Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Mother as Juggler

Posted By on July 1, 2009

Mother as Juggler
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
For the past four months my partner has been away at school training to become a dog groomer. My partner is generally the househusband, the one who drives the kids to and from school and after-school activities; she does all of the cooking, half the housework and runs most of the errands. I have functioned as the primary breadwinner until her educational pursuits left me as a full-time working mother. "Working mother" is defined here as managing my counseling business (seeing clients, supervising staff, and office management), teaching two graduate classes at the University, all confined to the hours the children attend school — except for the two weeks off for school break and the six snow days where I managed those things with children in tow. I arranged during this four-month period to only do presentations I could bring the children to (because that would make it easier, right?!). I thought you would appreciate a small window into these few months.

The alarm rings at 6:15 AM, giving me five solid hours of sleep. I wake the kids up a few times, and then line them up for their morning shower. My shower is always cold by the time I get in; sometimes I have to step into ice cold bath water since my son likes to fill the tub with water while he showers. This is an improvement, since he used to like to rub bar soap all over the floor so he could "slide" in the bathtub.
School starts at 8:20, and I seem to always be the last parent in the car line. Two mornings a week other parents have kindly offered (okay, we begged them) to drive the kids to school. The pressure on those mornings is much worse because no matter how early we wake up and how efficient the system I develop one child always needs to change his pants after the cereal spill, the other child can’t find his shoes or winter coat, while the parent helper stands there with a frozen smile. "Oh, it’s like this at our house too," they lie and nervously checking their watch. They are never the last parent in the car line.
I pick up the children from school at 3 PM after 6 hours of seeing clients or teaching college students ("I’m starving," they yell every day), run all necessary errands, and then drive them home to meet the babysitter who is with them until 8:30 at night while I go back to work. On the days I do not go back to work,  I drive the kids to flute lessons, ice skating lessons, piano lessons, and Hebrew School. The flute teacher can only work Thursday, the piano teacher can only work Wednesdays. Hebrew School happens between ice skating lessons and piano lessons, which sadly happens in two cities that are a half hour away from one another. So Wednesdays looks like this: I pick the kids up, including Sophia and Max, who also need a ride to ice skating. I then have an hour to catch up on work phone calls while I stand shivering in a freezing cold skating rink smiling and yelling, "Looks great," "Be careful," and then, "No, not you," to the gentlemen on the phone who clearly is not used to professionals who have to balance childcare with business needs. We have 45 minutes (assuming there are no knots in the skate laces) to grab something to eat and then drop off Child Number One at Hebrew School. I then take Child Number Two across town to his piano lesson. We arrive home about 8 PM and first start homework, leaving precious little time for our evening cuddling and reading. After the kids fall asleep, I attend to the daily accumulation of about 100 emails; do you seriously think being able to check my emails from my cell phone would make my life easier?

I also try to find time to do the laundry, grocery shopping, and to unbury the mess in the house at least once a week. My younger son has gone to school wearing my socks, my older son once carried an empty lunch box to school, and one awful day I booked three clients in the same hour. Somehow we have survived with the help of a childcare worker, a house cleaner, three friends helping to chauffeur children, and a freezer full of frozen food. Unfortunately the above schedule leaves no room for things like writing deadlines, doing insurance billing, or grading papers, which is how I spend my weekends.

Did I mention that my car broke down during this four-month period three times, and cost nearly $1600 to repair? Once the car broke down in a blinding snow storm blocking the off-ramp of the highway. The AAA driver, after burping his bacon sandwich in my face, left me on the roadside trudging in knee-high snow carrying the $800 flute in one hand (it must’ve been a Thursday), and a booster seat in the other so that child Number Two would be safe getting to school the next day.

Now, I would just like to say that I do not find comments like "Just slow down," or "Why don’t you take time for yourself?" particularly helpful. When a friend asked, "Isn’t there something you can give up?" I volunteered to give up the IRS audit and the furnace breaking down (four times in one 48-hour period). So for the record, we have given up many things, but remember it is only four months, and we wanted the children’s lives to remain as "normal" as possible. Please don’t laugh. Consistency is good for children, and we are consistently late.