“I don’t know how you do it.” I hear this pretty regularly. Do what, exactly? It could mean so many things, depending on the context. Organize my life with my mad alphabetizing skills, you mean? Need basil? It’s on the top of the spice carousel, in between anise and bay leaves. Looking for The Beatles’ Rubber Soul CD? It’s in between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. Or maybe it’s a reference to my freakish in-my-head math abilities. Need a check divided 14 ways? Need to figure out 18 percent on very uneven numbers? Need to know 75 percent off the sale price of 20 percent off the regular price? I can get you there.
Usually, I think, the I-don’t-know-how-you-do-it statement is in recognition of our military lifestyle. How do I pack up our lives, say goodbye, and move every few years? Raise four kids and stay sane (almost)? Cope with an absent husband AND four kids? Maintain a sense of humor (usually)? Be away from the place we grew up and our families? Find the hours in a day to do all that needs to be done?
Four kids under the age of eight, a deployed husband, trapped in MON (Middle of Nowhere)…And sometimes I wonder, too. How do I do it? And then I wonder if I do anything special at all, or if the things I face are the things we all face, just in different shape and form. Nothing I do is particularly difficult, but that’s not to say it’s easy, either. To be a stay-at-home parent is to face the multitude of mundane tasks, every day, day after day, and to try to stay sane while doing it. Some days, I am regretful that I am not doing something truly important, like making the world a better place. And other days, I think I am doing the most amazing thing in the world, and that I am actively making the world a better place by raising four kids to be good people who will go out and improve the world with their intelligence and goodness.
Every time Hollywood-award-season rolls around and people who already get to live in luxury and make gazillions of dollars receive awards for their “greatness,” I get caught up thinking about my acceptance speech…who or what I would need to thank for getting me to where I am today. But it’s pretty likely I won’t be receiving any kind of award or honor for anything, since I am, unfortunately, a fairly average person, despite my occasional delusions of grandeur. I won’t ever win a Grammy, as anyone who has ever heard me sing or hum will attest (unless, of course, I do a standout reading of the book I have yet to write). A Tony is definitely out, since that requires not just singing but also dancing which, according to my kids, I also stink at. There are a wide variety of Nobels, but the peace prize is probably out since I am slightly bellicose in nature. And the smarty-pants Nobels are out, since I am undereducated and not widely versed in any one thing. I don’t see an Oscar in my future since I am already “past my prime” in Hollywood years and, somehow, haven’t even been discovered yet, despite my penchant for drama.
So, I’m going to latch onto the I-don’t-know-how-you-do-it, and assume that’s an acknowledgement of some kind. And now I’m going to make what will likely be my only acceptance speech ever. As to how I do it? Here’s the unvarnished truth…
I’d like to thank paid labor. I maintain a mostly clean house, thanks to hiring someone to do it. The stained fence and the rooms that got painted during the deployment? I started the projects, gave up and hired someone to do the rest. I am able to take kids to activities and classes thanks to an army of teenage girls who manage some kids while I manage the others. Two local daycare-type centers allow me occasional time to just be BY MYSELF. One of my favorite mottos is: you can’t put a price on your sanity. Thank you, paid labor, for helping me maintain however little sanity I have.
I’d like to thank caffeine. A few years ago, I hated coffee. Now, I am likely in need of a 12-step program. One of Liam’s first and only words was “coppee” and, thanks to me always saying, “I need coffee…badly!” Liam says he needs everything “badly,” too. He needs “cup badly,” “go potty badly,” “eat now badly,” “pants on badly,” etc.
Specifically, I’d like to thank Carol and Sue. Each was an adventurous, one-way co-pilot on a roadtrip with my posse of four from Kansas to New York, and then from Connecticut to Kansas. Three days in a car, each way, through some of the most boring landscape in the country with an infant, a two-year-old, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. My six-week roadtrip early in the deployment likely saved my family from imminent disaster, and these ladies get a special mention for their bravery and intestinal fortitude.
I’d like to thank adversity. As Kelly Clarkson always reminds me, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. And even though I keep checking the obits, I have never seen adversity listed as a cause of death. So odds are that it won’t do me in either, which is good news because, on some days, I really do worry that adversity is truly out to get me.
I’d like to thank parentheses (because parentheses allow so many private exchanges with you, personally, that I wouldn’t share with just anyone), and I use them all the time. Plus, no one ever thanks parentheses (they are the Chad Lowe of grammar).
Lastly, I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention the legal variety of mind-altering substances. Whether they are in an orange pill bottle with a prescription label or a green bottle with a cork, I am fairly sure I couldn’t manage without these ‘mother’s little helpers.’
And now you know. That’s how I do it. Thank you so much!