I am busy. And if you are employed, have a family, or breathe, you are most likely seated next to me in this boat of busy-ness. Especially now, during this time of year. It feels like that swing ride on the boardwalk where a bunch of swings are suspended on, like, 15 feet of chain. And as the ride spins faster and faster, the swings go out farther and farther until you are nearly horizontal. (My sister and I went on that ride once. She cried so hard they actually stopped the ride because they thought she was having a seizure.)
And, as much as we try to control our world, we can't always control our busy-ness. I am the mother of 3 little girls (two in pre-school and one in 1st grade—yes, everything in our house is pink, glittery, and princess-y). I also am a full-time English teacher. I am an MFA student. And I am a writer, currently in the revision process of a novella whose deadline looms ever nearer. But I have 2 parts of my day that seem to be the busiest: 1) the morning when trying to get out the door to school on time with 3 independently-minded wee ones, and 2) right after school when I have to collect my children, making sure I have all I need for working/grading/lesson planning at home and that they have lunch boxes and homework and coats, etc. As much as I try to plan and prepare and control, chaos (and at times anarchy) seems to prevail.
The day that I was hired at my current teaching job, I told my boss that if ever it sounds like a riot has broken out in the lobby, it will probably be me and my children either arriving or departing school. (Yes, we are, at best, a riot.) He laughed, but soon learned I was serious.
On a good day, the dialogue of my after-school interactions with my kids as I pick them up runs much like this:
ME: Hi, sweet pea! How was your day?
Child 1: Can I have a snack?
ME: May I have a snack, please. (I teach English, folks—Grammar is important!)
Child 1: (with rolling eyes) Please may I have a snack?
ME: When we get home, yes. And don't roll your eyes.
Child 2: Mommy, can you help me put on my coat?
ME: Sure. (I set down my bag and empty coffee mug)
Child 3: Mommy! (running out of her classroom toward me) Can I have a snack?
ME: Yes. At home. (Turning to child 1.) Do you have your homework folder?
Child 1: I think it’s in my bag.
ME: Double check. (Picking up my belongings.) We’re not coming back for it if you leave it at school.
Child 2: (whining) I can’t get my zipper to go up on my coat.
ME: Come here. (Setting down my belongings). I’ll help.
Child 2: No! (grunting) I can do it.
ME: If you can do it, why are you whining? (rhetorical question, obviously)
Child 3: (begins to cry)
ME: (with a sigh) Why are you crying?
Child 3: I left my Polly Pocket in my cubby in my class. (sniff)
ME: Why is your Polly Pocket here at school?
Child 3: Because I left it in my cubby.
ME: (deep breath. picking up my belongings.) We’ll get your Polly on the way out—but you’re not supposed to bring toys into scho—
Child 2: I can’t get my zipper up!!
ME: Come here! I’ll get it! (dropping belongings to the ground, remembering only after hearing a loud thunk that my laptop is in the bag.)
Child 1: Nope, homework folder’s not in my bag.
ME: We’ll get it on the way out.
Child 1: Can I have a snack?
Child 2: I have to pee.
Child 3: I went poop in my Pull-Up!
On average, one (if not all) of us is crying by the time we make it to the car.
And while I will not wish my children’s lives away, I am more than ready for when they can actually zip their own coats, determine the opportune moment to use the bathroom, and get a snack all by their big selves.
As you can imagine, my demeanor after school while wrangling kids is purposeful. All-business. Let’s get ‘er done! However, because of the recent tragic events, Monday afternoon was different.
I walked, laden with my belongings, to my 5-year-old’s classroom to pick her up. Several other parents and students milled in the hall around me. I watched her collect her folder and lunchbox. She walked toward me. I extended my hand. And as her little fingers wrapped around mine, I was submerged in an overwhelming, breath-stealing wave of gratitude. I blinked furiously, trying to keep the tears from running out of my eyes. I knelt down in the middle of the hallway and pulled my daughter to me. My daughter wrapped her little arms tight around my neck. Then whispered in my ear, “I missed you today, Mommy.”
We stayed in the hallway and, for as long as she would let me, I held her.
That moment serves as a reminder that the tasks of my life are secondary to the people in my life.
So I am trying to consciously create still moments amidst the chaos to show the people in my life, in little ways, how much I love and value them:
- I look my husband in the eye when he tells me about his day and I tell him about mine.
- I don’t answer the ringing phone or look at the newly-arrived text message while sitting at dinner with the family.
- I email my mom to see how her day is going.
- I come back upstairs with just one more kiss good-night for each of my girls.
- I listen, actively listen, when my 1st grader tells me about the art project run-amuck in art class.
- I try to yell less.
- I respond to my best friend’s text about her awful day with a reminder of the gifted teacher she is and how lucky her students are to have her speaking into their lives.
- I pray with my husband before he leaves for work.
- I offer a struggling student a whispered “well done” when I hand back her vocab quiz on which she earned an “A.”
- I smile more often, even during--especially during--those riotous moments.
- And, with people and schedules swirling around me, I hug my daughter in the hallway.