I am an incurable clutterphobe. My natural inclination with respect to stuff is to toss it – a practice that serves us condo-dwellers well, but has at times crossed what some would describe as sacred lines. Case in point: my husband has never forgiven me for donating his old Phi Psi t-shirt to Goodwill (let’s just say that he did not find my “they can take the shirt off the man’s closet floor, but they can never take the King Pong ’03 title away from the man” retort compelling).
Although my de-cluttering solutions may be HGTV-worthy, they do not always jibe with the material bulk of modern day working motherhood. To the contrary, observers of my morning commute might think I am on my way to (and late for) a “Hoarders” spotlight. Indeed, in stark contrast to the refined leather briefcases of our parents’ era, the amount of stuff we working moms must pack and lug every day might actually put us on the hoarding spectrum. In my memory, my father carried one handsome briefcase to work each day. Its exterior was as elegant as its interior was pristine – papers crisp and orderly, pens filled and easily accessible, all other tools-of-the-trade stored straight and at-the-ready in their designated compartments. A neat freak’s dream vessel. My father also showered each morning, combed his hair, and wore a polished suit – a true professional, who appeared confident, hardworking, and at the top of his game.
Jump ahead thirty-ish years to me. What I carry out the door barely fits into three busting-at-the-seams bags that, unlike my dad’s sophisticated portfolio, have the aesthetic of an overzealous consignment shop donation. My mornings never involve a shower or pressed attire. It is a victory if I manage to apply mascara to one set of lashes or run a brush through dirty hair before tugging it back into the inevitable pony tail. When I rush out each morning, I look fatigued, disheveled, and overwhelmed – the amateur to my dad’s virtuoso. As a working mom of two kids, my standard daily haul looks something like this:
Diaper Bag: (1) additional change-of-clothes for pre-schooler, who has not quite mastered potty training; (2) additional change-of-clothes for baby, who has not quite mastered self-feeding; (3) laundered and folded change-of-clothes belonging to classmate, which was erroneously deposited in son’s cubby; (4) stuffed lion for pre-schooler’s show-n-share, because it is Animals of the Safari week; (5) signed permission slip to allow pre-schooler to visit actual lions at the zoo; (6) totally organic, nut- and gluten-free, and dare-I-say-taste-free animal crackers as contribution to safari-themed class snacks; (7) clean WubbaNub for baby (the lion version, of course); (8) more diapers for baby, because the pack I just bought is already depleted; (9) more wipes for baby, for the same reason; (10) more butt paste for baby, because all that diaper activity has wreaked havoc; (11) three bottles for baby, all appropriately colored-coded and labeled with name, date, and volume of contents; (12) cooler for bottles; (13) sunscreen for both kids (also color-coded and labeled), because it’s finally warm enough for fresh air and natural Vitamin-D; (14) authorization forms to allow application of sunscreen; (15) Vitamin-D drops, because naturally-occurring Vitamin-D is neither sufficient nor safe; (16) authorization forms to allow administration of drops; (17) birthday card for son’s teacher; (18) snacks to ward off after-school demons; (19) hand sanitizer for pre-snack disinfecting.
Work Bag: (1) lap top; (2) power block for machine; (3) Blackberry; (4) charger for device; (5) Redweld stuffed with hard copy documents; (6) highlighters and Post-its to flag relevant portions of said documents; (7) eye drops to reduce redness from late-night billables and nursing sessions; (8) Kastle Key, with profoundly unflattering ID picture in which I am brandishing bloodshot eyes; (9) birthday card for assistant; (10) check for purchase of Girl Scout cookies from assistant’s remarkably business savvy and persistent tween daughter.
Personal Bag: (1) wallet; (2) keys; (3) iPhone; (4) charger for device; (5) change-of-clothes to enable breastfeeding at school pick up; (6) breast pump; (7) pump parts, including 6 collection bottles, 6 valves, 8 membranes (because, like after school snacks, spares are a must), 6 breast shields; 1 set tubing; (8) power pack for pump; (9) milk storage bags; (10) cooler for expressed breastmilk; (11) cleaning supplies for pump parts; (12) a wrap, for added warmth during office pumping sessions; (13) mascara, because I probably missed an eye in the morning chaos; (14) deodorant, for similar reasons; (15) birthday card for best friend; (16) handwritten to-do list (yes, I still do that) reminding me, along with an intimidatingly long index of action items, to actually mail said card; (17) entirely processed, nut- and gluten-packed, and addictively delicious snacks to ward off post-work demons.
Objectively – and especially for an anti-hoarder such as myself – the above litany is daunting. I don’t catalogue it here, however, to earn pity points or to suggest that those with lighter cargos necessarily have it easy. To the contrary, I am proud to have a job, unimaginably honored to be a mom, and grateful for the opportunity to pursue both roles. But although the life of a working mom is, in many respects, a luxury, the packing list above is just one reflection of the many challenges it also brings.
So, when I see a woman with somewhat bloodshot and discrepantly defined eyes ferrying a convoy of baggage and children in an apparent rush to her destination, I try to be kind. I hold a door or let her use the ramp or simply offer a smile. After all, a little bit of compassion goes a long way to lighten the load, no matter what the journey.