You know the routine.
Monday, 7am. Still at home, already late for work if we count the commute and the child care transfer, nowhere near ready to go. The overly verbose toddler pulling at your pants and saying, I’m ready to go Mommy, I’m ready to go Mommy, over and over and over because everything she says now she plays on repeat until she finds another new phrase to practice. You’ve put the polkadot labels on the bpa-free Tupperware – two containers each for breakfast, lunch, and snack – and you’ve written in sharpie on the mini-yogurt cups, on the plastic covering of bright orange cheese sticks, on the perfectly yellow skin of an organic banana. You pack the graham crackers and the no-spill sippie cup for the car, the Dolly that’s allowed to travel outside of the house and the alphabet machine to keep the child company in case of traffic. Double check that there is a change of clothes in the diaper bag and coat in case it gets cold by the end of the day (no, we have not had winter in LA this year), make sure there are enough diapers and diaper covers in case of spills, pull two overused dry bags still wet from the washing machine. And don’t forget the bag full of food for yourself because there’s no way you’ll escape the office for lunch. The week ahead is announcing itself like a small town tornado siren.
Sound familiar? Maybe this isn’t quite you – maybe your eco-guilt hasn’t made you succumb to the hassle of cloth diapers, maybe you wised up and enrolled in the school food program instead of wasting all that time with all those tiny containers of food. Maybe you’re capable of starting AND finishing a load of laundry. Or maybe your week looks a lot like mine.
Tuesday is a little better. The chaos of Monday morning reminded me why I’m always nagging myself to plan ahead, to label the yogurt cartons in advance and to turn on the dryer before I go to sleep, and my extra work from the evening before pays off with a smooth sendoff this morning. It’s my night to work late, which leaves me aching for my Koukla for the better part of the afternoon, but it also means that she is exhausted by the time we get home. She goes to sleep easily, which buys me an extra hour to get my life prepared for the rest of the week before sitting back down to work on the things I wish were really my job (namely writing, reading, and more writing, of course). I go to sleep feeling like I’ve survived the worst of it and better days are ahead. Just three more mornings till the weekend.
By Wednesday’s wakeup I’m back in the groove. I took advantage of Tuesday’s easy bedtime to make and plate slow cook organic oatmeal so the baby can start her day right, even if she is not starting her day with me, which serves a dual purpose of assuaging my guilt for one more day, and with the lunch pre-packed, the shoes already chosen, and the guilt filed neatly away, I make it almost on time to the office. Machine wash leggings have given way to tailored trousers, I’m looking and feeling a bit more like the leader I’m getting paid to be. My workaholism is finally revving its engine.
Oh how I enjoy this brief encounter with managing my life as well as I manage my department. I’m so good at this!, I tell myself, What was I thinking when I said I wanted to be a stay at home mom?
Inevitably then, Wednesday bedtime arrives, when Koukla makes it known that she has not been seeing enough of me by willing her eyes to stay open and locked on me long after she should have let them fall asleep, by wailing when I leave the room for a tiny little break in between the 45 minute sleep sheep wave cycles. On Thursday morning there is weekend-tinged light at the end of the long workweek tunnel, but I am too tired and too bleary eyed to see it.
At least by now I have the routine down. I get out of the house on par to make it to work on time, but once at school my daughter clings to me in her classroom. She will not let me leave; I don’t want her to let me leave. Finally I pry myself from her arms and fake a clean getaway while fighting back tears. She is two years old! At some point shouldn’t we have gotten used to this? Or am I just the world’s most organized, most manic depressive mom?
And then it’s Friday! I feel conflicted about teaching my daughter the everybody working for the weekend concept at such a young age, but I just can’t hide the thrill of anticipation I feel. We float through the day, knowing that by the time the sun goes to sleep we’ll be together again – no rushing, no packing, no saying goodbye, just two full days of perfect, joyful together time.
Until Sunday, 7pm. When it all starts again. Dinner time, bath time, story time, bed time. When the sun wakes up, our party is over.
Some weeks I feel like I’ve found the magic key that unlocks a happy, stress-free life, despite the busy that has become my workweek uniform. Other weeks I feel like the mouse that, no matter how many times he gets shocked, just keeps reaching for that cheese – maybe if I pay closer attention to my minute by minute schedule, maybe if I cook more meals in advance, maybe if I train myself to start waking up at 5am again – maybe then I’ll get the knack of it! But either way, I’m just fooling myself. There is no magic key, no muscle memory that is quick enough to outfox reality.
I like to fantasize about being a stay at home mom, but deep down I know that I would miss my career – I would miss it even for just that one morning a week when I feel like I’m being successful in an independent pursuit. The reason I keep coming back to the idea of staying at home is not because I want to give up my career; I just want to escape this vicious seven-day cycle.
And so here we are with the same unanswered questions as always: Can we really have it all? The successful career, and the successfully satiated mother-child bond? Is it really just a myth after all?
But I’m nothing if not stubborn, I’ll keep running this hamster wheel until the spokes fall off. Because those broken spokes will be the cantilevers I need for my bridge to that mythical place I know I can make reality.