Mothers: We Get the Job Done

I remember making a quip a long time ago about sending a mother in to negotiate peace in the Middle East.

I was mostly joking.

Mostly.

There are times when I watch, in aghast amusement as football tournaments blunder along, as team travel plans are made at the last possible minute, ensuring confusion and delay, when I stand and bear witness as what should be an easy organizational exercise turns into the Olympics of incompetence.

Sometimes I’m with a group of women, mostly mothers, and we just kind of nod and chuckle. Inevitably someone will say, you know what this (fill in the blank) needs, don’t you? And someone else will say “A woman!” And we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh. Until they come over and ask one of us to help sort out the mess. Then it’s no fun anymore. None at all.

But seriously….why wouldn’t you want a mother in charge? I mean, mothers have got this shit down. I mean down. I suspect women in general do, but it’s hard for me to separate pre-mother me and post-mother me. It’s been a long time since I haven’t been expected to pull, with total recall at a moment’s notice, a schedule of who has which sport on what day and which socks they need. Plus where said socks were last spotted.

And it’s always there, that little list of who/what/where/when/how. Exactly when and where I need it. Because mothers? We get the job done.

Organizational skills? Please. On any given day a mother remembers exactly where her child/children need to be, how they’re going to get there, and who is going to take them home. What they need to eat before they get there, the equipment they need to take, and an extra snack for someone else’s child in case they forgot. I’ve seen mothers bandage a flesh wound, make plans for Halloween costumes, RSVP a birthday party and arrange a car pool. Simultaneously. A mother can carry on at least four different conversations at once, remembering exactly where she was at any given point. Total recall. But with Mom instead of Arnold. (This last Jedi mind trick drives my husband b-o-n-k-e-r-s, but it’s handy when you are doing twelve things at once. Which mothers usually are.)

Negotiating Experience? Pah. Mothers spend almost every waking moment in negotiations. We are experts–experts–in the bribe/distract/threat school of getting shit done. You don’t know what hard negotiations look like until you’ve negotiated yourself out of a hostage situation involving a hungry toddler draped over a kitchen chair whining about how he doesn’t like the same meal he had three helpings of two days before all while helping your older one with homework, listening to your spouse tell you he’s going to be late, speed dialing the sitter with an eye on the clock to get everyone bathed and in bed before the sitter comes so you can go to book club. (And let’s stop pretending. Let’s just call it Wine Club). You know that 10,000 hour to be an expert rule? Yeah, done. And dusted.

Fierce advocate? Check! Hell hath NO fury like a mother whose child has been unfairly targeted. (On a serious note, look how many successful activist and advocacy movements were started by mothers. Candy Lightner’s daughter was killed by a drunk driver. She started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) four days later. Shannon Watts planted the seed for Moms Demand Action the day after Sandy Hook to address gun violence in the US. Autism Speaks was started by grandparents.) You do not screw with our children. You do not overlook them or sideline them or under any circumstances put them in danger. We will come for you. Hard.

I’ve said it before. If you ever need the impossible done? Talk to a mother who has lost or is in danger of losing something dear to her. And watch it happen. Mama magic isn’t just kisses and band aids.

Able to cope with stress? Check! Watch a mother whose alarm didn’t go off get a household of kids out of the house in under ten minutes on a school day. Pb&J sandwiches–boom, like a boss. Lunches, breakfast, find the football socks, the keys, the homework, stuff the backpacks, supervise brushing of teeth, combing of hair, on and on and on, kiss, see ya later, door slam.

The Art of the Deal? Puh-leeze. Any mother worth her salt knows how to make a deal. She knows threats don’t work for long. Compromise is the mainstay of motherhood. It’s your bread and butter. We’re good at it. Scratch that. We are great at it. You know why? Because it takes a mother about 15 seconds to realize living in an environment in which everyone gets a little bit of something they want/need is much more pleasant. A mother knows Jimmy doesn’t like rice, but Josie does. So she’ll make the rice for Josie but make sure dinner includes at least two other things that Jimmy does like. Every damn night. Times infinity. It’s not giving in. It’s not weakness. It’s listening and doing what you can to make sure everyone gets a piece of cake. Everyone in life–everyone, I don’t care if you are the President, or a toddler throwing a fit in the middle of IKEA, everyone wants to feel listened to.

Recently I went away for a week. I left food in the fridge, lunch cards stocked up with money. I made meatballs. I listed who needs to be where on what day, with what gear, with which food. I left numbers and prearranged pick ups and playdates. The list took up most of a kitchen cupboard. It was color coded and highlighted.

When I returned everyone, as I expected, was absolutely fine. My husband is an eminently capable adult who manages other adults through their crises for a living. As he stood in the kitchen upon my return he said, you know, I can maintain what you do. But I could never actually DO what you do.

As far as compliments go, it was a pretty dang good one.

So next time, before asking us to clean up the mess (we’re pretty good at that too), maybe ask a mother to take charge beforehand.

Because, mothers. We get the job done.

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Coffee in Bed

coffee adThere’s a rumor going around town that I bring my husband coffee in bed every morning. I’m writing to clear up any misconceptions and to set the record straight.

The truth is this: I do bring my husband coffee in bed every morning.

This has been a bone of contention of late, not within the confines of our own marriage, in between the bedroom and the kitchen, the duvet and the coffee grounds, but among others. As in “Did you know that Dina brings her husband coffee in bed every morning?” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink and a big, old unspoken “How come I don’t get coffee in bed?”

I could say the coffee in bed is payment in kind. You see, I have a bad habit of irrationally blaming my husband for all the things I misplace throughout the course of my life. This happened recently when I needed to get the boys to school and couldn’t remember where I had put my bag. He stood and looked at me throwing things around and calmly said, “You blame me, don’t you?”

“Yes!” I yelled. “Even though I know it’s not your fault, I do! I totally, totally blame you!” I also do this when I get lost and he can’t immediately tell where I am from my frantic woman-on-the-street descriptions. I am a terrible map reader. Even carrying a phone with a GPS function I get lost. I have every confidence that he can direct me out of the paper bag I’ve walked into and can’t punch my way out of. I expect him to extract me from my predicament, SWAT style if necessary. I have an unrealistic expectation that my husband, the man who vowed to love me in sickness and in health, in lost and found, can tell me how to get home.

So I bring him coffee in bed every morning.

No, of course that’s not why I bring him coffee. I bring him coffee because he is categorically not a morning person. To have him underfoot in the a.m. would cause, in the words of the Fat Controller, confusion and delay. He would be grumpy and in my way and we would all suffer. I do it for the sake of the children. 

Not really.

1950s yawning stretching man waking up in bed with tufted leather headboardI bring him coffee and he puts the pillowcases on because he knows how much I hate it. He scrubs the bathroom because he knows if he left it up to me, it wouldn’t get done. I make sure his family gets birthday cards for the same reason. I do school stuff, he does camping stuff. While I break out in hives at the very idea of fishing and cooking over an open flame, he has the same histamine reaction at the idea of small talk with people he doesn’t know.

As a young woman I used to think that the way to equality meant splitting things down right down the middle. Marital contracts that spelled out who vacuumed on what day and if it’s Wednesday it must be your day to cook, I changed the last diaper it must be your turn now and so forth. And so on.

Then I grew up, got married, had kids. For a while I hung on to my notions and resented the hell out of the fact that it never seemed to be fair, that I always seemed to be doing more. My husband changed a diaper, I changed 284. One of the kids would wake from a nightmare and call out for “Daddy” and he would be snoring next to me while I seethed at the gall of the universe for making me get out of a warm, cosy bed when his child had clearly voiced a preference. You can have a contract laminated and posted on the family bulletin board for all to see. It’s not going to stop the fury when Wednesday rolls around and he doesn’t vacuum even though it’s clearly his turn and there is an army of dust elephants getting ready to charge. Even if it’s written in blood that “thou shalt not blame your spouse upon misplacing your keys’, it’s not going to stop you from doing it, even if you don’t do it out loud.

coffee in fiveAfter seventeen years of coupledom, here is what I’ve learned: it is never fair, it’s never equal. You love each other and you hurt each other and you argue over who left the toothpaste cap off so that there is a crust of hardened Colgate that’s set on the sink like mortar. You live and you learn and you stare at each other over the mess of a toy room and thank God and the heavens you found this person because who else is going to put up with the moods or the morning breath? Who else is going to let you squeeze their blackheads or remember that you never remember Mother’s Day? Who else is going to know that you hate putting the pillowcases on or that you need an extraordinary amount of time to wake up in the mornings?

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then compromise and understanding are the whip and driver that get it moving.

In the end my husband almost always gets me out of whatever map challenged predicament I’ve found myself in (which is, more often than not one street over from where I’m supposed to be). I put up with his schizo Gemini moods and he pretends he doesn’t mind when we have hot dogs for dinner or when I don’t change the sheets often enough.

I bring him coffee because I’m making it anyway. It’s a small act of kindness. As I tell my kids all the time, kindness doesn’t cost a thing.

Maybe those small acts of kindness, the ones that don’t cost you a red cent, are the pot-hole fillers that help smooth out the road so that we can all get where we are going in one, unbroken piece.