by Meredith O'Brien
I spent several hours this past week sitting in front of my computer, a big calendar at my side, trying to get myself better organized, or should I say, trying to get my family better organized. I’m my family’s unofficial, unpaid, indentured servant of an administrative assistant who tries to keep on top of our crazy schedule, three kids’ homework assignments, driving them to/from after-school activities and managing holiday celebrations, plus managing a tiny thing called a professional career.
As I sorted piles of papers, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be fired and replaced by a personal assistant who’s much more on the ball than me, someone who wouldn’t accidentally send my 8-year-old son to school without his lunch money, something I’d also mistakenly done for my twin 11-year-olds already this school year. Or totally forgetting all about a birthday party the 8-year-old was supposed to attend even though I’d RSVP’d in the affirmative and for which I’d already bought a birthday present. Or, despite the reminders I’d made for myself (including e-mailing myself), missing the deadline for the “early bird” registration price for the Little League. By one day. My disorganization cost us some extra moola.
And if I’m feeling overwhelmed by kids’ stuff now – never mind by my own stuff – I might as well just climb into bed and pull the covers over my head because as soon as the spring soccer and baseball seasons start I’m going to have to add nine practices/games per week to the family’s schedule and figure out how to get everyone where he or she needs to go. How can I keep this all straight, meet my own work deadlines and still get reasonably healthy food on the table without having the condition of my home begin to rival that of a Superfund site?
I don’t quite have the answer to that question (other than by consuming copious quantities of caffeine and cloning myself), but the depiction of two fictional moms on TV this past week screwing up in big ways when it came to their family’s schedules made me realize that, if moms feeling overwhelmed by the weird administrative complexity of contemporary child-rearing is now a punch line on TV shows, I can’t be the only one who’s feeling burned out.
Thank goodness for ABC’s dramedy Desperate Housewives ’ Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman). Lynette, a mom of four, gave me reason to smile because, sad as it is to admit, misery loves company. So there’s Lynette, fresh from being fired from her job for being pregnant with her fifth child and not telling her boss before accepting a promotion, and having recently lost the baby’s twin in a miscarriage. (She’s supposedly going to get her job back after her baby is born; we’ll see how that plays out.) Lynette has been exhausted and harried as her pregnancy enters the third trimester. Chief on her mind during this particular episode was the disagreement she’d been having with her husband Tom over what to name the new baby. She was lobbying for Polly.
Not foremost in her thoughts, however, was her daughter Penny’s birthday. It was only when Penny was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting expectantly for the traditional, “special” breakfast Lynette usually made the birthday kid, when it dawned on Lynette and Tom that they’d blown it and her birthday had completely slipped their minds.
In a lame attempt to try to make up for their error, Lynette and Tom whipped up a “big” dinner to celebrate Penny, however two of Penny’s brothers weren’t in attendance. And then Lynette, still consumed by the baby name debate, presented Penny with a birthday cake that said, “Happy Birthday Polly.”
Things weren’t any better for the only daughter in the Heck family over on ABC’s family comedy The Middle . Like Penny Scavo, Sue Heck was sorely disappointed when -- despite her heavy-handed hints about her favorite meal being served on Saturday evening or the possibility that she’d want a big slumber party that night – she found herself sitting alone at the family’s kitchen table on the night of her birthday, her parents distracted by other things.
Her mom, Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton), who has two other children in addition to Sue, had just received a “promotion” at the car dealership where she works to customer service representative. Her boss came up with the brilliant idea of forging a personal connection to people who’d purchased cars there over the past decade. How? By having his new customer service gal pen over 1,000 “birthday” cards to the vehicles. While writing out all these car birthday cards for days on end and late into the evening, Frankie, along with her husband Mike, ironically forgot their flesh-and-blood daughter’s 14th birthday.
What was dad Mike’s excuse for missing his only daughter’s birthday? He was so blinded by excitement and nervousness that his youngest, quirky and bookish son Brick (yes, his name’s “Brick”) had a fighting chance of making it to a national spelling bee that everything else was pushed aside as Mike drilled his son on spelling words. Frankie and Mike tried to make up for their error by letting Sue be in charge of what turned out to be a disastrous family get-away to Chicago the following weekend where Brick would be competing in a regional spelling bee.
Seeing both Lynette and Frankie, as well as their husbands, mess up and miss something as big as a birthday – a much bigger faux pas than forgetting to equip my kid with $2.25 for school lunch, flaking out and failing to remember one of my kids’ classmates’ birthday party and overlooking the early bird baseball registration deadline – took the pressure off of me for my forgetfulness and questionable administrative assistant skills. But while we’re on the subject, I could still really use that personal assistant.