Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Bottomless Inbox

Back when I had a job in corporate America, one of my bosses told me that my inbox would never be empty.  I remember being horrified at this realization, because I was the kind of person who loved to finish every last thing on her to-do list (and I might have been a major brown noser just out of college).  She was simply trying to point out to me that I should not be stressed that I would never be “done” with all of my tasks (since new ones are always being added), but I made it my personal mission to make it there just once.  Yeah…that never happened. During the entire FIFTEEN years I spent in the work force.

When I decided to stay at home following the birth of my second son, I thought that I would finally be able to get to the bottom of that inbox.  I mean, I only had to take care of two kids, my husband and the house.  It’s not like I had a REAL job anymore.  How hard could it be?  Please excuse me while I laugh my ASS off at my own naivet√©.  (HA!  HA!  HA!)  If anything, I have gotten further away from the bottom.

How is that possible?  Well, let’s see.  When I was working, I had the money to pay someone to clean my house. I also had just one child (and he actually slept) and therefore a lot more energy.  My second son is charming, intelligent and fun loving.  He is also short-tempered, mischievous and stubborn.  It feels like he requires more than two times the energy that my older son required.  But that may have something to do with the fact that my older son was in daycare five days a week.  It is a lot easier to have energy when you only have to be a responsible parent for two full days a week, with just mornings and evenings for the remaining five days.  My lack of energy may also have something to do with the fact that I am MUCH older now and my body is falling apart.

But I digress.  My inbox became quite full when managing my three boys (yes, I include my husband in that group) and the household.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to put my younger son in preschool a few days a week, since many tasks are simply not possible when he is in the house.  (He has far too keen an interest in cleaning supplies for my taste. And why does he insist on cleaning the FLOOR with the duster?)  So now that I had a whole twelve hours to myself during the week, I was going to get the inbox under control, right?

WRONG.  The hours that the little one is in school were spent cleaning and running necessary errands that he simply could not withstand.  (Ever had a three-year-old accompany you to your annual GYN appointment?  I do NOT recommend it.)  The frustration mounts, but I continue make my lists and have high hopes that I will get everything done while he is in school.  When will I ever learn? 

Usually the days when both of my sons are in school go something like this.  I debate about whether or not to go to the gym because I could really benefit from the stress relief, not to mention the calorie burning, but eventually head home instead because the house is so dirty that I embarrassed to have any of my friends over.  I reluctantly pull out my cleaning supplies, put on some music and start the process of making my house habitable.  This process always begins with the upstairs bathrooms.  I am in constant awe of how quickly my three boys are able to make the bathroom look like it hasn’t been cleaned in a month.  Let’s see, I clean every week, and they destroy it within 3 days, so… Sigh…

Then the phone rings.  My husband absolutely has to talk to me about some electronic device that he is thinking of buying and even though he will not listen to my opinion, he insists on going through EVERY single detail with me.  And since my shoulder is still recovering from a mishap at the gym, I cannot cradle the phone with my shoulder and get some cleaning done while he goes on and on and ON.  So, I continue to listen, torn between enjoying at least the sound of his voice (we don’t get much time together during the week) and being resentful of the fact that he is effectively holding me hostage while he debates with himself. Maybe I need to put him on speakerphone…

Eventually, his decision is made and I return to my cleaning.  I then remember that I have not put the clothes that I washed last night into the dryer.  This means that they have been sitting overnight and probably smell, so I will have to rewash them and hope that I remember to put them in the dryer this time.  After I have gone downstairs and remedied my washing debacle, I walk by the kitchen and see the toys that my sons left on the floor and swear as I pick them up and put them away.  How many times did I remind them to put the toys away before they went to school???  As I walk back towards the staircase, I remember that I have to empty the dishwasher so that I can put the dirty dishes that are in the sink into the dishwasher so that I can clean the damn sink.  I take a deep breath, execute this task and return to cleaning upstairs.  In a desperate attempt for levity, I put Prince on my iPod and sing, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”  True to my friend Kelly’s mantra, there really is nothing that a little Prince can’t fix.  At least for the moment.

By the time that my older son comes home from school, the house is in reasonable condition, but I have not run the errands that I had planned for the day because, let’s face it, cleaning is a never ending pit of despair.  No matter how much you clean, the house still feels messy.  Then your happy little masters of destruction come home and ruin any progress that you have made.  And just wait until the BIG master comes home.  That’s right!  My husband is just as bad as my kids.  But don’t tell him that I said that.  (He is kind of sensitive. And hopefully never reads my blog.)

All of this is more than enough to keep a fairly intelligent woman on her toes.  (I honestly think that my intelligence is waning, but that is a topic for another blog.)  Even though I was beyond busy every minute of the day and had absolutely no hope of seeing anything close to the bottom of my inbox, I realized that something was missing from my life.  I needed to add something that was creatively fulfilling to me.  I then made the somewhat questionable decision to become an author.  Because that shouldn’t add too much to my inbox, right?  There isn’t that much work involved in being a successful author, is there?  You just write a funny story, slap on a cute cover and make millions, RIGHT?  (Anyone have a spare straightjacket?)

Pardon my momentary outburst.  Back to our story…I was lucky enough to be able to write my first two books while my little one napped.  It was often difficult to parcel out the time – since I did not always have inspiration when I had actual quiet time.  Now that my son is older, more mobile and MUCH more vocal, things have gotten a little more complicated.  Not to mention the effects of the massive social media addiction that I detailed in my last blog.  My situation has now become completely hopeless as far as I can tell.  The bottom of the box will never be seen in my lifetime.

Well, it certainly feels that way.  OFTEN.  Simple tasks such as answering emails or phone calls take weeks.  Permission slips for school trips get lost.  It takes ten email exchanges to set up play dates for my sons – and given how long it takes me to respond to emails, you know that this is not a quick process.  I forget to make my regular hair appointment and make it obvious to the world that even though I am only forty years old I am almost COMPLETELY gray.  I then realize that I haven’t spoken to some of my closest friends in months, but feel a bit less guilty since none of them have called me either.  I happen to look over at my husband and wonder when we last had a date.  A real, honest to God date, where you actually hire a babysitter, leave the house in something other than sweats and have an adult conversation that does not involve our children.  Hmm…

Despite all of the chaos, I somehow manage to make it to the end of each day, running on fumes.  After the boys are finally in bed, my husband and I sit next to each other, both engrossed in our laptops, trying to fit in a few last tasks before bed.  The thought doesn’t seem to occur to either one of us to turn off all of our screens and have a focused conversation, because we have the need to cross just ONE more thing off our lists.  It is kind of funny that we think that this one item is going to make a difference, but we do. 

It is usually at this point that I start humming the hamster dance song.  Do you remember that?  This adorable website went viral in the late nineties and caused millions of people to hum an unforgettably happy tune.  How could you not be amused by rows of cartoon hamsters shaking their booties while singing, “Dee dee dee da dee da dee da do do, dee da dee da do!!!”  Back in my corporate days, I used to watch it at my desk in my lonely little cubicle, sing along and bop my head.  It always made the day a little easier to take.

And why is it that in the middle of this insanity that I am thinking of the hamster dance, of all things?  The answer is so very simple.  The best way that I can think of to describe the bottomless inbox that is my life is that I am a hamster running on a wheel.  I have a series of tasks that must be completed over and over again and instead of feeling like I am actually moving forward once I complete them, I feel like I am stuck on a hamster wheel.  It may seem silly, but the analogy works for me – and makes me laugh, which is an added bonus.

It seems to be pretty clear to me that now that I split my time between writing and being a stay at home mom, I will never see the bottom of the box.  But that’s OK.  I am going to embrace my status as a hamster.  Hamsters are cute!  And happy!  And dumb enough to be totally content with running their cute little tushies off without actually making any progress.  That is something to celebrate!

So now there is really only one thing left to say.  Wait for it…hamster dance, anyone?  Come on, follow the link above and sing it with me!  “Dee dee dee da dee da dee da do do…”

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