It’s 8:30am and most mothers have already done half a day’s work. The washing machine is working on the first load of the day, the kids are clean and dressed and fed, the dishwasher unpacked, the breakfast mess cleaned, the floor swept, the toothpaste cleaned from the bathroom sink, the lost school shoes found. I usually throw down half a cup of cold coffee at this point as I’m herding the kids into the car.
Whether you drop the kids off at school/kinda/daycare and then return home or continue onto an office or workplace your day is probably busy. Mums are world-class multitaskers. You can be in your office working on the cash flow forecast whilst simultaneously ordering your groceries online and conversing via text with your sister about that hideous dress Sam’s new girlfriend wore at the family picnic on Sunday.
Or at home nursing your baby with one hand, whilst re-dressing your toddler with the other and using the power of your Wicked Mum Stare to convince their brother to not strangle the cat.
Or standing in line at Medicare rocking your pram, with your toddler on your hip, holding your stupid/smart phone to your ear with your shoulder trying not to drop it, or mute it, or hang up on the principal who has called to tell you about the ‘lunchtime incident.’
Then there’s the rush to pick the kids up and run them around to their afterschool activities. “Come on let’s move we have to get to tennis/acting/swimming. Yes I’m glad you had a good day Darling; tell me when we get home, right now we have to move faster”.
This moving faster is the reason I have no points left on my license.
You get to tennis and drop the kid off and have exactly 26 minutes to get to the supermarket and back because you forgot to pick up the chicken for dinner. You forgot to pick up the chicken for dinner because for the hour you were grocery shopping you spent 18 minutes on the phone convincing your boss that you most definitely DID email that report, 27 minutes on the phone to your best friend listening to her marital issues and 47 minutes on the phone to your Mother discussing how worried you both are about your idiotic brother and When Is He Going to Grow Up!
(If you did the math, it doesn’t work. That’s the point.)
You get home and the kids systematically empty their school bags like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs all over the floor, from the front door to…everywhere. All the while complaining that they don’t want chicken for dinner, they want pasta. But they’re getting chicken if for no other reason than you had to go back to the supermarket to get it.
You’re cooking the dinner, drinking the wine (be thankful for small mercies) reminding the kids about homework that is optimistically sitting on the table while they study ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’ with the tutor otherwise known as Foxtel. You’re keeping one ear open for the spin cycle to finish on the washing machine so that you can get that one more load hung out before dark, the other ear on the squabbling kids in case you need to step in and mediate and you’re reading the school notices, updating your organiser and running through your mental to do list for tomorrow.
Your husband calls 2 minutes before he’s supposed to be walking in the door, right when dinner is ready, to say he’ll be 30 minutes late and now you try to hold dinner off for a bit in an attempt to eat together as a family. Just when the chicken dries into inedible lumps you realise it’s pointless because he’s as busy as you are and 30 minutes late will be more like 60 minutes late. You then spend the next 30 minutes doing two things. 1. Telling the children the chicken is NOT too ‘hard and lumpy’, and 2. Answering the same question revised, over and over again. ‘Where’s Dad?” “Is Dad coming to dinner?” “Why is Dad not eating dinner with us?” “Is Dad Late?” “Why is Dad late?” “What time will Dad be home?” “Is Dad in China?” (This from Princess because we always eat dinner together, when we don’t it’s usually because Dad is on a business trip – to China.)
Even sitting down to dinner doesn’t necessarily mean focusing on just that. If you have a baby they always want to be fed when Mums’ dinner is ready. Eating cold food with one hand is a Mothers rite of passage.
It’s fine to be doing all those things, we need to. Problem is we’re moving so fast and doing so much all at once that we’ve stopped living; we’ve stopped seeing the world as it is. My kids notice things that I would never even see. A rainbow; the first spring butterfly; a trail of marching ants; a tiny little clover lost in a sea of grass. Princess notices animals in a way that amazes me “Mum, why is that dog sad?” I hadn’t even seen the dog, despite the fact that I stepped over him to get to the school gate. But when I actually take a minute out of my own head, I feel his sadness too.
I realised about 18 months ago that my family was suffering because of my multitasking. Working full-time and running the house was leaving no time for the little things. No time to drop in on Captain Clumsy, sit on the end of his bed and talk about how we both like Dr Seuss and the green he chose for his wall. No time to snuggle with The Actor and coax some conversation out of him. No time to listen to Deflectors long stories. No time to paint Princess’ nails to match my own. The teachers started calling us in for discussions. Has anything changed at home? What’s going on? We’ve seen some behaviour that’s concerning. Can you enlighten us?
Yeah, Mum is absent that’s what’s going on.
Even when I was there, I wasn’t there. I was in my head, thinking about Cash Flow and Quality Management and What’s For Dinner Tomorrow, and Don’t Forget to Collect Hubby’s Dry Cleaning.
I had to make a choice, slow down or prepare for our destruction.
I chose to slow down. I eased myself out of my job, and now I work a couple of days a month. I lost a lot of money. Money that I probably would have spent on childcare or eating out because I was too tired to cook. Money for expensive shoes and toys and stuff. Money for consumerism that does not help my kids one little bit. They didn’t want stuff, they wanted Mum.
I don’t prioritise housework anymore, anyone who has seen my house lately can testify. I struggled with this, I used to be a cleaning Nazi, like my own mother, but she learned and then helped me to learn that in the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter one jot. Your house needs to be clean, as in sanitary, obsessive tidiness is unnecessary. In 20 years my kids are not going to look back and think “Geez mums neat linen cupboard was so nice, wasn’t it. I really liked how all the towels matched.” Don’t laugh; I used to care about shit like that.
I try to do one thing at a time now. I make time for myself. I go out for lunch with friends. I visit my sister for no reason other than I want to see her. I don’t have to have an agenda. I make my to-do list on my ipad so that it’s out of my head. I leave the house like a pigsty to take the kids to the park, or for a walk on the beach, or for a hotchocolate with marshmallows . I choose what projects, tasks and commitments to take on and what to leave behind. I try not to feel guilty about saying No.
I used to do everything all at once. I felt like I was doing everything by halves, which sucked but I knew I was incapable of doing any more. My work, my family, my relationships, nothing was given 100%, there was just not enough time. Nothing was satisfying because there is no satisfaction in just scraping by.
I used to think that being chaotic and crazily busy was life with kids, now I realise that it is a choice.
My choice to let it go is still an uphill battle. Letting go does NOT come easily.
But nothing worthwhile ever does.
Try to sift out all the important stuff in your life, hold onto it with two hands and shake the excess off.
Take a deep breath.
And next time your child tugs your hand to stop and look at a blade of grass, or find the perfect rock, or watch the ants follow the leader, let him. And give yourself permission to do it too.