This week, we’re interviewing different women all about work/life balance. Jenny Rosenstrach writes the fantastic food blog Dinner: A Love Story and is writing a cookbook memoir; she and her husband also write a column for Bon Appetit. And fun fact: Jenny has a diary listing every single dinner she’s made since 1998! They live in Westchester, New York, with their two daughters. Here’s how she attempts to juggle it all…
1. What’s your work schedule?
It isn’t the same every week, but it’s pretty close. Since I’m currently writing a book, I have to make sure I build in large blocks of time into my week before it fills up. I can write posts for my blog (Dinner: A Love Story) in the waiting room of a 45-minute ballet class or on the 5:20pm train home from Grand Central, but I’ve found I can’t work on the book (or any big project) like that. I need to build in at least three five-hour chunks between Monday and Friday in order to produce at the right pace. So I start with that, then I schedule everything else–meetings, lunches, breakfasts with my dad–around it. I’m lucky because my kids are in elementary school so they get on the bus at 8:09 and come home at 2:57. That’s the same amount of time I had when I worked in an office, minus the commute, the long lunch, and (tragically) the office gossiping.
2. How do you handle childcare?
When I was working full-time, we had a full-time babysitter. When I lost my job (I was working as features director at Cookie Magazine when it folded), we knocked the hours back to Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays from 1pm to 6pm, but often our sitter came in only Mondays and Wednesdays. Right now we have no babysitter, which means I am an obsessive clock-watcher. I live in the suburbs, so whenever I have meetings in the city, I have to make sure they are early and somewhat close to Grand Central so I don’t miss the 1:54 back to my neighborhood in time to be at the bus stop. My book deadline is rapidly approaching, so the sitter-less schedule is not going to be viable for much longer. I’m going to have to start extending my work day until 6pm again soon.
3. Where do you work during the day?
Seventy-five percent of the time the answer to that question is at my local library on the second floor, at the southwest corner looking west at the view of the Hudson River. I crave routines. Since I worked full-time in an office for so many years, I find comfort in structure. I like to feel like I’m reporting somewhere, even if no one notices whether I show up or not. What I love about the library is also what I hate about it: No one talks to each other. So I get an incredible amount of work done, but I can also get incredibly lonely. I remember last winter talking to my friend Yolanda after a particularly grueling day among the Janet Evanovich stacks and she was like “Jenny! You need to get the hell out of that library! Go see a movie! Meet me for a drink or something! You sound awful!” She was totally right. As much as I crave routines and rituals, I need to remind myself to take advantage of my flexible schedule and not put so much stock on productivity every single day. I’ve gotten better about that. And also, now that I am a contributor at Bon Appetit, I use their office space, too, which goes a long way towards feeling like I’m part of something big and exciting.
4. What do you like best about your current set-up?
I love that I can say “yes” when the class mom’s email asks, “Help! Can someone bring paper cups to the Halloween party at 1pm?” For so long–eight years to be specific–the answer was usually no. I remember opening those emails in my office wishing so badly I could be the paper cup hero. I had this awful habit of totally romanticizing what was happening on the domestic front in my absence. Not just classroom stuff, but everything else, especially picking the kids up and dropping them off at their various activities. I remember scheduling a tennis class for them that ended at 6:30pm so I could catch the last two minutes and drive them home. The funny thing is, now that I am home for all of this, and now that I spend 95% of my time schlepping the kids from activity to activity, drop-off and pick-up has become the bane of my existence.
Oh! Another thing I love about my current set-up: I can go to Trader Joe’s or Fairway in the middle of the week!
5. How did you decide to go freelance/start your own business?
I worked full-time for eight years and I’m pretty sure every single day during every single one of those eight years I’d have the thought “Am I doing the right thing here?” after kissing my daughters goodbye in the morning. I was so envious of other mothers who seemed to have such conviction in their choices–whether it was staying home or working in an office or something in the middle. I was never that mother. I always went back and forth and questioned my decision to work full-time. Remember that Roz Chast cartoon “The Insomniaplex”? The one where it shows a marquee listing everything that was keeping her up at night? My insomniaplex had nightly double features of the “How do I find more of a balance” show. It’s all I thought about. Can we make it work financially if I stay home? Are my long absences the reason why my daughter is having trouble with math? Would I ever be able to walk away from such a great job and such great people? The suits at Conde Nast ended up making the decision for me the day they folded Cookie and I lost my job. I know now that I would have probably been too gutless to ever make the decision to leave on my own. So even though I was bitter, now I think I owe those suits a big thank-you.