This Is Mom’s Brain. This Is Mom’s Brain on the First Day of School.
7:57 am Drop off child number one, child number two, and finally, child number three. Walk out of the classroom, sending one last I-love-you-and-you-can-do-this smile across the room to your child. She huddles there, small behind her gigantic desk, blinking at you with brave, sad eyes, and gives you the world’s tiniest wave.
Still 7:57 Stand outside the classroom door holding your toddler, eyes stinging, pretending to check your phone, feeling weird and unfinished somehow…like maybe you didn’t fill out all the forms, or you forgot to pack something, or you didn’t give a good enough pep talk. Remind yourself that you cannot go back in the classroom, no matter what. No! You can’t! Your kid would either a) melt down, or b) never live down the humiliation, or c) both. But you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve forgotten something important. Left something behind.
Still 7:57 Make yourself walk back to your minivan. Pretend you have something in your eye. Wonder how the kids are doing.
7:59 Unlock your van and strap your toddler in the carseat. Realize what you left behind. It’s your heart, and it’s sitting quietly, doing “morning work” at three little desks in cinderblock classrooms.
8:00 Sit in your car and scroll through the pictures you took. Send the cute ones to grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Wonder how the kids are doing. Post pictures to Facebook.
8:06 Drive home. Call your mother. Regale her with a full description of the morning. Wonder together how the kids are doing.
8:12 Walk back in to a quiet house. Suddenly feel light and giddy, dizzy with freedom. Do a little happy dance. You’re free! You can do whatever you want! (Actually you can’t, since you work like six jobs and have a toddler at home, but still.) Mentally catalogue a list of 536 things you are going to accomplish today.
8:12:30 Spot the kitchen table still covered in breakfast dishes. The table looks so lonely, and the house feels so empty, that you feel your eyes start to burn all over again. Wonder how the kids are doing.
8:12:40 Decide you are not motivated to do 536 things after all. You will be lucky to accomplish one. You are too . . . feelingsy.
8:13 Have a horrible moment of panic: Did you actually give all the kids their lunch boxes in the mad dash out the door? The first grader was holding hers in her hand…did she put it down on the ground when she sat down to put on her shoes? (Secretly hope she did leave it behind, so you have an excuse to go back up to the school and check on her.)
8:14 Scour the house for lunch boxes. No lunch boxes. Congratulate yourself on doing something right. Wonder how the kids are doing.
8:21 Have another moment of panic. Did you forget the toddler at the school? Nope. She’s in the other room, enjoying the rare treat of having the entire play room to herself. You hear what may or may not be the sound of breaking Legos. Your son will be really upset if she got into his Legos. Wonder what your son is doing now.
8:23 Stare at the dishes. You should really do the breakfast dishes.
8:24 Turn your back on the dishes. Get on Facebook. Grow misty-eyed at all of your friends’ first-day pictures. Feel vaguely guilty that you didn’t pull off fancy calligraphy and other Pinterest-worthy adornments for your first-day pictures. You were lucky just to have everyone fed and dressed and out on the front steps early enough to take a picture. Panic for a moment, wondering if your children all had shoes on in their picture. Click back to your picture and sigh with relief. They did. They all put on their shoes…but the first grader had a big smear of toothpaste on her face.
9:17 Force yourself away from Facebook. Feel the dirty dishes staring you down. Start washing dishes.
9:28 Spend long minutes scrubbing fossilized oatmeal off the table. With every scrub, wonder how the kids are doing.
9:39 Remember you have a toddler. Put the toddler down for a nap.
9:56 Turn toward the laundry room. Shuffle in to face eighteen loads of laundry. Suddenly realize how exhausted you are, since you woke up every twenty minutes all night long, running through the to-do-before-school list. Stand there debating. Laundry or nap, laundry or nap—how are the kids doing?—laundry or nap?
9:59 Your eyes refuse to stay open. Decide, reluctantly, on a nap.
10:03 Stumble into your bedroom and snuggle into your unmade bed. Close your eyes. Think, “This is amazing! I could never do this if the kids were home. So really, I should be happy they’re at school! I wonder how they’re doing. I wonder howwww…” Drift into dreams, in which you float around the school supply aisle at Target, hunting deals.
10:14 Bolt upright, wide awake, heart pounding. Did you remind your first grader that the bus route number changed? What if she gets on the wrong bus? What if—? Think back over every word you said. Yes. You told her. But will she remember? Tell yourself you’re being ridiculous and paranoid and obsessive. Order yourself to get some rest. Make yourself close your eyes.
10:23 Your eyes fly open again. Was it a stupid move to put a note in your son’s lunch box? Is he already too old for that? You didn’t draw a heart, or use the word love, or even sign “Mom” on it, but still…was the note a mistake? Will his friends see it and make fun of him? Have you just ruined his reputation, his third-grade year, and his life?
10:26 Give up on a nap. Shuffle, bleary-eyed, back to the laundry room. Put in a load of darks.
10:31 Microwave a cup of this morning’s coffee. Wonder how the kids are doing.
10:34 Try to pay bills or return emails or catch up on overdue work stuff or do something involving actual brain cells. Give up. Your brain is useless today.
Text your mother.
Change a diaper.
Worry about whether your son has survived the note in the lunchbox yet.
Pray he forgives you.
Feed the toddler.
Text your mother.
Laundry, diaper, pray, repeat.
Laundry, diaper, pray, repeat.
2:03 Make the kids a sugary snack you would never let them eat on a normal day.
2:13 Begin praying desperately that your children all get on the right bus. Wish you had gone to pick them up. Berate yourself for being a horrible, negligent mother for not picking them up in the car on the first day. Remind yourself that the line would be three hours long, and they have to get used to riding the bus eventually, so it’s better to start things off in their normal routine. Feel guilty anyway. Pray harder. Text your mom and ask her to pray, too.
2:32 Walk to the bus stop fifteen minutes early, even though you know the bus will run late today. Feel better about yourself when the neighbor shows up hyper early, too. Trade war stories of how you survived the day.
2:56 Hug three smiling children when they get off the bus. Nod and grin and try to understand three excited voices all shouting over each other at once. Have no idea what they are saying, or what actually happened today, but it sounds like happy words. Your son does not mention his life being ruined by your lunch box note, so you don’t bring it up. Breathe a prayer of thanks—day one, a success.
3:02 Feed the children sugar. Enjoy their gleeful shouts of how you’re the best mom in the universe because you gave them sugar.
3:12 While the kids bounce off the walls, tearing the semi-clean house apart, try not to cry when you see the pile of paperwork—at least three days’ worth—they’ve brought home for you, and that they insist must be turned in tomorrow OR ELSE. Wish you had not raised such hyper-responsible children.
4:36 Answer your mother’s call and tell her everything you managed to translate from the too-excited-to-finish-any-complete-sentences reports the kids gave you about their day.
5:24 Begin the mad scramble of dinner and dishes and baths and bookbag-packing and tomorrow’s-clothes-picking and getting everyone in bed at a sort of reasonable hour for a school night.
10:27 Collapse in bed, mentally calculating the cost of the school supplies you still need to buy. Debate the merits of taking on a seventh job to pay for it all.
10:34 Start to drift off. Wonder if it will always feel this way, like you’re living only half inside your body, while the rest of you is wherever your kids are. Wonder if you will spend the rest of your life wondering, worrying, and praying.
10:46 Hear your phone ding with an incoming text message. It’s from your mother: “Hi. Just wondering how you’re doing.”
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Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.