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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The Sweet Spot

relaxingMy husband and I spent the weekend rearranging furniture. By the end of Sunday we had reclaimed another square-inch of space of Lego storage from our children. We promptly put a plant there and much like brandishing a flag and claiming land for the Queen, we staked our claim as adults.

Sitting in our increasingly grown up living room with a glass of wine, we agreed that our lovely Danish apartment is likely the nicest place we are ever going to live.

As I looked around, I thought the same thing about our children, who were nowhere in sight. No longer babies or even pre-schoolers prone to a sulk but not yet teens, I know my husband and I are sitting pretty in the sweet spot of parenting.

My kids are 11 and almost 8 now; old enough to be as independent as I need them to be and yet still young enough that we haven’t started worrying about the big, bad teenage years that lay ahead.

Not only are they taking up less space with their toys, they can work the toaster. They can pour milk into a cereal bowl without spilling half a gallon onto the floor. They can, most of the time, even put the milk back into the fridge. All of this means that my husband and I don’t have to get up on a weekend morning if we don’t need to. Sometimes we stay in bed until 10.

10!! I remember a time when 6 was a far off dream.

They can entertain themselves. Sure, they need guidelines and reminders that there is life beyond a screen, but there’s no more crouching for minutes that felt like hours on the floor or setting up craft projects or trying to act interested in Playmobil knights storming the castle. And though there are times I miss that, it’s a subject for another post. Remind me later.

The older one gets himself to and from school, to and from football practice, to and from friends houses. Sure, he still leaves his clothes wherever they fall and has to be reminded to brush his teeth on a daily basis, but hey, you can’t have it all.

The little one is finally fluent enough to read books that take him a few days. He’s developed interests outside of mine, outside of his brother’s and is striding toward independence himself. He can get himself a piece of fruit is he’s hungry. A glass of water when he’s thirsty. And nine times out of ten, he doesn’t even spill it.food shopping

Day-to-day life right now doesn’t feel so fragile. Free time doesn’t feel so desperately longed for and hoarded. Gone are the days when a shower or a trip to the supermarket counted as a tally mark on the great spread sheet of alone time (don’t pretend you didn’t/don’t keep track…). Nowadays my husband and I leave the kids on a Saturday morning and go to the grocery store alone together. The other day I exclaimed that it was almost like going on a date.

We can have almost whole conversations. Conversations with four letter words even. Yes, I can swear in front of my kids now. They’re old enough that I expect them to respect the difference between me as the eff-ing grown-up and themselves, the lowly offspring. I’m not walking around eff-ing this and eff-ing that, but I don’t have to be so careful not to let fly a few choice words when I…say…drop something on my foot. But the swearing thing is a subject for another post. Remind me later.

I know that soon my big one will be staring down the barrel of puberty. He’ll want to go and do  something dumb, like grow up. He’ll want to go out on dates and get a driver’s license and probably drink cheap alcohol and throw up in some bushes. There will be heartbreak and sex talk and…can you see why I’m relishing this time right now?

Babies are yummy and delicious and they squidge into you all cuddly and warm like cookie dough just out of the oven. But they’re a lot of work. Toddlers are hilarious and it’s amazing watching those chunky little flesh balls take the shape of a real live person with a personality all of their own. But man, the constant vigilance and supervision and redirection? Exhausting.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the only minute of the day to sit down and relax was the sixty seconds in between getting the kids to bed and passing out on the couch. But now…now I have whole half-hours of time. Hours even.

Why right now they’re in a whole different part of our lovely apartment playing Wii with a friend while I type this out.

couple relaxingIn another few years it’ll be a girlfriend in there instead of a friend. And I’ll have to open the doors in between me and them instead of shutting them. Instead of waiting for them to turn the lights out at 9 so that I can watch grown up television they’ll be going out at 9 and that will bring a whole new level of stress to the game.

But that’s still a way off.

Right now I’ll just enjoy the calm of the moment. Of being in the sweet spot. In my increasingly grown-up apartment with just a little less Lego and a little more breathing room. And wine, of course.