September 19, 2010

Always a half day behind...

That's what it feels like these days. I'm never caught up. I never finish the pile of tasks in front of me. When I am at work, I finally process what went on at home. When I am at home, my mind is on the problems at work. I think very clearly in hindsight. But while I'm having all these deep thoughts about what I was supposed to do in the other setting, I get further behind in the current one.

I am well-versed in the concept of mindfulness. Of being in the moment. I know the talk. I've read the books. I've spoken with the experts. And you know what? It's all crap. Ok, maybe not crap. But it's not practical advice for me right now. Balance, taking time for oneself, focusing on the right now and ignoring the unimportant chores...great concepts. How exactly does a single, working mom of two children under the age of four do any of that? She does it if she makes six figures and hires lots of help. She doesn't do it if she's me.

And seriously, which unimportant chores should I ignore? The garbage overfilled with stinky diapers? The dinner that must be cooked? The sticky, crunchy carpet? The mound of laundry? The unbalanced checkbook stuffed with unpaid bills? The overgrown lawn that is dangerously close to choking the unused mower? The jug with less than 15 mL of milk? The dog that has been crossing his legs for eight hours?

Yesterday as I left work, I turned to a colleague to joke about how stressed I felt at the end of the week. This newly pregnant woman said to me, oh, you should just stop for a massage on the way home. Oh, really? Just stop. On the way home. I have exactly one hour and fifteen minutes between the last bell and the pick-up time when my children turn into pumpkins and are left on my front step. My commute is 45 minutes long so that would leave me 30 minutes for the massage. Perfect. Um, who is going to go to the bank? To the grocery store for Liam's organic milk? Let's not forget, teachers don't get to leave at the bell. If I hop in my car fifteen minutes after the busses start loading, I'm lucky (and I'm also the recipient of some icy stares from my colleagues). But I'll get right on that massage thing. Thanks.

Being a half day behind, sure it's because there is just too much for one adult to do in a finite amount of time. But there's another, more subtle, explanation. At work, my main activity is putting out fires: students behaving inappropriately or dangerously, frantic parent emails asking me to intervene with another teacher, administrators demanding data. There is no time to create and teach engaging, developmentally appropriate and individualized lessons. At home, the phone is ringing, the dogs are barking, the dinner is burning and the boys are fighting. Is it any wonder that in each setting I want to escape to something I can control and complete?

At home, I can answer work emails without the bell ringing for my next class. I can write a lesson plan without being paged to the office because so and so has just been suspended. On the other hand, while in a faculty meeting, I can write a grocery list and strategically plan our family calendar for the next month without trains flying through the air and dogs peeing on the carpet at my feet.

So am I really a half day behind or am I caught in a purposeful cycle of avoidance? Well, one thing is for certain, it's a dysfunctional way to live and it's not benefiting anyone. (ok, that was two things)  A few days ago, I finally sat on the floor to play trains with Henry. He said, "You can go back to your computer, Mom." I pretended I didn't hear him. I couldn't possibly allow myself to hear him.  But then he said it again. And again.

Something has to change. With a little luck and a lot of self-discipline, maybe I'll catch up with life in real time. At this point, I'd settle for falling a full day behind.


  1. As a teacher, I always feel at least a half-day behind and I don't have children yet. Take a breath and remember that you are only human. I bet that you would do that much and more for your boys and your students.

  2. I wonder how much of this is because you're a teacher. I mean, as I read this I was thinking that when I feel that way my solution is to take half a day off from work, catch up on everything at home... laundry, dishes, cat litter, toilets, yardwork, etc. And maybe a long lunch hour another day to get a massage or a hair cut or some sort of "me" thing. But if your job is so demanding that you can't do that, I don't know the solution. But I'm guessing it will get easier as the year goes on, as you find your rhythm and the transntion from summer to school year gets further and further behind you. Good luck. It does sound stressful.

  3. At least you're not a WEEK behind! Oh wait a least you don't have a big behind! No one ever sat at their death bed and said they wish they had spent more time cleaning the house. As long as you are focusing on the important things, that's all that matters! everything else will come. It WILL get easier, I assure you. I'm not sure massages are in the near future, but it does get easier to get all the necessities done, anyway. And, really, at this point, you'd need a four hour massage to really let you get relaxed...and the whole time you'd be thinking about all the things you should be doing, right? I know I would. The boys will be able to do chores, soon, too. That will help! Hang in there!

  4. Wow! I've been waiting for your "honesty" post but that's tougher than I could imagine. I know it sounds very selfish of me but when I read posts like this, I am so glad that my mommy is living with me when Baby is born...even though I'll be a single mom, I won't be doing it alone...unlike you brave moms that are truly doing it yourselves. The amount of admiration I have for you is immeasurable!

  5. When I read what that newly pregnant woman said about getting the massage - I laughed out loud! She's in for quite a shock when her baby is born.

    I really like what DrMomofTwo wrote. You are a single mother to 2 young boys with a full time job. I can't even image how hard it is to juggle everything. On the days when it seems so overwhelming, it may help, at the end of the day, to look at your boys and see how loved and happy they are. And that's because of YOU!

  6. Ugh. I hear you. The life of a single mother...

  7. Lordy, I'm glad I didn't read this yesterday. I was in extreme overwhelmed mode with the amount of grading and prep that didn't get done over the weekend because I have a toddler in the house. Today I locked myself in my office and forced myself to do the immediate stuff. It was enough to help me feel better.

    I can't imagine having two little ones.

    Right now, I used the last of the milk to make bedtime oatmeal. In the last two weeks I had my electric and water shut off simply because I had failed to do bills. And I have a presentation tomorrow and no decent clothes because they are in a monster pile of laundry in the basement.

    Right there with ya, mama!

    My plan is to try to institue "routines" to help me get it done. Right after trying to catch up on sleep, which is where I'm headed now.

  8. Oh My, Lara, I hear you and I feel your struggle! I can totally relate. It is not easy. But your kids love you, you are putting the right amount of attention i the right things to give them what they really need, even if at times, it seems not so perfect. Hang in there. It seems to me, you are isolated. The advice I got form my aunt is to build the environment you need for your children. You need community. We cannot do it alone. Do you have relatives? Friends who can help you out at moments? Even an hour here and there makes a difference for a haircut, or a getting your nails done. Just a thought. You are very resourceful. You will find a way.

  9. Yikes! I am so terrified of this exact same thing happening to me too. I'm still on maternity leave, and find there isn't enough time in the day. I have no idea how I'm going to do it while I'm working too.

    My plan - win the lottery.

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  11. I hear you! Hugs mama!

    I wanted to invite you to stop by my mommy board bunch of great ladies there and we are very supportive

  12. Amen, sister. My two saving graces: the fact that baby K is sound asleep by 7:30 every night, leaving the rest of the evening/night for me to do grading, housework, etc. etc., and the fact that I have until 6 pm every workday to pick her up from daycare to run errands and so forth. There's still a million things to do during those "me" times, but every little bit helps. I still say that teachers have a full year's worth of work (and then some) crammed into the 9 1/2 months of the actual school year.
    Hugs to you!!