I have a story to tell about my new temporary, part-time job. It’s a bit of a shame story; you could call it a shory. Prepare yourself.
Last week, I reported for training. I was trying to make a good impression, so I made sure all my ducks were in a row. My outfit was planned (graphic skirt + simple shirt + statement necklace + top knot), my snack was packed (always want to avoid the dreaded low blood sugar), and my mom was all lined up to pick up my kids from school (after a complicated, not-so-complicated car switch).
But then, of course, you know.
The police were conducting some sort of manhunt, so they had completely blocked off the highway I usually take. So instead of arriving 15 minutes early to do the car switch with my mom, I arrived 3 minutes early.
My mom’s good friend had a medical emergency that needed some serious moral support, and the doctor’s appointment took over three hours (what?), so my dad had to be called in at the last minute. (Thank you, Dad!) And since it was the last minute, he had the wrong directions, so when I was there anxiously circling the parking lot at 3 minutes till start time, he was 6 blocks up, wondering where I was.
For a while there was just static in my head as I realized a) how calm my life usually is, and b) how bad I am at thinking clearly in stressful situations. I managed to get my dad on the phone and give him proper directions, but by this point the training had already started. So I decided to leave my keys at the front desk. My dad could then leave me his, and it would all be fine.
I found my way to the training. I mumbled an apology to my manager, met my fellow trainees (there were only a few of us), and let out a tiny sigh of relief.
But just then—horror! I realized that I didn’t tell my dad that I was leaving my keys at the front desk. Would he think to go in and ask? He’s a man, obviously, and you know their reputation for asking anyone anything. I thought of his two-seater sports car with the airbag that doesn’t turn off. I thought of my three kids, waiting outside their school.
And then I did the unthinkable. I reached into my purse and—mere feet from my manager—texted my dad, as quickly and surreptitiously as possible: KEYS AT FRONT DESK.
The whole time my brain was shouting at me: You’re no better than all those teenagers constantly using their cell phones at work, causing all those online commenters to cry how our country is going to the dogs! You’re 39 years old! You’ve had a professional job; you have a master’s degree! And you’re no better than a teenager!
But it was done. The phone was put away. Surely my dad would see the text. It would all be fine. I again ventured another small exhale.
And then—oh god—I heard a faint ringing. What was that? It couldn’t be, but yes, it was: it was my phone! Didn’t I turn my phone to silent? As I do before every movie, so conscientiously, before the eternally long ad tells me to? Before every parent/teacher meeting? Before every anything??? No, I didn’t. In all the excitement, I forgot. And now—because I can be scatter-brained and I therefore have my phone programmed to remind me of a slew of daily maintenance activities that I might otherwise forget—my phone was telling me to pick up the kids from school.
I managed to turn it off, but only after fumbling around in my purse for what felt like an eternity. And was it set to snooze? Of course it was set to snooze. Twice. (I told you it was a shory, right?) By this point, as you can imagine, I was totally sweating in my graphic skirt, simple shirt, and statement necklace.
The rest of the training, thank god, passed without any more drama. It was completely interesting, I was engrossed, I took notes. And yet for a good while there was, say, 10% of my brain that was still on the kids, wondering if my dad got the keys, wondering if he knew how to get through the carpool line, wondering if he even knew where the school was.
I eventually talked myself down from this strong desire to manage the situation so tightly. My dad would figure something out, he could call my mom for directions, and even if for some reason no one picked up my kids, the school would call all the dozen phone numbers in their files until they found someone to look after them.
So I finally started to relax. Right about the time when my manager explained how we’re not allowed to use cell phones at work. I felt my face go crimson.
It was then that I realized this is the ongoing plight of working mothers: to have their minds perpetually split in two, to care deeply about their work and yet to always have a part of themselves tied up with their kids.
I imagine over time working mothers develop an arsenal of strategies for handling these types of situations. (Certainly there were a lot of things I could have done to manage the situation better! And of course I thought of ten of them that night after a glass of wine.)
As I reread this, I feel I should make a few qualifications. I’m not against mothers working. Quite the contrary, I feel like a part of me is blossoming now that I can devote time to my own endeavors. I know, too, that the personalities and strengths of many women make juggling motherhood and their career much less of an issue. I also know that in many households the father handles the management of the children’s schedules.
So let me just rumple up my blanket statements a bit to say I know this doesn’t apply to everyone in the same way.
After all those disclaimers, what’s left? How about this: to all the working parents who have felt scattered in the name of caring for your kids, my hat is off to you! It is no easy task.
And next time, I’ll just ask to go to the bathroom.
© Amy Daniewicz