I must admit, when I first read this week’s essay, I experienced a bit of anxiety. The events of Jackie Pick’s morning routine gave my heart palpitations, and yet I was also comforted by the fact that I am not alone. I don’t know how many times I have asked myself if my children thrive on chaos. For the record, this momma does not – not that that matters to anyone in my family. I think many readers will commiserate with Jackie. – Allie
We have routines. Bags packed the night before. Clothes laid out. A healthy breakfast every morning. Daily chores—the same ones each day. Consistency. We’ve been getting up and getting ready for school for years, and yet I’m not sure why so many mornings feel like we’re one missing library book away from total systemic failure.
The goal? Leave the house prepared and ready to face the day at 8:15. This gives us plenty of time to get to school by the first bell at 8:25 without them racing to their classrooms and starting the day feeling behind.
As morning shift supervisor cum breakfast chef/hair stylist, one cup of hot coffee is all I want in the mornings. The children seem to sense the best part of my waking up and horn in on this, no matter what time of day I’m percolating.
Will today be the day our routines work for us?
5:45 I rise, put on a pot of coffee, and make a plan to get the house organized before the rest of the family wakes up.
5:46 Rest of family wakes up.
5:47 Older children ask if they can help make their breakfasts.
5:48 We mop up eggs that were accidentally dropped on the floor. I ask the kids to let me finish breakfast prep.
5:50 Breakfast is served.
5:51 Breakfast is over.
5:52 The children disappear into corners of the house unknown, their whereabouts only hinted at by the occasional shrieks, giggles, and kerfuffles. My coffee is left untouched by timely requests for assistance with toothpaste, shoes, clothing, sibling disputes, forgotten homework, last minute projects involving dried pasta, friendship issues, questions about death, and dog walking.
7:45 AM. I start the countdown.
“Thirty minutes! You need to be in the car in thirty minutes! Are you dressed and ready to go?”
“Yes!” they reply. I grab my coffee cup, reheat it, and head to my bedroom to throw on some clothes. I pause at the boys’ bedroom, which looks like a FEMA training site.
“Kids! Do your chores!”
They don’t respond, so I seek them out. One son has taken up refuge under a blanket to read. Another is in the basement with his sister, cracking open a paint set that, I note with horror, is not water soluble.
“Boys and girl, please do your chores. And also,” I say to the one who has Jackson Pollocked his clothing, “Please change. We leave in 28 minutes.”
“Okay.” There is no push back, but they move in slow motion. I urge them to put some pep in their step with a motivational tool I like to call, “The Raised Eyebrow.”
8:00. Chores are completed due in no small part to my hovering over them like a gargoyle with morning breath.
“We are leaving in fifteen minutes! Make sure you brush your teeth!” My youngest runs up to me and asks if I will braid her hair. I gaze as my coffee longingly as I divide her soft, wild curls into three sections.
8:07 One son decides this is the perfect time to practice piano. His desire to improve his accuracy is evidenced by his playing those wrong notes repeatedly and loudly. I praise his persistence and turn away so he can’t see my nervous twitch.
8:09 The other son informs me he can’t find a permission slip I need to sign, his hat, his shoes, or his “good” socks. We treasure hunt. It is not exactly a mother-son bonding opportunity.
8:14 I call the kids for a final inspection. What had been, moments before, three dressed children, are now three piles of laundry with bare feet and questionable hairstyles. Faces have regrown fragments of last night’s barbecue sauce, and teeth are decidedly Hulk-ish: green and angry.
“What are you doing? That’s not what you were wearing before.”
“I see that. Where are the clothes you were wearing?” I don’t know why I bother to ask, I know exactly where these perfectly clean clothes are: in a heap on the floor three inches from the laundry basket.
“You didn’t brush your teeth,” I say.
They run to the bathroom.
8:18 The three kids run back to the front hall where I am desperately pulling a floor-length parka on over my pajamas. They all tumble together in a giant whirlwind of feet and arms. I stop and hold each one, wiping tears and kissing boo-boos. We all take a deep breath. “It’s going to be a great day!” I say more to convince myself than to convince them. They are placated with their choice of Band-Aids.
8:20 Our shedding dog rubs up against all the children to say goodbye, taking them from “rumpled-shabby” to “fuzzy.” The kids want to change clothes again; I offer them a lint brush that I keep handy for just such emergencies. They begin trying to lint brush each other, to their great amusement.
“You have ten seconds to get in the car, or I’m going to school without you.” I grab a floppy hat and my husband’s Ray Bans to disguise my unkempt hair and tired eyes. I wonder what to do if those ten seconds pass. Will I have to drive to school and do a weird victory lap around the parking lot?
I rattle the coffee mug that’s been in the cup holder since yesterday. There is a solid lump of coffee ice that is too far down in the mug for me to lick.
The front door slams again as three children run out of the house, grinning and excited and without coats. I send them back inside.
8:21 They come out with coats on, but without backpacks. Back they go.
8:22 The children fly into the car, tossing their backpacks in the front seat to avoid getting the snow and ice on the car floor on their bags. I squeeze my shoulders together to try to steer without hitting a sharp notebook corner. Once I put the key in the ignition, there is a wall of sound that hits me. It’s not the radio; it’s my children, talking all at once, sharing all the details about their day yesterday. Details I tried in vain to pry out of them at dinner last night, to avail. Last night, everything was “fine.” Today, there are stories, sensory details, hopes, dreams, and subplots. Three at once.
8:24 We make it to the drop-off lane. I pull around and about ten seconds before we get to the teacher whose job it is to open the car doors and get trampled by kids who are jumping out of the car, I ask the kids to gather their bags, unbuckle, and prepare to exit the vehicle. The door is opened with a smile. “GO GO GO!” I urge. I’m half cheerleader, half pit-crew.
While my children tumble out of the car, they say a hurried “I love you!” without turning around. I choose to believe those sentiments are for me, even if they seem lobbed at the front door of the school. I’m ready to go home to finally enjoy my coffee and decompress when there is a tap on my window.
One of the teachers wants to talk with me about something. She smilingly motions for me to pull over and step out of the car. There’s no way for me to convincingly act like I didn’t see or hear her, nor can I hide myself in the picnic basket in the back of the car.
I sigh, pull over, and step out. The teacher hands me the permission slip form we’d searched for this morning. She goes over the form with me, line by excruciating line, all while I’m scanning the parking lot to see who is seeing me in an outfit that makes me look like Minnie Pearl’s Arctic chauffeur. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the sunlight dancing off the zipper on one mom’s bathrobe as she drives off, avoiding eye contact. I thank the teacher and race back into my car. From behind the slightly-tinted glass I truly look around the drop-off for the first time. Parents in pajamas. Parents dressed for work. Moms in athleisure wear. One dad in what I’m pretty sure is a nacho hat. A mom in a prom dress and mukluks. Someone else in jeans rolled just the right way. The children, though, are put together. They seem groomed, fed, rested, and for the most part, excited. They are ready to learn.
That’s the goal, after all. We’ve all achieved it, by hook, crook, or pre-dawn wake up. With assistance, without assistance, with routines or without. The kids are here at school. One mom walks by my car, her daughter’s hand in her right hand, a novelty-sized mug of coffee in her left. I salute her and go on my way.
This is the routine. And now that we’ve waged whatever battles we may have waged (with the kids, with ourselves, with a Pop-Tart wedged in the toaster), it is time to regroup and move on to the next task of the day. I feel a sense of solidarity and self-forgiveness.
8:35 Back home, the house is a disaster, and I’m pretty sure my dog is trying to shame me. I put the coffee cup in the microwave again. I watch the timer count down and think complete and uninterrupted thoughts for the first time this morning. Do the kids thrive on chaos, perhaps? Is that the key? Is this just…normal to them?
The microwave chirps merrily as my coffee is heated. I take the mug and curl my hands around its warmth. Maybe with small adjustments, our mornings can be peaceful and…
The phone rings. My kids forgot their lunches.
I grab my floppy hat and go. Maybe I’ll get to sneak a kiss in when I hand off the lunch bags to my kids in the office.
Not that I’ve brushed my teeth yet.
Jackie Pick is a former teacher and current writer in Chicago. Her work has been featured on various parenting sites including Mamalode and Scary Mommy, as well as the literary art magazine Selfish. She is a contributing writer to the HerStories Project Anthology: So Glad They Told Me (Summer, 2016) and to Multiples Illuminated (Spring, 2016). She is the co-creator and co-writer of the upcoming short film Bacon Wrapped Dates and occasionally performs sketch and musical comedy in Chicago. You can follow Jackie on twitter (@jackiepick) and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog (jackiepickauthor.com).