Thursday, March 13, 2014

Surviving Tax Season

This is my seventh tax season as the wife of a CPA, my fifth as a mother, my third as a mother of two children, and my third while pregnant.  It hasn’t always been easy.  In fact, it’s never been easy.  It’s tough to work and parent and maintain some semblance of a life when your partner works 85 to 100 hours each week for three straight months.  But we continue to make it through relatively unscathed, and I’ve learned a ton about how to have the best possible life during tax season over the past few years and how NOT to resent my husband during this time.  Here are my tips.


Surviving Tax Season


1. Hire a housekeeper.


Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s worth it if you can swing it.  We didn’t do this until three years ago when I was pregnant with Jamie and could no longer scrub our laminate floors.  I wish we had done it sooner, even if we only retained our housekeeper during tax season (we now have her come every two weeks, year-round). 


When your spouse is a tax accountant, ALL of the household chores during tax season fall to you, as well as the grocery shopping and the ferrying children to school and play dates and sports practices.  It’s no surprise that with all that work you can come to harbor extreme resentment for your partner, the one who comes home, bathes the kids, wrestles with them, and then goes to bed never having touched the dishwasher or the laundry or even picked up the dirty pair of underwear he left on the floor of the bathroom that morning (because, I don’t know, it was too hard to throw the underwear in the hamper that was four feet away?).  Forget about your spouse thinking to vacuum or clean a toilet during tax season.  It’s not going to happen.  They’re too tired, and you don’t want to fight about this.


Are you pregnant?  Well, your spouse won’t pick up dog crap in the yard, either, even though the smell makes you gag and bending over hurts your back.


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Just wookit dat face.  He’d pick up after himself if he had hands.


Search local listings for housekeeping companies.  You should pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-$30 per hour and the person or company you hire should be bonded and insured.  Get recommendations from your friends.  Don’t go with a national company unless they truly have competitive rates.  Outsource your toilet cleaning and your mirror scrubbing and spend the time after the kids and your spouse go to bed reading and folding the laundry.  You’ll still have to pick up dog poop, but at least you won’t have to scrub the floors.


2.  Set a schedule with your CPA


During my first few years of tax season, Tony didn’t have a schedule; he worked all the time.  I never knew when or even if he would be home for dinner.  When we didn’t have kids, this wasn’t such a big deal.  I had friends, I was in grad school and then I had a job, I went out on my own and kept myself busy. 


But then we had children and I wanted to stab my husband every night at six pm as I futilely watched for his truck out the window.  There were nights when he didn’t come home until after midnight and I spent most of those evenings plotting his demise.  Surely I could get away with murder?


I think every spouse who is home with the kids feels this way about the spouse who works late.  I have organized my life such that I pick the boys up from school around four pm and then we play or exercise or go to sports practices together.  When the boys were babies, I picked them up much earlier.  Regardless of how much I love my children, by the time 5:30 rolls around, I want my husband to be home, tax season or not.  Every minute after his “usual” time is torture and lasts for at least ten hours.  And if dinner’s late because he’s late?  Watch out, the kids turn into fire-spewing dragons or worse, puddles of tears who are convinced they’ve never had a meal in their lives.


For the past three years, Tony has come home by six pm unless he has told me ahead of time that he has a late meeting AND he takes Sundays off (well, he goes into the office before anyone else is awake for a few hours, but it totally counts because he’s home by breakfast).  He gets up ridiculously early during the week, often leaving the house at four am so he can get a “full day’s work” (14+ hours) in at the office, but he’s home by six.  He’s in bed by nine, but he’s home by six.  I’ll reemphasize that because it’s important: he’s home by six.  He gets to see the kids while they’re awake, have dinner with us, wrestle with the boys, have an honest-to-goodness conversation with me, read bedtime stories, and be a presence in our lives.  Knowing that he will be there every night, without fail, for dinner and the after-dinner routine, makes all the difference in my attitude toward him. 


Mornings are easier for me to deal with alone; we’re all refreshed and happy to be starting our day, not bogged down and tired from all the activities of the past ten hours. 


Set a schedule with your spouse that works for you and your children, and you will come to know a certain peace in following the schedule.  The kids know that daddy’s at work in the morning, but he’s always home for dinner.  I know that even if he’s not sharing an after-dinner drink or bowl of ice cream on the couch with me while we watch Netflix, he’s at least in the same house.


Oh, and set a schedule for sex, too.  Are Sundays the only day you get a nap?  The only day your spouse isn’t unconscious by nine pm?  Then put the kids to bed early every Sunday and get busy.  There’s no need for a three-month dry spell.  If you do that, then the taxes win. 


3. Get away, far away.


The kids and I try to pack ourselves up and leave town at least three times during tax season for a long weekend.  Luckily, there is a three day weekend in February, during which we impose upon friends in Portland, Oregon.  We just finished a four day weekend at my parents’ house in Ilwaco, and I’m hoping to go east of the mountains for a visit to my in-laws in a few weeks.


There are multiple reasons for these trips we take: primarily, we leave because Tony has lots of work to do and I know that he appreciates a few days in which he doesn’t have to come home by six pm.  Or at all.  And he can work Sunday.  This is especially helpful, I know, right before the major deadlines: March 15 and April 15.


These trips are also a lot of fun.  Tax season is in the dreariest part of the year, when it rains all the time in Washington and it’s dark by 5:30 pm.  We’re busy (more on that coping mechanism later), so we don’t have a lot of time to just hang out together.  A change of scenery, a visit with people we love but whom we don’t often see, are just the things to kick us out of the mid-winter funk.


And if you happen to be pregnant and parenting small children as a tax widow, getting away for the weekend can be a Godsend.  Other people are around to entertain your children, to help you brush their teeth and get them dressed and fed in the morning.  Friends and family have extra arms to carry diaper bags and extra eyes to monitor children in a crowded children’s museum or zoo.  After going so long without this because your husband is working all the time, it’s sheer heaven to just hand off your burdens for a bit.  They might even let you have a nap or two, and I cannot even begin to describe the bliss of a nap when pregnant during tax season.  It’s like eating forbidden chocolate.


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Grandma stories 


If you’re not pregnant, friends and family will share wine with you, so at least you’re not drinking alone, late at night, while your spouse and the children sleep upstairs.


4. Let him go away.


Tony plays basketball three mornings a week for two hours.  Oh, it would be soooo easy to resent him this time away from us and from work.  But we’ve lived through tax season with no outlet, physical or otherwise, for Tony, and I have no wish to repeat the experience.


When Charles was small, Tony didn’t play basketball in the mornings.  He also didn’t have a schedule and ate like crap (because he wasn’t coming home for dinner to eat what I made).  And Charles never slept, so whenever Tony was home to sleep, he was constantly awakened by a colicky three-month-old.  It was the PITS.  And, no surprise, Tony ended tax season 15 pounds overweight and with worrisome bouts of tachycardia.  Yikes!


You know the saying, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?  You know how getting some alone time, with no demands from work or family, can restore your peace and sense of well-being?  Let your CPA spouse go.  Let him or her have time away from the office, doing something for themselves, regularly.  Especially if that something is physical activity that will keep them healthy through the end of tax season.  Because one of the few things that can make tax season worse on a whole family is adding serious health problems to the mix.  And if the CPA ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. 


5.  Get busy & exercise!


It’s no secret that I’m overscheduled.  I do too much.  I’m always going somewhere.  But, it keeps me from being lonely and feeling bored at home with the kids.  I work in the morning and then in the afternoon, the kids and I have something going on: swim lessons, soccer practice, Baby Boot Camp, play dates.  The months of tax season pass quickly like this.


My children are two-and-a-half years apart, so while Charles can take swim lessons at the Y, Jamie is not yet old enough.  This is okay, though, and I would encourage any tax widow or widower with kids to embrace different activities for different kids.  Swim lessons twice a week have become reading time for me and Jamie – he doesn’t feel neglected and he gets to cuddle with me on the pool bleachers while I read him his favorite stories.  This assuages some of my guilt for having read to Charles much more when he was littler than I read to Jamie (no time!).  Pretty soon, Charles will do big kid soccer on Thursdays while Jamie will do Bitty Soccer on Tuesdays.  I’ll use the time alone with each kid while the other plays to catch up with them and spend time with them.  Sort of like a mommy date. except no ice cream.


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Exercise, while important for your tax accountant, is also important for you.  Because Tony works all the time, I can’t get to the gym on my own.  If you have small kids, find something like Baby Boot Camp – the kids will exercise with you, you’ll make friends, and you won’t have to worry about childcare.  Staying fit helps me to stay sane, which helps me to not resent my husband and this time of year so much.




I used to count down the days until the end of tax season; I don’t anymore.  We are busy and have lots to look forward to between now and April 15th.  And after April 15th?  I’ve got a loooong “honey-do” list to tackle before the baby gets here.  Sometimes, when the days are tough, it’s satisfying to just add things to the list, knowing that my husband will take care of them later. 


It’s all about survival this time of year.  Hopefully, these tips will help you to cope.

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