Getting out of the door at my house is never easy.
The process begins about 20 minutes before we actually need to leave, when I start telling my kids to get their shoes on, and they ignore me.
Then my mind goes into overdrive. I figure out where we're going and plan errands around that address to save time and gas. I get out my cookbook to see if I need any ingredients for dinner. I copy the grocery list from the board, in case there's time to do the shopping.
I tell the kids to get their shoes on again, and they ignore me.
I get their water bottles and fill them up. I fill up a bottle for myself. I grab a few snacks and my purse and my phone and my keys and make a pile of things to carry out to the car.
I tell the kids they'd better get their shoes on NOW, before I count to three, and they make their way to the door, chasing each other, throwing toys and shrieking at the fun of ignoring Mommy.
And just as they get their shoes on, I see a spot on the counter. Or I notice something on the floor, or some food that got left out, and I think, I'll just clean this for two seconds while the kids finish, and I frantically wipe and sweep away. While I clean, the kids end up waiting, losing their patience, taking their shoes off and running away again.
I can understand their frustration. And mine, at having to start the whole thing again, only to leave late, rush and arrive late mostly everywhere we go. But I remember standing by the back door, for many years, waiting for my mother to stop wiping down the stovetop so we could leave. And I remember thinking, “Why does she have to do this now? It will all still be here when we get back. Why doesn't she do it later?“
Now that I am turning into my mother and I've adopted her old habits, I have an answer to that question.
For one thing, the child-me was right. I certainly could wait to wipe the stove clean or sweep away the crumbs, especially when we're trying to get out of the door without screaming at each other and getting into a big fight in the car. I'm sure my mother could have waited, too. But just because you delay dealing with a little thing now doesn't mean you won't have to deal with that thing, plus a few more things, later. My thinking is, I might as well get it out of the way. Also, I might be a little obsessive compulsive.
But here, in the scenario of me leaving my house, I am carrying on the craft of generations of mothers before me.
We are busy.
As a child, I was just along for the ride — I didn't have to plan anything. But now I know that my mother had a silent list running through her head as she gathered her purse and cleaned the counter.
My grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born, had a list as she shuttled her two boys to speech training and piano practice, while working full-time as a nurse and earning her master's degree. My great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth had a list as she loaded her family up on a wagon pulled by a donkey as they moved to Oklahoma. My great-great grandmother Martha Jane even had reason to have much on her mind as she settled in rural Texas more than a century ago.
My life is the result of a long line of busy mothers just doing their job. They thought of the sunscreen and hats for a day at the park, the groceries and errands that had to be done, and the tasks for employment that had to be completed. They thought of dinners and breakfasts and naptime and potty breaks.
Somehow, they always made it out of the door.
And all along the way, their children reminded them — every once in awhile — to slow down and occasionally do later the things that could be done now.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.