Monday at 12:50 AM found me dropping Lilah off at my friend’s house. Preschool had gotten out at noon, and we had rushed home to a 20 minute lunch. While she was eating, I scrubbed the peepee out of her shoes from the accident she’d had at preschool; I was careful to stand back from the sink while I washed, since I’d already dressed in work clothes before picking up Lilah. I brushed her teeth, scrubbed some of the food off of her face, and strapped her into the car.
I had picked up a freelance project and, as is often the case, had a meeting to discuss the work beforehand. The meeting wasn’t until 2:00, but Tara lives 20 minutes further out of the city from my house and you never know about traffic and I’m sort of a maniac about being early.
Here’s how it works now that I’m living near Tara again: when she has an afternoon meeting that interferes with her 2:20 elementary school pickup, I get her daughter from school then race back here for our 3:00 elementary school pickup. And vice versa. I think it was nice of our school districts to stagger it like that for us.
But the problem with a 2:00-2:45 meeting – especially on Mondays and Wednesdays, which are Benjamin’s kindergarten half days – is that I have two children to dispose of and the babysitters are still in school. Tara is very willing to take them, but she’s working during those hours. I don’t want to ask her to shelve her work so I can take a meeting, and only one of my children will play quietly while she works. Take a guess which one.
I arranged a playdate for Benjamin with a kid whose mother who doesn’t work on Mondays.
The meeting went great and I could focus because at 2:20, I knew Tara had Lilah in the car while they went to get her daughter, and then at 2:25, they were driving away, fighting traffic to get to my school district. At 3:00, as I drove away from my meeting, I knew that Tara was picking up Zachary.
As to Benjamin? Well, the girl he was playing with has an older sister who also gets out at 3:00, so the mom was returning him to the elementary school, where she would meet Tara and make the handoff.
I drove up to my house, where Tara was just driving away to get her youngest child, leaving my three playing with a high school babysitter who had rushed over from her school to be there for the 10-minute gap.
It doesn’t take a village, people. It takes a fucking spreadsheet.
On Tuesday morning, I started the project before I had to rush back to the preschool and then the babysitter came back for two hours in the afternoon so I could finish and then when the kids went to bed I revised and then Wednesday morning I emailed out the draft to the powers that be and – holy shit – I had a whole hour before preschool pickup and I could go to the damned grocery store.
There was this mother at the grocery store with a toddler and a preschooler. She was one of those mothers who makes the rest of us feel like assholes because she was so calm and patient and I had screamed like a fishwife to get my kids out of the house that morning. “You’re so calm!” I marveled to her, as we stood in line. “I feel like all I did this morning was yell at my kids to put their shoes on.”
“Oh, well, I’m only home today because he’s sick. I work full time, so I just appreciate the time I have with them,” she purred. Then she looked at me with that I’m-so-magnanimous-to-you-pampered-SAHMs thing going on and gave a modest shrug. “There are tradeoffs.”
At which point I wanted to throw my carton of eggs at her one at a time because, dammit lady, if anyone knows about tradeoffs, it’s me.
All of this is to say, in response to the recent kerfuffle about whether stay-at-home parents work, can we please stop with the Working Mom/SAHM dichotomy? Enough already. Except for the rare person who is married to a very wealthy governor, very few parents fall neatly into categories anymore. I know parents working part-time to keep their resumes up while they care for young children. I know single parents who somehow show up for every school event while also maintaining careers. I know parents who look like full-time caregivers but spend the hours their kids are at school sending out inquiries and resumes. I know fathers rushing their kids to school in the morning so mom can get to work early and then pick up the kids at 5:00, when after-care ends. I know laid-off, underemployed, and freelance parents. I know people in my boat – we’re able to make it on one salary, but we’re very aware of how dangerous it is for a family to be reliant on the continued employment of one person. I know very few full stay-at-home parents.
If the Mommy Wars are truly revving back up again – and I hope they aren’t – I’d like someone to tell me which side I’m on. Not that I’ll have time to do battle, because revisions will come in and the kids need new shoes and we all need to exercise and at some point Downton Abbey will start back up and there’ll go another hour of my week.