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Forget About Me: I Don't Know How SHE Does It!

My Mother in Law with Baby G on her back and G's cousin T in her arms.

I am the mother of five children, ranging in age from 7 months to teenager. I also have a full time job in digital marketing with a big company, and I do quite a lot of freelance writing (you are reading some it right now).  Many times, when people hear me mention the particulars of my life, they tell me that they have no idea how I manage, or that they can barely keep their heads above water with only one or two kids.  I always feel kind of guilty when this happens, because there is one important part of my story that I’ve left out.

You see, I have a secret weapon that every working mom would love to have. Her name is Janice, and she’s my extraordinary superhero of a mother in law.  In the photo to the left, you see Janice in a photo snapped yesterday, with Baby G in a backpack on her back, and my niece T in Janice’s arms. The photo was taken on the front porch of my husband’s Jon’s office, a family business to which Janice comes EVERY SINGLE DAY to care for G and T, as well as for our three year old daughter C on the three days a week she isn’t in preschool, and T’s 5 year old sister A on days when she isn’t at kindergarten, and also after school. My husband Jon and my sister in law Carol both work at the office, and ever since the two of them became parents, they’ve been bringing their kids to the office each day, where Janice holds down the fort so that her son and daughter in law can work.

Janice spent several decades as a public school music teacher, but she retired a little bit early when C was a baby so that she could spend more time with her grandchildren. I’ve heard from many people in our community that Janice was one of the most respected and best loved teachers ever to work in our local school system, and that’s not hard to believe. Not only is she completely nurturing and loving with her grandchildren, she’s also extremely well organized and no nonsense.  Even though she never, ever raises her voice – ever -kids AND adults listen up when Janice has something to say.

The kids love, love, love the days that “go to the office” with their “Mimi.” She takes C and G to library story hour each week because I am at awork and can’t, and she plans crafts and activities for C to make. Last week they baked Valentine’s Day cookies at the office, which C brought home for her big brother and sister. In the summer, she walks the kids over to the pool near the office (which is located downtown in a small town)  and takes them swimming.  And she reads to them non-stop.  Last summer Janice enrolled C in the “super reader” program at the library for toddlers, and she read every one of the books on the list to C so she could get the Super Reader certificate at the end of the summer.

So yes, my mother in law takes care of my two younger children each day so that Jon and I can work at our jobs, something that many grandparents today would never consider doing. I know what a big deal that is.  But wait! There’s more! Janice also helps out at other times. When I have to be at one of E’s lacrosse games on a Saturday while Jon is busy transporting J and her friends to a movie at the mall, Janice is always happy to step in and help with the two younger girls so that we can focus on the big kids that afternoon. With a houseful of children, Jon and I try to make sure that each child also gets one on one time, and Janice helps us make sure we are able to provide that.

And over the past year, as I dealt with a very problematic pregnancy that kept me laid up a lot, plus the lengthy hospitalization and death of my oldest son,and then the debilitating grief and the exhausting search for answers that has followed,  Janice has always been there , quietly and non-intrusively propping Jon and me up so that we didn’t crumble.  Over the terrible past year, Janice has helped with meals, housework, transportation and general logistical coordination for our busy household that seemed to be under siege for a full year of one catastrophe after another.  After Baby G was born in June, she prepared dinner for our whole family each night for AN ENTIRE MONTH, and even now, she sends over fresh cookies (hers are THE BEST) and yummy muffins at least once a week.  J and E loooooove Janice’s baking, and so do all their cousins. Her cookies have now become legendary in our family.

Despite how much time Janice puts in helping Jon and me keep our lives as working parents on track, Janice definitely makes time for her own interests and social life. She has a group of friends she’s been hanging out with for decades now, and they get together regularly.  She’s a voracious reader, she’s very active in her church, and she and my father in law take several trips alone together each year, without any kids or grandkids. She’s in better shape than I am, and she walks miles and miles every week.

Basically, when I grow up, I want to be just like Janice.

I can’t even imagine what Janice thought when her son announced in 2006 that he planned to marry a woman quite a bit older than he was whom he’d only known for a few months, and furthermore, that the woman in question had three children of her own ranging in age from 7-13.  I can only assume that she and my now-father in law were horrified. But they never, ever let on to me or my children that they were anything but thrilled beyond belief to have us joining their family. And they’ve continued to be just as wonderful ever since.  My older children think they are terrific, and my sister (who I must mention also helps me A WHOLE LOT ) and her family have grown close to them as well.

Sometimes people ask me how I do it as a working mom. Now you know. And maybe after reading this, you find yourself wondering, as I often do of Janice, I don’t know how she does it.

Thank you Janice. For everything. I love you, and you are an inspiration to me every day.

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