Many years ago, my mother compared her life as a mother of nine children to a Merry-Go-Round. She said it felt like she stepped on each morning and spun around and around until the end of the day when she stepped off, slept a little, and got right back on the neext day.
Back then, I had no idea what she was talking about. But I do now.
Friends and readers sometimes ask about the details of my days. I know of no better way to answer the “How do you do it?” question than to share some of those details, so here it is: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the mundane of a recent Wednesday’s “ride.”
6:30 a.m. I wake up to my alarm, dress groggily in the bathroom, and force myself to hit “play” on the DVD player in the living room for a P90X legs and back workout. As I lunge and lift, a few of the smaller kids come downstairs and play quietly, but they know better than to disturb Mama when she’s doing those crazy things to her body.
7:30 a.m. Dan gets up for work. While he showers, I sit in the living room with a cup of coffee and my Magnificat. I’m a Divine Office drop-out, and this is my happy compromise.
8:00 a.m. I make breakfast for Dan and the five or so kids who are up. Cinnamon oatmeal. Don’t get excited — it’s instant.
8:15 a.m. Dan leaves for work and I shout up the stairs for the kids who are still sleeping (Ahem! The big boys!) to get up and get moving.
8:30 a.m. I answer emails, tweet a little, check my calendar, and plan my day.
9:00 a.m. We begin school work. Older kids work independently while I check spelling lists with the middle kids, help the second grader with alphabetical order, and correct the fifth-grader’s fractions. The kindergartener runs and hides when I pull out his reading book and call his name.
10:00 a.m. We take a break and read Winnie the Pooh. The real one. I’m a Winnie the Pooh snob. Then it’s back to fractions and punctuation.
10:30 a.m. I start a load of laundry and check the kitchen. My oldest daughter has unloaded the dishwasher, so I refill it with breakfast dishes and start it again.
10:45 a.m. Fourteen-year-old Eamon brings me his grammar book and we get caught up on a week’s worth of oral grammar drills. I call for the kindergartener again. I find him immersed in a game of army soldiers and decide to leave him for now.
11:00 a.m. A gas truck pulls into the driveway, but when the delivery man observes that there is no path shoveled in the snow between the driveway and the tanks, he leaves. I email Dan at work to let him know, and he asks me to check the gas tank levels.
Eamon offers to go out, but I tell him it’s no problem for me. I am Mom; hear me roar. I put on snow boots with a wool coat and head out into the single-digit temperatures. I walk on the ice-crusted snow only a few steps before crashing through. The snow comes up . . . oh, about mid-thigh on me. It only takes 25 minutes to extract myself from the snow bank and return to the living room. Eamon straps on snowshoes and heads outside.
11:30 a.m. Dan arrives home on a few minutes’ break from work. I move laundry from the washer to the dryer and throw in another load. I check emails and review my high schoolers’ schoolwork, which they have emailed to me. After reading 15-year-old Kateri’s notes on On the Union of Greece to Resist Persia, I notice she is tweeting from the upstairs computer. About Taylor Swift’s newest video.
12:00 p.m. I make lunch for the kids — ten grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches served with crackers and cookies.
12:30 p.m. While some kids eat and others play on the computer, I drill Stephen on his multiplication tables and grade Gabby’s math work. It’s messy, but 100 percent correct.
1:00 p.m. I call for the kindergartener and he comes running. Upon seeing his reader in my hand, he collapses on the floor in a fit of protest. I hand the book to his older brother and send the two of them into another room to practice sounding out. I drink a cup of coffee while Stephen reads me a chapter of his current book, Henry Huggins.
1:45 p.m. I tackle a painful health insurance project I have been putting off for far too long. Prescription medications for one of my sons cost several thousand dollars a month — a bill that our insurance scarcely begins to cover. We qualify for co-pay assistance, but we need to apply for that assistance. I research websites, make phone calls, fill out forms, and photocopy bills and tax documents. I loathe this stuff, but tell myself it’s like I’m getting “paid” several thousands of dollars a year to do it, so I don’t whine. Too much.
3:00 p.m. I move laundry from the washer to the dryer again. Four-year-old Daniel “helps,” and the clean stuff is piling up in the bathroom. The older kids finish up schoolwork, 11-year-old Juliette makes cheesecake for dessert, and the youngest kids play Nerfoop in the living room.
3:45 p.m. I take Stephen along to the local grocery store where I fax the aid applications and pick up a few things for dinner. We stop at the pet store (our bunny needs a litter box!) and post office (I need my coffee from Amazon subscriptions!) before heading home.
4:00 p.m. Gabby sits next to me and reads a chapter of Ramona the Pest aloud while I fold laundry. I call the kids to pick up their piles of clean clothing to return them to their dresser drawers.
4:15 p.m. I put water on the stove to boil for a pasta dinner and then drive Eamon to the school for his basketball game. Sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes, I make phone calls and catch up on emails.
4:45 p.m. I arrive home to make dinner. I decide to get fancy and add some fresh rolls to the menu. Ambrose helps with these. I pause briefly to consider what Ma Ingalls would think of serving dinner rolls that pop out of a can, but quickly decide that she would approve. She was practical like that.
5:00 p.m. I serve dinner to the kids and then email Dan, who is still at work, to let him know I won’t be home when he arrives. I am bringing Kateri to a parish youth group meeting and will be working on my new book project. He emails back: “Ok.” We are master communicators like that.
6:00 p.m. I drop off Kateri at her meeting and head to a nearby library with my laptop where I bask — bask, I tell you! — in the complete and utter silence. I take a deep breath, and then I write and I write and I write. And then I write some more.
9:00 p.m. I pick up Kateri and head home. It’s a 30-minute drive and I relish this time alone together, where we chat and I connect a bit with my teen daughter’s heart. I like what I find there.
9:30 p.m. I arrive home where Dan has the household under control, but no kids are in bed yet. Together, we get the stragglers through pajamas, prayers, potty trips, and tooth brushing. I line up the cough-ers for their nighttime medicine and then carry Daniel upstairs to tuck into bed.
9:45 p.m. When I arrive downstairs, Dan greets me with a glass of wine and suggests we watch a movie together. It feels like the first time I’ve seen him all day.
12:00 a.m. I shower, load and start the dishwasher, and head to bed. Lying quietly in the dark, I pray.
Thank you, God, for the gifts of my husband and children. Thank you for the gift of another day and another ride. Amen.