I go back and forth thinking I’m doing an okay job balancing work and family, and then sure that I’m not. And this week’s proof of my failure to thrive was in the mail, proclaiming to everyone in the school community that I’m not within 50 yards of making it work.
Do I mean “rush down the stairs last week while brushing my teeth to help with a dispute gone wild, abandon my toothbrush in the kitchen, and brush my teeth with the kids’ brushes at midnight, for a week, because I’m too tired to fetch my own” failure to thrive? Sure, but also “ask my kids to find my keys or phone every morning because I seriously can’t keep track of anything” failure to thrive? Yep. And “let my kid curse like a sailor because I can’t seem to find consistency, in anything”? Uh-huh. That, too.
A bit of background: my dear little boys are finally in the same school. We are two months into a two-year phase, the only one of their lives, where they’ll be at the same school. And it’s heavenly. One drop off. One set of events. One community thoroughly disappointed in my level of commitment.*
*I’m assuming that disappointment. I might be projecting, just a wee bit, since I’m completely disgusted with my level of commitment. But I’m pretty sure the other parents, teachers, and staff have noticed, too. I see the way they look at me…smiling and waving. Making small talk. They clearly hate me.
When my oldest started kindergarten five years ago, I cried the first day. I was in the classroom twice a week. I knew all the kids’ names by the end of the week, and they wrote me thank you notes when the year ended. The second child, who started kindergarten this year, got none of that. I drop him, greet the teacher, and all but run out of the schoolyard within 2 seconds of the bell ringing.
It helps that the second guy is very independent. (Probably because he hates me, too, though that’s another post.) It also helps that I’m rushing off to a job I enjoy, where I feel I’m doing valued work, and where I am cobbling together a flex schedule that lets me be with the boys every non-school hour. Or, at least, every non-school hour of my days. On their dad’s days, I work longer hours.
And that’s where some of the ruining comes in. I don’t mean the part about me ruining the kids because I have shared custody. That’s just to easy a target. I mean the part about me ruining everything else while I try to work full-time, be with my kids full-time, make shared custody as painless as possible, keep the house from appearing on an episode of Hoarders, and sleep at least 5 hours a night.
So what’s the big deal? What did I screw up this time? The news from the school comes home Thursdays. Thursdays are a dad day, and after school the sitter whom I gladly accepted as a hand-me-down from my brother and sister-in-law picks them up, feeds them, and takes them to soccer. Their dad brings them to my house at bedtime. So I see them for just a few minutes before bed. And the morning, though long, is pure chaos. I try to remember the Thursday folder of news from school, which the kids empty and put on my place at the dining table to read and sign. And I thought I was doing a good job of reading everything and keeping up with the announcements.
But I missed the school directory form. The completed directory arrived this week, replete with phone numbers and email addresses, physical addresses, and nicknames. My kids are each listed as only a name. No contact information for new friends to text for a playdate. No multiple ways to email us if one of the kids rescues an old lady from an oncoming bus, no information on how to call us if one of the kids punches another kid in the nose.
Yes, all of those are likely.
It was the last in a string of “I didn’t know that” or “did they tell us about that in advance?” instances last month, and I completely deflated. I felt invisible, in the way that most working parents tell me they do, excluded from events that happen at noon, at the mercy of cobbled together carpools and caretakers and school holidays and early-release days.
So when the directory showed that I’d missed the boat yet again, I chastised myself for letting things fall through the cracks. I chided myself for not committing the way I used to.
But I’m just as committed. It’s just that I used to commit to a different balance of children and work and writing and art and health and house. Now that the balance has shifted, I feel off my game, insecure, unstable. I’ve completely ditched health and writing, and am close to criminal in the neglect of the house.
The “I don’t know how to do this” feeling of newborn, of tantrums, of preschool questions, of eight-year-old attitude problems should be gone by now. But instead of living my life around being an intensely good parent, I’m shifting my priorities as they need a little bit less.
The learning curve is a different kind of steep. It’s the learning curve of going from undergraduate work to grad school. You know how to do all the things, but the level of intensity is higher.
The other night we had 30 minutes in which to get some tasks done. I asked one kid to practice piano and the other to get Monopoly ready while I quickly loaded the dishwasher. And then their dad came over to take one of them on a date (we trade each week taking one kid on a date so they get solo time and so it’s not always one parent with two kids) and the little guy cried that he didn’t get a chance to play with me because I “take too long doing cleaning things and don’t play with us or do anything fun.”
That is probably true for most parents. We have a lot of tactical, practical, boring, time-consuming work to do. But committing to multiple clients as the only adult in the household means I really don’t get much time with either child. I’m home before school and after school every day specifically to be with them. But it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day.
I don’t have a good chance of getting more hours out of the week, so maybe I should cut back on work or on expectations. Or maybe I’m still learning, and that I’ll figure out how to do everything I want, everything I need to do, and all the superfluous extras, including being accurately represented in the school directory. Some day.
Or maybe this is just the way it is. Hanging on by a thread, doing my best, disappointed by the results but still ahead of the game, when I’m really honest.
Is that just about how you feel about your life? Or am I the only one?