I’ve always been a multi-tasker. I remember working at a fast food restaurant during my high school years. I felt completely superior to the guys because I could simultaneously refill someone’s drink, take a new customer’s order, and restock the shelves while they all looked at the to-do list and tried to process it. Today, I can type this post one-handed while my son sleeps in my lap and I grab a blanket with my feet. My husband can’t even carry on a conversation while he looks for his keys.
I guess that’s not totally fair. I’m sure there are some men who can multi-task. But for the most part, men compartmentalize their lives and seem to focus on one thing at a time. This is a good trait when it comes to parenting. When you parent, your child should be the sole focus of your attention at that time. Unfortunately for me, it isn’t always that way.
I work full-time every day as a high school teacher. I am fortunate that I get off around 2:30 or 3:00 every afternoon and that I have the evenings to spend with my son and husband. However, it doesn’t leave much “me” time. I don’t mean “me” time like time to get my nails done or time to soak in a hot bubble bath—both of which would be nice from time to time, though. I simply mean time to check my email, time to watch the latest Cupcake Wars episode, time to grade a paper, time to pee in peace.
What’s the solution to the lack of “me” time? Multi-tasking. As working moms, we all do it. While we cook dinner, we give our children pots and pans and whisks and wooden spoons and let them bang away next to us. We’re making dinner while we play with our kids. Sort of. Multi-tasking. While we walk the baby in the stroller, we might return some important phone calls to people we rarely get to speak to anymore. Multi-tasking. Recently, my multi-tasking hit an all-time low.
Picture this: you’ve just received a Christmas gift in the mail that is way too small for your growing child. There’s no gift receipt, but it’s clearly from a particular store, so you hope they’ll cut you some slack. You get the diaper bag ready, you change the baby, you put the baby in the car seat and you’re ready to go. Wait, you forgot to put shoes on. You go into your bedroom and you come out to see your newly mobile eight-month-old climbing out of the carseat (which you set precariously high on a piece of furniture—shame on you) and you catch him just in time. “Oops,” you think to yourself. “I must have forgotten to strap him in.” You strap him in, put on your shoes, and you’re off to the store. You get to the store, you get out of the car, you get the stroller out of the trunk because this is one of those non-kid-friendly stores without suitable shopping carts, changing stations, etc. You put the baby in the stroller, hand him a toy to play with, make sure he is tied in tight, and take the box of clothes in to exchange.
Everything sounds okay, right? Taking care of a baby, returning something to a store. Not too bad. Stay-at-home-moms have to run errands with their kids all the time. Well, it gets better. Let’s say after you receive store credit, you decide, “Hey, I’m a working mom and I don’t usually have time to shop. I’m going to take advantage of this and spend the store credit now. I’ll just buy a pair of jeans.” Your child is being so good in the stroller that you grab multiple pairs of jeans and approach the fitting room. You try one on—eh, too tight. You try another one on—eh, too long. Then you try one pair on that seems to fit just right. “Okay, I’m done,” you decide. Just then, the baby starts fussing. He doesn’t normally fuss, so you hush him, give him a different toy, and try to speed up the process of putting clothes back on hangers. When he fusses some more and arches his back—your absolute favorite gesture—you decide to undo his straps. First, you unlatch the barrier keeping him from getting out of the stroller. Because you’re dumb, rushing and multi-tasking. With his arms free, he leans forward and grabs at a toy. You quickly take off the new jeans, grab your old ones, and in that split second, you hear it: a loud thud followed by a blood-curdling scream.
That’s right, folks. My son’s first “booboo” happened. In public, no less. Because I was multi-tasking, and I forgot to leave the tray down so he couldn’t wiggle or climb out. And because undoing his straps was more convenient at the moment then taking him in my arms to calm the fussing.
Panic set in. My son is not a crier but at this point, tears streamed down his face, the rug burn on his forehead grew redder and redder, his voice got louder, and strangers knocked on the door of the fitting room. God. Is he okay? Did he injure his neck? Does he have a concussion? What do I do? So worried. So embarrassed.
Lady #1: What happened? Lady #2: Should I call someone? Lady #3: I’m a nurse. Don’t let him sleep for at least an hour.
I’m proud of myself for one thing: I did not cry. I held my baby, soothed him, listened to all of my unwanted visitors and asked the employee of the store for a cold compress. When I got into the parking lot, I burst into tears, called my husband who is ever-so-forgiving, and made an immediate appointment with the doctor. “Babies are made to bounce,” the doctor said. My son laughed. Some Neosporin and a Toy Story bandage, and everything got a little better.
There is nothing like the first time your baby falls. Everyone always tells you it will happen, you see shows like Modern Family making fun of how the parents are more frantic than the children. But you never understand how it can affect you until it happens to you. Especially when it’s your own fault. My son cried for probably 10-15 minutes, which felt like an eternity. I cried for like an hour. I cried in the doctor’s office. Guilt. Worry. Stupid multi-tasking working mom.
It’s really difficult to stomach the realization that you cannot always protect your children. In this instance, I definitely could have and should have prevented my son from falling. But from getting sick? From bullies? From getting hurt while he stays with his abuela when I’m at work? I’m helpless. I can’t always be there.
But I came to one productive realization during this trauma. My days as a successful mult-tasker have come to an end. If I can’t give 100% to something at the moment because I’m with my son, then I suppose it’ll just have to wait.