As we narrate the Exodus at our Passover seders, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I celebrate my freedom. My family and I treat ourselves like royalty and recline on soft chairs as we eat. (I relish these seder requirements.)
But as a married mother of two young children and a school counselor in New York City, “relaxing” is not a word I’d use to describe my daily routine. It’s obviously far better than forced servitude, but modern working motherhood is plagued with a specific set of challenges…
1. Sleep Deprivation
Somewhere in the world, there are children that sleep for 12 consecutive hours each night. Sadly, those children do not live in my house. At 5 and 3, my daughters vehemently fight me on bedtime and are both up at least once each night. I have to function in a professional capacity, and I need caffeine. A lot of caffeine. God should consider turning the Belt Parkway into a river of espresso.
2. School Schedules
No parent (not even educators!) has a work schedule that exactly matches their child’s school calendar. Snow days or early dismissals leave us scrambling for backup or forcing us to take vacation time. And then there are book fairs and science fairs and Mother’s Day Teas and birthday parties and holiday parties, all which mandate parental attendance. Each schedule change creates its own mayhem. I frantically hop from work, to school event, then home, and back again.
Little children are walking carriers for germs. Mine have come home with all kinds of yucky things. Coxsackie and strep throat and stomach bugs…ick. Each winter, it’s illness after another. Each time, my husband and I have to decide who stays home with the sick child. To show their gratitude, my daughters graciously share their germs us. And now we are out of sick days and have to go to work. At least we’ve managed to avoid lice (so far…).
4. Extracurricular Activities
Gone are the days when we can open our front doors, turn our kids loose, and not expect to see them again before dinner. Now, suburban parenting requires children to be enrolled in structured activities: gymnastics, soccer, yoga, t-ball… The options are staggering. My daughters’ friends are involved in everything under the sun, but my children can’t do the same. There’s a little voice that buzzes, like a fly near my ear, that I’m hurting their development in some way.
5. Mommy Wars
I love reading mommy blog posts, yet it seems like every piece offends someone. In an instant, posts can change us from rational moms into a herd of angry bovines. Yet empathy is a simple vaccination that prevents the disease of misunderstanding. So to the stay-at-home moms reading this: I may have made different choices than you, but that doesn’t mean I think yours were wrong. I am recounting my struggles, but I don’t think your life is easy. We’re all in the trenches together.
6. School Projects
Last minute projects give me gray hair. I don’t want to let my children down, but I don’t have the time to hunt for random items without any notice. I don’t enjoy spending my evenings covered in dried glue and googly eyes. I yearn for the day that my daughters can do it all themselves, because dealing with these projects is as much fun as a lancing a skin abscess.
7. The Nighttime Race
My husband picks up our daughters from school, and I get home a bit later. They greet me immediately. We hug and kiss. And then the evening’s to-do list pelts me like hailstones. There’s homework to finish. Dinner needs to be prepared and served and cleaned up. There are teeth to brush and baths to take and pajamas to put on and repeated requests for “one more story!” Then the main parts of the house have to be tidied. There’s laundry piling up in its pail. My husband and I typically split the chores, but even so, I barely outrun the storm.
8. Finding Day Care
Once I knew I was returning to work, I had to find reliable childcare for my daughters. Armed with a list of questions, I inspected each site. I noted my daughters’ reactions as we looked around. I scoured the NYS Department of Health webpage to see if the site was charged with any infractions. I discovered that parents swarm like locusts around great daycares. The best ones have to be booked early or risk the dreaded Wait List.
9. Morning Routines
I wake up in the dark, and I’m in motion from the moment I open my eyes. I shower and dress at warp speed. There are breakfasts and lunches and snacks to prep; children to dress; hair to tie up into pigtails; school bags to pack and load into the car. There are car seats to fight with and toys that fall on the floor. And I deal with this before the spring sun finishes rising.
Balancing my obligations and my family’s needs is hard. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. As soon as I think I’ve mastered the routine, something changes. I know it’ll continue to evolve as my daughters grow.
I tell myself that these plagues are just drops of wine pulled out of a full glass. My life is slightly chaotic, and there are certainly things that I wish I could change. But it is a good life. My children are warm and safe and fed and healthy (poo, poo, poo) and they are worth it all.