Meet Rachel Calderon-Murphy, a firefighter from Potomac who works in Frederick County. She’s married to another firefighter, Sean Murphy, and because of their conflicting schedules, they are only together with their kids—Ava, 16, and Maximus (aka Moose), 5—two days a week. It’s a tough lifestyle, but Calderon-Murphy can’t see herself doing anything else.
Here’s how the busy mom of two makes it work.
What do you love about the work you do?
I have been a firefighter since I was 16 years old. I have worked with Frederick County Fire and Rescue for almost three years, but I’ve been volunteering with Rockville Volunteer Fire Department for 15 years. I tried to do other jobs, but this is where my heart is. There is no doubt that firefighters see people at some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. If I can do something to make them smile, or make them better, then I’ve made a difference.
Also, there’s nothing that gets my blood pumping more than when I’m working on the fireground or on an intense EMS call. Oddly enough, it’s that chaos that really makes me think clearly. I think that takes a certain type of person.
What do you love about being a mom?
My kids have taught me more about life and love than I ever knew before. They teach me something new every day, and they show me how to love and open my heart. I love the adventures they take me on, and I love being able to share my life experiences and wisdom so that they hopefully learn from my mistakes. I love watching them grow and face their fears. They are unique individuals with minds of their own, and I am truly proud of that.
What do you find challenging about raising kids?
I think the biggest challenge is always wondering if you’re doing it right. There are so many different ways of parenting, and what works for one kid probably won’t work for another. I have found the best way to combat the confusion is by talking to my mom friends—with a glass of sangria!
My husband and I also have a strong faith, and we turn to God, the Bible and our church family when we are struggling. Having that support from the ones you love and people who know what you’re going through helps you realize that what you do may not always be textbook “right,” but it may be what’s right for your family.
What’s something that makes juggling motherhood and your career a little bit easier?
My husband and I are both firefighters, and he is also in the Maryland Air National Guard. We work opposite shifts: 24 hours on, 48 hours off. He also has one weekend a month where he is serving his military duties.
What helps us is living with my mother and having a great family support system. My mom opened up her home to us when my stepdaughter, Ava, came to live with us in 2012. She not only helps us with the childcare, but she has helped us with parenting as well. Her help was critical while Sean was deployed in 2018.
What do you and your family love to do together?
Because of our schedules, there are usually only two days a week when we are all together. It’s hard, honestly. Most families, most kids, do not experience that. So we try to take advantage of our time together. We have family dinners, go to church and take walks or hike. Sometimes we’ll make a fire in the backyard and roast marshmallows for s’mores. Other times we may just end up on the couch watching TV, but we’re together.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work and home life?
Work has definitely been more stressful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both my husband and I are worried about what we could potentially bring home to our kids and my mom. We take all the precautions we can and make sure that cleanliness is a priority in the house. My husband is also a paramedic, so he sees a lot of those patients. My firehouse is the HazMat house in Frederick, and we are in charge of decontaminating all the units that transport potential or positive COVID patients. The stress is high, but we know what we signed up for when we started our careers.
It has also presented a challenge at home. Our routines are totally out of whack and everyone is going a bit stir-crazy. We try to keep some kind of routine with the kids and stay active, but we miss our family outside the home. Luckily, we have been taking advantage of technology and using FaceTime or Zoom to talk with family and friends. We will make it through this, we just have to stay positive.
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How are you able to maintain a social life between working and parenting?
It’s tough. I could probably try to have more of a social life outside of work, but the guys I work with are great friends of mine, and every third day I get to spend 24 hours with them. I still volunteer in Rockville, and I have a lot of friends there, too.
My husband and I also make sure to have day dates when our kids are in school to keep our social connection strong. We both know how important it is for us to have our outlets away from kids and from work. If we don’t, then the family suffers. You can’t give everything to your kids and nothing to yourself. You can’t expect to take care of the kids if you can’t take care of yourself first.
How do you take care of your mental and physical health?
I stay active because my job requires it. I hate running, so I get my cardio through swimming, which I love. I grew up swimming competitively and still have a strong passion for it. I also like to go out in nature. When the weather is nice, my husband and I will hike along the Potomac or go for a bike ride.
The fire department can take a mental toll on you. We see things that most people don’t. I’m very thankful that my husband and I can talk to each other. We both understand if the other one has a bad shift because we both have been there. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t in the fire service or something like it.
I know, after years of being in this field, that it’s better to talk about things than to keep it all in. Even when it’s hard, we have to talk.
What would you do if you had one hour without any responsibilities?
I would probably either take a nap, have a bubble bath or get that long-awaited massage I’ve been promising myself for year but haven’t booked yet! Anything that would force me to relax. I’m always on the move, so it would be nice to pause and come up for air. Knowing me, I wouldn’t be able to do that for a full hour though. I would get too antsy and start thinking of all the things I need to do!
A version of this article appeared in the June 2020 issue of Washington FAMILY.
We’re always looking for local moms and dads who are juggling multiple priorities and making a positive impact in their community to feature online and in our magazine. Send your nominations to [email protected].