BY BEA DONOGHUE
Someday soon, they say, I will be the picture of calm, cool and chic right up until the very end of the day.
They tell me as the kids get older, maybe – just maybe – I’ll regain a bit of my sanity and style. I’m clinging to that dream.
But for now, on most days, somewhere along the line – by 9 a.m., tops, actually – I morph into an unkempt and crazed CEO, doling out rules and orders like a seasoned drill sergeant. (Though I’ve got to admit, I run this place like a well-oiled machine).
How does this happen, you may ask. How does this otherwise ultra-cool woman transform like clockwork into a barreling freight train?
It’s a refrain many parents of young kids ask themselves too many times, too often failing to give themselves a break – and a load of credit – for achieving the seemingly impossible: mastering competing responsibilities and crises in an endless stream of constant and rapid-fire motion. It’s a pace surely from which even the most efficient and busiest leaders would shrink.
A glimpse into a parent’s whirlwind life:
On Monday morning, coming off a weekend full of kids’ sports, errands, and knocking items off the to-do list, I drag myself and the kids out of bed to start the work and school week. There’s a lot of racing, cajoling and threatening, and I manage to get us out the door on time, with them looking marginally cared for, and me looking – arguably – professional and awake.
But I end up also yelling at Billy, who never manages to march briskly like the little soldier I require during the morning rush. He gets easily distracted in his happy-go-lucky way, and this sets my commute routine back by precious minutes.
He’s sobbing while we drive to daycare because I have irreparably hurt his feelings and he will remember this – oh, until just about the time I leave daycare, at which time he will gleefully play with his friends and favorite toys for the rest of the day. I’ve been down this road before and know this is his favorite morning antic. Still, it’s enough to shake me. I remind myself to wear sneakers in the morning from now on so that I don’t have to endure the discomfort of heels while trying to hold and console a crying preschooler.
On a good note, I drop off Eddie at school with no further drama. And, all is well, until I hit the highway and face gridlock that goes on for miles. This always surprises me, even though it is this way every single workday during the school year.
By the time I get to work, I am a shadow of the professional, put-together person I was when I left my house just 45 minutes earlier. How did my makeup already manage to smear off? My hair lays flat against my head (except for the flyaways). My work clothes haven’t fit the way they should since my last pregnancy and I’m too stubborn (and cheap) to buy new ones. This annoys me because you know Billy is far too old to be blamed for this “baby weight” anymore, though he is exactly who I blame when the listener does not know the difference.
I put my hair up, and silently vow to recommit to my diet tomorrow. Tomorrow, I say to myself, I will also get a trendy haircut, and go shopping for an updated wardrobe and better makeup!
The workday begins and I do my best to stay focused on my job and generally be both physically and mentally present. Although I fully commit to my job while there, the children still find a way to creep in, like when I have to ask for time off to accommodate a childcare issue, or cringe over the several family sick hours I have had to take over the course of recent months. It can also be tricky when the school nurse calls to talk about Eddie’s sensitive stomach, or daycare calls to discuss Billy’s constantly reappearing “mystery” hives – or when my husband calls to discuss some childcare issue, because we absolutely cannot get a word in edgewise at home with two very active boys, one of whom chirps a constant stream of consciousness from the time his eyes open in the morning until they close at night.
I so appreciate coming into work a little early and being allowed to work straight through for six hours a day in order to jet home for the kids. I am really lucky I can do this, and I think that to myself every day.
After work, I stop home first and give the house a quick once over. All I can see are the dust bunnies under the cabinet, breakfast dishes in the kitchen sink, and dried toothpaste along the bathroom vanity. The dog’s wide eyes plead with me to walk her now, but I have two minutes to get to the bus stop before my worst fear is realized and Eddie is forced to nurse feelings of abandonment for years to come.
I make a note to clean the house again, and ponder how our family can so quickly generate this mess despite my best efforts. Well, maybe the dust bunnies could be vacuumed a little more often… I admonish myself to be more thorough, and head to get the kids.
Seeing them erases the weight of the day and I feel light, joyous and calm. Billy’s dimples, nonsense chattering, and silly nature carry me through as we wait for Eddie to get off the bus. When I see Eddie, his sweet and loving nature removes all of the clutter that fills my mind. The 30-second drive home is mommy bliss; I’m reunited with my cherubs once again.
But, imagine the mayhem when the boys are released from the structure of their day. I try to control this as it bubbles to the surface, but am met with tough resistance. Eddie knows the rule that he does homework right away, but he and Billy still push my buttons. “Can we have someone over? Aw, you never let us have any fun. …Whyyyyyyy do I have to do my homework now? Come on mooooom!” They whine in tag-team harmony.
They have short-term memories. They forget about all the kids who come over for fun-filled afternoons of hockey and homemade cookies. They forget about the wildly successful “Summerpalooza” that mommy created, for which we went on a different adventure each week. They forget about the weekly library trips for books, music and movies. They forget about family game days. They forget about their onslaught of organized activities that I move heaven and earth to involve them in.
Finally, I’m able to get Eddie focused on homework. Billy ambles about asking me to play a game or read him a book. But, Eddie still needs some supervision and I never manage to be able to do both at once. Guilt festers. I do all that I can not to turn on the cartoons for our little one during Eddie’s homework time. Sometimes, I even succeed. When I don’t, guilt festers some more.
For the next few minutes, I’m a wonder of accomplishments. I clean, prepare the next day’s lunches, knock more stuff off that damn to-do list, and prep the evening meal. He finishes his homework and I buzz about as the boys have their snack and we chat about their day.
I hear another heart-wrenching story of teasing at school, and wonder whether God is going to give me the strength to get through the school years. Though I am weak in the knees and my heart is about to break, I put on a good façade for Eddie and – hopefully – teach him the tools he needs to handle this problem.
No worries though- Eddie’s capacity to care about these things is, thankfully, short and sibling mayhem breaks out in full force. The sound of it is both music to my ears and the equivalent of grating on a chalkboard. The squeals of joy and constant banter make my heart swell. The absolute destruction of all I just cleaned and tidied…I could do without.
Like a tornado, the boys race through the house, leaving no item unturned. Soon, the fighting begins. I make dinner while moderating the impromptu Wrestlemania match in my kitchen.
I put a radio in the kitchen to provide soothing background music for a busy day. But, unless I blast it, I can’t hear it above the kids. That’s why sometimes when dad comes home, it’s on so loud that he immediately rushes to turn it off. It doesn’t matter anyway though because, by now, I can’t even hear myself think, and most days I don’t bother putting it on.
My head hurts from firing off orders, redirecting, restructuring, and – inevitably- scolding.
By the time I look at the clock again, the afternoon is over and I’m shocked. I can’t believe how long it took me to get everything done! I can’t believe I couldn’t get more done in that time frame!
It’s 5:30 p.m. and I’ve barely managed to finish dinner, the house I just cleaned is messier than it was to begin with, and my head is pounding.
It truly looks as if I’ve done nothing all afternoon. For a brief moment I think of that cliché 1950s domestic image, and of my vow to end the day on a high note…and sigh.
By the afternoon’s end, I am in full drill sergeant mode, and both comatose and bursting at the seams to catalog every detail of the day.
I know I’ve developed a cringe-worthy habit of interrupting the family every time someone opens their mouth, and I’m trying to stop, but the role of family CEO is now seared into my being and I can’t stop being “on.”
I simultaneously feel blessed and exhausted; I’m fortunate to have the ability to be home with the boys during the afternoon, and exhausted because I have this ability.
Life as a parent is like trying to run a marathon in the mud, while a 50 pound child leans on you and rubs your hair, and a little preschooler lassos you to hold you in place. Every time you think you’ve made progress, something slows you down, comes at you, or stands in your way. And, even though your pace is slowed, it feels like you are running a million miles a minute!
Never mind trying to be a good person and wife despite the crazy pace. (And, killing myself with guilt when I’m not.)
I often joke that I’m trying to be Superwoman. But in reality, if there really is a Superwoman out there, I’m sure she doesn’t constantly interrupt her husband with her own self-important thoughts, treat her family like they’re her very own small business, or fall asleep while putting the kids to bed every single night.
I’m going to hang up my cape now and call it a day. And, I hope that tomorrow, when I wake up to do it all over again, I will end the day on a high note.