By Natalie Serianni
It’s 8:10. “Okay, sweetie!” I yell down the stairs. “Five more minutes, then we’re leaving!”
“OK, Mom!” she bellows back.
I’m hopeful she’s brushing her hair and putting on her shoes. Maybe a jacket.
She’s six. She’s carefully cutting up small pieces of paper and using a maroon marker to put a squiggly line on each one.
I am rushing. That’s what I’m always doing in the morning. For no apparent Goddamn reason.
Little #2 is climbing up the stairs, her diaper crinkling, toddler hands slapping the hard wood. Her blue eyes look up at me. “Hi, Mommy.”
“Hi, sweetie,” I coo. “Ready to brush teeth?”
She waddles into the bathroom and climbs up onto the wide porcelain toilet. I turn on the tap. She shuts it off so she can turn it on. The water runs for far too long. Pink fruit-flavored toothpaste is now on her shirt, my sleeve. The medicine cabinet’s contents are falling everywhere. I wipe sink. She crawls down.
Me, silently to myself: Wash face? No. Deodorant? Well, yes, because I didn’t wash face. Eyeliner? Brows instead. Swipe lip stuff. Done.
Down the stairs.
I’ll spare you breakfast because that’s a Shakespearean scene alternating between comedy and tragedy.
Every morning is like this—a choose your own adventure based on the prior decision. Our morning’s flowchart. A raucous before-coffee rhythm: If yes, then this; if no, then that. There’s no consistency. Ever. And no space to process. Just on-the-fly decisions. All the time. The tiny demanding decisions that crescendo us into our day are exhausting; they can take so much out of us before we even begin.
We joke, but it’s our family’s new mantra, stolen straight from Finding Nemo: Just Keep Swimming. Don’t stop. ‘Cause that’s when it catches up to you—the pace of this frenetic life. A few years back, I asked my oldest to brush her three-year-old hair before we left for daycare. She looked at me with wild eyes and screamed, “There’s no time!” I knew then that life was out of control.
My husband is gone today, because we alternate mornings, because we have to work. Because we have bills. And debt. And a house that needs a LOT of work. And family lives far away. There’s always something to contend with. And like many of us, there’s more: co-parenting, single parenting. Unstable or precarious situations. Today I’m captain, steering the ship into morning, getting us all where we need to go.
“Sweetheart, let’s go! Put the markers away. Grab your stuff!”
Then the flurry of whining, scooping bags, slamming fridge doors, water sloshing in water bottles, the zipppp of jackets.
No, wait. Panic. “Is today a library day?”
Big blue eyes nod yes.
Here we go.
Of course it’s my fault.
Little: “Mommy, put on my shooes!”
I run up the stairs, heels clicking, and look next to/on/in/under the bed for the book. Found.
I’m sweating in this puffy jacket, from running around and also from hormones. Possibly. I grab the banister, round the corner, thinking to myself: I need to take vitamins. Crap! Schedule your yearly doctor’s appointment. Oh, and a mole check. Shit, that overdue bill! Wait, did I brush my teeth?
Nope, keep going.
Asks inner self: How do I do this? How are we all doing this?
My brain is a crowded space these days, reacting, remembering, shaming, full of endless lists of things I will get to someday. One thought interrupts the oth–OMG, life Insurance!
I bound down the stairs, grab keys off the table, and put littles’ rainboots on, sans socks.
Out the door.
Uggh, it’s brisk. Do I go back and grab hats and gloves? Is this rain? Too late. I’m the worst mom with freezing, wet children. Bus comes in t-minus three minutes.
“Ok, loves, let’s get a wiggle on.”
Down the sidewalk we go; we turn the corner and cross the street, our hand-holding human train. We wait with the smarter neighborhood folk: bundled up parents and kids.
Those words: No bus.
Everything was hinging on that bus.
The entire day.
New plan. Next pivot.
As I walk home, I’m transported to an imaginary job interview, me in the hot seat, considering questions at the head of a table:
“Can you think on your feet?”
“Can you handle unpredictable situations?”
“Are you flexible, adaptable? Able to easily come up with solutions when problems arise?”
Yes, yes and yesssss.
We’re headed home, back to the car, heads hanging. The shot clock is on: a race to get to school before the buzzer. We need to run. I need coffee. I need to get to work. I need to steel myself for more mayhem. More micro-decisions that will set the course for the day. A day that hasn’t really even started. A day that follows our frenzied family flow chart.
Remembering things, forgetting things.
Finding what we need.
Always moving ahead.
The bus will show tomorrow. Right??
About the Author
Natalie Serianni is a Seattle-based writer, instructor and mother of two whose work has been featured in Seattle’s ParentMap Magazine, on parenting and photography blogs and various literary magazines. She’s at work on a collection of essays exploring grief, gratitude and motherhood. Follow on Instagram @natserianni.