Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Mayor and The Village Idiot

Occasionally I spend my train ride engaged in podcasts like Stuff Your Mom Never Told You or Stuff You Missed in History Class. This morning I listened to an episode of This American Life called “Starting from Scratch.” One of the stories in this episode focused on the Garden of Eden. The rewrite of the Biblical story caught my attention when the narrator proclaimed: “Every village needs a mayor and a village idiot. In the village of Eden, this is the way it broke down - Eve: mayor; Adam: village idiot.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close.)


I am getting ready to go to a conference tomorrow. The annual meeting of the professional organization in which I am most active falls every year on the week before Thanksgiving. This makes November a very busy time for me both professionally and personally.

I am preparing for two presentations this weekend and trying to manage my classes, student teachers, and writing obligations. My goal is to put everything on autopilot so I can head to the conference focused only on the four days of professional networking.

My personal life has been set to go on auto for quite some time. Babysitter and grandparent coverage are secured. Today is my last day in the city for work before I head out of town. I have four appointments on my calendar between 9:00 and 3:30, two of which are student teacher observations that have been difficult to schedule. People are counting on me professionally today.

And my babysitter is sick.

She called last night at 9:30 to find out if it would be possible for her to go to the doctor today. She has been fighting something, and she’s worried it’s progressing into something serious. I want her to take care of herself and get the rest and medical attention she needs. Frankly, I need her to be available to take care of my kids the next few days while I am away.

After I hung up the phone with her last night, I put on my mayor cap and started the organizing shuffle I needed to accomplish. “Turn off the TV and get your calendar,” I told my husband as I searched through my bag for my planner. By the time I had convinced my husband to get off the couch and check his schedule for the day, I was looking at my Wednesday and realizing that with my trip to the conference and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, it would be nearly impossible to reschedule the professional obligations I had on my calendar.

My husband’s calendar was easier to manipulate, so I asked if he could work from home, allowing our babysitter to take the entire day off. As we discussed whether my husband could work from home, his anxiety level increased. He knew that it was Wednesday. He knew that the kids had gymnastics. And he knew what that would mean for his daily routine. Last week my husband, whose office was closed for Veteran’s Day, attended gymnastics for the first time. It exhausted him, or in his words, “blew him up” for the rest of the day.

During gymnastics, my children run freely through two large rooms that are filled with springboard floors, tumble mats, balls, trampolines, and various other implements that could, in fact, pose physical danger to our tots. It’s great fun for my son and daughter, but it requires diligence on the part of the adults watching them. When I work and am unable to attend gymnastics, I schedule grandparents to help our babysitter with managing the two during the class. This week G-pa had confirmed his attendance, so we knew that the kids would have able childcare for most of the morning. We also knew that we did not want to ask G-pa to handle both kids by himself for an extended period of time because it can be exhausting. We certainly needed another adult to accompany G-pa to gymnastics to help monitor our kiddos, who rarely, if ever, find the same space interesting at the same time.

As my husband, growing increasingly agitated, talked it through and expressed the obvious drawbacks to his staying at home, I listened patiently. I offered him several options. In response to his concern that gymnastics would “blow him up”, I simply said, “Then don’t go to gymnastics.” I saw the light bulb of clarity and sanity switch on.

I followed with, “Well if you aren’t going to gymnastics, do you really want to make your dad drive all the way to our house.” His panicked expression said it all. “But that would mean I had them all by myself.” The light began to flicker.

To be fair, my husband’s panic was not just about taking care of the twin toddlers on his own. He is more than capable. The panic arose because of the change in his routine. He understood that taking care of them meant that he would not be able to call clients, check financial data, or complete any other task he might otherwise accomplish while he worked at home. He was rattled by this unexpected turn in events while I was trying to take it in stride.

I backpedaled. “It’s 9:30. Do you think it’s too late to call your dad to see what his schedule is like tomorrow?” He picked up the phone and called his dad.

During the phone conversation, nothing changed for G-pa, who had planned to arrive at our house in the morning, spend time with the kids after gymnastics, leaving after lunch to attend a meeting at his golf club. But knowing these details of his dad’s routine helped bring my husband into perspective. After I suggested that he make the decision about gymnastics tomorrow morning, depending on how busy he was with work, his sanity returned completely.

I only got one text this morning from my husband, who asked simply “Gymnastics time?” When I called later to find out how everything was going, my husband said, “It’s great. We’re getting ready to head out the door.” I’m looking forward to hearing about his day today and to finding out how the kids behaved at gymnastics class. I’m curious to find out if he was able to balance working from home with taking care of the kids.

At one point during his frantic display last night, my husband stopped, turned to me, and said, “It’s just that it’s so unexpected. It’s hard for me to process it all.”

I rolled my eyes invisibly, nodding sympathetically as I said, “Welcome to the world of mom.” I then slyly mentioned that other things on our to-do list included 1) researching the H1N1 shots to see if we need to 2) take the kids to get these shots, 3) call the doctor about our son’s teeth to see if 4) we need to make an appointment to go back to the dentist. I suggested that he might take care of these tasks today while he worked from home.

I imagine that my appointment as mayor is not in jeopardy. I would be shocked if any of these tasks is checked off the list. But I’m hopeful that today our village has moved closer to finding a deputy mayor and banishing the village idiot.

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