People who’ve read I Know How She Does It know I like the mosaic metaphor for life. I track my time on spreadsheets with half hour blocks on the vertical axis and the days of the week on the horizontal. We can speak of this as 336 cells on a grid, but I prefer the more artsy image of “tiles on a mosaic.” How I place those tiles is up to me, and by moving things around, and being careful with the design, I can create a pattern that incorporates all the elements I wish in life.
I was thinking of this while reconstructing the past 24 hours on my time log. Last night I had a speaking engagement in a hotel ballroom near the King of Prussia mall. This is about 20 minutes from my house (I love, love, love local gigs). I signed about 100 copies of I Know How She Does It, then took the stage at 7:45 p.m. I talked for a little less than an hour. They were an energetic group, which was great. I chatted with a few people after and got home by 9:15.
I was starving. I usually don’t eat before speeches, and the group had a buffet dinner, which had been cleared by the time I finished! So I came home, sent the sitter home (my husband was traveling) and heated up dinner. My three older kids drifted down from their bedrooms to see me. We caught up on their days and then I got everyone back in bed by 10. I read Through the Looking Glass, and was asleep by 10:30.
I started drifting in and out at 5:30 a.m. This “natural snooze button” is a lovely side effect of going to bed on time. I could hear the little guy talking on and off, but it wasn’t a demanding sort of talking, so I kept falling back asleep. I finally got out of bed for good at 6:30. I am a much more pleasant mother at 6:30 than at 4:30. I took the 2-year-old downstairs, where he watched the Adventures of Chuck and Friends, and I read more of Through the Looking Glass. I stopped 2 pages before the end, which turned out to be fortuitous, as I love the acrostic poem that ends the book (I know the poem, but I did not know where in the Alice books it was) and I am glad not to have Chuck and Friends associated with such lines as “Long has paled that sunny sky: Echoes fade and memories die. Autumn frosts have slain July…”
I got my 10-year-old up to shower at 7. Over the next hour I got the other kids up and fed them and I got into my exercise clothes. G (nanny) came at 7:50 and I drove the 10-year-old to his 8 a.m. orchestra rehearsal at the elementary school. Then it was home, and on the treadmill by 8:10 a.m. I was listening to Brad Paisley’s new album, which made the 2 miles go more swiftly. I jumped off at 8:28 (2 miles exactly at 9 min/mile…) and got the 7-year-old to the bus stop. He and the neighbor kid spent the entire wait comparing their Fidgets. Once the bus came, it was back inside, and back on the treadmill. I got another 1.1 miles in (5k in total!) before the 5-year-old and 2-year-old took off with G for school and other adventures.
From 9-noon I mostly worked. I practiced my graduation speech, which I now have mostly memorized, served as a “mentor editor” for the Op-Ed Project, reviewed page proofs for the City Journal story on working stay-at-home moms (it’s finally appearing next month!), and answered emails. Brief digressions: 5 minutes to finish Through the Looking Glass and decide that the acrostic poem redeemed the whole book; 10 minutes to shower. I said hello to the 2-year-old and G when they came home at noon, then got in my car and drove to the 5-year-old’s school.
I spent the next 3 hours chaperoning a field trip to the Japanese House in Fairmont Park. It wasn’t quite the palace in Kyoto, but it was serviceable for not having to take a 12-hour plane flight. The kids were a bit…boisterous…but they did sit still for 2 great Japanese folk tales.
Back home, I commenced doing some work. G took the 5-year-old and 2-year-old to the 5-year-old’s karate class. I welcomed the boys home off the bus shortly thereafter, and did homework, piano, and snack supervision. G and I had spent some time figuring out exactly how the afternoon’s activity schedule would go, as the day called for karate, swimming, baseball AND an orchestra concert. It could have all worked — we had the schedule drawn up! — but then I succumbed to the 10-year-old’s request to not do swimming since he would be icky for the concert (we would have been cutting it close if he’d tried to shower). So I wound up having a bit more time to work than originally anticipated. That’s good because a lot of stuff landed in my inbox during the field trip.
G and the little kids got home at 5:10. We ate an early dinner (the Crock Pot had been going during the day), and I took the 7-year-old to baseball at 5:45. I watched from the sidelines, enjoying the spring night, until G and the other kids came to meet me at the park at 6:30. Conveniently, the park is right next to the elementary school. She stayed with the 3 younger kids, and I walked my 10-year-old over to the school for his orchestra concert.
The orchestra concert was quite the experience. I’m sure other parents of elementary school aged beginning musicians can sympathize. The kids had not picked up their instruments until October. They only had weekly group lessons until March, and then they rehearsed once a week as an ensemble. So the fact that all the tunes they played were recognizable was a good thing. My son was very proud of his viola playing. I was too. After the concert, I took him to get a milkshake at McDonald’s (he said he preferred that to flowers). We chatted about his various activities, and what he likes and didn’t like. He said he wanted to continue with orchestra but switch to the cello. That will be something, lugging that around…
Looking back at the 24 hours of the evening to evening mosaic, I see that a fair amount can fit. I worked about 6 hours (between the speech the night before, the morning block, the post field trip shift, and half an hour answering email before the orchestra concert). I slept 7.5 hours, with another lovely half hour of lying in bed and not getting up. I ran — if it was interrupted, at least I got it in. I spent time with all four kids individually, which is a happy result of having full time childcare. It’s obviously critical for working, but over the years I’ve learned it’s also what allows me to chaperone field trips, and go to kids’ concerts without having to chase a toddler (which the man sitting next to me kept having to get up to do). I learned new things about 17th century Japan, combining my goals of aiming to do something memorable daily, and learn something new daily. Thanks to the judicious subtraction of swimming, the day never felt terribly rushed. Indeed, there were some downright chill moments, like sitting on the bleachers while the Little League team played baseball at the pace 7-year-olds play baseball. During this spring 24 hours, life was full, and life had space. As usual, there need not be any contradiction here.