscience try to convince someone to hire us. I’m not a “direct sales” kind of person. I can discuss their needs and let them know what we can do, but I won’t say “if you hire us, you’ll get better results.” It doesn’t always work that way, though sometimes it does. (There are some very common mistakes people make in grant writing that I forget aren’t common knowledge. Just simple things, like, if the grant maker says a proposal should be no more than two pages, that means no more than two pages.)

Because of the work I have done, and the relationships I already have, grantwinners.net has had great clients in the last few years. Not many, but as this blog describes in more detail elsewhere, it’s been a Hell of a last few years. The post about being on food stamps and looking into additional support options describes where I am now.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking, “Who on earth will find this interesting?” The answer is, “These are things I need to say.”

I feel guilty, less-than-deserving of the support I’m getting from the government, when I discuss my business rates in the same breath as “government assistance.” My business has the potential to be a decent source of income, but it isn’t my top priority. That is probably one of the most difficult phrases I’ve written in all of this (“it isn’t my top priority”). Amazing how awful that feels. My children are my top priority. That shouldn’t feel bad to write or say.

I won’t take on work that I won’t be able to do well. This means I haven’t taken on much work (or, rather, I haven’t followed up on requests for more information). As my 3-year-old gets older, I will make more time for growing my business. For now, I need to keep it very basic and simple and know that putting my children first, for me, means being with them more than it means going to meetings to try to drum up new business. Time with my children comes first. I’m going to keep saying that until I don’t feel guilty when I say it.