Barbara Walters was going long. That’s producer-speak for Barbara Walters was going over her allotted time on the half-hour newscast I was producing at WABC in New York City.
“Wrap Ms. Walters, please.” I spoke into my headset, instructing the floor director.
Ms. Walters continued, unfazed by the visual wrap the floor director was giving her.
“Wrap Barbara again, please!” I scanned my rundown, mentally doing the math and killing two or three stories as the legendary journalist continued to eat up all the time in my newscast.
“HARD WRAP. GIVE BARBARA A HARD WRAP.” I shouted into my headset and then pushed a different button and began notifying a news reporter that we had thirty seconds until we were coming live to her, while simultaneously attempting to dial up my traffic reporter in the helicopter flying over Manhattan so I could have her on stand-by for the next live traffic hit in the newscast.
This was my life, every day, all day for nearly 15 years. Live television, breaking news, writing stories with seconds to spare before air, dealing with demanding on-air personalities and coordinating an entire newsroom of anchors, reporters, photographers, editors, and producers.
And yet, in all that time, I never came close to the kind of stress-induced breakdowns that regularly occur while parenting three young children.
It sounds strange to compare coordinating three small children to the insanity of a newsroom, but I’ll tell you what: I can count on my hands the number of times I lost my cool under the intense pressure of producing a live newscast during the 15 years of my news career. Now? I can’t count the number of times per week I lose it with three kids.
Being a parent is the hardest, most demanding thing I’ve ever done and ever since my separation and divorce, I’ve struggled mightily to figure out a new, solo parent routine. We split custody, but being alone with three young children without back-up is daunting. I’ve got the basics down. We can get from point A to point B and everyone is dressed and fed, but I am a frazzled, sweaty, teary mess most of the time.
There is never enough time in the day. And believe me, I am not one of those people who talks about how busy they are and make every day feel busy, busy, busy. I hate being busy, I try to downplay the busy, and yet there is not a spare second in the day. From the moment I get up at 5:30 a.m. to the minute I get in bed around 9:30 p.m., It. Is. On.
Every day is an intense choreography of time-management wherein if just one minute is wasted, a domino effect of horribleness occurs. If we’re late to daycare, we’ll miss Violet’s bus. If we miss Violet’s bus, I have to drive her to school. If I drive her to school, I’ll be late to my daily morning meeting at work. If I’m late to that meeting, my whole day is screwed because that’s the meeting that sets up each work day and several people are counting on me to distribute daily projects with hard deadlines. After that I sprint to my car so I can be home in time to greet the bus, then it’s back to daycare for the younger kids and then home and dinner and bedtime routine and holy crap, I’m tired.
It has taken me a year and a half of desperately attempting to shape the chaos into organization for me to realize, I will never win. It will always be chaotic. And I need to be okay with that or I will lose my mind.
I have to be okay with the fact that my home will never be clean. If I tried, I’d end up spending an entire day walking around picking up and putting away the same crap because the kids mess it up as I’m cleaning. (They’re evil like that, turning us parents into Sisyphus in our own homes.) But what I can do? I can let things go a little bit and not feel guilty about it. For instance, before kids I never would have gone to bed with my room a mess. Now, heaping my clothes into one pile in a corner of my bedroom = cleaning my bedroom.
What I’ve realized from all this flailing about, trying to find my post-divorce solo parenting groove, is that I need to stop trying to find it because my groove is mayhem. It’s supposed to be. I’m herding three little kids, for crying out loud. Instead of feeling like a failure over the traveling circus we have become, I am learning to find the humor — and even the charm — in it. After all, it is the hallmark of parenting in the trenches, and we all experience it. It’s been a long, exhausting process, but I’m slowly learning to relinquish my need for organization and to laugh in the face of mayhem.
So my advice to you is to find the humor in your daily madness, even if it’s laughter through tears. You’ll feel much better. Because someday? Someday we will miss this chaos. We will look back and smile with pride and amusement as we remember whirling through each day with our babies.