Amanda Skelte | "How does she do it?"

June 19, 2015 12 min read

If you were wondering where we've been, I had to take a couple of months off for a much needed hiatus–but we are officially back. This week I'd like to welcome Amanda–a mother to 5 girls, wife to E.J., who juggles being a stay at home mother and running her photography business. Amanda initially reached out to me to do join in on our #howdoesshedoitseries and I'm so glad she did. As I was editing her interview, I could feel the positivity radiate from her words. For a mother who has a child who is battling cancer, plus a crazy busy schedule, and who runs her own business yet still manages to be optimistic while remaining unruffled, is remarkable. 

Tell us about yourself: Where do you live, age, marital status, number of kids and business.

I am 32, married to E.J. for almost 8 years and we live in the North Dallas ‘burbs. I have 5 girls who are Aidan (8.5y), Sawyer (almost 7), Reese (5yo), Miller (just turned 3), and Corbin (17months). I am, first, a stay at home mom, taxi driver, diet coke drinker, conflict manager, and mom’cologist – and secondly, I am a photographer and own Gingersnap Photographs. 

Our 5 year old was diagnosed with a brain tumor Halloween 2012. For the past 2.5 years, she has had brain surgeries, 17 months of chemo, a small break of stability, and now we are right back on chemo. 

Describe a day in the life of you.

We are out of bed at 6:30am, but I usually am woken up at 6am by the 5 year old who is in our bed 99% of the time. At any point in time, there may be another kid in there or on the floor with their blankets because they came in the middle of the night, as quiet as a mouse.

We get dressed, do hair, and eat breakfast in a sort of assembly line – when you are done with one, you move to the next station. My husband takes the older 2 to school and I pile the younger 3 with me. Our drive consists of #3 to school, sometimes #4, and #5 with me the whole day. The next hours with minimal kids are reserved for housework and downtime wrapped into one. I fold laundry and do dishes while I catch up on editing or just watching TV. On Tuesdays, Reese has chemo, so I get her early from school and we do that mid afternoon.
The rest of the afternoons, I am a pick up taxi for the girls and then we have dance classes every weeknight except for Mondays. A few other days of the week also include softball. After whatever extra curricular thing is that night, we do dinner, baths, and bedtime routine. E.J. and I each pick our jobs (who cleans while the other does baths, who gets meds ready while the other does PJs) and then we all head upstairs for books and cuddling up.

The rest of the night, the girls move rooms, find a sister to cuddle with and fall asleep with each other. #wheretheskeltessleep is sort of a joke around here – where we kiss them goodnight is not where I find them later. Then E.J. and I pick up the after-dance messes downstairs and finally crash in the living room and catch up on netlfix.
Do you have help? A nanny or housekeeper? Family?

My parents live close – within 20 mins. I am blessed that they will keep the kids at their house if we need any help. They watch Miller and Corbin when Reese has chemo, they are there if we need to go to the hospital and don’t have anywhere for someone to go. Also, we LIVED at the hospital for 6 weeks straight when Reese was diagnosed – so my parents were there to rotate the kids with us so that we could be where we needed to be at any time. My brothers and their families live close, too, so it’s wonderful to be surrounded by love.
Since Reese was dx, I have also found the most wonderful and helpful friends – people that would put down anything to help us if needed. Even if you don’t take them up on those offers, them there for me to take a break with, laugh with, and just be happy with is a blessing on it’s own. We used to have a housekeeper come often, but now, with more kids in school, I try to keep on top of it and just have one come when I feel behind and need someone to help me catch up with things.
How do you manage to have “me” time?

We make time for ourselves. It is a huge priority here that we do not go insane by wrapping our lives in the folds of children, medical issues, and work. We hire babysitters so that my husband and I can go out together – and then, if we want to go out with our friends, we try to swap so we each get time alone or with our own buds. The balance, in my opinion, is so needed. If I didn’t clear my brain with some girl time or a glass of wine without kids around, I would be nuts ;)

How do you manage to make time to stay in shape? Do you workout? Diet?

I met the most wonderfulwomen, years ago, at the gym – and they are the reason I keep going. I try to go to the classes after preschool drop off. Breastfeeding never helped me lose weight (actually, part of the time, I gained) so that was defeating for years. As for diet, I have been keto/HFLC since January and am at my lowest weight since I don’t know when. I try to keep it simple because it is hard to get everything done in a day – let alone also go to the gym.
Do you get ready every day? Makeup, hair and curated outfits?  If so, how do you do it with children? 
If by get ready you mean put on new leggings, then yes ;) I do some make up because I have blonde eyelashes (lol) and really I need color on my eyes. But, a pony, hoodie, and patterned leggings is my go-to and I am perfectly okay with that. Recently, I have really tried to look a bit more “together” – it’s one of my goals for 2015, actually. I fail often, but getting ready for the day makes me feel better in the end – so I wake up a bit earlier if I really want to go all out.
Has your style changed after motherhood?
Sort of. If you do the math up there ^ I have been a mother since immediately after college. There was no “snazzy working woman” time of my life where now I feel “dressed down”. I have always been pretty “relaxed”.
What’s your guilty pleasure?

 Diet coke, bad tv dramas, internet snark, and wine.
If you breastfeed, how do you schedule your day around feedings and outings?

I only reallybreastfed my last 2 (both avg a year) and at that point, I was much more confident of a mother and would just whip a boob out wherever I needed to be. With my first child, I was bullied by my pediatrician to feed her formula and did not know any better, then, with my 2nd, I didn’t really even try. With my third, I did try and for some reason was so overwhelmed with being her ONLY SOURCE OF LIFE that I quit. I regretted it tremendously and had good friends push me with baby 4 to power through. Then I realized how much easier it seemed – but I was a different mom by the time Miller arrived. I stopped caring about what anyone thought about NIP, I didn’t worry about schedules or outings being a problem, and our life was so different than it was when the previous 3 were babies. I had to learn to let go – and then, after that, it was a breeze.
How many hours of sleep to you get a night on average?

It never seems like enough. By the time everyone is in bed and I am settled on the couch, I feel like I don’t have enough time to relax before bed – but I’d say I get 6-7hrs a night.

What is a priority for you, and what gets sacrificed? For example, everyone looks great but the house is a disaster, or the house is clean but work deadlines get pushed back.

Getting people where they need to be is priority #1. There are many days that I am not home from 7:30am until 2:30pm because we have appointments, chemo, events at school, dance, etc – so then the house, obviously, isn’t getting picked up. My client deadlines are set so that I can have a life and also a business. I do not rush through edits because I set my business up so that I can have time to be everything.  I sacrifice sleep for my business, though, if needed. I trade dishes for paper plates if I need to. I let them look ridiculous at school because they demanded that outfit and I was not going to sacrifice a happy morning for what I thought was right.
Do you cook meals every day for your family? If so, how do you plan them?

No, I just do not have the time for every day. I do plan, though, because it saves money on shopping, but I do not over-plan to where I feel like a failure when we go out to eat and I had planned a meal that night. I try to make sure I buy the food for 4 meals a week – I make it easy by doing 1 crockpot and the rest easily frozen so we have left-overs. I try to cook more than 1 meal on Monday (because I have time that day), so we have it to use another night. I know that Wednesdays we are going to eat out because 4/5 of my girls have dance until 6:30pm. If I put too much pressure on being suzy-homemaker with dinners, I start to quickly feel frustrated.
Have you ever felt like you are losing yourself to motherhood and or life? If so, how did you bounce back?

This is when I rely on my friends or do something for me, only. Sometimes a girl’s night can bounce me right back. Belly laughing with some of the best people I know reminds me that I am me no matter how many kids I have. Another things that really puts things into perspective is a photo project. Sometimes on IG, sometimes with my dslr, but trying to remember to capture every day moments for me, reminds me how blessed I am.
On the flip side, it isn’t always that easy and I understand those feelings, as well. It is frustrating to sometimes repeat the same days without change, but having a child with a life-threatening issue sort of jump-started me, a bit. I began to realize that I wasn’t losing myself to motherhood, but that it was just who I was. That these little people need me and that it is okay to be that.
Does hubby help you with anything particular? If so, what and how?

He is one who you just have to ask – maybe more than once (haha), but really, he will help if you just lay out how you want him to help. He does everything having to do with the outside of the house/yard, etc. He splits all jobs when we are at home, with the kids. We swap jobs we hate so we don’t get bitter about them. He is good at things that I am not, and vice versa. Knowing that is true helps a lot.

How do you manage motherhood and marriage?

Before Reese was diagnosed, we were two love birds that went out on dates every weekend, trips alone while the kids were with my parents, and had it all together. Major crises can turn families upside-down, but we seem to navigate well, together. I know that most moms know that feeling when their husband gets home from work and they want to throw the kids at him and say “your turn”. I have been there countless times. I have also learned that it doesn’t help the day at all. I try very hard (and fail often) to not take out the day’s frustrations out on him when he gets home – or to throw responsibilities at him that I could not finish that day. He knows my worries and understands my priorities. When he seems to forget, I kindly remind him where I am at in my own head. Sometimes that doesn’t come out so kind ;) I remind myself often that we are in this busy life together and that I am just blessed that it is with him that I get to live my days out with. Years from now it will just be the two of us in our home. Keeping that relationship strong, throughout these hectic times, is what gets us there.

Do you work? Do you work in an office or at home? What does your work consist of and how do you get it done during the week?

I try to only schedule a certain number of sessions a month. Being a photographer is freeing, in that I fill my calendar my own way. I have an office space adjacent to the kitchen and edit during nap-time or after the kids have gone to sleep. I shoot on the weekend evenings, mainly, while E.J. is at home with the kids and when there’s gorgeous sun. Photography is another way that I keep the “me” in my life of motherhood.

Have your circle of friends changed now that you're a mother? if so, how do you meet new mommy friends?

For sure – I think that happens as your family expands, your priorities change, and what your future goals are all influence who you spend your time with and who you gravitate toward. I finally feel as if I have found my tribe. The friends that have known me as I have grown as a mother, and have continually been in my life, are priceless. The ones that traipsed their way into my life and heart after Reese was diagnosed and watched me gasp for air, cry into their arms, beg for help, and just gave me their love – well, they are my family. Having a child who is sick, you see friends come and go. Some are there for the long haul, some are not. Some need more attention, some understand. Navigating friendships as an adult is so hard and it is even harder as a mother.

What’s the least favorite household chore you dread doing?

There are two things I despise: 1. Taking the clean dishes OUT of the dishwasher (don’t be jealous, but now I have old enough kids to do this for me ::evil laugh::) and 2. Putting tiny little clothes onto tiny little hangers and putting tiny pants into tiny drawers. ::shudder::

Describe a recent experience when you didn’t have it “all together” and how you handled it all.

I feel like it is possible that at any point in time, this answer could change. I do not have it “all together” all of the time. It is just that I simply don’t expect to. I expect someone to poop through her clothes just as we’ve entered the store. I expect my 3 year old to have a tantrum because I didn’t buy the cereal she wanted. I expect to laugh hysterically because we are waddling along like ducks in a line and one of the kids says something inappropriate. We live life with ::shrug:: “stuff happens”. I can’t plan for everything to go right or to go wrong. I just assume that I am going to mess up at some point and we just laugh it off and move on. Having 5 kids tends to tear down the wall between expectations and reality.

Fill in the blank: As a mother, it's a luxury to __________________

Shower alone. Go to the bathroom with the door shut. Finish a meal uninterrupted. Go to sleep at the time you’d like to. Only buy things at the store that was on a list. Have a conversation with your husband without hearing “mom. Mom? Moooom…. MOM!”.
Shall I go on? ;)
What is your philosophy on balance and does it exist in your home?

I try to so delicately walk the line between rules and fun, free choice and responsibility. I want my children to learn that there is a balance between being yourself, expressing who you are and taking a stand for the things you love and want to accomplish – and also that life comes with a set of rules that you may need to learn ;)
Balancing all that we do, here, can feel overwhelming often and I think that is okay. I think teaching your children that sometimes the balance tips is an important lesson in itself.

What are your dreams outside of motherhood that you would like to accomplish?

I would like to get my masters and also ASL certified so I can teach deaf education and/or be a librarian. Down the road, when all of my kids are in school, I think I will need to do more for me, but I am not ready to plan that quite yet.
What is one thing that keeps you sane?

I have learned over the past 2.5 years that every day is a gift. I do not take anything for granted anymore and so looking at my five’s sweet faces keeps me sane. I look at Reese and how far she has come, I see her sisters’ love for her. I listen as they whisper their love and give sweet kisses. My worry about tomorrow, the next day, the day after… my imagination and fear can run wild, but then I hear giggles from 5 tiny redheaded bodies and remember that they are the reason I am who I am. They are why I wake up in the mornings with a grateful heart and what calms me when I am overwhelmed.

What is one question you'd like to ask our fellow mama readers?

If you were granted one wish for your children for the future, what would it be?

Thank you so much Amanda for being apart of this series and being such an inspiration for other mothers, myself included. Her interview gave me a new perspective and I hope it did for you too. To see more of precious little babes, follow her @theskelteseven

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