After a whole lot of planning and hoopla my husband and daughter set off for a week in Rome this month. It was a lifelong dream of Mark's and a repeat trip for my 19-year-old on her way to somewhere else because that's how she rolls--all around the globe.
I expected an instant reduction in what I needed to do for other people because getting them off had been intense. When my daughter told me in the car she'd forgotten the UVA protecting sunglasses she needed for archeology field school in the Mediterranean I plucked the pair off my face and handed them to her, even though they were $10 shades from Target that probably welcomed UVA rays like old friends rather than fighting them off.
Anything either of them needed was fine, because (I thought) a respite would follow and I could regroup.
Early the next morning I realized my mistake, and how many women must have made it before:
19th c. Frontier Mom
Up before dawn to feed animals and collect eggs, stirring and feeding fire, making porridge and lunches for husband going into fields and children going to school. When they leave sits in rocker to nurse baby while drinking sassafras tea and eating a scoop of the cold breakfast sprinkled with a little of her secret sugar stash. For the sake of the baby.
"The New Baby" by Carlton Alfred Smith, 1885
Child 1 (poking head inside door of their hillside dugout): Ma, my pants ripped on the way to school.
Ma: I'll fix them later, get going.
Ch: But--(opens door, reveals pants sliced across his rear)
Ma (hustles out of rocker, baby holds on tight): What in glory's name--
Ch: I know! Surprised me too. There's this pokey kind of wire across the land on the far side of the creek and when we climbed through it to use the path to school...rip.
Ma: My goodness. Good thing no one got hurt.
Ch: Oh, they did. That meant they couldn't run, though. They should be along in a bit. Shouldn't take more than a stitch or two here and there and we'll all be fine. But we're late so could you give us a ride in the pony cart after?
Ma (putting on water to make a poultice, in case that's what was called for): I suppose.
Ch (places sewing basket on rough-hewn log trestle table). I'll take the baby.
Ma: 'Course you will. How foolish to go through wire fence that had already cut one of you up.
Ch (takes baby): It was a game. We each dared each other we could get through in one piece.
Ma (flustered, struggles to thread needle with pant-colored thread): Plenty to 'fess up to at church this Sunday. The Good Lord didn't give you smarts only to have you leave them at school each day.
Ch: Yes Mama. (Places baby on floor while he slips out of pants. An apple rolls from a pocket and he presents to Ma). I clear forgot. I saw this and thought of you. Isn't it pretty?
Ma: Oh, aren't you sweet? Even on your worst day. Come here. (gives Child 1 a hug then a swat on the behind).
This little scenario felt familiar because my day was shaping up like this:
21st c. Summer Mom
Up before dawn to get an hour of writing in before kids awake. House in shambles because of camping trip return, summer camp send off, Rome trip discards (luggage too heavy), and remnants of prior night's rushed departure when someone (me) had the flight time wrong. Sees overgrown garden from window, vows to weed before it gets hot.Makes coffee and a list of what to tackle first...later.
Ch1 (dragging self down stairs at 6:30 am): Do I still have to do that useless AP class prep?
Mom: Yes (writing)
Ch 1: Can we at least stop at Dunkin' for iced coffee and a breakfast sandwich?
Mom: Yes (writing)
Ch 1: Is that your phone going off?
Mom: Yes (writing)
Ch 1: Isn't it early for that? Who is it?
Mom: Dad. His flight's delayed. He wants me to call when his gate is assigned so he can nap while waiting.
Ch 1 (looking at phone): No, it's Child 2. He wants to come over and do laundry. And for you to take him to Maine to look at a job program.
Mom (looks up): What?
Ch 1 (repeats).
Mom: Uhh...well. Tell him I'll get him after lunch for the laundry and we can talk about Maine then.
Ch 1 (types away): Child 3 wants to know if you remember about playground camp drop-off starting for (grandchild 1) today.
Mom: Yes (not writing; looking up gate assignments in London)
Ch 1: Don't give Child 4 the car before you pick me up. I know literally no one going to this dumb thing. Don't ask me to get a ride from some random kid at school, this was your idea.
Mom: Okay, I won't. Or I'll ask Child 4 to pick you up if I do. Who's texting now?
Ch 1: (Child 5, from Rome). She says her fitbit wristband went RIP, can you mail her another one?
Mom: Yes? Once she has an address? I have a village name, that's it. Might be enough, might not.
Ch 1 (typing response): Did you see the letter about Child 6 and his summer school transportation? You have to call by last week to get him on the route.
Mom (stops and frowns): That's...difficult.
Ch 1: And Child 7 says don't forget to take the car seat base out of your car if you give it to Child 4. She has to take the baby with her to a job today.
Mom (gets up from table): Okay. I need more coffee. Pre-Dunkin.
Ch 1: I got you, I got you, relax. Are you done writing?
Mom (sits and stretches and yawns): Yup, for now. Thank you sweetheart.
So...not so different to have two family members away if the rest of us are all here in our regular lives.
And not so different for moms in other times and places. There's always someone who needs taking care of, and who in turn takes care of you back. If you don't look for people who need you they will certainly track you down, especially in summer when kids have nothing better to do and assume you don't either.
Do you? Have something better to do?
I don't, not really. I take care of people, making sure they're where they need to be and okay.
And other stuff, some more interesting but none more important and being an everyday mom.