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The Juggling Act of Parenting, Profession, and Perfection

I’ve never been able to juggle. Sure, I’ve tried my hand at the art of keeping multiple balls up in the air in failed attempts to impress my children, but one of them always succumbs to gravity and finds its way to the ground.   Metaphorical juggling however—the kind where task and activities and schedules are delicately balanced and attended to—this is a talent I possess.  I fashion myself a pro at multi-tasking (or at least semi-pro, with the prospect of being called up to the big leagues) and a master of the perfect schedule.  Or at least I did, before I decided to go back to work full-time.  Now I’m dropping metaphorical balls all over the place….and it’s only week two.

This past week started innocently enough: Monday rolled around and all of the lunches were packed, papers were signed, and kids were dressed and on time.  I remember driving to school that morning and thinking, “Oh, this isn’t so bad after all….maybe I CAN be a mother of three and have a career and not lose my mind in the process.”  In retrospect, I shouldn’t have thought that thought.  I was just asking the universe to send me a banana peel to slip on.  You know what they say—“pride cometh before the fall.”

After a warm day in a non-air conditioned building, I was greeted at home by a gap-toothed little boy who had lost his front incisor while chomping down on a Rice Krispie treat I’d packed in his lunch box.  Despite the new lisp, I managed to make out his version of the story that involved “A LOT” of blood (he doesn’t skip out on the dramatics), a desperate trek to the principal’s office to get a wet rag (during which more blood was lost), and the conclusion of the saga that involved not being able to eat the rest of his lunch.  So, as a result, he was “STARVING.” I couldn’t resist using this as a teachable moment (I can be so smug sometimes) and reminded him that if he had eaten his “good food” first and not his treat, he wouldn’t have found himself in this predicament, on the edge of famine and whatnot.  After feeding him and then sending him on his way to bed, I reminded him to put his tooth under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy to find that night.  I made a mental note to myself to find a few dollars to replace it with before I hit the hay myself.  Turns out, I should’ve made myself an actual written note.

The next morning, on my way to work, I was recounting my son’s dramatic tale of loss to my brother when I interrupted myself, mid-story, by yelling out a completely inappropriate word that rhymes with “duck.”  The Tooth Fairy had dropped the ball and gone to bed before performing her duties!

I frantically dialed my husband’s number.  Maybe he could salvage this situation; maybe he could come to the rescue. He answered the phone in what could only be interpreted as half-asleep and half-annoyed, and barely uttered a greeting when I blurted out, “I forgot the tooth!  I forgot to put money under his pillow!  Hurry, you have to go and be the Tooth Fairy before he wakes up….but don’t wake him up, you have to do it quietly…but hurry!”

He responded with a less frantic, “Okay, I’ll go up to his room right now.  Where is the money you want me to use?”

I paused, “Uhhh….I don’t have any cash around.  Do you?”

Husband – “Nope.”

I wracked my brain. The Tooth Fairy couldn’t leave a check! (Could she? No, of course not.) Where could he find a few dollars lying around?  We use our cards for everything these days….but there had to be some cash, somewhere.  Then it came to me—a terrible, yet essential solution.

He has a five dollar bill in his desk. Take it out and put it under his pillow.  Don’t forget to grab his tooth.  And go quick, before he wakes up.”

Yep, we did that.  We took our son’s own money to use as Tooth Fairy money in the few chaotic minutes before he woke up in the morning.  Want to know what’s worse than that?  We replaced the money from his desk with four ones, two quarters, and five dimes that we robbed from his sister’s piggy bank so that he wouldn’t be suspicious when he deposited his “new” five dollars in his desk drawer.  It sounds terrible, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

If that was the only thing that happened last week to reflect my lack of planning, I would’ve considered it a fluke and moved on.  But, my same sweet boy hopped into my van after school on Thursday and asked why I hadn’t dressed him in red, white, and blue.  I uttered that same inappropriate word (this time I muttered it quietly instead of proclaiming it loudly), and apologized for forgetting the day’s dress code.  You see, it was Constitution Day on Thursday – a Congressionally mandated day of recognition for our founding document, the blueprint of our nation’s government that is observed by school children of all ages.  Some of you are probably thinking, “So what, big deal…whoever heard of this day anyway?”  I have.  Not only have I heard of it, but I also teach social studies and lead Constitution Day lessons in my own classroom.  In fact, when this day started a few years ago, I was responsible for coming up with a Constitution Day curriculum for the district.  So, yeah, I’ve heard of it.  And, yeah, I forgot to dress my kids up in the colors of our nation.

So he didn’t get to be in the Constitution Day picture and I got to be “that parent” and the week wasn’t even over yet.  Rubbing salt in the wound of my son (who epitomizes school spirit and loves dress up days) was Sister Sabotage, chiming in from the back seat to let us know that she managed to get into the picture, despite my lack of planning. As you can imagine, this tidbit of information was super helpful and worked wonders on my attempts to de-escalate the situation.  (She just so happened to be wearing a blue shirt that day…a random blue shirt that had pink and green on it…but blue nonetheless.)

We recovered from our wardrobe malfunction and managed to get to soccer practice on time that night (a miracle in itself).  Dinner on the way home was a rushed collection of junk food and Gatorade, with an apple thrown in to make me feel like less of a terrible mom.  Canceling out the good nutrition of the apple was the two chocolate donuts I gave my 15 month old to keep her from crying in her car seat all the way home.  Oh well, I suppose its par for the course that as the number of kids rises, the minutes you have to devote to good nutrition declines.  I’m sure I learned something about that in economics class, but I’m too tired to remember that now.

We were in the homestretch.  One more day until the weekend!  On Friday morning I packed their lunches (the nicely prepared sandwiches and yogurts of earlier in the week were now replaced by pre-packaged Lunchables with juice box and sugar included) and sent them on their way.  It wasn’t until after school that I realized that I’d forgotten to pack their Friday folders in their bags too. This resulted in another disappointed look from my first-grader, backpacks full of crumpled up papers for home, and another face-palm for me.

In the game of parenting, you can’t win ‘em all.  And sometimes, you just can’t win.  This past week was the latter around our house.  It was one of those weeks where we all (okay, me) just seemed a bit behind the 8-ball, just one step short.  And now that I’ve mixed all kinds of metaphors, I’ll just get down to the real issue—being a parent and having a career is HARD.  There is just so much to remember, so many bags to pack, so many sandwiches to make, so many clothes to wash, so many lessons to plan, and so few hours in the day.  My To-Do list is a mile long and lost somewhere under the old French fries and smelly soccer cleats in the back seat of my van.  My refrigerator is a barren wasteland, a sad collection of mustard bottles and pickle jars.  My laundry pile reaches into the horizon, and the kids have even attempted to scale the summit.   My eyes are tired and my feet are sore and I’ve skipped out on my workout routine for days.

So why do we do it?  Why do we pull our aching bones out of bed, day after day, racing from work to school to practice and back home, just to collapse in bed and do it all over again a few short hours later?  I can’t speak for others, so I’ll just tell you why I do it.

I do it so that my girls can see that a woman really can have it all—that she doesn’t have to chose between a career that she loves and a family that she adores.  There will be sacrifices, but she can have both.  I do it so that my son will value the role of women in the workforce and the importance of chipping in to do the housework, just like his Daddy does.  I do it so that my husband doesn’t have to work through soccer games and hockey practices. I do it so that my kids can learn the importance of teamwork and commitment. I do it so that I can stretch my mind and follow my own dreams. I do it so that I can make a difference, albeit small, in the lives of my students.  I do it so that I can end each week with a well-deserved beverage and a feeling of satisfaction.

And even after all of the mishaps and mayhem of my second week as a full-time mom and a full-time teacher, I am still smiling.  I might have forgotten Constitution Day, but I didn’t forget to write his daily love notes, slipped into his lunchbox and tucked underneath the fruit snacks.  I might have slacked on the nutritional value of their dinners, but I didn’t slack on the bedtime hugs and kisses.  I might have dropped a few balls along the way, but I picked up the important ones and kicked the other ones behind the bushes.  Besides, juggling is a stupid trick anyway.

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