Right about August 10 is when my anxiety brews as a mother. It’s at this time that the upcoming school year starts to tap on my shoulders. When many of you are hosting picnics, anticipating a vacation or maybe even enjoying another evening bonfire, I am usually beginning to draft what I refer to as my “mommy survival plan.” I’m entering my sixth year of trying to manage this stage of parenthood when I’m operating on an employment schedule that changes every four months. Unlike other teaching positions, college instructors are given assignments at random and you never know what you’re going to get. Now believe it or not, I like a good gamble. You know, gambling that you can control the outcome of? However, that type of gambling doesn’t exist on the academic calendar anymore than it does in real life. What makes our gambling even more fun is that we have to coordinate two teaching schedules and overtime so that I can be at home with our three children full-time. How ‘bout them odds?
There I am trying to envision how to make it work rather than unravel as a family for what I experience as my chance at the roulette wheel. Sometimes if I’m feeling really dangerous, I’ll play a round of poker to place bets on how to make it all work.
“I’ll raise you one morning of a successful 10 minute hot shower, for your 15 minute car-ride to work in complete silence.”
It gets risky folks.
The odds aren’t usually in favor of what our family needs like regularity, predictability and consistency. I wish I could tell you that in the six years of living this reality that we have gracefully accepted it, but that would be a lie. What many seem to experience as a relaxing, cheerful, blessed and happy holiday season, looks quite different for us. We’re trying to survive through it all just before the inevitable change in schedules leave us right back at playing another round of roulette. These four months are also during the most chaotic season for us as a family. From October 31st to January 1st we are socially, financially and physically cramming in four major holidays, two children’s birthdays, school events and functions, final exams, grading, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Then there is that thing called guilt. Do you know her? She and I have become better acquainted since becoming a parent. Not only am I juggling to keep it all together, but if I don’t look happy and express my blessings to everyone while doing it, well than, I’m just not doing/seeing/hearing/experiencing it right. All I know is that by the time Thanksgiving hits, I’m already exhausted with the line of expectations, anticipated failures and lack of energy (and sleep) without even making it half-way through the holiday season.
Ah-hem. Excuse me for a second while I’m honest. I know it’s intense and for some of you, displeasing.
This year didn’t prove to be any different except there were additional events, costs and expectations. My angst as a mother went from tapping me on the shoulders to finding a cozy nesting place in the barrel of my belly. I can’t do and be it all, but I was going to do what I know so many of us do anyway.
Kill myself trying.
So before I knew it, December was already here. I am beginning to wonder if there is a holiday for “R.A.H.” You know, Recovery After the Holidays? Can I schedule that in somewhere? It’s time to put the tree up, decorate the outdoors and hang the advent calendar all while still waiting for our fall leaves to be picked up on the curb. Shortly after putting the Christmas tree up the kids began to talk about their beloved friend, “Fred” the elf who they remembered did silly things and left fun treats out last year. “Oh shoot!” I forgot about Fred. I must have forgotten to write it on the calendar. Mommy fail. So I ran around frantically trying to find Fred and began thinking about creative ideas.
Honest moment alert.
I even scheduled an alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t forget to put Fred out before I surrendered to bed at night. Children will always have enough to say about how their parents disappointed them. For me, it wasn’t going to be about Fred. This is one of the many reasons why I develop a survival plan in August. So, I did just that. I put Fred up on the table in their playroom with an army of their My Little Pony horses and their Star Wars light saber. At the center of Fred’s lap, I put a Star Wars medal and miniature felt-unicorn I thankfully found in the “Mommy’s miracle bag” for the kids before collapsing into bed. The next morning I woke up to giggling, sheer excitement and yelps for me. I get out of bed and yawn my way down the stairs.
“Mommy, look! Fred came. Look what he did to Autumn’s ponies and my light saber! Look what he left me!”
My son was standing with innocent amazement and full of surprise right beside his sister who couldn’t wait to tell me what Fred left her. I couldn’t calm their excitement and all of a sudden the angst lifted in the barrel of my belly. That moment was as much about providing an invitation to keep going as it was to feel a sense of pride that despite my own maternal struggle to “do it all,” that I was responsible for doing something so little that brought so much joy.
Where I am normally scrambling to get coffee, bottles and breakfast going, I actually took a minute to soak the moment in. Sometimes that is what the season really feels like as a parent. Or at least that is how I experience this stage, age and our circumstances. We’re always playing roulette trying to make it all come together. Sometimes the odds are in our favor and sometimes they’re not. When you rely on a sense of control to help juggle the relentless and unforgiving parental expectations, you also miss the spontaneous moments to off-set the times you lose. Today Fred provided an invitation for me to see that there is power in the mundane moments you can’t always plan for.
So we have another addition to our family and his name is Fred.
Normally he visits us from December 1st until New Years (the kids extend his stay), but this year I might actually propose he stays longer. I don’t think August will ever be an easy month for me as a mother, but for now, Fred is making the inevitable end and beginning of one season (and schedule) more bearable. You’ll never hear me say that sitting at the gambling table feels like anything but complete and utter FEAR, but our additional member is helping to replace my morning angst for what lies ahead of me each day into innocent joy and peace.
Or that is, until they argue about why Fred left one child something the other wanted.
Now if only we could get Fred to perform real magic and prepare the 21 meals for the upcoming week. Now that would be one hell of a win!
In Love & Truth,