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If the Army acknowledges it, why can’t I?

Submitted by on Monday, 1 March 2010 No Comment

The U.S. Army recognizes that I might need a little help when Dad is away. That’s why the military offers 16 hours’ care a month to children whose parents are deployed are wounded.

So why did it take me two months to sign up?

First there’s the on-going mental myth I carry around about myself, the notion that I can do it all. Even though I learned long ago that I can’t – not well, at least, and not without turning into a shrew – I still default to Wonder Woman as an organizing principle.

And then there are the voices in my head.

Some are memories of every article I’ve ever read that’s blasted working parents for turning their children over to “institutions” instead of raising them themselves. Some are the distant din of a parent who crows that she’s never paid to leave her child with strangers for one second – never mind that the crow has had live-in help since the second her child was born.

The most stinging, though, is the voice of  the critical caller. And in this instance, “critical” means “finding fault,” not “analyzing.”

It came over the weekend as I outlined a chaotic Friday that left me baking cupcakes for Big Guy’s soccer party two hours before it was to start. Yes, I felt bad about that, but they did cool in enough time that the fluffy frosting didn’t melt into a glossy glaze. The punch line: The other mom who brought cupcakes started baking at the exact same time I had.

“How on Earth could you let that happen?” the critic asked, not kindly. “Didn’t you know the party was coming?”

Why, yes, I had.

But then I got a call from Big Guy’s school that morning telling me that his emergency allergy medications had expired. No, I hadn’t seen that one coming because I’d stored the expiration date on an electronic calendar on a computer I’ve since retired.

Then I had to buy soda for the same party. Pick up Boots. Run paperwork over to another office that later decided it needed still more paperwork. Take hot dogs out of the freezer because Big Guy’s allergies mean we tote full meals to most parties he goes to. Fix lunch. Work work into the schedule somewhere.

I backed up the list of my back-uppedness into the previous day – Big Guy’s drama class, a soccer game, returning library books, picking up milk. The critic got my point, but didn’t give up.

“Why are you making those kids do so much? What about their homework?”

At times like that, I’m grateful that the phone won’t really let you reach out and touch someone. “I’m not making them do anything,” I said. “They’re interested, and I’d rather have them active than staring at the TV.”

Their homework is going just fine, thank  you – as if I’m going to stress about a 4-year-old’s studies. Boots can recognize the alphabet and letter sounds in random order, and Big Guy is reading at above grade level.

And then I stopping, realizing I’d just spent a quarter of an hour justifying our life and our choices to someone who wasn’t living them. I decided to talk about the weather.

I love the idea of Fantasy Mommy Me, who can handle all the kid stuff and still do her stuff. That’s not reality, though. I need a root canal, and my roots are showing. I’d love to go to the commissary without a riot.

But mostly, I’d love to be able to breathe for a few hours a week. The guys are better off at their various activities than they are with me growling because I’m trying to get it all done. And failing miserably.

The Army acknowledges that. It’s time that I do, too.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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