“Why don’t you put away my espresso machine parts?” my husband asked me one evening. “You’re home all day, and I’d think you’d want them out of the way.”
I gave him “the look” — you know the one. What was his problem? Didn’t he know how busy I was all day? That adding even one more “to do” to my list might push me over the edge? The answer was no, he didn’t, and neither do most people who don’t answer to the name “Mom.” The general public remains blissfully unaware of the daily reality of being a mother — that is, all those “tiny,” unrecognized tasks that consume our days, or what I call “the minutiae of motherhood.”
It wasn’t always this way for me. Before I became a mom, I was a classroom teacher for 13 years. As an elementary educator, my school day was jam-packed. There were certainly tedious duties, from taking attendance and lunch count to checking off homework and grading multiplication tests. However, when I looked at my day as a whole, it wasn’t about record-keeping or bulletin boards. Rather, those six hours revolved around creating authentic learning experiences for my students, checking for understanding and adjusting my instruction, and caring for the physical and emotional well-being of the children in my care.
When I had my daughter, I decided it was time for a change. I was burned out on teaching and had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’d managed a full-time job and a household at the same time for more than a decade, so how much harder could it be to trade in one occupation for another? That was my thought process, in any case. I quickly realized that, once I’d swapped a white board for a changing table, I’d never been busier. Maintaining a home while caring for a baby ended up being a 24/7 endeavor, and now that I have a toddler on my hands and have added a few side hustles, my days seem even fuller.
I’d love to say that I pass my days basking in the glow of my daughter’s smile as we traipse carefree through the local park, but I don’t live in a stock photo. Like most moms, I structure my days around the “big stuff” like school, work, appointments, and mealtimes. But in between, I find that I fill the hours with a never-ending slate of seemingly inane responsibilities. It’s not that I don’t ever sit down and read a book or play blocks with my daughter; it’s that the whole time, I’m thinking about everything I “should” be doing instead. Because if I don’t, the whole damn thing might fall apart. After all, the only time anyone notices this stuff is when I don’t manage to get it done.
To someone who’s not in the trenches, it might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I really do complete a superhuman number of tasks in the course of a day. Take last Thursday. It’s technically my “off” day. My daughter’s not in preschool, which means I’m not working a shift. Last week, she spent the morning in hourly care so I could go to the dentist. Before we left the house, I tossed a load of laundry in the washer, changed her sheets, and made a copy of her immunization record. I gifted myself an extra hour after my teeth cleaning to buy a pair of sandals for my growing girl and prizes for Easter games with her cousins. After pickup, we stopped at the bank to deposit her lucky money from Vietnamese New Year. I spent the evening preparing dinner, picking up toys, and running my kid to the potty every hour on the hour.
Of course, to a mom, what I’ve just described is a typical “day in the life.” I’m not alone. I’m not special. I’m just doing what mothers, both stay-at-home and working, do every single day. Our minds are constantly occupied with who has to be where and when, from medical appointments to school functions to extracurricular activities. We’re the holders of information: blood types and birthdays, allergies and anniversaries. We manage teacher emails, family texts, and grocery lists because we know the consequences of running out of peanut butter or Pull-ups. After a full day, we’re rewarded with bedtime tears as we wrestle our children into their pajamas and bleary-eyed readings of Goodnight Moon before we collapse in, hopefully, our own beds.
And the entire time, our inner voices are saying, “You’re doing it wrong.” I mean, shouldn’t motherhood feel more meaningful and rewarding than literally anything you might have been doing before? The fact is, when your plate is overflowing, messages like, “The dishes can wait” and “They won’t be little forever” can be hard to internalize. Maybe it’s true that you’ll look back and regret the time you didn’t spend gazing into the eyes of your child or memorizing the sound of their laughter, but right now, if you don’t clean up that spill, your car is going to smell like rotten milk for time immemorial. The world won’t stop turning if you forget the PTA bake sale, but missing the credit card bill due date is another story entirely.
I don’t have a solution. A nanny, maid, and chef for every mom would be nice, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. If you’re able to rise above the minutiae, more power to you, but I’ll still be grinding it out. Maybe the answer lies in embracing your reality. It could be that being mired down in the details makes you more aware of the tiny wonderful moments that occur. An unexpected kiss on your pregnant belly from the big sister to-be. A text from your father-in-law thanking you for a small kindness. A chuckle from your husband when he realizes you’ve reassembled his espresso machine… upside down. If you’re going to sweat the small stuff anyway, you might as well appreciate the little things while you’re at it.