Betsy Ring

WELLS, Maine (WOMENSENEWS)–Whether employed outside the home for money or staying at home with their kids, all moms I know are working moms.

Back when I was a divorced working mom with two kids, I recognized that I was busy. Having added three stepchildren and a husband to the mix, I’m certified busy. A family friend once told my mother, “One child takes all of your time; more children can’t take any more than that.” Really?!

My brain used to be exercised during free time with marathon reading sessions or staying current with the New Yorker magazine, among other pursuits.

My soul was nourished through frequent correspondence with friends from years lived in far-flung places such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and London.

My brainpower now fuels a giant scheduling machine for our family of seven. Never far from my trusty yellow sticky pads in two sizes, I jot down reminders like a teletype machine while mid-chapter in a book or mid-stir at the stove. It’s a challenge not to let grocery lists invade the small space I reserve for daydreaming.

Recently, while trying to arrange time over the weekend for my daughter and two classmates to work on a school project, one mother said, “This is so complicated it’s like trying to coordinate the schedules of three presidents!”

Hardest Time Is My Own

But the funny thing is, while managing to schedule orthodontist appointments, team practices and games, assist with homework and reschedule all of the above for when all doesn’t go as planned, the hardest time to squeeze in is my own.

Everyone says mothers should make time for themselves. Yet, to those who accuse us of sidelining self-indulgence in favor of our family and friends, I plead guilty. It remains a goal, one that shouldn’t be deleted from the file manager in our brains, but it doesn’t always happen; life does.

I considered my two afternoons that tend to offer me some flexibility. But there I hit a sudden realization: What I had thought was my own time had morphed into a different kind of time.

On one of those days I run a book club for my 10-year-old daughter, Nina. The afternoon is a charming combination of giggles and literature as I join four young readers to chat about the book while enjoying sundry snacks.

As for the other afternoon, it turned out that an after-school activity for my daughter and 8-year-old son, Aidan, requires minor involvement and shuttle service home.

Mornings, meanwhile, offer no hidden nooks and crannies of down time.

To prepare for liftoff of our five rockets, who range in ages from 8 to 16 and attend five separate schools in two towns, it’s up at 6 a.m., make cinnamon buns (prefab, lazy), parcel out four lunches and two snacks, check e-mail, unload dishwasher, distribute school notes. Perform 6:50 spot check of first middle-schooler, Nina, out the door to the bus stop, followed five minutes later by husband, Gerard, and teens Alex and Olivia, who are to be deposited four miles away in their school district.

Wrap up loose ends for a school project with Evan, also a fifth-grader, pull Aidan away from recap of previous night’s Yankees game and direct him to the shower. Make self more coffee. Fold laundry, perform my own ablutions, accompany Aidan to bus stop by 8:05, drive Evan to his school and then hit the highway for my own 45-minute trek to work. Plop down at my desk by 9 a.m., eager to be productive at work even with the distraction of my reproductive life.

Often a Close Call

During the winter, in the likely event of a Maine snow, it’s all a very close call.

When I carry out all of the above with what I feel to be the necessary speed, patience and agility, I have a beautiful start to the day. I am buoyant, energetic and efficient. But a forgotten school project, late bus or other unforeseen circumstance can derail my train. A superintendent’s calling a snow day from school produces serious scrambling by worker-bee parents. Significant changes to our routine lead to the gnawing question: Are our home bases covered?

My husband and I do benefit from the time that comes from what some parents consider the silver lining of divorce, when the children are with their other parents and we recharge our batteries. Those no-kid weekends give us vital time to spend on each other and ourselves. By Sunday afternoon, we’re better-equipped to manage the organized chaos of seven active lives.

The degree of activity in the household naturally varies by child and seasonal sport, so routines are ever-evolving.

Spring requires the most scheduling, with at least four family members in organized sports, extended daylight and the requisite meal juggling, but the frenetic activity is offset by spring fever.

I relish the hours spent playing catch, even after sunset, with Aidan, the most rabid of our baseball fans. Our backyard baseball diamond is well-worn by October. The winter slog is less appealing as inclement weather forces cancellations and with rescheduling comes disappointment from family athletes in the throes of cabin fever.

Amid all this constant scheduling and multi-tasking, my favorite time is the time that just happens, what I call family flop time.

One recent evening, I found myself sandwiched on the couch between two munchkins, the fireplace lit and the three of us with our noses in books.

Unscheduled time snuggling with kids, being drawn into a snowball fight with bare hands or lollygagging together on the hammock is what I really call the most productive time of all.

Betsy Ring is a journalist in Maine who wishes mothers everywhere more flop time.