Being a Working Mother

At 5 o’clock today I was driving home from the grocery store. I had my earphones in, blasting Kenny Loggins ’80s hits from my new iPod, and I could hear SpongeBob SquarePants in the background. SpongeBob was playing on the DVD player that folds down from the ceiling of my 2005 Dodge Caravan. My wonderful, creative, and rambunctious 2 year old was watching it with wide blue eyes. In his hands were a juicy juice and a bag of little dolphin crackers. Whenever I hit traffic or a stoplight I turned to the grocery bag on the seat next to me and began removing the packaging off of bulk packages of animal crackers and teddy grahams. I knew that the minutes that this would save me at home would be well worth it. My mind is also racing with thoughts of work: what the Euro rate is today, Policy Letter number 6 that I need to finish, and the award I must type up in the next 12 hours. I have my PDA ready on the floor in between the seats in case I need to use the voice recorder to remind myself of tasks.

I am a single mother. I work full-time. I am an officer in the United States Army. I am the Commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company for US Army NATO.

On this particular day, I had the Flu. This isn’t surprising, since this is typical of how my life is: thundering rainstorms interrupted by brief and glaring rays of sunshine.

My days usually begin with a rainy cloud. My son or I wake up, and then proceed to wake up the other. I carry him downstairs and set him up on the couch with his blankie and a pillow. I put on whatever cartoon happens to be on the Armed Forces Network that morning. I am an expert on Blues Clues, The Wiggles, Elmo, Dora, and Barney. I then bring him milk or a juicy juice carton and something to eat. What I bring him to eat is whatever happens to be easy to make that morning, and whatever I think I can get him to take without throwing back at me. Today it was Town House crackers and some Fruit Loops.

Since I have the flu my doctor has given me 4 days off of work. This is against the wishes of my boss, the Battalion Commander, but this time the doctor manages to win the battle and I am indeed home. Of course, this does not mean lying in bed all day and eating soup. I have my laptop propped up with me and I am working on a grant for the US Special Olympic Committee, for the Management in Nonprofits class I am taking for my Masters in Public Administration. It is my second to last class to complete my degree, minus my thesis. My Masters used to be like a fun hobby I did in my free time. Now it is something I struggle through, remaining in the program only because I know that I need to finish this degree. If I do not prepare to provide for my son and myself, no one else will.

My mother once told me that her memories of my youth are mostly a blur. This is how my life is. My days fuzz together in a mix of Army training and tactics, diapers and Bear in the Big Blue House, and online graduate classes.

Money has no meaning to me. I cannot remember the last time I balanced my checkbook. I merely do not have the time. I hand out money to everyone who asks. 50 Euro to Samson’s school. 40 Euro to my house keeper. 90 dollars to the child care provider. Rent, gardener, car payment, lawyer, credit cards…none of it matters to me; the only thing that matters is that I can make it to another day. Not a month goes by that I do not pay at least one late fee for failing to pay a bill. It is not that I run out of money, it’s that I simply forget, or lose the bill in my pile of “things to do”.

I pay to have my nails and hair done every four weeks, not as a luxury but as a necessity. It is one less thing for me to worry about doing myself. Left to my own devices I would walk out of my home looking like the wreck I often feel like. I put on moisturizer and make-up while I drive. I have become a master at applying lipstick and mascara while driving.

My $3500 couch now means much less to me than it did a year ago, when Samson had “his” spot on it, covered by sheets and a bathmat to protect it. Two days ago he vomited on it three times, since he too has the flu. I briefly cringed to see my beautiful cream floral pattern covered with his lunchables lunch. Then I cleaned it up, and put him back on it, in “my” spot. My carefully guarded thousand dollar antique Georgian tables are now often used as racetracks for dozens of Matchbox cars, which I recently bought in a lot off of Ebay.

When I look at photos of me as a child, I sometimes wonder what my mother was thinking when she dressed me. My clothes do not match and my hair does not have pretty bows and ties like other little girls. However, there are days that I send my son to school, and if I took photos he too would one day wonder what I was thinking. He has plenty of nice clothes, thanks to my love for shopping. I just sometimes can’t seem to find them. The cute matching Baby Gap and Old Navy outfits end up in the mound of dirty clothes I get to only every other week. Or, since I do not have time to properly sort them (once clean) they are probably thrown together in his wardrobe, in a giant growing pile that I sometimes use instead of a dresser for him.

I do all of this for the 37-inch man that my life revolves around. I hope that someday he will forgive me if I lost track of his height and weight in the fancy handmade book made for recording them. I hope that he will understand if there are photos that I do not know the dates for, in which he is inevitably poorly dressed. I hope that he will understand that I have chosen to pay someone to clean our home, or allow it to go unclean, so that I may instead spend my time teaching him sign language and French. Dishes are left dirty and my refrigerator has things growing in it. But, I have the time to play with the Little People farm set and to put Tupperware and spoons on the floor as makeshift musical instruments.

I also hope that God will forgive me for days, and months, without devotions done, and for Sundays spent in my pajamas instead of in church, as well as for quick prayers said as I fall asleep or as I rush to find where Samson has hidden my car keys, instead of done in special alone time leisurely over a cup of tea in the morning.

I know that I do nothing with ease like other women. However, I realized today, driving back from the grocery store, listening to SpongeBob SquarePants underneath the music in my iPod, that I would not have it any other way. I know that I make the most of every moment that the Lord has been gracious enough to give me. I have lived a thousand years in my short 25.

If my days blur together as I get older, that’s o.k. I know it is because I wanted to fit as much into them as possible. I know that I am truly blessed, and for this I am thankful. If multi-tasking is how I survive, if I admit that I often use Fabreeze on my uniform instead of ironing it again, if not a day goes by that I do not wipe creamed peas or toddler crayon marks off my Battle Dress Uniform, if I complete my thesis while listening to “The Wheels On the Bus” play on the nearby stereoâÂ?¦.if every night I go to sleep knowing that I have loved the Lord and I have the memory of the small, innocent, lovely little boy who represents Him to me on my mind, then life is good.

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